Monday, November 22, 2010

Evolution of a Southern Classic

Grits—they are the iconic ground grains of the American South, a cousin to Northern Italian polenta, and they are even a sometimes-maligned mystery to our neighbors in the North. A typical way to eat them is along side eggs and bacon or country ham at breakfast. Sometimes they are baked into a cheese-laced casserole. Grits become even more specifically regional, when they hit the coast. “Shrimp and Grits” happens when coastal cooks sautĂ© fresh caught shrimp with butter or bacon (or both) add their own flair with country ham, sausage or hot sauce and tomatoes. The mixture is ladled onto steaming, stone-ground grits and the dish is delicious.

Not far from the South Carolina coast is a speck of a town called Hemingway. The town is probably best known for a whole hog barbecue restaurant started and still run by Ella and Roosevelt “Rosie” Scott and their son Rodney who is now the pitmaster at Scott’s Bar-B-Que. The Scott’s have always been a local favorite and have recently obtained national acclaim thanks to travelers, eaters and writers who have visited, enjoyed the pork and then set out to spread the good word. Heck, even the ABC Nightline crew stopped by recently to see what the talk was all about and featured them on one of their September broadcasts. Rodney Scott is a good friend to the folks at Jim ‘n Nick’s Bar-B-Q and on a trip to visit the Scott’s in Hemingway, they noticed something interesting…

Scott’s only serves pulled pork—no side dishes. Scott’s is also a variety store so on any given day there might be boiled peanuts, melons, jars of local cane syrup, or sweet potatoes (raw—you have to take them home and cook them yourself) You can pick up a bag of chips and loaf of white bread to make yourself a sandwich. Folks who have come to love Scott’s Bar-B-Que, and eat their pork regularly, have figured out how to make it their own. There’s a fast food restaurant close by Scott’s and fans of the pulled pork have begun to hit the fast food joint first, buy a cup of their grits—plain—and then take the cup over to Scott’s and get some of the famous pulled pork piled on top. It’s a riff on the classic shrimp and grits but with smokey, unctuous pork, including bits of crispy skin and the peppery vinegar sauce seeping over the hot grits. A new iconic grits dish is born! It’s genius, and when Jim ‘n Nick’s Chef Drew Robinson and founder Nick Pihakis saw what was happening, they decided to develop a menu item for their restaurants that pays homage to their good friend Rodney Scott and the smart people of Hemingway who invented the dish.

Back home in his test kitchen, Chef Robinson knew to start with great grits. Not that far from Birmingham, in the town of Wilsonville, Alabama, is where McEwen & Sons Grist Mill is located. Frank and Helen McEwen obtain organic corn and then stone grind it to make their celebrated grits. The cooked grits result in a creamy, yet stable texture and hold their true corn flavor. They are the perfect vehicle for Jim ‘n Nick’s own pulled pork. Once the grits are cooked, mixed with a little bit of cheese for added richness and topped with the smoked pork, a sauce inspired by Rodney Scott’s own hybrid Carolina vinegar sauce is drizzled over the top.

The final dish is one that Jim ‘n Nick’s Bar-B-Q is proud to share with customers every Wednesday. It’s a special dish with its own special day “Pork and Grits Wednesday” is a good time to come in, order a plate and plan a journey to Hemingway, South Carolina.

To read more about Scott’s Bar-B-Q visit:

To find out about McEwen and Sons Grist Mill, go to

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