IN DEFENSE OF GRITS
There are many traditional southern dishes that I wouldn’t touch with a stick. I don’t want to be in the room with chitterlings, nor can I abide mountain oysters or rooster fries. I think buttermilk should be fed to the hogs, or in the absence of the family hog, poured down the drain. I gag at the thought of a squirrel’s skull grinning up from my dirty rice and whoever ate the first frog leg was on the edge of cannibalism. I am not an apologist for southerners who have the palate of a sideshow geek. I do, on the other hand, love grits.
I grew up with cuisine that followed the biblical admonition that if God intended you to eat it, it should be fried, preferably in bacon grease or lard, but at least in Crisco. A corollary to this concept is that BBQ is pork and gumbo should be made with a dark chocolate roux. Real sausage comes in patties and fried eggs are served with grits. The first time I saw potatoes served at breakfast was at Fort McClellan’s mess hall. Since then, I have never been able to feel comfortable with hash browns, even those at Waffle House.
I have been puzzled by people who say they have tried to eat grits and just couldn’t get them down. It became clear that either they were beyond culinary help or someone had screwed up the grits. After having spent a lifetime traveling all over the U.S., I realized it was more likely the later. People who travel to the south from other areas of the country generally stay in hotels, and hotel restaurants are notoriously awful places to eat. It’s hard to mess up breakfast, but if anyone can do it, Holiday Inn and Marriott lead the pack.
I recently enjoyed a three day stay in one of Holiday Inn’s upscale properties. I ate breakfast in their dining room and sampled the grits on the breakfast buffet. They were inedible. They had the consistency of wall paper paste and absolutely no taste. They would gag a maggot and no amount of salt and butter could render them palatable. When I asked how they were prepared, the cook said that he poured dry grits into boiling water and served them. Well, is there any wonder they were terrible?
Cooking good grits ain’t rocket science and top notch grits can be prepared by anyone who can successfully boil water, or in the case of grits, half and half. Buy a good brand of southern grits, use half and half instead of water, salt to taste and drop a half stick of real creamery butter in the cooking grits. Viola! Perfection on every level, smooth, creamy, tasty and fool proof.
I have enjoyed good grits all over the south by avoiding the chain hotels and restaurants. But the very best grits I have ever eaten are served every morning at the Ansley Golf Club in Atlanta. I have been privileged to be invited to join several of my Atlanta friends as a guest at The Breakfast Club that has been meeting twice a month for over sixty years at the Ansley Club. A great cauldron of steaming hot grits is prepared each morning by the club’s breakfast chef and they are to kill for.
The Breakfast Club is a loosely organized bunch of around a hundred business and professional men that meet the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Their motto is “We aim at nothing and we seldom miss.” Members are not allowed to discuss business for thirty minutes before and after the meetings. Foolishness is the first order of business and pretty much sets the tone of each meeting. If I lived in Atlanta, I would attempt to wrangle an invitation to join. The grits alone would be worth the effort.