City Grit

CITY GRIT is a culinary salon – a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste.

The brainchild of Sarah Simmons, recently named one of America’s Greatest New Cooks by FOOD + WINE Magazine, CITY GRIT offers food-culture events anchored by dinners that feature a pre-actualized tasting menu around a particular theme or ingredient.

The dinners are created and conceptualized by perennial host Simmons with her signature Southern influence. In addition to Simmons’ menus, CITY GRIT hosts a series of well-known and emerging guest chefs from around the world looking to showcase their culinary talents in New York City.

City Grit: The story of a southern girl on a mission to feed the souls of New Yorkers – southern-style

Having spent my entire life living in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, one day, seven years ago this southern girl decided to become a Manhattanite in order to get herself on the career fast track. It wasn’t long before I was in love with the city – the nightlife, the activity, the food – but winter rolled around I found myself a tad homesick. Winter in NYC was nothing like I’d ever experienced down south. What I thought was cold had just been a slight chill, and what I thought was a “winter” coat was actually just layer I was wearing under my “real” winter coat.

To get myself through what I call “my first real winter” where the days slipped away too quickly and the months dragged on too long, I set out for southern comfort food in this northern city. NYC is an eating town, offering a plethora of ethnic cuisine, but lacking in what I was looking for – gourmet southern. There are many southern restaurants in the city, but I was looking for something more than fried chicken and collards. Don’t get me wrong, Aunt Sylvia’s is delightful, as I’ve never had such delicious fried chicken (sorry Papa) and scrumptious collards in all of my life (sorry Nana), but I was looking for one thing in particular – grits!

And so I went on the hunt, making this search my own personal project. I was still relatively new to the city, so in an effort to help my cause, I began asking people – coworkers, clients, new friends, strangers on the subway – if they knew of a restaurant that served grits, only to receive responses ranging from confusion to disgust. My friend Dianne once said to me, “Ahh grits, I’ve heard of those things, never had them though, but I’ll try anything.” This was the more pleasant of the responses I received as most folks looked at me like I was totally crazy and they were completely grossed out at the thought. When I worked grits into a conversation, as I always did somehow, it was amazing to see facial expressions become twisted and disgusted, like someone had just handed them a stinky diaper.

At first I became offended at the reaction, but then learned to simply respond with a smile and say in my sweetest southern drawl, “Well, by the look on your face I can tell you’ve never really had grits.” This most often draws the response that they had tried them – at Waffle House (which I call “dirty grits”) or from an instant package in college (which, I agree, is pretty gross) – and didn’t like them. This reaction always led me to bet them that they’ll like mine…and they always do.

My search for tasty grits in the city eventually turned into my personal crusade to convert the non-grits fans (down south we call them Yankees) into grits evangelists, a movement resulting into me hosting many brunches – perfecting the preparation of creamy, butter grits (basic morning grits) and cheddar cheese grits. In general I love watching people eat food that I have prepared, but there was even more pleasure in watching folks eat “real grits” or “my grits” for the first time. After mastering the basics I began developing my own recipes, throwing dinner parties in my tiny Manhattan apartment, the menu always centered around my latest discovery. In was through these dinner parties and the search for my favorite comfort food that a private supper club, and development of a cookbook were born. By coming together twice a month to taste my recipes and hear the stories behind them, many New Yorkers have found jobs, partners, and a respect for Southern cuisine.

In April 2011, I made the decision to take the City Grit experience to a larger venue, hosting events for up to 150 people. For more information on these events, go to citygritnyc.com.

34 responses to “City Grit

  1. Love Grits, but I still love the waffle house … I’m a fried eggs and cheddar kinda guy (with lots of Tabasco, of course).

  2. Love it! When my yank of a momma moved us South to marry a Southern man, I was confused. What exactly was that…?

    I was used to a bowl of Cream of Wheat with brown sugar, butter and milk, and he put something a little coarser on my plate, next to my bacon and eggs. Huh.

    Well turns out he had his way with grits, and usually it included a bit of cheese and bacon, and anything else that might inspire him.

    I don’t do grits many other places, I mean who can make ‘em like Dad does? Mmmm… but I’d love to try yours. And who eats grits at the Waffle House? A side of hash browns with my coronary, please; scattered, smothered and covered!

    I think you might have inspired me to try cooking some myself when I get home!

  3. Carol

    In my quest for unique vegetable recipes – I came across a fabulous one for kale in the “Eating Well” website that introduced me to grits. It is a simple baked recipe – the kale is “sandwiched” between layers of grits. The grits are mixed with salsa (homemade or jarred), shredded cheddar and one egg.
    http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/grits_greens_casserole.html

  4. Amy

    Hi Sarah . . . Just saw you on Channel 4 . . . Congrats!

    Seeing your website, I too, moved to NYC 7 years ago from the South (New Orleans), and sometimes (more often than not) CRAVE the food that I grew up on! Lately, I am fixated on a bowl of gumbo – that’s all I want – with some French bread! :-)

    Do you do cooking classes anywhere in the City? Your site is great . . . I’m going to share it with my other Southern friends in NYC who will surely appreciate it, as well . . .

    Take care . . .

    • Hi Amy! Thanks for your note! I hear you on craving food from home. Once the weather starts to turn, I can’t survive without pimento cheese in my fridge! And I could really go for a bowl of gumbo right now. I’m not currently teaching cooking classes, but was planning to explore some options later this year! I’ll be sure to let you know when or if I decide to do it! Thanks for sharing the site and hope you enjoy the recipes! :-)

  5. maureen waltermire

    saw you on that morning show on Sunday. Checket out your website and LOVED it. Going to try the waffle recipe next sunday morning and definitely doing horseradish grits, and possibly all the grit recipes. I was born in Brooklyn NY and live at the Jersey shore now, but this girl thinks GRITS R GREAT!!!!!! Thanks for your website!

    • Hi Maureen! I love that you LOVE grits! That makes my day! I made the waffle recipe again today this time using buttermilk instead of milk and they were even more delicious! Let me know how yours turn out!

  6. Linda

    Hi Sarah
    I thought the segment was good. I am inspired to take on the task of making risotto.
    I think it would have been taken more seriously had you worn your chef jacket, as you have on your website. You look great in it and it denotes a level of seriousness I think.
    All the best and I look forward to following your blog.

    • Hi Linda! Thanks for the comment! I’d struggled with whether or not to wear my chef’s coat but ultimately decided to do with the apron so all of the home cooks out there would feel comfortable making the dish in their own kitchen! Next time I’ll probably switch it up thanks to your feedback! Tell me how the risotto turns out! -sarah

  7. Charlie

    Hi Sarah:

    OK…where’s your recipe for fried chicken? Please, please!
    Thanks,
    Charlie

  8. Funny, I grew up in North Carolina as well and later moved to Georgia after college. I have been in NYC for a year and do miss some of my Southern haunts and dishes. Shrimp & Grits, Bojangle Biscuits and well, of course – REAL sweet tea. Looking forward to following your adventure.

    • Thanks for your note! Since you’re in NYC, you’ll have to come to my super club one night…maybe one when I’m serving southern favorites! I’ll let you know! And, I would give my right arm some days for a Bojangle’s Biscuit!

  9. Charlie

    Super (Supper?) club? Where? I’m going! Maybe, just maybe, you will be serving your fried chicken ;>)

  10. Lindsay

    I just had to pass on that my FAVORITE grits in the city are at Cowgirl Seahorse at the Seaport downtown. They are delish! You must try!

  11. Martina Christie

    Sarah,
    I have a killer way to fry chicken taught to me by my Mom-in-law. The secret is to ‘pepper’ the flour (make sure that you can smell the pepper or you have not used enough) beforehand in a bag -plastic grocery type or brown paper bag, mix well. Wash each piece of chicken in cold water, then salt each piece before putting in the pepper/flour mixture. Close bag and shake well. Now you turn on the oil (vegetable or canola) to med high, wait till you can see the heat making the oil ‘swirl’. I drop a little ball of the flour mixture to see if bubbles occur, if so then put the chicken in. Breast go skin-side down, thighs go skin-side down, legs are legs. When the oil is bubbling then I cut the temp down to medium and cover with lid, after 10-15 minutes, lift lid carefully, flip the breast so ribs are down, thighs get flipped as well, legs get turned. Cover again for another 10 minutes or so. If the breasts are thick, then I may stand them on their sides to make sure that they are cooked throughly, golden to medium brown. When done, drain the chicken on crumbled paper bags so the grease will drain off. Then place in warmed oven till all the chicken is cooked. Whenever I have family over or when we do the family vacation, this is what everyone wants me to cook. May add some bacon grease to oil, only one Tablespoon though. I reuse the oil, kept in a special container, minus the drippings, for another time or two.

  12. Charlie

    OK, I will try this FC recipe. BUT, I am still waiting (PATIENTLY) for Sarah’s recipe!!!!!!!

  13. Connie

    I just came across your name and followed it to this site. I’m a foodie and working too many jobs around food, which sounds a whole lot like you. Am still trying to figure out how to get balanced and on one main mission, so I am excited to read and learn more about your adventures, and your inspirations. Thank you for doing what you do–and being true!
    CC

  14. Mandy Brennan

    Sarah
    Your recipes and attention to detail look delicious. I am visiting NYC and would love to try your food – also as a visitor from UK I would love to visit a supper club.
    Are you cooking between 22 and 27th May 2011 and if so would my husband and I be able to attend?

    yours in anticipation
    Mandy

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  16. patrick hayes

    Hi Sarah,
    I have just this minute come across your city grits site. Some of your food looks and sounds delicious ( would love to try some ).
    You sound like a lady that meets a challenge head on, so i would like to throw down the gauntlet and offer you a challenge.
    Myself and 20 or so friends are in New York for St Patricks day 2012. We challenge you to come up with a grits menu with an authentic Irish twist. And hell, we will supply the live authentic Irish music and lets have a fantastic Irish evening of great food and great music.

  17. Grits, grits, grits! Where is my FC recipe you promised me back in Feb Miss S. ?????????

    Waiting patiently,
    Charlie

  18. kathy

    I was hoping for the white sangria pops I enjoyed while at your dance, party brunch the other weekend. they were terrific!!

  19. Barbara Fountain

    Hi Sarah..I’m your roommate from UGA’s Nana! Love your blogs, will try some of your dishes. When Is your appearance on Paula Deen Show scheduled? Really proud of you….everyone needs to know how to cook southern style.

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