Foodie Travels: Grits & Groceries, Belton, S.C.

Shrimp & Grits

A small sign inside the restaurant informs diners that calories don’t count when they are consumed outside your own zip code. Good thing we live about two hours away in another area code and state altogether!

Grits & Groceries has the feel of a Southern kitchen with a small attached dining room for family dinner guests. The restaurant, tucked along scenic country roads less than a half hour from the town of Anderson in Upstate South Carolina, is actually settled in a refurbished country store building. And, yes, you can get both grits and groceries here if you order just right.

A friend who lives in the Upstate has told me for a couple years that me and my wife Molly must make a trip to Grits & Groceries to savor the Southern culinary bliss served up by husband-wife chefs, Carolinas natives and owners Heidi and Joe Trull. Recently, we finally made it to town for the restaurant’s special Thursday night dinner, served from 5 to 9 p.m. Here’s what followed, after feeling the relief that our calories were of no consequence.

We started with an appetizer of Hattie Mae’s Tomato Pie, a generous stack of fresh tomatoes topped with a special spice blend and nestled into a circular pastry crust. It was plenty for two to split as a starter, but we must be honest that it was a tough choice selecting the pie. That’s because the appetizers menu also includes fritters, praline bacon, fried cheese grits with tomato gravy and country ham balls. We could’ve ordered one of each of those picks and called it a meal! But we decided we had to get the tomato pie because we recently discovered the restaurant’s recipe in a Southern cookbook and made our own attempt, which turned out quite good.

Tomato Pie

Next came our entrée selections, also a pair of difficult decisions, although slightly easier because Grits & Groceries offers about eight dinner options. We liked that streamlined menu because it helps foodies like us—who eat just about anything—make a selection before midnight! (We waffle quite often when we order when restaurants tempt us with so many tasty options.) Molly ended up ordering Shrimp & Grits, a dish she’s savored in just about every major culinary haven in the South by now, with a hunk of cornbread on the side. I decided to bite on the Palmetto Burger with pimento cheese and bacon.

The Shrimp & Grits stands apart from other versions of the dish, and that’s something you’d expect at a restaurant owned by a chef who’s worked with the best in the business in seafood-destination cities like Savannah and New Orleans. The shrimp in the dish were large and plump and flavorful, and they were in good proportion with the grits. At so many places where you order Shrimp & Grits, you get a gallon of grits and just a few shrimp. We liked that the ratio here was much better. Don’t sleep on the grits, though, as we found them to have a much more substantial texture and none of the instant-grains quality that we’ve experienced before at some other places. Everything about this dish is homemade just right, down to the well-seasoned—with just a slight kick—Lowcountry ham gravy and the warm, soft, hearty cornbread on the side.

Now let’s talk about the masterpiece that is the Grits & Groceries Palmetto Burger, which I’ll go ahead and tell you is now a likely contender for my favorite burger in all of the state of South Carolina. Why? The meat was well done, just how I prefer it, but it was still tender, incredibly juicy and maintained every morsel of its flavor. It was topped with a huge schmear of pimento cheese, so homemade that it reminded me of the kind my mom makes in her kitchen. The brilliance of the Grits & Groceries pimento cheese can’t be understated because, as loyal #FoodieScore readers know by now, I don’t consider it a burger without cheese. There are no hamburgers. Only cheeseburgers. And this one absolutely qualifies among the best. It also includes a few strips of crispy bacon, and I kept the traditional lettuce, tomato and mayo, all fresh and plentiful, as toppings. All of that is housed on two hefty pieces of buttery Texas toast, which you need to hold it all together. This burger is like eating two homemade grilled pimento cheese sandwiches with a premium bacon burger in between them. It’s the kind of sandwich and meal that led me to create the phrase #FoodieScore in the first place. Oh, and it comes with fries that are clearly hand-cut and freshly made.

Palmetto Burger

Most of the time, we don’t get dessert at the same place we eat dinner. That allows us, especially while having foodie adventures, to try multiple businesses, including places that specialize in sweet treats. We tossed that tradition off the table for our visit to Grits & Groceries, and it’s a good thing we did because we would’ve missed a sure delight. The dessert board during our dinner included multiple kinds of cakes and pies, but we chose the banana pudding and shared it. We found the pudding to be a perfect combination of light yet rich, with plenty of banana pieces and cookies, and a topping of fresh cream. Dessert didn’t stop there.

Banana Pudding

I mentioned before that you can buy groceries here, and you can. There are loaves of bread, local honey, fresh produce and other items on the shelves throughout the restaurant’s main room. It’s part of the charm of the old Southern country store that remains in the place, like pieces of living history that tell the community’s past. Well, soon after sitting down we noticed a few wrapped baked goods on the shelves near our table. There were lemon cakes and chocolate-Coca-Cola cakes—and I became so mesmerized by the thought of the latter that we got one and took it home for $9. It provided multiple servings for four family members, even prompting one taste-tester to exclaim upon first bite, “Dang, that’s good!” It’s one of those things you’ve got to eat to truly understand, so go get you one. We also took home a fresh blueberry fried pie for $2 and split it for dessert a few nights later, an incredible value, full of blueberries and housed in a soft and flaky pastry speckled with sugar.

Chocolate Cake

Grits & Groceries isn’t just about dinner. The Trulls serve lunch Tuesday through Saturday, a brunch on Saturdays and even offer a few goodies at the farmer’s market in Greenwood a bit down the road. But dinner was a special way for us to start our foodie relationship with this special place that was highly recommended by folks we know enjoy a great local meal at a one-of-a-kind shop. That describes us, too, and now we’re strongly suggesting you find time to visit Grits & Groceries. You’ll know you’re there when you see the big chicken statue out front. Be sure to take cash or check as they’re the accepted forms of payment. And remember: The calories don’t count outside your zip code!

Grits & Groceries, 2440 Due West Highway, Belton, S.C.

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