I feel lucky to come from a state in the US that has distinctive cuisine you can’t find anywhere else in the world. South Carolina’s version of Southern food, especially in Charleston, is some of my absolute favorite food in the world. When the hubby and I got married, there wasn’t any question that I wanted to get married in the South, and that somehow, shrimp and grits would be involved.
The beauty of shrimp and grits is that every establishment in Charleston makes their own version. Now, I’ve waxed philosophical before about the art that’s required in creating a good bowl of shrimp and grits, but there’s an art to appreciating other versions of the dish, too. The most respectable of the lot drizzle a bit of bacon fat into the dish, either straight or in the form of red-eye gravy. I heavily prefer the renditions that include sort of tomato-based sauce and a healthy dash of heat. The grits have to be creamy, but not gummy or too mushy, yet they still must be solid enough to be a substantial medium for the shrimp and its sauce, which is often pretty rich itself.
Clockwise, from top left: a chalkboard announces the daily menu at The Glass Onion; fittingly, Julia Child was our table marker; the dining room at the Glass Onion has all the trademarks of Southern simplicity
The Glass Onion has all the features of a great Southern restaurant — it’s a simple place that belies the authenticity and tastiness of its food. The menu changes every day and is posted online. I actually hadn’t gone to the restaurant that day expecting to try the shrimp and grits. I’d decided beforehand that I’d try the shrimp cakes to mix things up a bit, but by the time we arrived, I decided I couldn’t really assess the quality of The Glass Onion without trying the shrimp and grits. Call it a benchmark, of sorts.
As it turns out, the shrimp and grits were solidly tasty. The gravy is tomato-based (check), the grits were creamy (double-check), and there were nice healthy-sized chunks of andouille sausage floating throughout the dish (bacon-y type grease and spice, check). I’m not sure I can say, though, that it was the best bowl of shrimp and grits I’ve ever had in my life, although that’s hard to say about any one bowl. I mean, when it comes to this dish, I’ve been around the block, if you know what I mean.
Clockwise, from top left: Fried green tomatoes and fried okra accompanied by aioli; sides of the day included excellent collard greens, cornbread and macaroni salad; a braised lamb dish in red wine with homemade handkerchief pasta; the hubby’s boudin po’ boy sandwich
For me, it was the depth of the daily menu and the overall quality of all of the dishes we sampled at the Glass Onion that impressed. The fried green tomatoes and okra were crispy and battered just perfectly, and seasoned so that you could eat them straight, without the aioli (which, really, at the end of the day, is a fancy word for mayonnaise). I loved the local greens, which had the right amount of vinegary smokiness that Southern greens should have. My dad ordered a homemade handkerchief pasta with red-wine braised lamb, and the folded sheets of pasta came exactly al dente, which is so hard to do with a large surface-area pasta. The hubby ordered a boudin po’ boy as his “main” course (we ordered so many large plates, it was hard to really determine which dish could be considered what). Boudin* is a type of sausage found mostly in Cajun and Creole cuisine, typically made with pork and spiced rice. The Glass Onion’s version had a distinctly liver flavor to it and no rice, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Our gluttony continued with a pimento cheese sandwich, one of my favorite sandwich fillers. I always make mine the same way based on a recipe from the Lee Brothers’ Southern Cookbook, and I liked the Glass Onion’s version because they added chopped scallions, which made the filling a little fresher and bright-tasting.
And, of course, no overindulgent Southern meal is complete without a fresh fruit cobbler of some kind. That day the cobbler had fresh local blueberries, which hit a soft spot for me because my favorite summer berries — raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries — are imported to Malaysia and carry with them a hefty price tag (I inadvertently spent almost $15 USD here on a box of Driscoll’s strawberries from the US during an irrational craving spell for American summer fruit). In our three-plus weeks back in the US, I probably ate enough blueberries to fill a bathtub, and the Glass Onion’s cobbler was the icing on top of that large mound of blueberries. Flaky, hot from the oven, and topped with a melting scoop of ice cream, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon in Charleston.
Well, that, and a trip to Costco. There are so many amazing things you can buy there!
The Glass Onion Restaurant | 1219 Savannah Highway | Charleston, South Carolina | 843.255.1717
*As a sidenote, my dad was the person who introduced me to boudin on our drive from South Carolina to Texas to send me to law school. For two days before our trip, that man frothed at the mouth talking about boudin, and he wanted us to stop in Creole country to get the real thing. We planned our journey so we’d eat lunch in Lake Charles, Louisiana, at a little dive of a place. Sure enough, there was boudin on the menu, so my dad eagerly ordered six, thinking they’d be the size of small golf balls. Instead, the boudin arrived at our table the size of large apples, and my dad, after eating two by himself, refused to abandon the remaining three (I had one), and so we packed them in our cooler and drove another six or so hours to Austin. My dad sat in the passenger’s seat, moaning about the rotgut he was experiencing from eating those deep-fried pork bombs.
I had no sympathy. It was hilarious.