True Grits

Grits are getting dressed up and going to upscale restaurants, but those who love ‘em most still like ‘em best at home

Not long after John and Jane Lovett began making stone-ground grits at their restored 1873 water-powered mill in Belvidere, Tennessee, the phone calls started pouring in from transplanted Southerners desperate for good grits. Between the growing orders from restaurants and individuals, the Lovetts have had trouble keeping up with demand. Often maligned, grits are enjoying a resurgence, appearing on the menus of New Southern Cuisine restaurants in major cities across the country.

Though now trendy, grits have long been a signature food of the South; it can even be argued that they are America's first food. The Powhatan Indians introduced the earliest Virginia settlers to porridge made from cracked grains of maize. Corn and its myriad offshoot dishes — corn bread, hush puppies, spoon bread and grits — became entrenched in Southern cuisine. The townspeople of St. George, South Carolina, celebrate their favorite food by holding the annual World Grits Festival. Drawing thousands of people, the festival features a parade, an array of grits-related competitions and, of course, plentiful servings of grits.

Grits are going gourmet as well. Restaurants offer dressed-up grits dishes, such as the shrimp and sausage with tasso gravy over creamy white grits entrée at Magnolias in Charleston, South Carolina. Author Tim Warren finds it vaguely discomforting to see something so basic embellished so much. "It's sort of like sending a mule out to run in the Kentucky Derby," he writes. He prefers a simple bowl of grits, "one of the most satisfying dishes imaginable."