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By Veronica Meewes

Food trends: love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re all around us. Some chefs will try their hardest to push the envelope while using a popular ingredient, while others will entirely avoid dishes they see as overdone. But Brian Malarkey points out what fun it can be to boldly recreate a dish and showcase its many possibilities. His favorite right now? Good old fashioned grits!

“Grits are the mashed potatoes of the ‘90s,” Malarkey told “Remember back in the day, when you were putting garlic in there, and wasabi and all these weird things when you were making your mashed potatoes? Well, now you can do that with grits! Grits are hip and cool, just like fried Brussels sprouts!”

Malarkey recently demonstrated his dirty grits and screaming shrimp recipe at the recent Food & Wine Festival in Austin, where he’s opening a third location of his Searsucker restaurant at the end of this month.

While flambeing shrimp in bourbon, he animatedly described the spectrum of grits dishes found at each of his chef-driven restaurants. “You go to Searsucker and you have buttermilk, you have bacon and cheddar grits with a Cajun stewed tomato shrimp on top. It’s just dirty and yummy and people love it! Then you go to Burlap-- Asian cowboy, alright? It’s more of a pork and seaweed broth. It’s very light and sexy and it has a little Japanese seven spice in it and it has a sous vide egg on it...

“(Then) you go to Herringbone, where Amanda Baumgarten (also a “Top Chef” alum) is the chef. She goes to the farm and picks her vegetables and it’s very delicate and light and has pomegranates and pea vines and stuff. Then you go to Gingham, which is fried chicken and barbecue and it’s all whiskey and oxtail and it’s just dirty. And then come over to Gabardine, a little coastal seafood bar which has an uni shrimp and grits. So it’s fun-- think outside the box and have some fun with it!”

It’s not just Malarkey’s restaurants that are turning classic grits into something special. At Lucile's in Boulder, grits can be ordered as a side to any of their Creole-style breakfast plates or come as the main attraction blended with saffron and topped with Andouille sausage, red pepper, and shrimp. The homestyle cheddar grits at Portland, Oregon's Screen Door come garden style (spinach, mushroom, provolone, and caramelized onions), farm style (ham, poached eggs, and provolone), or as a dinner plate topped with shrimp, pork belly sauce, and basil pesto. Maysville in New York offers an elevated version of grits, served crouton-crispy, accompanied with sliced Kentucky ham and bourbon aioli. The Husk lunch menu, in Charleston, offers local shrimp and Geechie Boy grits with tomato tomato, peppers, onions, sweet peas, and surry sauge. The Santa Monica Farmer's Market's Bean & Thyme serves 65 degree poached eggs over stone-ground Anson Mill grits, local kale, and Berkshire country ham.

If all else fails, you can’t go wrong with this recipe from Malarkey’s cookbook “Come Early Stay Late,” for dirty grits and screaming shrimp.

Dirty grits:

  • 1 cup grits, instant (5 minutes)
  • 3½ cups vegetable stock (or smoked corn stock)
  • 1 cup smoked cheddar, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine ingredients and cook instant grits. Keep stirring/whisking until the grits are glorious and dirty good!

Screaming shrimp:

  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled, cleaned & butterflied
  • ½ stick butter
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 4 each Roma tomatoes, cubed
  • ¼ cup basil, sliced
  • ¼ cup garlic, chopped
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2/3 tbsp Cajun seasoning
  • salt and pepper

In a large sauté pan over high heat, add the oil and butter. Add the shrimp and cook until about half way done, then add the garlic and continue cooking until golden brown. Add the other ingredients and serve overtop of the “dirty good” grits, sit back, and watch your friends lick their chops.

Veronica Meewes is an Austin-based freelance writer who will travel for food but always comes back for breakfast tacos. Follow her on Twitter @wellfedlife and visit her blog.