Hominy Grill Shrimp 'N Grits — Photo courtesy of Wesley Mullins
Cities are often recognized for one iconic dish or style that wholly represents the regional cuisine, be it the soulful barbeque of Memphis, the freshest deli fare in NYC, or the signature deep dish pizza of Chicago. Ask any local for such an exemplary Charleston dish, and the answer is unanimous: shrimp 'n grits! In these parts, there's an "n" in place of the "and" and it's served on almost every menu in town.
Here, lowcountry cooking is a thing of the past, the present and the future. Charleston's cuisine claims rich, historical origins just as deeply rooted as the traditional style of homes and buildings, war worn forts, and the persistent Southern hospitality the city is famous for. Charleston chefs proudly follow age old recipes influenced by colonial times, the hot and humid South Carolina climate, and customs of the Gullah community (descendents of the West African slaves brought to Charleston and surrounding areas).
Although you'll find small variances on this classic lowcountry dish from restaurant to restaurant, the heart of the recipe remains the same. A plate of shrimp 'n grits remains grander in its simplicity–just wild, locally caught shrimp sauteed in butter and Tasso ham gravy, and served over a fluffy yet firm bed of South Carolina grits.
Never tried grits? This is no regional specialty to fear. Grits are quite simply corn, coarsely stone ground and cooked into a porridge like consistency in a process akin to that of oatmeal. Look for grits from Adulah Mill in Columbia, South Carolina, or from local Anson Mills in Charleston, to know you're keeping with tradition. Although grits themselves are often considered a breakfast item, Charleston shrimp 'n' grits are a welcome entree at any mealtime. Around Charleston and the surrounding area, additions like mushrooms, scallions, sausage, and cheese often accompany the simple recipe, making each restaurant's edition different from the next.
S.N.O.B. Shrimp 'N Grits — Photo courtesy of S.N.O.B.
Your best bet for some of Charleston's most beloved shrimp 'n' grits is a trip to Hominy Grill, consistent winner of "Best Shrimp 'N Grits in Charleston," and run by James Beard Award winning chef Robert Stehling. Here, the dish in question is served with scallions, mushrooms, and bacon over cheese grits. They aren't shy about their Southern roots here–pick up a Hominy Grill recipe book and have a try at the recipe yourself.
For a shrimp 'n' grits sampling closer to the historic district, head to Slightly North of Broad, (S.N.O.B. for short), on East Bay Street, or to Queen Street's Husk. S.N.O.B.'s executive chef Frank Lee serves up a variety of classic Southern dishes in a new-South contemporary style. Try their take on shrimp 'n' grits, served with sausage, country ham, fresh tomatoes, green onions, and garlic. Make a reservation in advance to try Husk, the recent star of Charleston restaurants and brainchild of chef Sean Brock. The menu changes daily at Husk, according to what's available and delivered each morning, so be sure to check the website for shrimp 'n' grits on the day's menu. Husk offers their version of the tasty favorite with tomato braised peppers and onions and Surry sausage.