The classic Southern pairing of shrimp and grits is not Lowcountry specific, but it’s so beloved in Charleston—and shows up on so many restaurant menus here—that we’d be remiss not to include it as a quintessential local dish. This is, after all, traditional shrimping land, and while we cannot say for sure who “invented” this dish, it is generally thought that shrimpers and fishermen started combining their catch with grits in a very basic way for an inexpensive breakfast. Then other folks in the South did the same at home, and eventually restaurant chefs in the area caught on (beginning, quite possibly, with Bill Neal of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC, in the 1980s) and began gussying the dish up for their menus.
Today in Charleston, good restaurants will use local white shrimp and Carolina stone-ground corn grits from a respected purveyor like (Columbia-based) Anson Mills, Boonville Mill (from Boonville, NC), or Geechie Boy, which is based very near to Charleston on Edisto Island.
Where: At the inviting Hominy Grill (207 Rutledge Ave., map), where James Beard Award-winning chef-owner Robert Stehling combines Lowcountry tradition and locally sourced ingredients in a restored 19th-century barbershop, the tag line is “Grits are good for you.” It’s a great spot to try your shrimp and grits (and lots more). Bonus: Every table gets deliciously creamy, salty boiled peanuts to start, in lieu of bread.
Eds. note: Sadly, this restaurant closed in April 2019. Please see our alternatives for more ideas.
Order: Shrimp and grits ($18 on daily menu) is a signature dish here, and it’s not hard to see why: It’s just done really well. Local shrimp is dredged in flour and sautéed with mushrooms, scallions, and just enough bacon; it’s kicked up a notch with some hot sauce and lemon, and then piled over creamy stone-ground white grits (from Boonville Mill during our visit) mixed with cheddar, Parmesan, and butter. Without the excess gravy that other restaurants tend to lean on, you can taste the clean corn flavor of the grits, the bright savory shrimp, the hits of smokiness from the bacon—and we loved the added spice.
Alternatively: Shrimp and grits are not difficult to find in this town, and their preparation varies widely. A great bet is always Husk (76 Queen St., map), award-winning chef Sean Brock’s critically acclaimed ode to Southern food and heritage ingredients, where this dish (usually offered at lunch only) is made with Geechie Boy grits, local beans, and sausage. Magnolia’s (185 East Bay St., map), the restaurant often credited with elevating shrimp and grits to fine-dining levels in Charleston (when Donald Barickman was chef, in the 1990s), still serves the dish up, with sausage and tasso gravy (there’s also a “shellfish over grits” entree, involving lots of buttery lobster).
We enjoyed a different sort of shrimp and grits at Page’s Okra Grill (302 Coleman Blvd., map) over in Mount Pleasant, featuring fried grit cakes and a whole lot of andouille-cream gravy. Next time we’d like to try the version at Slightly North of Broad (a.k.a. S.N.O.B.; 192 East Bay St., map), where Geechie Boy grits meet with house-made sausage and country ham.