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Kiss My Grits

Local chefs know the Southern staple isn’t just for breakfast By Kelly Twedell

From hoity-toity and down-home versions of Shrimp and Grits, to various interpretations of grits as a side dish, this long-time favorite on Southern tables has become a hot trend (no pun intended) that is cropping up on menus all over town. Traditionally thought of as a breakfast dish, some Fayetteville chefs have transformed grits into lunch and dinner entrées, inspired from savory flavors hailing from cities across the South — Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans ... you get the picture.

Grits can be an acquired taste for those not born in the South. For those unaccustomed to eating them, I recommend starting with cheddar cheese grits. Done right, they might just replace Mac & Cheese as a go-to comfort food. At Mac’s Speed Shop on McPherson Church, the cheddar grits are served up as a side dish with scrumptious smoked barbecue. Mac’s lets diners choose two sides to go with each entrée, and I’ve been known to order a double side of cheese grits — foregoing veggies completely.

Nothing fancy, but their food will keep you coming back.

Looking to start your day with something hearty to soak up your morning coffee? In Downtown’s Marquis Market Executive Chef James Moody has been serving up a cheddar blend of creamy homemade grits topped with crisp, crumbled bacon for breakfast. He said they often sell out on the weekends. Rising in popularity, Shrimp and Grits have been added to their new Sunday brunch menu, as well. “The recipe we came up with is a cheddar grit with heavy cream,” Moody said. “Local farmers bring in the produce that we use in our daily menu items. Everyone here appreciates fresh food and fresh ingredients.”

Latitude 35’s rich Shrimp and Grits entrée harkens back to the heart of New Orleans, where Executive Chef Lyndel Opozda has roots. Opozda also infuses the restaurant’s offerings with tropical island flavors. “This is our third version of Shrimp and Grits that we’ve gone through, but this seems to be the most popular version we’ve done,” Opozda said. The whopping portion of succulent, sautéed, tail-on-shrimp sit atop the mildly spiced cream gravy, accented with crumbled bacon around the mound of firm-but-creamy cheese grits in the center, topped with a colorful vegetable garnish of corn, pico de gallo and green onions. Their cheese grits are made with a blend of both cheddar and jack cheeses.

The Mash House has three different grits entrées on the menu. (The Jambalaya and Grits dish is pictured.) Executive Chef Chris Chavis’ twist on jambalaya is a colorful dish that consists of chicken and plump shrimp with a tomato-based, Creole-inspired sauce ladled over the Old Mill of Guilford cheddar grits all served in a deep bowl. The Mash House’s Shrimp and Grits platter is non-traditional, as well, with the shrimp wrapped in bacon and dipped in barbecue sauce for a burst of flavor paired with the grits. The Short Ribs and Grits are made up of slow roasted beef short ribs atop cheddar cheese grits served with a side of broccoli. “The idea behind our menu items is to use fresh local ingredients and put our own spin on them, somewhat eclectic with a wide variety of items to choose from,” said Manager Justin Leonard.

Scrub Oaks Chef Malaina Naphy makes a mean southern version of Shrimp and Grits with a traditional red-eye gravy. She came upon the ingredients for this version of grits, using bacon, onions, blackened seasoning and heavy cream, in culinary school. Though Scrub Oaks already had a Shrimp and Gravy entrée on the menu, she helped revamp the menu with this new recipe. The grits are first formed into a block and then seared and placed on the plate and topped with six large fried shrimp. The red-eye gravy, made with coffee and country ham, is intended to soak into the breading of the shrimp.

Care to try your hand? Start with this recipe and create your own signature batch of Shrimp and Grits at home.

Simple Shrimp & Grits Serves 1 Ingredients: 2 Tbsp Butter 1 Tbsp minced Garlic ¼ cup diced Peppers, ¼ cup diced Yellow Onion ½ cup sliced Mushrooms (sauté) 6 Shrimp 1 Tbsp Blackening Spice ¼ cup diced Tomatoes 4 oz. Heavy Cream 8 oz. Grits, cooked 2 Tbsp Asiago Cheese 1 Tbsp Green Onions ( for garnish)

Directions: Make grits to your taste; feel free to add cream, cheese, or whatever you like. Keep warm on the stove. Heat a sauté pan to medium high, add butter and melt. As soon as foam subsides, add all ingredients except grits, cream, and green onion. (I like to add a grated jalapeno.) Cook everything together for about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cream and let it boil and reduce until thick. Pour over grits placed in serving bowl and sprinkle with diced green onions and asiago cheese.