Prior to my trip down to Savannah last month, I’d only ever passed through for a brief stop to cool down with ice cream at Leopold’s. It’s one of the city’s most famous—not to mention, delicious—institutions, and while it’s an obvious part of the whole “tourist experience,” it’s one tourist attraction you definitely shouldn’t miss, sweet tooth or not. The restaurant sells lunch and other savory items, though you’d be crazy not to sample the ice cream when at Leopold’s.
Leopold’s in Savannah was born when a trio of brothers from Greece landed in the States via Ellis Island, learned the art of ice cream- and candy-making from an uncle in Indiana and opened the parlor in Savannah in 1919. In 1969, it was shut down for nearly 40 years when the brothers grew too old to be in the business anymore. The only child who might possibly take it over, Stratton, jetted off to Hollywood in pursuit of a film career. But he wasn’t done with ice cream: He returned to Savannah in 2004 with his wife, a Los Angeles native, Mary in tow, when his father passed away, and the pair reopened the much-beloved establishment in a new downtown location, using the soda fountain, cabinets, marble front, phone booth and other fixtures from the original parlor and maintaining the old-fashioned feel.
“There were very strong memories when I first got here,” Mary recalls. “People would say, ‘oh my gosh, Leopold’s ice cream!’ and they’d go into the flavors and things, and I thought how neat is that. I’m someone who loves oral history, and the soda shoppe is part of American tradition.”
And Stratton’s other dreams did come true, too: He’s not just one of the most celebrated ice cream makers in the country, but also serves as executive vice president of production Paramount Pictures. (Busy guy.) You’ll see movie posters from his films like Mission Impossible III and Paycheck and other cinematic paraphernalia adorning the walls of the parlor.
“People will always ask ‘what’s with all the movie stuff?’ And I’ll say, ‘oh, that’s my day job. I produce movies.’ And I get one of two distinct reactions. One: ‘why are you scooping ice cream?’ or two: ‘oh, sure you do.’ One day, this fellow was sitting at a table at front and asked the question and I told him the answer. He said, ‘oh yeah, and I left my Nobel Prize on the counter.'”
The best part of the whole visit was that Stratton Leopold himself happened to be there. Not only was he physically at the parlor, but he was actually behind the counter taking orders and scooping ice cream. How cool is that—a Paramount exec still maintaining such dedication to the family business? “I just enjoy people, love talking to folks, and this is real—versus movies, which can not be as real as other things.”
And he and Mary are as friendly as they come, too. Mary joked, “I never thought I’d go from being a pharmacist to a soda jerk!” The place is always packed, with a line out the door and spilling over onto Broughton Street; try to go midweek during off-peak hours if you can.
In honor of the Girl Scouts being headquartered locally, Leopold’s in Savannah has two custom-made cookie flavors each year, the current ones being a Thin Mint variety (which I would have ordered but they were all out!) and Savannah Smiles, the new lemon-flavored cookie mixed in with lemon custard (the one I ordered, which was divine). There are plenty of other flavors, sundaes and shakes—both regular offerings and seasonal specialties—and one of the most popular fixtures is the honey and almond cream, made with local Savannah Bee Company products. Judging by the looks of all the other parlor-goers’ grins, no one was dissatisfied with their choices!
Even if you miss Leopold’s in Savannah, if you’re flying out of the local airport, there’s an ice cream parlor before you go through the gates, so you can get your fill before heading home!
Other places to get your sugar fix
On the way out of town back to Tennessee, I happened to pass Back in the Day Bakery, a spot my friend Marissa had recommended after seeing it in a magazine article. And who am I to turn down vouched-for baked goods (or any baked goods, really)? Besides, I had seven hours ahead of me in the car, alone; obviously, I was going to get hungry. I just looked at a brief detour at the beginning of my drive as a time-saver once on I-75.
Everything about this establishment was downright cute, from the interior design to the fonts used throughout the shop. The sandwiches smelled delicious, and while I’m not usually a bacon fan—I know…you won’t listen to any recommendation I ever make in the future now, will you?—I was tempted by my favorite culinary accoutrement, the onion, and spontaneously ordered the Bacon Onion Jam panini. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, let me just say, and I will crave that sandwich until we meet again.
I also took an Old-Fashioned Vanilla cupcake for the road. Oh all right, and a Pink Lady, too. Bottom line: You need to factor Back in the Day Bakery into your Savannah getaway.
If sweet adult libations are more your thing, make use of Savannah’s open cup policy and grab a spiked slushie at Wet Willie’s down by the waterfront. I’d been to the South Beach location several years ago while working on a Glamour shoot and was happy to try the banana split slushie while exploring Savannah with my pals Marissa and Jackie. It was sweet—really sweet—and I didn’t even manage to finish half before I gave up.
There are approximately a bazillion flavors already on tap, plus you can combine any of the preexisting flavors to make your own concoction. The extensive menu also offers up suggested recipes.
It’s very retro feeling and kitschy, it’s probably double your daily allowance of sugar intake, and it’s cheap pure grain alcohol. But it’s also your vacation…right?