In Decatur, an accomplished young chef puts her own spin on the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Feast
Not many classically trained female chefs would jump at the chance to take over the kitchen of a dining room scattered with pool tables, shuffleboards, and video games. But as soon as Savannah Haseler stepped inside Twain’s Brewpub & Billiards in Decatur, she knew she’d found her next professional home.
“I fell in love with the atmosphere, the owners, the other employees, their spouses, their kids,” said Haseler, who earned a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and honed her craft at the historic five-star Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs before moving South to be near her then-pregnant sister. “They are very humble people here. It’s like one large family.”
“I’ve always loved panzanella,” says Chef Haseler, referring to the rustic Italian summer salad. This is her wintry version, where cubed soda bread, sautéed mushrooms, and bitter greens are tossed together with a tart, ale-based vinaigrette.
The classic corned beef meal is reformulated into one colossal sandwich: on a potato-lightened bun goes homemade corned beef sausage alongside mustardy cabbage salad—to “impart little bursts of pickle flavor.” Then, it’s all topped with a dollop of smoked carrot aioli.
Since taking the job of executive chef four years ago, Haseler has substantially elevated the standard pub fare menu of the sprawling, twenty-year-old watering hole with proper French techniques and homegrown, sustainable ingredients.
She breaks down large animal parts procured from local farmers for steaks, burgers, and sausages, and simmers the bones slowly for stock, which she then turns into soups and sauces.
She still serves pub staples like chicken wings—only she brines hers first in sweet tea before batter-frying and placing them atop a pool of pimento cheese grits with a garnish of pickled collards. Diners can nosh on nachos, or on wedges of spent grain cornbread presented atop a board arranged with chicken liver pâté, pickled green tomato relish, pimento cheese, and sorghum butter. You’ll find familiar pub fare, but it’s all been elevated by the time and talent Haseler puts into each and every dish.
“Potato-leek soup is an Irish staple. “But instead of doing soup, I wanted to do fritters,” Chef Haseler says. “It’s very pub-esque.”
Haseler gives poutine—the Canadian bar food of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy—an Irish slant by replacing fries with the Irish potato pancake “boxty” (meaning “poor house bread”). “I use both mashed and shredded potatoes so it doesn’t turn into latkes. The warm cheese breaks up the texture and softens the palate.”
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Besides critical praise, last fall she earned a spot on Georgia’s culinary team to cook at the James Beard House in New York City.
With every new creation, Haseler consults with head brewer Chase Medlin to ensure that the flavor profile pairs well with the constantly evolving beer selection, and also works it into her cuisine wherever it fits.
“I enjoy beer for sure, but it’s been a learning curve for me. Chase has taught me the importance of tasting a beer twice—first to acclimate yourself to the beer, and again to start pulling off the flavors and figure out what it goes with.”
Seeing what Haseler could do with Southern bar food made us wonder what would happen if she channeled that creativity into another pub-driven cuisine: Ireland. Could she work her magic on the typically yawn-inducing staples associated with St. Patrick’s Day for a feast that dazzled, while still honoring its humble roots?
Haseler was eager to take on the challenge. But before she began concocting, she did some consulting—with guidebooks, old menus, and cookbooks, including one borrowed from a friend’s Irish grandmother.
“The Irish are penny pinchers. A lot of their dishes start with little more than starch and water. There’s an art to that.”
Here she’s developed a full menu of reimagined St. Patty’s recipes to choose from, the thinking behind each, the lessons she learned along the way, and, of course, the brews you’ll need to wash it all down.
“I was wracking my brain to come up with an alternative to shepherd’s pie.” solution: Transforming the mixture into gnocchi, tossing the soft dumplings in warm, nutty-flavored brown butter and adding crumbled blue cheese for tang.
For dessert, Haseler transforms brownie à la mode into a grown-up dessert inspired by the Irish Car Bomb, the popular cocktail made by spiking a pint of Guinness with Bailey’s and Irish whiskey. Her miniature cakes are served warm, topped with boozy Bailey’s ice cream. “And it wouldn’t hurt to have a shot of Jameson on the side.”