Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hominy Grill - Charleston

There’s certain feeling of elation when you receive a wedding invitation in the mail, particularly when it’s a couple you’ve known since day one. However, happy as I was to be invited to the ceremony, I was equally excited to see their choice of city, Charleston, South Carolina. Some may call it a problem, I simply call it planning ahead but after reserving a hotel room, the first thing I did was begin to research where to eat. 

While I was researching, I found it hard to believe that is had been four years since I was last in Charleston. In that time, I’ve had little more to do than salivate over the mountains of food press the city has garnered. With Sean Brock of Husk leading the charge of the kitchens and John T. Edge, Garden and Gun, and the food magazines providing the ink, the low-country city has more than secured a reputation as a food lovers’ destination.

Speaking of Husk, while that may have been my first choice for Friday dinner, a 10 pm reservation forced me to keep looking. Scanning through various blogs, chowhound threads, and major magazines, it seemed that if Husk was number one, Hominy Grill was never far behind. While scrolling through YouTube, I found an episode of No Reservations where Bourdain attempted to finish a mountain of biscuit, chicken, and gravy called The Big Nasty.  With that my mind was made up; a phone call was made and soon Hominy Grill was my Friday dinner destination.

If there was one thing I had underestimated it was the time it takes to drive from Kiawah Island to Charleston. It’s not the distance or the speed limit; it’s getting stuck behind a driver who decided that 5 mph below the limit is just too fast for his blood. 45 minutes or so after leaving the island, I was ready for a drink and to see if Hominy Grill could live up to its fame.

After a short wait and playing audience to a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of “pescaterian”, I was shown to my table and greeted with a cardboard tray of boiled peanuts.
Even though I’ve never been much of a fan of boiled peanuts, these groundnuts were a fine example of the breed. Served warm, these peanuts were juicy and not too salty. Tender and meaty, there truly was just enough salt to highlight the natural peanut flavor.

Good as the boiled peanuts may have been, I pushed them away in an effort to save room for the two trademark Hominy Grill dishes, the shrimp & grits and The Big Nasty. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a misunderstanding as both dishes appeared at the same time. Forced to choose one to fully enjoy, I started on The Big Nasty and let the shrimp & grits begin to cool.
When presented with a fried chicken breast, cheddar cheese, high-rise biscuit and sausage gravy, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Trying each component on its own, it was the sausage gravy first. Creamy and with each bite carrying a lingering pickled pepper & vinegar tail, there was hot sauce at work with this mix of sausage and gravy.
Usually the weak point of any dish, this piece of fried breast meat was juicy and an able player in this dish.
As for the high-rise biscuit, it was a thick, dense, and a bit floury. Nothing too special on its own, it worked quite well with the fried chicken and sausage gravy. All together, this is certainly an above average chicken and biscuit, but I’m not too sure about its status of as a “50 Best Southern Foods” side dish.

While I was working on my biscuit and gravy, my waitress had noticed the untouched shrimp & grits. Telling me they were best fresh from the kitchen, she offered to bring me a fresh order when I was finished with The Big Nasty. Once I was done with chicken and biscuit, a fresh order of the house specialty shrimp and grits was brought to my table.
Piping hot and brimming with shrimp, mushroom, scallions, and bacon, this was what I come to Hominy Grill hoping to find.
With the cheese grits acting as a canvas for the shrimp and the aromatics, the flavors really had a chance to bloom.
Sadly the shrimp were boiling hot and overcooked but when combined with the vinegar laced spiciness of the other components this dish worked decently well.
Despite the occasional sand vein, I was more concerned with the overwhelming hot sauce flavor. My waitress later revealed the kitchen used Tabasco and judging from the flavor of the dish, they weren’t shy about it.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in my meal at Hominy Grill. While I wasn’t expecting a low country epiphany, I wasn’t expecting a dinner presented by McIllheny either. The Big Nasty, for all the hoopla surrounding the biscuit, was surprisingly mundane. Nothing particularly wrong with it but I’d put the Cathead biscuits from Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford to be an equal if not superior choice. As for the shrimp & grits,  this version, forgetting the overcooked and sandy shrimp, relied too heavily on the vinegar flavor of Tabasco. With a lunch at Husk to look forward to, I still had hope for this Charleston trip, but Hominy Grill wasn’t getting things off to a good start.       

Hominy Grill Address & Information
207 Rutledge Avenue, Charleston,SC 29403 // 843.937.0930 // Hominy Grill Website // Hominy Grill Menu                                                                                
Hominy Grill on Urbanspoon

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