What was once humble lowcountry comfort food served for breakfast or brunch has been elevated to gourmet status and is especially hot in Texas right now. Prefer shrimp and grits Cajun style, spicy jalapeno cheese grits piled with plump shrimp, savory bacon and scallions or a saucier rendition flavored with andouille sausage, tomato broth and microgreens? Tuck into this Southern showdown!
Executive chef Thomas Riordan of Trace in the W Hotel is really hamming it up with his Gulf shrimp and grits, housemade andouille sausage, spicy bacon and ham jus. It all starts with the grits. “Heritage grits from Homestead Gristmill in Waco are special,” Riordan says. “Because of singl-estep process of grinding with natural granite stones, the grits have a coarse, complex texture rather than ordinary soft, mushy grits.” He promises that everything is made from scratch and with great care including jus made from ham smoked in-house, which adds a savory depth of flavor. The grits taste creamy with a natural nutty corn flavor, providing the perfect foil for luscious gravy swimming around the bowl.
Count on hip surroundings, good wines and large portions of full-flavored comfort fare at Max’s wine dives around Texas by the Houston-based Lasco Group. The peppery fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy plate (with Champagne!) is the bomb, but the shrimp and grits are a house favorite for good reason. Rich jalapeño cheese stone grits give this a tangy, peppery base, which is topped with large seasoned shrimp, crispy bacon, scallions and fresh parsley. All of this awesomeness, composed by executive chef Stefon Rishel, is sided with a spicy butter broth, a garnish of sour cream to cool things off and the crowning glory: a poached egg. Praise be, you won’t have to eat for days.
Innovative takes on Southern classic recipes, including the chef ’s great grandmother’s famed chili biscuits, set chef-owner Chris Williams’s menu apart from Southern culinary wannabes. His generous platter at Lucille’s in the Museum District is actually more shrimp than grits. Fine by us—we like the plump, pearly white crustaceans. The stone grits are cooked low and slow with a little butter for a creamy and thick consistency and then accented with morsels of tender andouille sausage, sweet cherry tomatoes and snappy microgreens. A base of tomato and sherry give the broth a light vibrant kick, instead of a heavy gravy texture. This leaves you just enough room to try one of those famous biscuits!