There are several things you’re sure to run into during a visit to Charleston, S.C.; friendly conversation with strangers, spooky tales of haunted places and Shrimp & Grits.
The third should be no surprise as grits were declared the official state food of South Carolina in 1976. But the history of this delicacy dates much further back to when Native Americans introduced it to settlers that came into Jamestown, Virginia around 1584. This dish of ground up corn has been a staple of the south ever since. In fact, the region stretching from the Carolina’s to Louisiana is commonly referred to as “America’s Grit Belt”.
Many years ago, South Carolina shrimpers added new life to this common food by adding shrimp and bacon grease, this dish referred to as “breakfast shrimp” was a simple and easy breakfast using ingredients readily available. Shrimp & Grits was the lowcountry’s best kept secret until New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne introduced the nation to the delicacy in 1985. The culinary world hasn’t been the same since.
Today, there are thousands of variations of this recipe but you’re sure to find the best creations in the place where it all began. Any restaurant in Charleston, SC worth its salt is sure to feature some type of Shrimp & Grits dish on their menu but much like a snowflake, no two are ever the same yet all are surprisingly delicious.
Executive Chef Don Drake at the popular restaurant, Magnolias, (185 E. Bay St.) says his Seafood Over Grits dish actually began as an accident.
The original recipe was “Spinach Wrapped Scallops with Lobster” but that proved to be a pain to prepare so he decided to cook the seafood together and pour over grits, something they had plenty of in the kitchen. Topped with fried spinach, they had an undeniable hit says Drake, “Since we put the seafood and grits on the menu, it has become a bestseller. People come to the Lowcountry and want to eat shrimp and grits; this dish is our more luxurious, uptown version of the classic dish.”
The people at Lowcountry Bistro (49 S. Market St.) have found a way to incorporate another popular southern dish into their shrimp & grits by adding fried green tomatoes. Nestled atop parmesan & chive grits with grilled shrimp and a smoked tomato & bacon sauce this particular version gives plenty of bang your buck.
Right around the corner is Poogan’s Porch (72 Queen St.) and if you can get past the fact that it’s been voted as the Third Most Haunted Place in America by the Travel Channel then you’ll enjoy their Shrimp & Grits with sausage, tasso ham and blue crab gravy. Just keep in mind that their food may not be the only out-of-body experience you enjoy during your visit.
A walk on King Street is a shopper’s dream with both high-end shops and cozy boutiques but don’t spend all your cash before arriving to Virginia’s (412 King Street). While this restaurant features a more classic Shrimp & Grits dish with smoked sausage and tasso ham gravy you can also try something completely out of the ordinary with their “Shrimp & Grits Benedict”. This spin on the classic puts a poached egg, Cajun shrimp and creole sauce on top of a fried grit cake. While the dish takes a whole new form it tastes classic.
During a trip to the lowcountry of Charleston, South Carolina you’ll learn that the options are endless when it comes to adding new life to an old classic. No matter where you choose to dine you can be sure that Shrimp & Grits will be a safe bet every time.
This story was originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of Eide Magazine.