Thursday, December 14, 2006


So there Philippe and I were at South of the Border, just inside South Carolina along I-95, hip-deep in possibly-offensive-if-it-weren't-so- ridiculous pseudo-Mexican kitsch, on our way back from an extravagant wedding gig with Elise on Kiawah Island.

"Where's the coffee shop?" I asked a cashier.

"You want coffee?"

"Um, yes, there's a huge sign on top of this building saying PEDRO'S COFFEE SHOP. We saw it from the highway. We're interested."

"Back of the hat shop."

And there, in the back of the hat shop, past the sombreros, Roman legionaire helmets, top hats, and skull-and-crossbones-adorned bicornes, was a counter, empty except for a stack of styrofoam cups and a lonely Bun-O-Matic, its filthy carafe half-full of a liquid that might once, hours before, have been coffee. Fifteen feet away the burning-wheat-field smell was hanging in the air. Pedro's Coffee Shop. You may imagine our crushing disappointment.

What the hell is it about coffee, anyway? Do people not understand that it should taste good? Can there be human beings that can't detect the difference between good fresh coffee, with its near-mystical powers to rectify the humors and make everything better in one's personal universe, and bitter foul horrible glop that's been carelessly left to stew over a burner for hours? I don't understand how it's possible for anybody not to care about this.

Anyway. Among the many adventures and misadventures of that weekend, we managed to score a whole lot of artisanally stone-ground yellow grits. They were party favors, lying in sacks on a big table at the reception. There were still piles of them left by the end of the shindig, so the bride's mother pushed them on us. I shoved as many sacks into my gig bag as would fit. I've still got eight pounds of them. Great is my happiness. Grits are goooooood stuff.

I know this English guy who was driving around in the South.

And he stopped for breakfast one morning somewhere in southeast Georgia. He saw "grits" on the menu.

He’d never heard of grits so he asked the waitress, "What are grits, anyway?"

She said, "Grits are fifty."

He said, "Yes, but what
are they?"

She said, "They’re extra."

He said, "Yes, I’ll have the grits, please."

(Laurie Anderson, "New Jersey Turnpike")

The grits I usually get (and which I regard as being the Very Best in the World) are from Nora Mill near Helen, Georgia (itself a slightly-more-upscale Tyrolean South of the Border). They're ground pretty coarsely, giving a nice rugged texture. What we got at the wedding are from the Old Mill of Guilford. They're much finer-textured than I'm used to. I could call them "polenta" and be free of regional stereotypes. Top them with morels sauteed with sage and caramelized onions (deglaze the pan with a shot of bourbon, boil and reduce it, and swirl in a little butter for a sauce). Or spread the grits out about a quarter-inch thick on a baking sheet, let them cool and set, slice into wedges, fry till golden, stand them up (leaning artfully against each other) in a puddle of tomato coulis, garnish with a spring of thyme and basil chiffonade.

Better, though, to treat them traditionally: serve them under shrimp sauteed with bacon, scallions, garlic, and red bell peppers; that's one of the greatest things in life. Best of all is to have them in a big bowl with butter and a heaping handful of grated sharp cheddar cheese and a squirt or ten of hot sauce, eaten on your front porch on an unseasonably warm morning in the fall, accompanied by coffee (good coffee) by the bucketful. Breakfast on that and the trembling earth will resound your tread.


Anonymous said...

Re bad coffee, I believe I told you guys about the e-mail I got from the woman here at work who buys the stuff for the coffee mess on my floor, listing the supplies she planned to buy as "2 boxes regular coffee, 1 box defecate coffee, etc". I saw her the other day and asked her if she knew how it happened, i.e. whether she had accidentally mis-spelled it that way, or if it came courtesy of a spell-checker suggestion. Although I'm still not sure whether or not she gets the humor of it, it appears that the spelling did come courtesy of a spell-checker. But now I'm wondering if instead a grammar checker might have been at play, and when it saw the word coffee it knew immediately what that word in front of it must have been supposed to be...

Rob said...

Defecate coffee -- that's the stuff that you get out of the big flashy silver urns with the can of sterno underneath that scorches the coffee in seconds. I've terrorized the catering people at my job about those things.

tes said...

Yay! You set it up so I can comment without setting up an account!

Wow. Defecate coffee. That's what they serve here in the music department, too...except that only the most desperate of grad students and the most elderly musicologists (presumably with time-eroded taste buds) will drink it. It makes Starbucks an appealing alternative.

But the worst coffee I ever had was in Tennessee, at a diner. I shudder to think what Tennessee office coffee is like!