Every visit to Sav's — I have made three — has been a pleasure. Maybe it's the muted tropical shades of paint that portion out the walls into panels of color. Maybe it's the bop in the music that's like a calming heartbeat. Or maybe it's because the multiple flavors of Guinea, the America South and soul food are just so fresh, special and delicious.
There is even a standout Jamaican beverage selection, with Ting, a grapefruit soda, and a bracing and piquant ginger “beer.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Owner-chef Mamadou Savane hails from Guinea in West Africa, where root vegetables, grains and stews are staples. At his restaurant, he is introducing Lexington to some of those, and giving us more regional favorites, including chewy, smoky, grilled baby back ribs in the “Victory platter” ($11.75 with two sides), a plate of grilled Cornish hen ($7.45 with two sides) — a bit dry for my taste — or a dish of buttery cheese grits ($2.99).
But it is really his home continent's fare that should excite our interest.
Key ingredients that make those dishes special are palm oil, which provides a richer flavor (and more saturated fat), and attiéké (pronounced “KAY KAY”), a grain impersonator transformed, through grating, soaking, drying and fermentation, from the root of the cassava bush into a moister, softer version of couscous.
Palm oil appears in the deep African rice bowls, giving these stews, atop perfectly cooked rice, their luxuriously smooth texture. I've sampled them all.
When I want to go meatless, I might get a bowl of vegetable stew with “leaf” sauce — think spinach and greens — or Sav's sauce, which resembles silky peanut purée (both $4.49). For 50 cents more, you can add a protein: beef to the leaves, or chicken or beef to the Sav's sauce.
Being a newly minted attiéké addict, I would never order a salad here without it. For $4.99, not only is there plenty of crisp romaine, seasonal tomatoes and cucumbers, and onions, but also the tart bite of Sav's homemade vinaigrette and the appealing mouthfeel of tiny attiéké beads.
The courteous and helpful staff will probably offer some piment, a hot sauce made by the chef from habanero peppers. With habaneros ranging between 200,000 and 580,000 Scoville units on the pepper heat index (jalapeños are usually 25,000), that decision is between you and your mojo.
Finally, although Sav's culinary experience began far, far away from the United States, you can finish your meal with some wonderful Valentine's ice cream, made right down the road in Winchester.
Lunch for two, including drinks and dessert, would run $20 to $30.