This past weekend the Carolina Inn did their first annual (hopefully) Shrimp and Grits Throwdown to benefit Table, a local charity that uses after school programs to find low income families who need food, and then feed them. When I got the email about it, I thought, "$15 to taste a bunch of shrimp and grits for a few hours for charity? Um, where do I sign up?" I told a bunch of people about it, but in the end, it was just me and R. Oh well, their loss.
We received our wristbands, raffle tickets (various prizes we didn't win were up for grabs), and ballots. As the Rocky soundtrack played, we took in our surroundings. They introduced our chefs, as we gravitated over to the water to properly hydrate (and cleanse our palates). Side note: Please realize that these are first impressions, and by no means the be all end all of food critiques. Side note 2: All the links are to the recipes--so have some fun!
First up, Top of the Hill. My first thoughts - “Top of the Hill's fried grit cake with creamy mushroom sauce with tomatoes green onion and cashews--delicious. I could eat grit cakes for breakfast everyday. 3rd Favorite.” This one won judges favorite, which I didn't get--the cream was a little over-powering after a while. Not that it wasn't amazingly delicious. Again, I wanted to take a case of those grit cakes home with me.
Next up, Vimala's! We decided to do the "hot one" second, so we would not be dying of the heat at the end. “Vimala's Cherry blossom shrimp and grits with the curried flavor of Bombay's deep south with a hot sarauche sauce. Super flavorful, but hot! hot! hot! I still cleaned the plate.” As we downed a ton of water, we found a great new remedy for dealing with a mouth on fire. In the background Ring of Fire was playing while we sucked limes to get our tastebuds back. It is actually a great way to taste again.
Next, we hit my favorite, Elaine's! This was really also a love affair with pork.“Elaine's shrimp and grits--cheesy but light with a crunch of corn, pork tenderloin, bacon, and carmelized onions with a jus that was super flavorful. The best.” I went back and forth, but at the end of the day, this was the one I wanted more of. It was just SOOOOO good. I wanted to lick the plate.
most filling, comfort-foody of the bunch. Cheesy and smooth, these made us nearly quit because they were so very filling. “Carolina crossroads shrimp and grits, the smoothest grits, and super filling, with a bacon lobster veloute--delicious. Top 3 easy.” My number two. We had to sit for a few minutes and catch our breath in order to keep going.
With only three left to go, and only 40 minutes 'til our ballots were due (and the lines at each of the stations getting longer and longer), it was time to hurry. Glasshalfull was the closest line, and thus next on our list. “Glasshalfull shrimp and grits--super cheesy grits, with a chorizo sauce and a fruity note to it.” The thinnest grits, but super cheese. I looked on the recipe to see what the fruity note was, and I was disappointed to only find plum tomatoes. If you look at the instructions though, at the very end it says to season with salt pepper and apple cider, and then the "oh!" hit me--there was my apple-y fruity note I kept tasting.
Tyler's Taproom takes our penultimate spot. This got third, but I am pretty sure it was my least favorite (still great!), but it was the recipe that you are most likely to get when you order shrimp and grits. I am pretty sure this chef was done by the time we came around--local papers show him plating individually--he was definitely done by the time we came around. Sadly, by my comment, you can kind of tell that I was, too. “Tylers taproom shrimp & grits--very traditional, earthy.” Weirdly, he took judges third. But maybe there was something different when he plated them individually.
Il Palio, our last, longest line had the most impressive set up. They regularly flambed their sauce and shrimp. I wanted it to taste better than it did, though it was certainly pretty. And prosciutto bacon and I can be friends for life. “Il Palio shrimp & grits, saffron, fennel sauce topped with prosciutto bacon and fried leeks--easiest the best cooked shrimp.” The shrimp was not too done, it was just right, and with so many people a lot of the shrimp were just a touch over cooked, but not theirs. Though I wanted to taste more of their grits.
Either way, I would eat at any of these restaurants, and totally need to make it to Elaine's, CrossRoads, and Top of the Hill for their shrimp and grits again, soon! I want to drag some other of my friends to Vimala's, which I didn't even know was there (near where Sandwhich used to be). I loved every minute of this, and it was soooo worth it. I didn't want to eat again for the rest of the day (and didn't until I was eating cereal at 1:30am, but that is a different story).
Realize all of these pictures were taken with my iPhone, so I apologize for the non-professional food pictures. Oh, and R and I ended up in the slideshow at WRAL. The Daily Tar Heel also had a write up. Side note, did you know they have a CSA for seafood? I may have to check that out.
Next time they do this, you may just have to join us. . .