Revered as a James Beard award-winner, Hominy Grill in Charleston, South Carolina delivers all the authenticity of down home, low-country southern cooking. Hominy Grill encapsulates sweet southern charm with divinely, delicious creations of which regional, reliable recipes culminate into flavorful labors of love.
Housed in an old red building with the feel of a bygone era, Hominy Grill casts its net to a far reaching gaggle of foodies who flock to this Charleston reservoir to get their fill of quintessential Southern cuisine. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner for those diehard southern comfort-food fans.
Now, I’m from the South, but the Far South as I’d like to refer to it. My South is not to be confused with the Deep South. My South is a melting pot of émigré snowbirds and immigrant Caribbean and Latin Americans. It is more like a bouillabaisse of northeastern USA combined with the essence of La Havana and a dash of Simon Bolivar. I am from the last vestige of somewhat civilized America which dangles on the tip of the flaccid penile state of Florida. That’s right, the land that harbors political and social refugees from Cuba, Haiti, Central and South America, and any other asylum seekers pining to soak up the temperate sun and avoid state taxes. Growing up, my tastes and cultural influences derived mainly from the flavors of the Caribbean, so for me, real southern food was pretty much non-existent.
My eternally, burning question has been: “What the hell is hominy?” As a tyke from Miami, I’d never heard of it, never seen it and certainly never tasted it. As I’ve come to understand, it is a derivative of corn and when its ground fine it becomes grits. It wasn’t until I voyaged to Central Florida that I had my first encounter with grits, and to be expected, they seemed, well, gritty. Like any good gastronome I found that slathering them with butter and dousing them in salt made them at best, palatable. I really wasn’t impressed.
Not being much of a southern food connoisseur, I thought what better place to really research this foreign palate scheme than to try first hand an acclaimed southern joint. That is how I found myself in Charleston, SC at Hominy Grill. Now this place has been heralded as one of the greats, so I decided that it would be there that I would partake of this foreign fare.
In my book, no adventure begins without the fateful, yet grateful welcoming cocktail. I was impressed with the libations, crafty though limited. During my dining experience I tried the John Daley, a pleasant mix of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka and lemonade. It sure makes one wish for a swing, front porch and an unlimited view of magnolia groves. This cocktail was smooth and uninhibiting. I then tried the Dark & Stormy, which rightfully so, packed a bit more punch with Goslings Black Seal Rum and Blenheim’s Ginger Ale. I ordered from the menu as I was in need of sustenance and without would myself, become dark and stormy.
I began with a cup of She-Crab Soup. Can I just say…. Hands down it was the best She-Crab I have ever had. Rich without being overbearing and just a dollop of roe and smidgeon of sherry to culminate in a lip smacking sumptuous flavor. Next I tried the Fried Green Tomatoes which were a different taste and texture than what I’m accustomed to, but each timid peck seemed to beg an additional tasting.
I ordered a Picnic Sampler to further acclimate myself to these new taste sensations. The amalgamation of pimento cheese on garlic toast with a bit of shaved country ham allowed me to bob my head like a chicken in a hen-house communicating that it was surprisingly delicious and yes, I ought to venture farther. The real treat for me was how much I loved the crunchy tartness of the pickled okra, overcoming my fear of what I thought would be slimy and regretful.
I have heard Shrimp and Grits to be a Southern staple and I was eager to investigate this unusual combination. I had only understood grits to be a breakfast item, but lo and behold there it was, placed in front of me with the unlikely addition of succulently sautéed shrimp….. and offered for dinner no less! The dish included tender mushroom, scallions and bacon over cheese infused grits. Wow! Now I know why these folks from the South refer to themselves as Rebels. Who else would put these two things together…. but it works!
I must admit that it was a hearty dish, quite filling and comforting to both palate and tummy. I sampled the Fried Chicken, which had that crispiness that only Southerners and Cornel Sanders are privy to. I also summoned the where-with-all to ingest a bit of the Slow Smoked St. Louis Ribs with blackstrap molasses barbeque sauce. Finger licking good, is all I can say.
I had to bring my research of Southern gastronomy to an end as I began to feel that one more biteful would surely make the South rise again. For anyone accustomed to Southern food, and for anyone like myself looking to expand their range of cuisine, Hominy Grill is a wonderful and worthwhile experience. Check them out next time you’re in Charleston.