The Search for the Perfect Shrimp & Grits

If you’re heading to Charleston, South Carolina, be prepared to eat extremely well. The city is filled with restaurants offering a wide variety of unique, southern-style seafood entrees. And one thing you'll have to try while you’re there is shrimp & grits. It’s kind of the official dish.

So, when I arrived in Charleston, “shrimp & grits” was definitely on my list.

I asked someone who calls Charleston home, “Where’s the best place to go for shrimp & grits?’

“Hmmm,” she said. “With so many amazing local restaurants, you can pretty much go anywhere that serves it and you’ll be fine.”

Okay, I thought, I’ll just find a local place that looks good and stop. 

I chose a restaurant on the road leading to Folly Beach. 

I walked in, looked around and asked, “Do you have shrimp & grits?”

“Of course!”

“Is it good?”

“Oh yeah.”

I looked past the hostess into the kitchen where I saw the cook moving around quickly, stirring one entree, and transferring another to a platter. He looked up, caught my eye, and smiled.

Okay, I’m in. I took a seat and sat down.

When my meal arrived a short time later, I looked up at the server, just a little puzzled.

“Is this how everyone makes shrimp & grits?”

“Pretty much.  Every place is a little different, but yeah, this is how most people make them.”

I looked down at a big plate of white grits with shrimp doused in brown gravy. There were round hush puppies on the side. My first thought was, “This isn’t what it looks like on the internet.”

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Most photos show a sauce that’s more of a coral, pinkish-orange color.  Minus the hush puppies.

The food was okay, but not really what I expected.

I mentioned the dish to a Charleston native later.

“Brown gravy?  I’ve never had shrimp & grits with brown gravy!”

I've since had others say that some places do make it that way.

A day or so later, I stopped at another restaurant to try “shrimp & grits.”  The restaurant had the name “Charleston” in it, so I figured I was in good shape.

The server brought a plate of somewhat soupy shrimp & grits with eggs and a biscuit on the side. And while it might seem logical to serve eggs with grits, I'd just never heard about the “shrimp & grits” and egg combo. Apparently there are many different ways to prepare the dish.

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Later, I asked several Charleston locals about it.

The first one asked, “They gave you eggs with it?  Really?”

The second one commented, “I’ve never had eggs served with shrimp & grits.”

And the third one offered, “You should try another restaurant.”

One recommended “82 Queen” in downtown Charleston, another mentioned “Page’s Okra Grill” in Mount Pleasant.

I chose “Page’s Okra Grill.” On the day I arrived, I pulled in to find the place absolutely packed. And this on a day it was pouring down rain. I wasn’t in the mood to fight the crowd, especially with the bad weather, but the rows and rows of cars seemed like a good sign.

I went in and was told I’d have to wait for a seat, unless I wanted to sit at the counter. I headed toward the back.

At the counter, I ordered “shrimp & grits” and waited in anticipation, even as a part of me tried not to get too excited. I struck up a conversation with a local couple to my right who assured me I was definitely in the right place. It didn’t take long to prove them right.

The waitress brought out a bowl of the most beautiful shrimp & grits I've ever seen. The sauce was the perfect color and consistency, with just the right amount of shrimp. And the grits were cooked up in two lightly fried “cakes” in the shape of Texas toast. 

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I took the first bite and thought, "I'm in heaven." A wave of other food cliches flew through my mind, chief among them, "This is to die for." I'm not one of those people who goes crazy over food, but I admit, this was pure, unadulterated bliss. 

On the way out, I saw a sign in front of the restaurant that I didn’t see earlier. It read, “Southern Living’s #1 Shrimp & Grits.”

Ahhhhh. They’re absolutely right!