Grits are not something that I normally go to as a side dish. I have my New England upbringing to blame, but a recent trip through the Carolinas may have changed that.
I have long wanted to visit the city of Charleston SC for various reasons. The food, the flora, the antebellum architecture, the colorful history-- all compelling draws. Underlying these was a romanticized curiosity about a city that had spawned and/or inspired many of my favorite authors-- and sustained me through the 850 mile drive.
We arrived in Charleston late on a Sunday night. My husband, who had driven the entire way, opted to hang back in the hotel while I went out, hungry and restless, in search of local flavor. I found an old, established restaurant not far from the hotel and ordered a Dark 'n Stormy and Shrimp and Grits. The cocktail was an antidote to my road-weariness. The Shrimp and Grits, though lacking finesse in presentation and execution, was soothing and comforting.
Strolling back to the hotel, I was hyper-aware of my surroundings. Flickering gas lanterns lit the cobbled sidewalk. Soft breezes carried the mingled scents of decay, gardenias and salt marsh and the sound of soulful blues drifting from a distant nightclub. Was it my overactive imagination or the rum that caused me to believe that I could feel the stirrings of the ghosts, angels and demons that haunt the city? The whole time, I was thinking about the Shrimp and Grits-- not about it's flaws-- but about how eating the dish was like riding a bullet shot straight into the heart of a place.
I ordered cheese grits for breakfast the next day and noted how comfortable they were with eggs. I ordered them again, two days later in Asheville NC, with some excellent BBQ and marveled at how perfectly they foiled the tangy/sweet/smoky sauce and succulent meat.
The trip continued with stops in Virginia and Pennsylvania, where I picked up more memories of places, people, and food. I indulged in extraordinary tasting menus that were masterful, poetic, and delicious. I returned home weary from travel, yet revitalized, and-- strangely-- craving grits with BBQ sauce.
beer-braised pulled short ribs
purple snow pea salad
To make bbq grits: Bring 1 cup of beer to a boil. Stir in 1/4 cup corn grits, reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beer is absorbed and grits are creamy. Stir in 1/4 cup bbq sauce and 2 Tablespoons smoked butter.