Earlier this week, I met a friend for breakfast at Carmi Soul Food Restaurant — a place roundly considered to have the best soul food in Pittsburgh. This status is not undeserved. Everything I've had there — chicken and waffles, stuffed porkchops, pancakes, mac and cheese, etc — has been great. It's so great that everyone who goes there jokes about how casual the service is. It's not uncommon to wait 10 minutes before anyone even asks if you need to be seated. Or to hear something like "Yo…if you, like, need a fork or some more water and shit yo, holla. I'll be in the back…or something. Or just text me." If the food wasn't amazing, this would probably be a problem. But it is, so it's not.
Anyway, although I've sampled and enjoyed much of the menu, I get the exact same thing 90% of the time I'm there: shrimp and grits. You see, I didn't discover that putting shrimp and grits together and eating it was an actual thing actual people did until maybe six or seven years ago. I lived in a world that kept shrimp and grits segregated. So now, in this new world of shrimp and grit copulation, I'm making up for lost time. When I go somewhere new, and shrimp and grits are on the menu, I have to try it. In Carmi's case, the shrimp and grits are so good I don't bother getting anything else.
So I got the shrimp and grits. But I forgot to order extra shrimp. Which is vital, because when you order extra shrimp, you have enough shrimp to last through the entire meal. Without extra shrimp, the last 20% of your meal is just all grits. They're good grits — Carmi's adds cheese, peppers, black pepper, some type of mystery hot sauce, and an (estimated) half gallon of bacon grease to them — but they're still just grits. So when the server came back and said "Um…you done…with…those…grits and shit?" I said yes. Because, again, all I had were grits. And just grits are overrated.
Now, overrated doesn't mean "bad." I (clearly!) enjoy eating grits. Even before discovering the beauty of grit and shrimp sex, I regularly ate grits with breakfast. Shit, I still even add some to the makeshift breakfast sandwiches I make. (Which is probably why I weigh 220 pounds now.) But, if you were to stop five random Black people in the street today and ask them about grits, at least three of them would respond so enthusiastically you'd think you asked them about blow jobs.
"O.M.G.! I need grits first thing in the morning, at least once during the day, and I can't sleep without a grit in my belly!"
"Do I love grits? Shhhhhhhhhhhieeeeeet! Does a bear shit in the woods and wipe its ass with a rabbit?"
"My firstborn son's name is Grit."
And I get it. They're versatile, they have great utility, and they're probably the coolest sounding food in the entire pyramid. They're also one of the few foods that have the ability to take on the personality of the person making them. If you want spicy grits, you can make spicy grits. If you want savory grits, you can make savory grits. If you want sugary grits, you can make sugary grits. Shit, you can do all three at the same time if you want. They're basically the Don Cheadle of corn-based foods.
But that's the thing. If you dare suggest grits aren't the greatest thing since sliced potato bread, gritphiles get incredulous and come back with…
1. You're not cooking them right
2. You're not eating them with the right things.
And then they'll tell you exactly how you need to make them, down to the second. Or perhaps they'll list all the spices and peppers and butters and cheeses and meats you need to prepare with them to bring the taste out.
What they fail to realize, though, is that their defense is actually proving the point. If you need to add sugar or butter or pepper or salt or milk or cheese or hot sauce or bacon or shrimp or catfish or whale steak or kid tears to something for it to taste great, maybe it doesn't actually taste that great. I mean, if I met a woman, and you asked if she was cute, and I said "Well, when she rocks a ponytail…and this brown and blue dress from H&M…and she's standing up…but not making eye contact with you…or even really facing you, for that matter…and you catch her in the 7pm sun…and you take an action shot of her…and you use the Ludwig Instagram filter…and you look at it on a T-Mobile Sidekick's screen, yea, she's super cute" you'd have serious doubts about this woman's cuteness. But when it comes to grits, we don't doubt the cute. We accept the cute, regardless of how many conditions are necessary for the cute to exist.
Let's stop accepting the cute and start being real about grits. They are not Gladys Knight. They are The Pips. And The Pips are great! But The Pips aren't Gladys Knight. Let The Pips be The Pips.