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 sauté 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

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nick Brings Anya Fernald and Caleb Zigas to the Table

The world is small these days. We often get the false sense of keeping touch via facebook and e-mail, but there is still no substitute for the actual interaction at table.

One such connection happened at the 2010 Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium between Nick Pihakis, Chef Drew Robinson both from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, and a group of taste and trend makers from the bay area of California. It began with Jim ‘N Nick’s participation in the 2009 and 2010 Eat Real Festival in Oakland, California where Nick met the event’s founder and Director of Live Culture Co., Anya Fernald. A past director of Slow Foods International, Anya is a force of nature in the rising good food movement devoted to the goal of making wholesome food more widely accessible by supporting hundreds of innovative and like-minded small businesses. 70,000 people attended the first Eat Real Festival, generating over $400,000 in revenue for local food businesses and farmers. Jim ‘N Nick’s has been proud to participate in the event and support Anya and Live Culture with the hope of bringing a similar event to the American South.

Nick also brought another friend from the bay to the table—Caleb Zigas. Caleb is the director of the highly successful and heralded incubator kitchen, “La Cocina” in San Francisco, CA. The mission of La Cocina is to cultivate low-income food entrepreneurs as they formalize and grow their businesses by providing affordable commercial kitchen space, industry-specific business assistance and access to market opportunities. They focus primarily on women from communities of color and immigrant communities with a vision that entrepreneurs will become economically self-sufficient and contribute to a vibrant economy doing what they love to do.

La Cocina is a ground-breaking business incubator designed to reduce the obstacles that often prevent entrepreneurs from creating successful and sustainable small businesses. By providing shared resources and an array of industry-specific services, business incubators ensure small businesses can succeed.

At this year’s Southern Foodways symposium, aptly coined “The Global South”, Anya, Caleb and Nick and Drew, we able to share in the making of fresh-pressed tortillas, whole hog tacos, and most importantly, a shared passion for making better foods more accessible to all.

Find out more about our California friends by visiting Live Culture Co. at and La Cocina at You can explore the works of the Southern Foodways Alliance at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Corn, Masa and a Passion for Some Damn Fine Tortillas

It’s our history—our most famous indigenous food—corn. Way before the Spanish hit the scene, before the pig furrowed the ground in the Americas, corn was the thing. She’s one of the triplets of the “three sisters”, along with beans and squash, the native Americans (including those who were living in what is now known as Mexico) heralded these three queens of sustenance by cultivating, caring for, and showing great respect for with their innovative cooking. It’s a wondrous vegetable that can be sweet and fresh, dried for meal, fed to our livestock, and distilled for our drink.

It makes sense that the modern American South and Mexico would feel the influence of each other. Food is an easy view into how we enjoy the same kinds of tastes. We both utilize corn meal cooked in various forms. Could be cornbread or a corn tortilla cooked in cast iron or perhaps spooned in and wrapped up in husks for tamales. Southerners love spicy food and Mexicans helped teach us to grow and utilize peppers. We like our meats cooked low and slow—barbacoa in Mexico and Bar-B-Q in the states. We celebrate the flavors of Mexico directly and indirectly and Mexico plays a major part in our “global South.”

Recently, at the Southern Foodways Alliance’s symposium held annually in Oxford, Mississippi, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q helped to celebrate this beautiful mix of culinary creativity by stuffing upwards of 800 handmade tortillas with their slow-cooked, pulled pork (carnitas), goat (cabra) and beef toungue (lengua). But Chef Drew Robinson didn’t just buy a giant pack of corn tortillas and source generic meat and vegetables. He sourced products from Southern farms and can trace the products to the land they were grown on. Corn was actually soaked, milled and forced into “masa” (Spanish for “dough”) in Oxford by a team of chefs, cooks and even office staff from Jim ‘N Nick’s.

The tortillas and the slow cooked meats took two full days of cooking. Led by Jim ‘N Nick’s tortilla experts, Raquel Rivera Bjora, Claudia Rivera and Jose Garcia, the cooks ground the corn into masa, portioned out and shaped dough balls by hand that would eventually be pressed in a manual tortilla press and cooked on Lodge cast iron griddles (made in Chattanooga, TN), set over flames. Each tortilla was stuffed with the meats, topped off with scratch made tomato salsa, salsa arbol, and salsa verde, and served with organic pickled vegetables and roasted corn on the side. The flavors were rich and intense yet even with all of the spices, unctuous meats and bright vegetables inside the tortillas, the true flavor, coaxed respectfully from each kernel, shone through and paid due homage to corn.

Oh, and if you missed the hand-made tortillas and tacos at the SFA symposium, keep an eye out for a new taqueria, imagined by the Jim ‘N Nick’s folks, called “Little Donkey” to open in 2011 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cornbread and Meat

Celebrating “The Global South” with The Southern Foodways Alliance

Oxford, Mississippi, in October conjures visions of leafy college campus paths, tailgating in the grove and cheering on Ole Miss. But each year, on an “away game” weekend, the Southern Foodways Alliance, based at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississppi, hosts its annual symposium. Southerners and outlanders alike gather to celebrate, study and discuss the state of Southern food and the diverse and changing culture that brings us all to the table.

The 13th annual gathering focused on “The Global South” as its theme and explored not only the oft discussed African, Native American and Western European influences on our cuisine, but the more modern role that Vietnamese, Cuban and South American and Mexican tastes have played in the evolution of how we eat in the American South.

“Cornbread and meat”, Drew Robinson, Executive Chef of Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q ponders, “it’s really cornbread and meat when you get down to it” Drew is speaking to the similarities between a Latin American’s way and a Southerner’s way with cooking meat—low and slow. He’s speaking to the corn tortilla or the masa inside tamales or the cornbread along side the pork on our Sunday supper table. This year, Jim ‘N Nick’s was honored to drive their Bar-B-Q rig to Oxford town to cook for the attendees of this year’s SFA event. Inspired by this year’s theme, the folks from Jim ‘N Nick’s prepared a feast of traditional Mexican-style tacos, “Elote” (traditional Mexican grilled corn with mayonnaise, lime, chile powder and a sprinkling of cotija anejo cheese) and queso fundido. The tacos were filled with organic, grass-fed beef tongue from White Oak Pastures and Riverview Farms pastured pork, both from Georgia. Goat meat was sourced from Ledbetter Acres in Lafayette, Alabama and vegetables for the pickles and three fresh salsas were sourced from Jones Valley Urban Farm in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.

A team of folks from Jim ‘N Nick’s worked for two days straight smoking meat, shucking corn and making fresh, corn tortillas! Not just mixing masa cornmeal with water, they actually ground the corn, boiled it and milled it to press and cook fresh, authentic, hand made corn tortillas!!!! It was a noble and incredible effort that sent the strong message of honoring the people and ingredients that get us together in the kitchen and around a common table. For more information on the Southern Foodways Alliance visit

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jim 'N Nick's Fires up Atlanta

Autumn in Atlanta is festival time. Each year, the number of special events and food festivals grows and it seems that no matter where you wander on any given fall weekend in Atlanta, the Jim ‘N Nick’s rig is present. Led by Brian Lyman, the Atlanta team fires up the smoker, decorates the area with all manner of harvest-themed, piggy flair, and invites folks to taste the scratch-made, signature dishes that make them a festival favorite.

Taste of Atlanta, one of the city’s premier food events is in its 9th year and is held smack in the middle of town. In the shadow of midtown skyscrapers, along side 70 other Atlanta restaurants, celebrity chefs and musical entertainment, Jim ‘N Nick’s rolled up the big rig smoker and set to cooking. Brian, decked out in chef’s whites (how does he keep them clean?) and his crew smoked and grilled in the Indian summer sun to food enthusiasts from all over the South.

Hoping to hold onto their consecutive, 3-year title of “Best Taste”. Will Grier manned the grill while Mike Huffler, Jeremy Chambers and the rest of the team served up 6000 plates of ribs, grilled corn and catfish tacos over the course of 2 days. Festival goers were at first surprised to find the Bar-B-Q team assembling tacos but the combination of their crispy-yet-tender fried catfish, coleslaw, cilantro and house-made tartar sauce became a festival favorite and shed light on Jim ‘N Nick’s “Taco Tuesdays” held in each store. If you missed the Taste of Atlanta festival this year, stop by one of the stores each Tuesday to check out the tacos and of course the ribs are always available. Oh, and the final tallies are just in and yes, Jim ‘N Nick’s Atlanta team has indeed been named “Taste of Atlanta People’s Choice for Best Taste” for the 4th year in a row! Congratulations to all of you!