Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hominy Grill - Charleston

On our recent trip to the southeast we visited the Hominy Grill located at 207 Rutledge Avenue in Charleston, South Carolina 29403 (843-937-0930). 
It is rated a 4 on Yelp and is rated as #43 out of 527 restaurants in Charleston by Trip Advisor. The James Beard Foundation Awards, established in 1990, and voted on by culinary professionals, are sometimes called the "Oscars of Food." 
For three years running, 2008 to 2010, the best chef in the southeastern U.S. went to a chef at a Charleston restaurant. This streak was started in 2008 by Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill. Hominy Grill has been featured on the Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate (chocolate souffle), the Travel Channel's No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, the Travel Channel's Amazing Eats with Adam Richman (featuring shrimp & grits and the "Big Nasty," a fried chicken breast between two buttery biscuits smothered in sausage gravy), and the Travel Channel's Man v. Food with Adam Richman (also featuring the Big Nasty). 

According to 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, by Patricia Schultz, Charleston is the home of Lowcountry Cuisine, "a harmonious blending of French, Spanish, African and Caribbean influences". It is a creative spin on "traditional ingredients like shrimp, oysters, crab, rice, grits, okra, and fried greens". It states, "to truly appreciate the high style of the new South, you've got to experience the homey excellence of the no-frills old South at Hominy Grill, a neighborhood restaurant whose devotees adore the breakfasts of buttermilk pancakes and biscuits with country ham and mushroom gravy. Lunch is great too." Wikipedia says that lowcountry "includes the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia" and in particular, from "Pawleys Island, South Carolina to the confluence of the Savannah River at the Georgia state line." It names Charleston and Savannah as the centers for lowcountry cuisine with their "rich diversity of seafood from the coastal estuaries." 

We visited Hominy Grill on a Friday evening shortly after it opened and were happy we arrived early, or we would have been waiting in line. Robert Stehling is still the chef/proprietor and it has a very fun menu. We were seated at a wood table with a sheet of paper as a table cloth, wooden arm chairs, and a beautiful pink flower with a canning jar as a vase. 
It is not fancy, but it is nicely cheap.  The menu is broken down into appetizers, sandwiches, small plates, main plates, house specialties, sides and drinks.  Desserts of the day are posted on sign boards. A small cardboard container of boiled peanuts was given to us while we looked at the menu, our first taste of boiled peanuts. 
We both quite liked them. The outer peanut shell is soggy and peels off easily. The inner peanut is very soft, with a look, consistency and taste like that of a kidney bean. 
It has a slightly salty taste and our waiter confirmed that they are boiled in salt water. I got a bowl of the soup of the day which was turnips and smoked ham hock soup. 
The soup was full of ingredients, primarily boiled turnips and a smattering of ham. It was a little bland. It was different and enjoyable, but I was not wowed by it. I would have liked it more seasoned. We got an appetizer of fried green tomatoes with ranch dressing. 
I'd previously had fried green tomatoes in Florida and was not impressed, so I had no desire to try them again. But Judy insisted. It was the same result for me. I ate one piece and let Judy finish the rest. I find them very bland and only enjoyable when smothered in ranch dressing. Judy liked them quite a bit. Judy got the shrimp & grits, with sauteed shrimp, mushrooms, scallions and bacon, served on cheese grits. 
The grits were a very nice texture, very tasty, and Judy says that the shrimp was cooked perfectly, still very moist. It was a winner. I got the 4 veg plate with the choice of four vegetables. It included boiled kale and potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, squash casserole with egg (my favorite of the four), pickled onions and cucumbers (second best) and a wedge of corn bread (a bit dry, but I'm sure if I'd slathered it in butter and honey it would have been great). 
It was very nice to have the option of so many vegetables. Finally, I ordered lemon pound cake for dessert which would not have been Judy's choice at all. I really like moist, heavy, pound cake with sicky sweet frosting. 
This was not what I'd hoped for. It was rather dry and the frosting was pretty thin. The whipped cream on top was only slightly sweet and wasn't worth the calories. Most of the dessert went uneaten. 

I would love to go back and try many more things on the menu. I suspect that the menu gets friendlier if you delve into the heavy, deep fried offerings. As it was, we really enjoyed ourselves. The atmosphere was nice and the food offerings were good, although only Judy's shrimp & grits hit the extraordinary level. I'm sure there are more items on the menu that fit that bill. A place worthy of going back to for multiple visits. 


  1. I actually had boiled peanuts years ago at a Relief Society activity. They were oddly addicting.

  2. Best grits I have ever had, even more wonderful because they were paired with delicious shrimp. Why didn't you tell me they are known for their chocolate mousse?