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Saint Bibiana Brings Coastal Italian Cuisine to Savannah

Chef Derek Simcik is at the helm of the dining and bar options at the forthcoming Hotel Bardo in Georgia’s booming seaside city. Here he tells us about the journey that led to Saint Bibiana.

Derek Simcik

Derek Simcik is Director of Culinary at Hotel Bardo in Savannah, GA, opening in early 2024. He also oversees Saint Bibiana, the resort’s signature restaurant, which opens next week. Photo: Courtesy of LEFT LANE

Next week, when Derek Simcik opens Saint Bibiana in Savannah, GA, the chef will be laying the groundwork for one of the East Coast’s most ambitious hotel openings of 2024. In February, the new hospitality company LEFT LANE will unveil Hotel Bardo, and Simcik, in his role as Director of Culinary, is playing an integral part.

The first hint of what Hotel Bardo will offer is Saint Bibiana, named for the patron saint of hangovers. It is now accepting reservations and is on track to open September 20. After almost a year of preparation, Simcik and his team will introduce the latest buzzworthy restaurant to a scene that has blossomed in recent years with heralded spots such as The Grey and Common Thread.

But it wasn’t that long ago that Simcik’s story had taken an unfortunate turn.

In 2019, Simcik found himself at a crossroads. He’d worked for over a decade opening and running restaurants for major hotel chains, he’d appeared on Beat Bobby Flay, and he’d been named Sexiest Male Chef by People magazine. Yet he describes himself at the time as “lost,” and he fled to Italy, where he rented an apartment and hung out with an Italian friend in Rome. 

Simcik was soon cooking alongside that friend’s mother in her apartment, finding inspiration, like many chefs before him, from a Nonna’s fresh pasta and sauce preparations. 

Bucatini and sardines
Bucatini con le sarde, or bucatini with sardines, from the new Saint Bibiana in Savannnah. Photo: Courtesy of LEFT LANE

“I wanted to figure out who I was and get back to why I started cooking, which was always with family,” he says. The Nonna’s cooking inspired him, he says, and he returned to the States with new goals. Soon, he received a call about an opportunity, which eventually led to him moving to Savannah late last year to begin working with LEFT LANE on the food and beverage concepts at the Hotel Bardo.

When he arrived, Simcik found that the company was transforming a former mansion into a glamorous contemporary urban resort with a distinct La Dolce Vita point of view. His task: to create an Italian restaurant to fit the vibe. 

Simcik and his colleagues settled on the idea of coastal Italian influence, to correspond with Saint Bibiana’s location a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean and nearby seaside communities like Tybee Island. He also felt that the culinary approach—fresh pasta, a mix of local seafood and fish imported from the Mediterranean—fulfilled a missing niche in Savannah’s exciting dining scene. “It just made sense,” he says.

The restaurant’s opening menu reveals Simcik’s approach: the types of dishes you’d find at a seaside resort in Italy, with a tantalizing selection of house-made pastas and main courses that flex his culinary skills as well as his commitment to working with the best local ingredients. Take, for instance, Saint Bibiana’s Bistecca alla Fiorentina, which employs steak sourced from a sustainable Savannah farm, served with a Calabrian chili salsa verde that he compares to a chimichurri. Crudo such as East Coast oysters and locally sourced prawns, and Dover sole and branzino dishes, will showcase excellent seafood. 

Simcik says he’s careful to differentiate between Saint Bibiana’s location and its mission. “I don’t want to say we’re doing coastal Italian with Southern influence. It’s more of a local ingredients influence” with coastal Italian. “I don’t want people to think there’s going to be shrimp and grits here where we’re just going to use polenta. That’s not what we’re doing.”

rendering of Saint Bibiana
A rendering of Saint Bibiana from Hotel Bardo in Savannah. Photo: Courtesy of LEFT LANE

Instead, Simcik and his team—including several key kitchen members he’s worked with at previous jobs in Santa Barbara and Seattle, including pastry chef Kate Sigel—are setting out to give Savannah an exciting new spot to check off on diners’  hit lists. This city of about 150,000 has become a “foodie mecca,” according to Travel + Leisure, “one of the South’s most exciting food destinations.” Simcik is intent on adding to the momentum.

Besides Saint Bibiana, he’ll open other concepts in his role as Director of Culinary for Hotel Bardo, including Bar Bibi (scheduled to open in early 2024), which he says will offer a poolside menu of crudos, granitas, and pizzettes (a lighter take on pizza).

He says that Bar Bibi and its ambiance will recall European-style lounging pools, with a touch of South Beach (Miami) influence—and the lighter options will reflect that.

Simcik is uniquely suited to create menus places with a worldly perspective. Born in Athens, Greece to American parents, he grew up in Tunisia, Germany, France, Hong Kong, and Austria. He graduated high school in Tokyo, he says, adding that his dad worked for the “Agency”—as in, the CIA. Simcik’s paternal grandfather in Texas taught him about butchery and food preservation techniques, while his mother, from Louisiana, instilled a love of Cajun cooking.

As an adult, Simcik has developed a natural wanderlust, taking jobs that have spanned the United States, from working at Cafe Milano in Washington DC “in its heyday,” he says, to cooking and running kitchens for hotel groups in DC, Chicago, Santa Barbara, Seattle, and Denver. He says that throughout his career, he’s made it a point to travel to Italy once or twice a year, and he typically gravitates toward coastal areas. “I find the people closest to the sun and water are the happiest,” he says.

His usual stops include Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Sardinia, and Sicily. “I spent a lot of time on the opposite coast in Lecce and the Taranto area,” he adds. 

The experience with Italian coastal cuisine and destinations is about to pay off for Simcik, and for Saint Bibiana as well. 

Simcik, once lost, now seems to have found his place in Savannah.

Saint Bibiana, 700 Drayton St, Savannah, GA 31401, (912)721-5002, @saintbibiana,

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