Tuesday February 28, 2012
Suddenly southern cookery is in the national spotlight. Barbeque has been trendy outside the South for awhile now, bacon appears in just about everything (even when it shouldn't), and farming, defying the convential wisdom of hipness, is now cool. Any self-respecting southerner would tell you that farm fresh vegetables have always been well-regarded, bacon has long been appreciated as a versatile, superior foodstuff and barbecue is a way of life. But hey, we're not "over it" just because the rest of the country has caught on. The world should know of the deep-frying, ham-hocking, gravy-sopping secrets that have sustained the South for generations. No city exemplifies the rise in prominence of southern cooking more than Charleston, SC. The just-announced James Beard semifinalists include Charleston restaurants and chefs such as The Macintosh (Best New restaurant) and Sean Brock of McCrady's (Oustanding Chef: National), as well as three nominees for Best Chef: Southeast: Jeremiah Bacon (The Macintosh), Ken Vedrinski (Trattoria Lucca) and Craig Deihl (Cypress). Not many (if any) cities can compete with the amount of fantastic restaurants per capita as little old Charleston.
On my last visit to Chucktown, I made Lowcountry cuisine a priority. And though I've had my share of excellent fried seafood, Lowcountry boils and frogmore stew over the years, I'd never tried a proper rendition of the city's signature dish: shrimp and grits (not in Charleston at least). A short trip from downtown Charleston across the impressive, cable-stayed Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge (new as of 2005) led my fellow diners and me to the Old Village Post House in Mount Pleasant's Historic Old Village. In a two-story restored 19th century building, the Old Village Post House fits right in with Charleston: refined yet relaxed. It functions as a suitable tavern for those just looking for a drink, an elegant restaurant for an upscale but unpretentious meal, and even a place to sleep - the inn has six bedrooms, not too far from the beach. But for my purposes, it was an ideal spot to partake of Lowcountry cuisine's finest dish. The shrimp and grits, with andouille sausage, country ham bits, tomatoes, stone ground grits, a pile of flavorul green onions, and plenty of garlic and Cajun seasoning, did not fail to impress. Dark red in color, it boasted a luxurious depth of flavor without being too rich. The sausage, garlic and Cajun seasoning gave it a moderate level of satisfying, late-breaking heat. All in all, my first proper shrimp and grits experience was a smashing success, but so much so that I'm reticent to even consider ordering it anywhere that's not within a 100-mile radius from Charleston. For our complete list of Charleston's best restaurants, follow the link.