Here’s the thing: I’m a little pissed about grits.
It’s been slowly building for years now, but I’m finally there. What is it with grits in restaurants? Why do they suck?
I mean, crappy food at IHOP is one thing. But honest to god, we went to the restaurant in Charleston that’s famous for its grits—Hominy Grill, of all places—and even there they were soupy and bland. Am I missing something? Is that really how grits are supposed to be served? Have I fallen in love with some totally improper grits manifestation, like preferring well-done steak or, I don’t know, fake pancake syrup?
OK, I probably shouldn’t be considered an expert or anything. My grits growing up were primarily prepared by my Ohio-born mother. (Story goes, when she first encountered grits during her honeymoon in Alabama, she wondered aloud why they’d put cream of wheat on her plate.) The thing is, though, Ma’s grits are a damn good approximation of the grits made by my Alabama-born grandmother, whom we visited every summer during my childhood. And every summer the grownups would chuckle and remind me how, as a tiny child, I’d ask, “Gammy, can you make me some gits and eggs?”
I share this intimate portrait of my childhood with you, people, because it’s just that important to me. Apparently.
Here’s what I’m looking for in my grits: They should be stiff enough to sit up on your plate unaided—not served in a damn bowl like porridge or something. You should be able to eat them with a fork, dammit. They should be cooked well enough to be mooshy—not grainy and crunchy like someone scooped birdshot into some cream of mushroom soup. And it should have flavor. Not much flavor—it doesn’t need cheese or anything like that—but salt would be nice. And if you put some butter on top so it forms a pool like a serving of mashed potatoes and gravy, well, that’s just fine with me.
To be honest, I don’t even order grits in restaurants anymore, because it’s not worth it to waste a breakfast side on a bowl of crunchy, slimy, bland tapioca-and-starch-water. Hominy Grill was really the last straw. Sarasota might not be a mecca of Deep South cooking, but Charleston? Surely, I must be in the wrong. But I really don’t think so.
Two local exceptions that I can think of: Lee Roy Selmon’s, which are the right texture, but ham and whatnot’s been added to them. And Owen’s Fish Camp, which I’m going to say are “whipped,” so they’ve got a foreign (to me) creaminess, but they’re oh-so-nicely flavored. Still, both of those grits are cheesy dinner sides. Why can’t I find the subtle yumminess of some decent breakfast grits anywhere?
This all came to a head last week when CCB and I experimented with some spicy shrimp and parmesan grits for dinner, and I realized that I now had the power and resources to satisfy my breakfast grits craving, too. So Saturday morning I fixed up some scrambled eggs and crispy bacon, alongside a big scoop of buttery grits, and man it was good.
(Then the next morning I took the leftovers and cut them into cubes, dipped them in egg and fried them up. Just like my gammy used to do.)
Am I being unreasonable? C’mon, Southerners, gimme the scoop.