During a recent breakfast meeting at a hotel in Atlanta, I watched a business colleague from the Southwest slurp up the grits from the hotel breakfast bar with relish. Looking at the thin, pale, watery gruel, I told him if he wanted to enjoy some real grits, he should come to Birmingham.
Birmingham, after all, is where this Missouri-bred girl learned to love grits. It started with the decadent baked grits appetizer at Highlands Bar & Grill. (I once tried to replicate it at home, with disastrous results – Evan had added liquid to the grits without me knowing, and they never would “set up” in the oven!)
I soon learned how to cook grits at home, and that “instant grits” are a vile concoction to be avoided at all costs. (“Quick grits” are OK if you actually cook them for about half an hour.) Then I discovered McEwen & Sons' stone-ground grits, which I now ship to out-of-state grits lovers.
Many local restaurants serve up grits dishes worthy of a special occasion. You’ll find grits of various persuasions on just about any local brunch menu. Clif Holt at Little Savannah has come up with dishes such as blue grits soufflé. For dinner, I’ve enjoyed shrimp and grits at Fire and at Veranda on Highland and you’ll find it on a number of other local menus as well.
But Dyron's Lowcountry in Mountain Brook has taken grits to a new level. Their menu features five different selections under the "grits bar" heading.
There's the Dyron's version of classic Southern shrimp and grits, with fresh Gulf shrimp, applewood-smoked bacon, garlic and lemon, or my favorite, Creole-style crawfish etoufee with andouille sausage, both on white cheddar-parmesan grits. There's a crab cake atop roasted grits with buerre blanc, or buttermilk fried chicken on roasted red pepper grits. For meat lovers? Slow-braised pork cheeks on blue cheese grits. And under the “Small Plates” on the dinner menu, there’s house smoked oysters served with a white cheddar-parmesan grit cake and creamed spinach.
There's plenty more to enjoy at Dyron's. Two visits this year, one for dinner and one for lunch, convinced us that grits are not the only thing Dyron’s does well.
There’s the West Indies Salad, which was actually invented in Mobile – a simple marinated crab salad traditionally spooned onto crackers. (Read more about the inventor of this dish at http://meridianstar.com/local/x681069542/West-Indies-Salad.) Dyron’s version is more lemony than vinegary and lets the sweet flavor of the lumb crab meat shine through.
The house smoked trout was very good, served in a frisee salad with Alabama chevre, pickled red onions, toasted pecans and apple cider vinaigrette. For lunch, fried-green tomato BLT and oyster po-boys were a flavorful handful, with the po-boy having to my mind the exact right ratio of tender fried oysters to remoulade slaw.
Not everything was perfect; buttermilk fried chicken had a nice texture but was in desperate need of salt. We liked fried crab claws better than the marinated version, but have had better versions of both elsewhere.
Just looking over the menu reminds me that we really ought to go back. Some of the dishes I really want to try include oysters wood-grilled in the shell (a lowcountry favorite I’ve only enjoyed once on a trip to Savannah); a BLT salad, with tempura-fried applewood-smoked bacon atop local tomatoes and field greens with caramelized onion vinaigrette; and lowcountry pan pilau, with shrimp, crawfish, clams, country ham, peas, tomatoes, and peppers. A bit of Hoppin’ John salad that came with one dish has me wanting to try the full version, or the lowcountry caviar (a spicy black-eyed pea salsa) it’s made with.
And then there’s brunch! In addition to the grits bar, there are housemade beignets, country Eggs Benedict (fried farm egg, country ham and hollandaise on a fried grit cake); boudin balls; shrimp and crab omelet and more. Plus some delicious-sounding specialty drinks such as brandy milk punch and planter’s punch in addition to the usual mimosas and bloody Marys. Mmmm…..
121 Oak Street, Mountain Brook, AL 35213
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.