Shrimp and Grits Showdown: And The Winner Is…

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

As it turns out, our shrimp and grits “showdown” wasn’t much of a showdown at all. Even though Nic and I vowed never to speak of what we thought about each bowl until after we wrote and posted each blog, as it turns out, we shared mostly all of the same sentiments. We hated the gravy. We hated the tomatoes. Let’s face it, the only thing our Southern tongues disagreed on was the taste of the shrimp, on occasion.

last blog 2So, we decided that since our tastes were so similar, we would write on sugar packets what we thought was the best and the second best bowl of shrimp and grits. To our surprise (but not really though) we both picked the same number one and number two choice. Which is….

Winner:

1) Hominy Grill - It was pure authenticity that ultimately won out for Hominy Grill. No frills, no extras, just pure unadulterated shrimp and grit flavor proved to be the winning formula, and Hominy Grill brought the noise.

Runner-Up:

2) Swamp Fox Restaurant at the Francis Marion Hotel- While this dish contained gravy, it was the most flavorful, rich, unctuous gravy of the lot, and it provided a deep seafood flavor that enhanced the shrimp. The grits were cooked well and stood up to the thick gravy. Plus, not having those nasty tomatoes sure didn’t hurt the movement.

last blog

So, there y’all have it folks! The best bowl of shrimp and grits from what Nic and I have experienced during our time in Charleston as reporters for the Post and Courier during this year’s annual Spoleto Festival USA. We’ve eaten much more than just good old shrimp and grits -and have enjoyed sharing our meals with you!

-Love, Nic and B

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Final Round SNOB

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Situated on East Bay Street, SNOB, or Slightly North of Broad, brings a little bit of their name into the dining room. More upscale than any of the other restaurants B and I have tried, the same genteel, southern hospitality abounded, ridding itself of any pretension. White table linens and fancy place settings couldn’t take away what was a wholly Southern, down home experience. Final round, ding ding ding! Snob1

Getting right into it, we feasted on cornbread for a good while, waiting for the rest of our party to arrive. Equal parts sweet and savory, it was as close to down home classic southern cornbread as I’ve had since I’ve been in Charleston. Soft and buttery, moist and dense, but not heavy, the cornbread was a perfect golden brown on the outside and maize on the inside. I almost ate too much cornbread and didn’t leave enough room for the real reason why I was there. Almost.

Nic’s picks: The shrimp and grits were served in a large bowl that was almost too large. Portion size was not a problem at SNOB, and of all the places we visited that gave the biggest portions. Gravy and raw tomatoes made another appearance, and it seems like in Charleston they are a recurring character rather than a cameo. Nonetheless, we are intrepid; we carry on. I dug into the grits. The gravy was a little oily, but not as heavy as others I had over the course of the last three weeks. I tried the tomatoes, just for the sake of trying them, and immediately pushed them off to the side. They offer nothing to the dish. Not one single thing is made better by the tomatoes.

The shrimp were the best of any of the places I ate at. They were plump and tender, full of flavor. They were also abundant, something that most places have skimped on. They were perfectly cooked to a nice opaque pink color, not too tough but still providing a nice bite and mouth feel.

snob2The grits were smooth, not too watery, but not too stiff. They had just enough texture and they contained a nice corn flavor, independent from the gravy and other accoutrements. Crispy Tasso ham provided a nice textural element, that crunch that softer dishes so desperately need to break up the monotony. It wasn’t too overpoweringly salty either, which was a nice touch. The smoked sausage was a nice thought, but with the ham and the gravy, it could have been left out altogether and it wouldn’t have been missed. There was a nice garlicky bite to the dish that other restaurants lacked, and it was a nice signature to make the dish their own.

Overall, it was a good plate of food, one of the better dishes we had through our eating tour of Charleston. While a little more upscale, SNOB definitely delivered on that down home, Southern food experience.

B’s business: From the moment the shrimp and grits were served, there was no hiding either one of our distresses at seeing yet another bowl filled to the brim with what else? Gravy and tomatoes.

Almost immediately, I automatically pushed the tomatoes to the side—by now I know the cold, juicy fruit doesn’t add any particular flavor to the grits.  The gravy, however, had me torn. It had the most watery consistency of all the gravy we’ve tried, making the grits a soggy mess to pick up by fork. But it also had a good Southern flavor that reminded me of crawfish boil and shrimp boil bases used to marinated seafood back home in New Orleans. A poignant spiced yet not too salty, the gravy actually added some zest to the otherwise bland Geechie Boy grits.

Now, don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t love Geechie Boy? Yellow in color with bits of actual corn added to the taste, these might be one of the best brands of grits available. But without any additional cheese added, the grits were a bit plain when consumed separately from the bowls other contents.

Which, of course, included shrimp. Easily forgettable, these shrimp weren’t anything special as compared to the other meaty contents of the bowl that included both tasso ham and sausage that added just enough briny flavor and substance to the grits. You didn’t even need to eat the shrimp, which I also chose to avoid.

Other things to look for:snob 3

The grilled chicken was some of the best grilled chicken I’ve ever had—period. Perfectly charred on the outside while still being tender and moist on the inside, the depth of flavor between the rub and the flavor of the chicken was extraordinary. The grilled summer vegetables were okay, but the goat cheese croutons (really just battered fried balls of goat cheese) were delectable and paired perfectly with the spice in the chicken. This dish was actually better than the shrimp and grits.

Stay tuned for the action-packed conclusion and our favorite shrimp and grits picks!

Tenor Madness at Jazz Artists of Charleston event

Tenor Madness

Credit: Tessa Blake

 

Tenor Madness brought jazz mania to Father Figaro Hall as part of  Jazz Artists of Charleston’s 6TH annual jazz series on Tuesday, June 4th.

 

The group, which features Mark Sternbank and Robert Lewis (both on tenor sax), played jazz standards and original compositions throughout the set.  Accompanied by Tommy Gill (piano), Kevin Hamilton (bass), and David Patterson (drums), the group opened with a snappy number and continued with an Austin Powersy piece entitled “Tom Thumb”.

 

From there, Sternbank introduced two of his original compositions, “DaySpring”and “70x7”.  “Dayspring” provided a jazzy take on a waltz—  a careful yet adventurous mid-tempo selection. “70 X 7”, which is a more modern work, highlighted a funky drum intro and a fun, sassy sax duet.

 

The next piece, Coltrane’s  pensive and melancholic “Soul Eyes” was played in memory of the late Ben Tucker, a bass player from Savannah, GA who recently passed.

 

Credit: Tessa Blake

Credit: Tessa Blake

From there, the tempo picked up with an original piece from Robert Lewis. “Clark”, based on a character from Dr. Seuss’ “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” featured a anticipatory beat that progressed to a delightful ditty.

 

Tenor Madness finished off the set with Coltrane’s version of “Summertime”, an homage to

the South Carolinian ties of  the opera Porgy and Bess, and Dizzy Gillespie’s  quick and witty Eternal Triangle. Tenor Madness explored the strength of two tenors saxophones and lived up to its name.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 5 Poogan’s Porch

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Having Husk be your neighbor could be a tough thing; unless you’re Poogan’s Porch. Sean Doyle, the chef at Poogan’s Porch has cooked his Lowcounty cuisine in one of the most illustrious kitchens in America, the James Beard House. Kind of a coming out party for chefs, it’s a great honor and only the best chefs in the world are invited to cook there. With that being said, on to Round 5. Poogan's Porch1

Like Husk, the ambiance at Poogan’s Porch is gorgeous and inherently Southern. Beat up hard wood floors and rustic wooden tables populated the little dining room. Out front, on the porch and in the courtyard, tables were lined with white tablecloths and napkins, giving the restaurant a garden party atmosphere.

Nic’s picks: When the shrimp and grits came out, perfectly placed in a large, shallow bowl, I was dismayed; the return of the ubiquitous gravy. I thought in my mind, “Gravy? Again? What is it with the gravy?” It wasn’t thick, like at Southend or the Swamp Fox, but it was present, and that irked me. I tasted the grits first, without any other flavors. They were grainy and slightly cheesy, but they didn’t taste like grits. There’s a certain flavor associated with grits, an earthy corn flavor that just wasn’t present in this dish..

poogan5The grits also contained bell peppers and smoked sausage, both adding busting mouthfuls of flavor. The freshness of the bell peppers set against the smokiness of the sausage and the cheesiness of the grits was a nice balance. The shrimp were good, but they weren’t anything special. They were tender and rich, but they didn’t provide that much depth of flavor to an otherwise one-dimensional dish. Overall, the dish was so-so at best. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it wasn’t underwhelming either.

B’s business: Eating in a place as open and beautiful and Poogan’s Porch kept a permanent smile on my face prior to our meal even starting. The hardwood floors, the high ceilings and the porch area outside reminded me of a true Southern brunch, and I was more than ready to partake.

When the shrimp and grits arrived, however, it was more like a bowl of gravy with a side of grits.  The gravy tasted like the heavy gravy that accompanies pork chops; too much richness for a bowl of shrimp and grits. Not to mention, the grits themselves were so watery and thin, they slipped right through the fork.

The shrimp were tasty and tender, even with the added annoyance of biting the hardened tail shells off to enjoy their flavor. Since the shrimp were so good, it made it hard to ingest the Tasso ham this time, as it was salty and slimy beneath the grits.

Maybe I’m just getting used to the taste of onions and bell peppers in these Charleston based shrimp and grits, but they added a nice taste and hardened texture to the squelchy grits. poogan4

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s picks: We ordered a few appetizers to start. For the first time in Charleston, I saw alligator on the menu. Because we’re in the South, the alligator was fried to a golden brown and delicious mound. It was served with a honey jalapeño dipping sauce, similar to spicy honey mustard. It didn’t last long, the alligator, and I’m sad to say I was a major player in it’s consumption.

We also ordered macaroni and cheese as a starter. It was creamy and warm, exactly what mac and cheese should be. It was studded with smoky bacon, and I never thought I would ever say this; there was too much bacon. It overpowered the taste of the cheese. It’s not macaroni and bacon, it’s macaroni and cheese, and the bacon masked the cheese flavor.

poogan3B’s business: Honestly, the best part of the meal wasn’t the shrimp and grits at all – it was the homemade biscuits and the fired alligator appetizers. The biscuits were baked semi-sweet and served with a whipped butter that melted atop the crispy exterior. Moistened by milk and not butter, the dough inside the biscuit was dense enough to satisfy yet light enough to save room for what came next.

Which was the fried alligator. As someone who generally stays away from fried foods, this is a New Orleans favorite I couldn’t resist. The alligator was superb – cooked and marinated with just enough flavor to be moist and not greasy, yet tender and not chewy. The batter used to fry the alligator could’ve been a bit more flavorful, however, these nostalgic pieces of white meat hit the soft spot of my Southern tongue just right.

 

Not just toy action figures

InReviewBanner-3

Review of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” at Pure Theatre.

Wrestlers can be so touchy, can’t they?

After all, millions watch them whine on TV every Monday night, lamenting over a championship loss or bitterly promising revenge.

Pure Theatre’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,”—a Piccolo Spoleto Festival presentation—gives a comically in-depth look at what lives behind the Lucha libres, groin-hugging tights and politically incorrect pseudonyms, like “The Fundamentalist.”

The Fundamentalist, mind you, is a radical Muslim. And when partnered with Che Chavez Castro, a Mexican border-jumper who leeches off the system (not my words) and also very anti-United States, the amoral marketing schemes of a Caucasian American pastime shine through.

At least, that’s what Everett K. Olson, the owner of THE Entertainment, thinks. “Wrestling fans don’t speak Spanish,” he says to Mace, one of the two wrestling personas adopted by the charming Michael Smallwood, when he suggests that can try to speak Spanish for one of his characters.

There’s a reason that this play, written by Kristoffer Diaz, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama in 2010. Diaz effectively and grippingly deconstructs a testosterone-laden sport and shows that these men—bulging muscles (though not always the case) and tattoos aside—are able to look past their own stereotypes. The only exception is Chad Deity, played by the rightfully holier-than-thou Christian Duboise, who embodies his character both inside and outside of the ring.

Still, it’s captivating to see what is behind the persona of wrestlers, moral pinings included. For Mace, wrestling is an art form, and he’s got a story to tell.

Director Sharon Graci’s steady hand throughout the production leaves just enough room for mystery to blossom throughout the performance. At times, Diaz’s text is completely predictable—diatribes on the less-than-sensitive racial ignorance in the biz give the piece little wiggle room, leaving us for hungering for a little more justice throughout—and Graci, along with the cast of six, presents a satisfying conversation.

The show is almost entirely done in what looks to be a 10-by-10 foot wrestling ring. By the time Act II comes round, body slamming and clotheslining are much appreciated. And, these guys throw each other around as savagely, and almost as believably, as the pros on TV.

The technical aspects of “Chad Deity” (designed by Charlie Thiel) are impressive. The gaudy music and self-glorifying videos that accompany a wrestler as he makes his entrance and the behind-the-ring trash talking are all documented on two screens.

It turns out that wrestlers have feelings too and they want to be seen as more than just plastic figurines.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 4 Hominy Grill

BrianaBellLogo-3

Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar

Hominy Grill is a renowned purveyor of Lowcountry cuisine. Featured in countless publications and on myriad television shows, it’s a well known, and loved, destination in the Holy City. Located on the corner of Calhoun and Rutledge, Hominy Grill is in an unassuming building with a quaint mural on the side denoting the restaurant. Inside are farm style tables and rustic wooden chairs. It’s the perfect setting for an early afternoon feast. On to Round 4.

Nic’s picks: With the exception of Husk, Hominy Grill had the best ambiance of the restaurants I’ve been to thus far. It reminded me of Sunday afternoon lunches after church or being at friend’s house in Middle Georgia, and nostalgia counts for a lot. Hominy 2

We ordered a few different dishes of food, but when the shrimp and grits came out, they captivated my attention. For the first time in Charleston, I received a bowl of grits that wasn’t covered by an obscene amount of gravy. I took full advantage, tasting the grits first.

No bacon, no shrimp, no nothing, just pure, unadulterated grit flavor. They were creamy but still provided that gritty texture one would expect. The shrimp were perfectly sautéed, bright and bursting with a briny, rich flavor. They had a nice substantial bite, but were still tender and flavorful. The bacon provided a nice smoky, meaty flavor that complimented both the shrimp and grits, but it was used sparingly, much to my pleasure.

The mushrooms were a new addition for me, but I could have done without them. They didn’t detract from the dish, but they didn’t add to it either. The cheese was smooth and creamy, and thankfully it didn’t pervade the dish fully, preserving the nice, clean flavor of the grits. Overall, it was the most authentic bowl of shrimp and grits that I’ve had since I’ve been in Charleston, and I’m just thankful it didn’t have a thick gravy or mealy tomatoes.

Hominy 3B’s business: This was the first bowl of shrimp and grits that genuinely looked like, well, shrimp and grits. Presented for the first time that I’ve experienced in Charleston without gravy and tomatoes slathered atop, I could actually see the beaded white grits nestled below the shrimp, bacon and mushrooms.

Without the gravy or the cold tomatoes, the grits tasted a bit bland from what I’m used to eating in the Lowcountry. However, a more bare approach was much appreciated. It allowed for the cheese, and other accoutrements to blend into one cohesive taste of Southern flavor.

The added bacon instead of the usual Charleston-added Tasso ham was a much appreciated change of pace. The big bits of real bacon added a slightly salty flavor to the unadulterated grits and blended with the meaty mushrooms to create a rich flavor without needing a gravy to do it for them; which is how it should be.

The shrimp were also a great burst of flavor in their own right. Small, but thick, the shrimp were well-cooked and perfectly dispersed throughout the bacon to create an interesting mix of crispy and meaty.

But the most surprising thing of all was the lemon. As popular as it is to slather lemon all over seafood in New Orleans, I’m never one to partake. So, as much as I like lemon in my tea, I had an initial hesitation for lemon in my grits. But I gave it a try anyway, and was shocked by the welcomed burst of citrus and how well that paired with the once again, bare grits. Bravo to Hominy for discovering this interesting super Southern pair-up.

Expect the unexpected: Hominy 1

The greens. Perfectly braised and just a hint of bitterness, the collard greens at Hominy Grill were tender, flavorful, and just what greens should be. They went quickly at our table, and for good reason.

The squash casserole was cloyingly sweet and lacked texture, and it was a big disappointment, as were the fried grits. While the fried grits lacked flavor, the casserole had too much, and not the good kind either. If we could order again, those two things would have never made it to the table.

Managing the Bard and Puppets

BehindTheCurtainLogo-2

Stage mangers often go unrecognized, doing behind-the-scenes chores to make sure that the show runs smoothly. Because of stage managers, props are never lost, cues aren’t missed and the curtain rises and falls (generally) on time. Robin Longley, stage manger for Spoleto Festival USA’s production of Shakespeare’s  “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” has an added element to watch over, puppets. Check out what he does and what it takes to make the magic happen at each performance with the Bard, puppets, and festival-goers.

“Midsummer” is a well-known work, how would you describe this interpretation of the classic?
Longley: It is a smart, sexy, inventive, rude and slightly crazy version of the Shakespeare classic. And it’s got puppets, lots of puppets, in it.

Some people maybe reluctant to see Shakespeare, in what ways does this production make the work more accessible?
Longley: I think the time spent in rehearsals delving into the meaning of the text is very well rewarded in the performances given and the story is really clear.

What would you say were some of the highlights of the production process?Longley:Unpacking the puppets that Handspring Puppet Company had shipped to Bristol in on my first day on the job in January has to be up there. There’s also nothing like doing the show for the first time in front of an audience – you learn where the laughs and the rounds of applause generally are – we keep tweaking the show too, so there are new funny bits for the Spoleto audience that the people of Bristol never got to see.

What were some of the more challenging moments for the production?
Longley: From a stage management perspective, every day can be a challenge: from the scheduling of rehearsals that may clash with costume fittings, or trying to work out where a noise is coming from in the building during a quiet bit of a performance, to how to do the show with an actor who is throwing up in the toilet.

How does doing a festival production differ from a longer running production for a theatre’s season?
Longley: Normally you set a show up, and come in and do the set up at the same time every day and do the show at the same time every night. At Spoleto, logistically everything is different. There are four different show times; we have to pack the set, costumes, props, puppets and some of the lighting equipment away every few days for the Opera; every day there are chamber concerts on the front of our set which means the local crew have to move some of our floor sections to get a piano or a marimba or a harpsichord in (Spoleto has an excellent crew by the way).

Tell me a bit about your background as a stage manager and working with the festival?
Longley: Back home in the UK I am a freelance stage and company stage manager. I have worked in many of the UK’s best, in my opinion, producing theaters up and down the country since training in stage management and technical theater at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. I became attached to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” after working with Tom Morris on his recent production of Arthur Ransome’s “Swallows and Amazons,” which played in London’s West End and toured the UK from December 2011 through to May 2012. Tom asked me to work on “MSND” while we were still touring with that and I was somehow able to fill the gap with work (and also become a father to my daughter Olive in July).

Have you worked as a stage manager for other Shakespeare productions? If so, how does this production differ from the others you’ve worked on?
Longley: I have worked on “Julius Caesar” for Birmingham Rep; “Richard II” for the Royal Shakespeare Company; “Much Ado About Nothing” for Regent’s Park Open Air Theare, London; two productions of “Antony and Cleopatra” for the Royal Shakespeare Company, with Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter in the title roles, and Chichester Festival Theatre, with Michael Pennington and Kim Cattrall. I have never done one with this few actors or this many puppets.

How would you describe “Midsummer” to someone who is unfamiliar with the play?
Longley: It is a love story with an hilarious subplot involving ‘rude mechanicals’ (to quote Puck) that culminates in a performance within the play of Pyramus and Thisbe with some of the finest stage clowning I have ever had the pleasure of stage managing.

Using everyday objects for music on command

I took my 13-year-old daughter to a contemporary music concert this weekend, one in the Spoleto Festival’s Music in Time series, organized by Resident Conductor John Kennedy. It featured a program of recent music by the New York City-based composer Nathan Davis, who creates conceptual soundscapes inspired by natural and not-so-natural phenomena. It might seem heady for a young teenager, but I see no reason why young people should not be exposed to this kind of music — before their tastes become calcified by age and prejudice.

—Adam Parker

BY ZOE ALESSANDRA DE LUCA-PARKER
Special to The Post and Courier

The first piece by Nathan Davis in the Music in Time series concert on Sunday was “Bells.” The composer told everyone to take his cell phones out and dial a number, then an access code (there were four, labeled Astral, Cryptic, Telegraphic and Tintinnabular) of your choice. While in most concerts the music comes from the stage, Music in Time makes music come from every direction, filling the whole room with different sounds.

The second piece, “Weather Rock,” had many different parts to it. It had a violin and a cello each with one thin string hanging off. The players pulled the strings to make amazing, stuttering sound a little like the wind. The percussionists used various objects, including rocks to make a very interesting gravelly sound.

“On speaking a hundred names” was a piece for a bassoon, one of my favorite instruments. It changed from something classical to something exploratory and seemingly accidental, but all very much done on purpose. The bassoon player, Ryan Wilkins, also played the same note in many different ways. I enjoyed this piece very much because I liked the effects created by the playing and by the technology that enhanced it.

The next piece was “Crawlspace.” This piece was the most fascinating to me because the composer took a microphone and placed it on the keyboard of his laptop computer, then took a camera and showed what he was doing. Sometimes he would hit the keys, moving the microphone around to different spots on the computer. The result was robot-sounding, and very dynamic, with many sounds created at once.

The last piece was called “Skryzp Skzryn.” It was a string quartet that started very high and, as the piece proceeded, went lower and lower. I liked this piece because it showed how the instruments change sound and the instruments’ range. All four of the instruments would do things at different times.

Nathan Davis makes music from sounds that are natural or created by common things. Another composer might be inspired by these sounds and attempt to transcribe them for instruments, but Davis uses the sounds themselves, along with regular sounds from instruments, sometimes transcribed electronically.

This show was definitely one of the most interesting shows I have ever been to. This show was for everyone to enjoy.

Brazilian Jazz in the Lowcountry

Photo Courtesy of Tessa Blake

Photo Courtesy of Tessa Blake

Leah Suárez & Duda Lucena graced the night with Brazilian jazz during the Jazz Artists of Charleston 6th Annual Jazz series. The duo treated the Lowcountry to several bossa novas, sambas, and other jazz standards with a Brazilian twist.

Soft and mellow vocals filled the intimate venue at Father Figaro Hall and gentle plucks of the guitar strings by Lucena and bass by Ben Wells set the tone of the night for the May 26th performance (view video of performance here).

For more info about the series: www.jazzartistsofcharleston.org

 

 

Spoleto makes way for a Groovement

Spoleto Festival goers were treated to a Groovement on Sunday afternoon at the Farmer’s Market in Marion Square. (Click here to view the slideshow of their performance)image[5].

Charleston-based hip-hop group, Groovement, and it’s children’s counterpart, the Groovemini’s, performed a medley of hip-hop original dance numbers which included moves to songs by Wiz Khalifa and Drake.

“We’re having fun,” said Alternese Griffin, the founder and choreographer for the two groups. “We’re showing the crowd what we have to offer with hip-hop dance.”

She said the older group’s performance was inspired by letting loose and “going mental, absolute insanity.”

However, she wanted to teach the Grooveminis a more positive message, so, she choreographed a dance based on working hard and playing hard and the resulting success you can achieve as the rewards.

“We always want to educate the kids, and dancing is a good way to do that,” Griffin said.