Grits tee in the Charleston Market
Originally uploaded by weezienyc.
As I’ve said before when I first moved to Manhattan, I was hard-pressed to find grits at all on the menus of the city’s restaurants. And finding a spot serving shrimp and grits was nearly impossible. Just as I would inquire to anyone that would listen as to where I could find grits in the city, I’d ask the self-proclaimed “foodies” that I encountered about finding a place serving shrimp and grits. Just as they would scoff at the thought of eating grits with dinner (or on purpose for that matter), the thought of eating grits with shrimp made my new non-southern (read: Yankee) friends act as if I’d suggested they eat dog food.
Shrimp and grits are as southern as Mint Juleps and Scarlett O’Hara. And turning one’s nose up at a southerner’s mention of them is almost as insulting as talking bad about their mama. So, it was only natural that my crusade for turning my new friends into grits evangelists involved serving them a variety of shrimp and grits entrees. Thus far, every naysayer to whom I’ve served them has loved them. And it goes without saying that I, in turn, have loved watching them eat shrimp and grits with a side of crow.
But shrimp and grits has come a long way over the past few years. What was once a quick and hearty breakfast staple for coastal fisherman, is now an en vogue entrée finding it’s way onto menus of restaurants across the country, including Manhattan. I know of least a half dozen restaurants in Manhattan featuring the dish on the menu, yet one has not truly lived until they’ve eaten shrimp and grits from the coastal Carolinas.
I’ve just returned from a week down South, which included a two-day tasting trip to Charleston. Shrimp and Grits is a classic Charleston entrée, so it’s hard to find a restaurant in the city that doesn’t include this dish on the menu. This made determining which places to visit a challenge and I spent weeks leading up to the trip researching locales and menus to put together an eating schedule. There were restaurants where I’d previously dined, and therefore knew they offered a treat for your taste buds, but didn’t make the list, simply because they are already widely publicized and I was looking for something unique. And there were spots that were added last minute or en route somewhere else based on a suggestion from a local. In the end, I sought out to dine at restaurants – some famous, some off the beaten path - that offered two things – shrimp and grits and an experience.
It was a delicious experience, from which I will share the highlights over the course of the next week. I ate in nine restaurants within a 36-hour period and ended up eating almost as many servings of fried green tomatoes as I did shrimp and grits. I tasted new flavors and found unique food combinations I’d never thought possible, all while spending two days in one of my most beloved southern towns.