Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 4 Hominy Grill

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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.

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.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 3 Southend Brewery

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(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

Situated on the corner of Queen and East Bay, the Southend Brewery is a cavernous entity not far from Charleston Harbor and the Battery. Monstrous copper fermentation tanks dominate the backdrop upon entering the restaurant, with vaulted, workman style ceilings. Rustic and warm, this was the perfect place for Round Three. S&G Southend 2

Nic’s picks: After the disappointment that was round one, and the slightly better effort by our round two locale, my spirits were high going in to round three. It was short lived.

Again, the shrimp and grits came out expertly served in a shallow bowl, but covered with a thick, cream based gravy. While I know shrimp and grits isn’t the most health-conscious meal, the gravy makes it so much heavier than it needs to be.

The grits were so-so. They had good texture and good cheesy flavor, but they weren’t anything special, and th gravy just overpowered any subtle flavors the grits conjured up. Tasso ham makes another guest appearance, and it was flavorful and smoky, but again it overpowered any subtleness this dish could have produced. I’m all for bold, flavorful dishes, but when one of the main ingredients of the dish is not a highlight, then there are some problems.

The shrimp were plump and juicy, and they provided a good flavor and meatiness for the dish. Of the three restaurants so far, these shrimp were the best, by far. They were rich enough to cut through the gravy, if only for a fleeting second. Fresh tomatoes were strewn throughout the dish, and frankly it confused me. They provided no flavor or texture, and their presence was more of a nuisance than any kind of flavor enhancer.

Overall, the dish was lackluster and not deserving of it’s relatively steep price ($17.95). The flavors did not come together, and it was an extremely heavy dish with too many ingredients. For such a simple dish, it was made too complex, and that worked against it. This dish would have benefited from a more delicate, deft touch.

S&G SouthendB’s business: Charleston has definitely capitalized on shrimp and grits being smothered in gravy with tomatoes — cold tomatoes. Which to my dismay, left most the grits on the outside of the bowl cold.

Unappetizing as it is to chomp into cold contents for a meal that’s supposed to be savory and hot, again, I immediately shoved the tomatoes and the tough and overcooked shrimp to the outside of my bowl with the hopes that its lingering, overpowering flavor didn’t completely ruin the dish. But it was too late. I couldn’t even finish or enjoy what I was eating.

The best part of this dish was the Tasso ham, which also seems to be a Charleston shrimp and grits staple. Otherwise, for the steep price, the grits weren’t well-cooked, the cheese was almost non-existent, and the gravy was too heavy.

The highlight of my visit to Southend Brewery wasn’t even for the shrimp and grits at all; it was for the collard greens.  Every time I’ve eaten greens in Chareston, they were choppy and weren’t cooked long enough to be supple and mushy, not chewy. But these greens were cooked just right. They were surprisingly sweet, not savory, from being basked in brown sugar, which was a welcome surprise.  They had a hint of Old Bay hot sauce mixed with vinegar and real bacon bits, both of which if layered on too heavily could’ve overpowered the natural bitterness of the greens; but they didn’t. They were sprinkled with enough restraint to be enjoyed and not frowned on.

Southern Eats: Boone’s Bar

Boone'sSometimes the most fortuitous things come about because of a wrong turn or bad directions. Leaving a meeting, I got turned around and headed in the opposite direction of the restaurant I was supposed to be going to. Not wanting to backtrack, and trying to dodge an impending thunderstorm, I high-tailed it towards my apartment.

Walking down King Street, past all of the chain restaurants and boutiques, I came upon an interesting little place. Not knowing what to expect, I stopped in and looked at the menu. The place, Boone’s Bar (345 King Street) served typical bar food: fries, sandwiches, burgers, wings, etc.

It was noon and I was starving so I ordered the “Southern Cali Turkey” which consisted of turkey, Swiss cheese, bacon, avocado, tomato, and sprouts, all served hot on toasted sourdough bread with an herb aioli. Served with hand cut fries, the bill came to $11, not exactly dollar-menu, but not back-breaking either.

The sandwich was better than serviceable; it was flat out good. The bread was perfectly toasty; crusty on the outside but soft and supple with a good mouth feel. The turkey was juicy and warm, slightly smoky but not overly salty. The bacon provided a nice fattiness to offset the lean turkey, and the creamy avocado provided richness.

The sprouts were a nice departure from the standard lettuce, but the tomatoes were muddled. The aioli was a miss as well. A touch too oily and a bit too many herbs, it provided too strong a flavor to be paired with the subtleness of the turkey and avocado. The aioli provided a jolt of flavor; unfortunately the sandwich didn’t need it.

The hand-cut fries were excellent. Crisp on the outside but tender on the inside, keeping the peel on was a nice, nostalgic touch. Overall, the food was good, but not great. For a lunchtime spot, there are definitely worse places you could choose.

Boone’s Bar

LOCATION- 345 King Street

HOURS- Mon.-Sat. Noon-2 a.m.; Sun. Noon-Midnight

Shrimp and Grits Showdown Round 2: SWAMP FOX

(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

As Georgia (Nic Bell) and New Orleans (Briana Prevost) natives, we know authentic Southern food. Naturally, coming to Charleston as Spoleto festival reporters meant finding the best food in the low country. Our mission started with one simple goal in mind: finding (and eating) the best bowl of shrimp and grits in the city. Our next stop in our bi-weekly Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar.  

Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar, located inside the historic Francis Marion hotel, is the epitome of Southern charm. White tablecloths, ornate settings and beautiful china, rich mahogany and Southern gentility abounds in the dining room. Nestled in the corner of the restaurant was a grand piano pumping out contemporary songs and setting the mood for a wonderfully relaxing brunch. On to Round Two!

Nick’s picks: First and foremost, as a restaurant in Charleston, shrimp and grits should be on your menu all day everyday, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and nightcap. Am I right? Well, the Swamp Fox doesn’t disappoint. When B and I ordered, we each were presented with a steaming, delicious bowl of Southern gritty goodness.

Creamy, smooth grits were topped with plump, perfectly opaque shrimp. Throughout the velvetiness, red and yellow bell peppers provided a subtle sweetness and texture. Pepper jack cheese was sprinkled over the top and provided just enough depth of flavor, but it wasn’t overpowering for the delicate shrimp or grits.

Shrimp and grits in Charleston seems to come served with a signature gravy pooled over the top of the dish, and while the grits at Husk was overpowered by the smoked tomato gravy, the grits at the Swamp Fox were elevated with its lobster and Tasso ham gravy. Rich and decadent, it provided a deliciously briny seafood flavor that only heightened the flavor of the shrimp. Morsels of Tasso ham definitely didn’t hurt the dish. It may have provided too much richness for an otherwise deftly executed dish, but the flavors melded together beautifully and left me completely satisfied.

B’s business: After trying the first batch of shrimp and grits from Husk, I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when this batch came out as I scoped the contents of its bowl. Automatically, the gravy reminded me of popular New Orleans bases for remoulade or etouffee, which was exciting – until I saw the red and green bell peppers and my skepticism was amplified.

But upon first bite of the smooth, soft grits with just Swamp Fox’s Lobster and Tasso Ham Gravy, I thought, “now this is what grits should taste like!” The savory grits were cooked just so that the pepperjack cheese blended into the grits without stringing and separating from its parent ingredient. Not too salty, yet not at all bland thanks to the rich flavors from the gravy, the grits were the main delight in this dish – as they should be.

Although originally doubtful, the other contents within the grits were surprisingly agreeable to the palette. The onions were sautéed just right as to taste a hint of carmelization while the sautéed bell peppers supplemented the slightly sweet flavor in contrast to the savory taste of the thick grits they sat atop.

The shrimp, however, was not worth adding to the rest of the medley of flavors in the bowl. Tastlessly too fishy, the shrimp was also translucent and tough. By the end of my meal, each piece of seafood had been pushed to the side of my bowl, leaving me to enjoy the tasso ham as the meaty counterpoint for my grits consumption.

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s pick: The bread pudding was all kinds of decadent, but it wasn’t nearly as heavy or dense as some that I’ve had before. Inundated with raisins, the vanilla custard was subtly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Delicious and unctuous, the bread pudding is definitely not something to be missed.

B’s business: The bread pudding was not terribly drenched in a cream based finishing sauce, this warm dessert-for-breakfast had just enough cinnamon and dryness to the dough to be considered a mushier version of French toast. It included a New Orleans favorite ingredient – raisins – dispersed perfectly throughout the pudding as to not overpower any of its simple tasting pleasures.

Robot Candy Co. store closing

One of the first places that caught my attention on King Street was the Robot Candy Co., with its large T-Rex in the window, and eponymous machines on display. It was exactly the kind of place I’d like to shop for candy, inviting me to explore that kid-centered part of my brain that wishes to really just make things and eat sugar.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I learned they were closing.
However, as reported in March by the Post and Courier, the store will be closing as the owners search for a new location in the downtown area. Until then, if you want to get their quirky and tasty candy, you’ll have to stock up before June 1st, or make the trip out to their Mt. Pleasant location.

Check out this panorama of the current store’s setup before it disappears.

Robot Candy Co.
Mount Pleasant
Belle Hall Shopping Center
Mt. Pleasant SC 29464
robotcandy.net

Taking a spin on the Auto-Banh

The last thing I expected to see in True Value’s parking lot on East Bay this past Wednesday was a large purple truck.  But there it was, the Auto-Banh Vietnamese Sandwich food truck. It smelled delicious, so, I stopped to read the massive chalkboard that served as a menu affixed to the side of the vehicle.

There were people milling around, but not a big crowd. A generator hummed nearby. Getting in line, I was helped very quickly, and ordered a lemongrass chicken sandwich.

The combination of crunchy pickled carrots, daikon radish, cabbage, and cucumbers with the soft bread worked in keeping my taste buds excited for the surprisingly fresh cilantro boldly keeping its own flavor above the mayo and nuoc chom. If those were the only contents of the sandwich, it would still have been delightful to devour. But there was the chicken, which added warmth and subtle sweetness to the sandwich that sealed the deal.

Given a tasty, memorable lunch with quick and pleasant service, I’ll be sure to find them again in Charleston.

The Auto-Banh Vietnamese Sandwich truck can be found online on Twitter, Facebook, or their at auto-banh.com.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Round 1 HUSK

(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

As Georgia (Nic Bell) and New Orleans (Briana Prevost) natives, we know authentic Southern food. Naturally, coming to Charleston as Spoleto festival reporters meant finding the best food in the low country. Our mission started with one simple goal in mind: finding (and eating) the best bowl of shrimp and grits in the city. Our first stop in our bi-weekly Shrimp and Grits Showdown was Husk.

Voted as GQ’s best new restaurant of 2011, Husk has been awarded many accolades, both from locals and critics alike, but it does have a reputation for being a little inconsistent. Our immediate reaction to Husk was how gorgeous it was. Situated in an old antebellum house, complete with a two tier wraparound porch, the restaurant had a rustic feeling with dark wooden floors and butcher block topped tables. Even the dishes were rustic and earthen.

Nic’s picks: When our shrimp and grits arrived, I was a little confused by the contents of the bowl. Perched atop the grits were wonderfully plump and tender shrimp, but it was all bathed in a disturbing amount of a tomato sauce. Included in the dish was peppers, onions, peas, and smoked pork.

The grits were velvet smooth and satisfying, not as gritty as most grits I’ve had, but not too watery. The smoked peppers, onions, and peas were a pleasant surprise, but the tomato was heavy handed and overpowered the subtle taste and texture of the star ingredient, the grits.

I appreciated the smoky flavor of both the pork and the tomatoes, but the overwhelming amount of tomatoes, in my opinion, ruined a perfectly good dish.

B’s business: Husk’s shrimp and grits comes in a huge bowl fitting for its contents. Comprised not only of shrimp and grits, but also a bed of peas, chives and tomatoes with tomato gravy sat atop the white corn confection.

Although a bit gritty, the grits were cooked just long enough and with just enough butter to be enjoyed by itself. The peas added an extra unexpected mini burst of flavor when combined with the subtle taste of cheese, however, the overpowering taste of the tomato and its juices took away any chance this dish had at making it an enjoyable hodgepodge of southern flavor.

Too bad too, the best part about Husk’s shrimp and grits was the shrimp. Jumbo and plump, the shrimp reigned supreme as both meaty enough to make this dish edible as a main course, yet flavorful on its own merits.

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s picks: The cornbread. Studded with bits of bacon and topped with sea salt, this was a delicious compliment to the creaminess of the grits.

The burger. It’s not a stretch to say that this was the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Soft, supple bun, perfectly melted cheese, briny pickles, and pungent mustard for a great burger make. Also serve with potato wedges and homemade ketchup (which was delicious, and also coming from a man that HATES ketchup).

B’s business: Another unexpected treat was the cornbread. Baked with bacon and basked in butter, this cornbread had more of a savory fill than sweet but was just as moist as should be. For any sweet toothers (like myself) a slather of Husk’s Portland butter on the cornbread will fix this problem. And as the sweet butter melts into the cornbread, so will the cornbread into your mouth.

King Street Storefronts Get Festive

The entire city is preparing for the start of Spoleto, and the stores on King Street are no exception. With storefronts containing the festival poster and window displays inspired by it’s aesthetic for Spoleto Festival USA’s merchant contest, the shops on King Street are certainly showing their Spoleto pride.

Juicy Couture is promoting the festival with this simple window cling.

Juicy Couture

Shooz has installed this series of hanging pentagons inspired by this year’s poster.

Shooz

Copper Penny decked out both window displays with Spoleto colors and shapes.

Copper Penny 1

Copper Penny 2

American Apparel ran with the colors and shapes from the Spoleto poster.

American Apparel

Francesca’s surrounded their hand-stitched poster with orange products. 

Luna's

Spot any more festive window displays on King Street?
Send us your photos on twitter @SpoletoChas!