published Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Braly: Grits a true staple of South

I'm sure many of you have heard tales of non-Southerners trying grits for the first time. My favorite is the one about the visitor who said he didn't know exactly what they were and wasn't sure if he would like them, so he just wanted one grit! Trying to picture that always brings a smile to my face.

Recently, I had a firsthand first-grits experience to tell you about. I joined longtime friends Diane and David Crabtree, who had come to Chattanooga from Nashville, with another old friend from grammar school, Carol Clark, who now lives in Cardiff, Wales. We hadn't seen each other in 40 years.

Carol brought along her boyfriend, Steve Bentley, a native of Manchester, England, and an engineering professor at Cardiff University. We had dinner at FoodWorks. Now that's a good restaurant to give someone a first-time taste of the South. When Steve saw shrimp and grits on the menu, he declared his intention to try them.

"I've always heard about them but have never had the chance to try them," he said.

When his food arrived, all he could do was stare at the large cake of grits on his plate. It took him a minute to decide the best way to eat it before he simply dug in and came out with a huge chunk of cheesy grits on his fork. The first bite produced a smile, and we all waited in anticipation to hear his review.

"They're OK," he said. "Interesting."

I don't think he was blown away by the grits, but he said they were much better than he had expected.

If he returns to Chattanooga, I'll encourage him to try another Southern staple on the FoodWorks menu: quail. That's what I ordered, and I think I hit the jackpot. It was basted in blackberry sauce and served over spinach and creamy grits. Outstanding. I highly recommend this dish, which offers yet another way to serve grits. They are, after all, one of the best things about the South.

I found this recipe at www.grits.com and have made these once before, serving them with filets cooked on the grill. They're a nice change from traditional side dishes served with grilled meats, as well as one more idea for using parsley from your garden.

Blue Cheese Grits

3 cups water

11/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 cup grits

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Garlic powder (optional)

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

1/4 stick butter

Bring the water to a boil. Add the salt, and stir in the grits.

Turn the heat down very low, and cook the grits for 20 minutes. Give it a good stir every 5 minutes or so.

After 20 minutes, add the parsley. This will give it additional flavor and a nice hint of color. If you like, you also can stir in a pinch of garlic powder.

Cook 5 more minutes, and remove from the heat. Immediately stir in the blue cheese and butter, and stir until both are melted. The grits will have a nice creamy consistency. Makes 3-4 servings.

If you haven't made plans for this Friday night and want to celebrate local food offerings, make a date for the Broad Street Grille's Tasting Series. The theme is "Southern Farm to Table Classics," featuring some of executive chef Matt Pinner's favorite Southern fare. I particularly like the sound of his chilled grilled shrimp gumbo salad with purple okra. It's just one of many dishes that show this chef's creativity. Dinner begins at 7 p.m. For reservations, call 424-3700.

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