Some cities outright own a particular dish.
Boston? Clam Chowder. Austin? BBQ — beef brisket to be specific. Atlanta? Fried chicken. Santa Fe? Green chile stew.
In Charleston, it’s shrimp & grits.
You can order shrimp & grits in any city these days — Southern food is a hot trend — but in Charleston, it’s not a trend. It is breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it is woven into the very fabric of this historical city. There is hoity-toity shrimp & grits, down-home shrimp & grits, and everything in between.
Here is a look at six Charleston restaurants and their version of the dish that defines this gracious Southern city.
1. Husk: Bon Appetit magazine’s Best New Restaurant, Husk, serves their seasonal shrimp & grits (above) in a bowl with a roasted tomato broth ladled over Anson Mills grits, with artisan sausage, lardons, and plump, jumbo shrimp. (here is the recipe in NYT.)
2. Jestine’s Kitchen: Rachael Ray, Anthony Bourdain and Roadfood’s Jane & Michael Stern all had a hand in putting Jestine’s Kitchen on the national radar for home-cooking Southern grub like meatloaf, fried chicken and of course, shrimp & grits (above). Jestine’s version features soupy grits with a meaty tasting brown gravy, onions and roasted red peppers. Very basic and delicious, although the shrimp were a tad overcooked.
3. Southend Brewery’s shrimp and grits (above) is more akin to cheese soup with tomatoes, Tasso ham and oh yes, shrimp and grits. The tomato wedges didn’t add much — it would have been better had they been diced, but the shrimp was perfectly cooked. Pair it with the hoppy Castle Pinckney Pale Ale.
4. Marina Variety Store: (left) There is always a line at this kitschy, seafaring restaurant overlooking the marina, but it moves quickly. Ask to sit in the front room for the marina view. MVS serves up a whopping plate of plain white grits topped with a modest amount of sauteed shrimp, cooked just right.
The fried green tomatoes pictured on the plate are optional. Adding a dash of hot sauce is not.
5. Poogan’s Porch: (right) uses yellow, coarse ground grits, thick and sturdy, along with a generous helping of onions, scallions, ham, sausage and tail-on shrimp, sauced in a blue crab gravy. I loved the rough and firm texture of the grits. I did not love having to take the tails off the shrimp.
6. Hominy Grill: I saved the best for last (below). Nothing fancy about this shrimp and grits plate. But everything in this dish has a purpose. The grits were firm but creamy. The shrimp were spiced and perfectly cooked. Bits of salty, smoky bacon and meaty mushrooms provide the supporting cast. Green scallions and a spritz of lemon, and this dish is everything I could ask from this humble, Lowcountry dish. If you love this dish as much as I did, pick up a copy of the recipe booklet. It includes the recipe.
All six restaurants are located in the historic district of Charleston.
76 Queen Street
251 Meeting Street
161 East Bay Street
Marina Variety Store
17 Lockwood Drive
Poogan’s Porch (next door to Husk)
72 Queen Street
207 Rutledge Avenue