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Real Food, Done Real Good
Comfort Food In A Small Town Southern Dive
I went down to the crossroads, got down on my knees, and prayed. Thanks for such great food, that is. Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers, went down to the crossroads, to deal with the devil who shot up from the ground to confront him. Me? I went down to the crossroads where wicked chickens lay deviled eggs.
The crossroads? SC Highways 185 and 284, respectively known as the Due West Highway and Trail Road. Locals refer to it as Saylors Crossroads. That’s where you’ll find Grits & Groceries, Joe and Heidi Trull’s fine restaurant. You won’t see the devil but you will see a huge chicken that looks Foghorn J. Leghorn. His name is Rudy Cox, the Palmetto Pecker, and he proudly stands in front of this former country store, post office, and radio station turned restaurant.
As you can see the store possesses a fine lineage and so does Grits & Groceries. Not that long ago, Heidi owned and operated the well-loved New Orleans restaurant, Elizabeth’s, and Joe spent a decade as the pastry chef at Emeril Lagasse’s preeminent French Quarter restaurant, Nola. As soon as they realized they were having a baby, Tom, they started planning a return home to the countryside to raise their son. Grits & Groceries resulted and it enjoys no small degree of fame. It is widely known.
If We Cook It, They Will Come
So, how did a restaurant in such a bucolic, if sequestered, locale achieve fame? By serving up good Southern comfort food. The Trulls serve “real food done real good.” That pulled the magazines and media in. NBC’s Today Show featured it. Southern Living featured Grits & Groceries in “Off The Eaten Path” where it’s described as “nine miles from everywhere” and the “center of the universe.” Garden & Gun covered Grits & Groceries’ fried pies back in 2012 and I quote: “These days, if you want one of Trull’s fried pies, you have to head deep into South Carolina’s Upcountry, where Joe and his wife, Heidi, now run their own restaurant, Grits and Groceries, in Belton. Heidi handles the savory side of the menu. Joe bakes. Fried apple pies are a staple, but when it’s strawberry season, he takes advantage. Lately, he’s also been stirring in a little legal white lightning. Although the pies can be made in a skillet, Trull likes his deep-fried.”
I’d long wanted to come to this restaurant. Alas, a funeral gave me my chance. Cousin Judy and I went Saturday, May 28, following our aunt’s funeral and I can tell you the friendly place brightened our spirits. We enjoyed a tomato pie appetizer and shrimp and grits in ham gravy, complete with a biscuit as big as a moonpie. Somehow, we resisted the urge to commit dessert overdose. (Fried apple pies, pecan pie, chocolate Coca-Cola cake, fig jam cake, bourbon bread pudding, peach cobbler … We deserve medals don’t we.)
Besides the regular menu of heaping servings of “real food, done real good,” Heidi and Joe’s daily specials combine Cajun, Creole, and Southern cooking traditions. The world-class homemade dessert menu changes daily and the Saturday Brunch offers an extravaganza of special dishes that make you glad you went down to the crossroads.
Southern As Honeysuckle
As we like to say down South, git down to the crossroads. Wherever possible, Heidi and Joe use locally grown organic produce and dairy goods like the Happy Cow Creamery products in their homemade ice creams. They also plant an extensive garden to provide seasonal vegetables to the restaurant (and a sunflower patch for Tom.) A recent monthly special hints at just how creative yet Southern the Trulls’s menu items are: honeysuckle ice cream that tastes like an early summer walk through the woods. (See the recipe at the end of this feature.)
So, how did a restaurant that’s been covered by Southern Living and Garden & Gun end up in the Belton neck of the woods? Read what the owners have to say.
“With the help of far-flung cousins throughout the Carolinas, we found the perfect spot in an old country store at Saylors Crossroads, a cozy historic building at the junction of highways 185 and 284. The property came bundled with a house and acreage for keeping horses, a prerequisite for country living and raising Tom. We completely renovated the restaurant to combine its original well-crafted details with state-of-the-art culinary facilities.”
So, there you have it. Grits and Groceries is again a great country place to meet and eat and is listed on the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor.
Want to go? Just plug 2440 Due West Highway, Belton, South Carolina into your GPS device. Latitude 34.398913, Longitude 82.507008, hone 864-296-3316. You’ll know you’re getting close when you keep hitting four-way stops. Even closer when you see a pasture full of goats, and slap-dab there when you see the Palmetto Pecker wearing his garland of sunflowers.
Before you go, check the hours. They are a bit different as restaurants go. Get all the info you need here: http://www.gritsandgroceries.com/index.php/home. Now go churn up some honeysuckle ice cream.
Honey Suckle Ice Cream
(An excellent companion to Blueberry Crisp or Blackberry Apple Crumb Pie.)
Yield: ½ gallon
4 cups Milk
2 cups Heavy Cream
2 cups Sugar
1 cup of Egg Yolks (about 12)
3 cups of picked Honeysuckle Flowers (about 1 ½ oz.)
In a large, heavy bottom saucepot, combine the milk, cream and sugar. Heat milk mixture over medium heat stirring until sugar is dissolved and milk is hot to the touch. Put eggs in a bowl and slowly whisk milk mixture into egg yolks a little at a time. Return milk and egg yolk mixture to pot and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of spoon. Remove custard from heat and strain into a large bowl. While the custard is still hot, add the honeysuckle flowers and steep for one hour. Strain flowers from custard. Freeze ice cream in Ice Cream Machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Tip: After picking honeysuckle flowers, keep them in a Ziploc bag in refrigerator until ready to use.
- The photos were taken by the author, Tom Poland.