City Grit, a culinary salon in the trendy Nolita neighborhood of New York City, shares space with an interiors store in a well-kept, yet eclectic former church building older than most anything we’ve got here in Mississippi. (But there might be some similarities with Duling Hall, perhaps?)
Upon arrival, we learned what New York insiders already knew: the coolest dining experiences in this city don’t have a sign out front. City Grit? No sign. As slightly early arrivals, it was explained to us that the “front door” wouldn’t open until exactly 7:00 pm. We were told to sneak in a back door. We made our way through the maze of the building’s basement, making our way into the kitchen to find familiar faces in charge.
All smiles and eager for guests to arrive, Chef Derek Emerson, executive chef and owner of Walker’s Drive-In in Jackson and Local 463 in Madison, and Chef Chris Poplin, executive chef at IP Casino Resort Spa in Biloxi, greeted us warmly but in hushed tones; the servers were having their pre-service meeting on the other end of the same room.
Up the stairs, the two main dining rooms were bustling with activity as the final table settings were double checked. An eclectic mix of tables and chairs – from old farm styles to vintage industrial – the room was set for a sold-out crowd of 80 guests that would arrive soon to enjoy six courses celebrating Mississippi’s rich culinary heritage. Chef Emerson and Chef Poplin worked together to create a unique tasting menu featuring fresh, wild caught Mississippi Seafood; guests would not be disappointed.
When the doors opened at 7 p.m., guests filled the room, pleased to escape the chilly, snowy night. Smiles and warm conversation filled the softly lit space quickly as servers offered a complementary beer selection from Mississippi’s first brewery, Lazy Magnolia. The servers were adept at explaining each offering: “We have complementary beer tonight. This Jefferson Stout has sweet potatoes in it, and the Indian Summer is a lighter choice….” They explained every choice in a friendly yet educational way. Being a native Mississippian, I knew the product, but smiled like I didn’t, and enjoyed the show. The talented City Grit service staff shared information all night long without a misstep, from an educational or service standpoint.
It didn’t take long for guests to settle into their seats and for service to begin. Truly a fine dining experience, the six courses were enjoyed across more than three hours. In between several courses, guests learned more about the fresh, healthy bounty of Mississippi seafood from the hosts of the evening, Mississippi Seafood Marketing, and also played the (quite challenging) Mississippi trivia crossword puzzle provided at our table (thank goodness for smart phones!), entered a social media photo contest, and talked with the chefs when they came up to engage with the diners.
It was easy to follow the evening because a printed menu was provided at each place setting. Prepare to be a little jealous (but don’t worry, you could have a chance to experience this!):
Oysters stuffed with Shrimp and Parmesan
Shrimp and Roasted Tomato Bisque with Crab Cakes
Crispy BBQ Oysters with Waldorf Salad Slaw and Warm Brie
Shaved Fennel and Red Onion Salad with Colossal Lump Crab and Satsuma Orange
Blackened Redfish with a Cajun Corn Maque Choux
Southern Peach Cobbler with an Orange Biscuit Crust and Chantilly Crème
I could rave about each course, but I’ll stick with some highlights. Overall, it couldn’t have been a more heart-warming meal for a cold, snowy New York night. The first course was brilliant. As a non-fan of oysters in general, I claim this course of Oysters stuffed with Shrimp and Parmesan as my favorite course of the evening. It was a delectable, warm starter, setting the stage for a great evening to come. The oysters were tender and full of flavor, and the stuffing, an absolutely delicious crust on top, made this an all-star dish.
The Shrimp and Roasted Tomato Bisque with Crab Cakes was a warm, soothing course. The roasted, acidic tomato flavors were balanced perfectly by the sweet Gulf fresh crab meat cake mounded in the middle of the bowl.
The fourth course salad was fresh and bright – a palate cleaner before the spicy Cajun Corn Maque Choux to follow. Speaking of the Maque Choux: made with hominy and definitely plenty of Cajun kick, it was presented as the side dish along with the Redfish, but was the star of this course, in my opinion.
I don’t know where the fresh peaches came from for the Southern Peach Cobbler finish – but I sure do want to know. Guests swooned at the sight of the mini-Mason jar, and I wondered immediately what was hidden inside when I saw a streamer of red mixed with the orange of the peach swimming low in the jar. After breaking through the sugar crusted biscuit on top, I dove deep into the jar to pull out a full bite of the sweet finish. One blackberry was dropped in the bottom of the cobbler; another brilliant balancing act for the taste-buds to finish an evening full of fresh, well-balanced culinary twists and turns through Mississippi’s food heritage.
The chefs came back up to mingle with the crowd and received abundant applause from diners. The evening was more than a success; the menu and those who prepared it were warmly embraced by this trend-setting New York crowd.
As we wandered back out, the streets of New York greeted us with snow flurries dancing in the street lights. Mississippi had braved the weather and shown our best hospitality to New York. And New York had showed its best to us, too. Thank you.
Editor’s Note: Want to enjoy the same six courses featured at City Grit? Join Eat Y’all for a two-event re-do of the City Grit Taste of Mississippi menu featuring Chef Derek Emerson and Chef Chris Poplin in April in Gulfport and Jackson. Dates and venues will be announced shortly. If you’re interested in receiving an email when the details are finalized, please comment below. These events will sell out quickly once tickets go on sale.