When I was growing up, breakfast during the week was boxed cereal or, on occasion, french toast sticks thawed quickly in the microwave. But come Saturday, I’d wake to find my dad standing at the stovetop stirring a saucepan of grits. He’d dress his with Crystal hot sauce, while I’d make a bowl that was essentially equal parts grits and ketchup. Eventually my tastes matured, and I abandoned ketchup altogether in order to savor the grits in their near-natural state: thick, more sticky than creamy, with a dash of hot sauce and maybe a hint of cheese.
Since I moved to Brooklyn four years ago, I’ve been on a never-ending search for authentic, Southern-style grits prepared somewhere besides my own kitchen. Sure, there are plenty of restaurants that serve shrimp and grits drowning in oil, or cheese grits made with so much cream that you can feel your arteries clogging. But there are precious few spots that offer slow-cooked grits, seasoned simply with salt and pepper and just enough cheese to enhance the dish without overpowering it. Here are my hands-down favorites, with a texture and taste that’ll take anyone raised below the Mason-Dixon line straight back to their childhood.
Abilene: In addition to pint-sized mimosas, $7 dark and stormys and stick-to-your-ribs biscuits and gravy, this Court Street spot serves simple, straightforward grits just waiting to be doused in Tabasco. Leave them on your plate for a good five minutes and they’ll start to congeal, just like any down-home plate of grits should. Plus, brunch here is exactly what the doctor ordered after a long night out: omelets brimming with bacon and Monterey jack, bulging breakfast burritos, and couches to kick back on while you nurse an exceptionally spicy Bloody Mary.
442 Court Street, Carroll Gardens
Char No. 4: We will probably never stop singing praises of Char No. 4, and that’s because the restaurant does everything so well. While their grits fare on the cheesier side, Char No. 4 goes light on the cream to avoid a soupy texture. Split a side dish—these rich grits aren’t for the faint of heart—or try the poached eggs with bacon-cheese grits ($10), which arrive in a personal-size cast iron skillet. And don’t forget the perfect complement to your meal: a chipotle bourbon Bloody Mary.
196 Smith Street, Cobble Hill
SCRATCHbread: The grits at this Bed-Stuy destination are thick yet creamy, serving as a delicious vessel for soft-boiled eggs, crispy bacon, seasonal vegetables and more. You’ll have plenty of time to consider the countless options as you wait—the line usually goes down the block—which is helpful, considering how hard it is to choose between toppings like smoky romesco or housemade queso. The second hardest part? Maintaining some form of dignity has you try not to inhale your meal.
1069 Bedford Avenue, Bed-Stuy
Egg: Breakfast at this light-washed spot off of Berry is as simple as its name. Organic stone ground grits are perfectly crafted, with no frills. For $1.25 more they’ll add just the right amount of cheese, resulting in a wonderfully gooey consistency. Order a side of sweet-yet-savory candied bacon and French press coffee for the table, and the weekend bustle of Williamsburg will seem miles away.
109 N. 3rd Street, Williamsburg
Jimmy’s Diner: When last night’s drinks are still flowing through your veins, food is a top priority. So stumble your way over to Jimmy’s Diner for their cheesy grits breakfast bowl, which comes loaded with scrambled eggs, house-made sausage and even more cheddar, and is sure to make you feel somewhat human again. The grits have the perfect consistency—almost sticky—ensuring that each spoonful is a balance of savory sausage and cheesy goodness. The laid-back atmosphere is just what you need after a long night, too. Grab a spot at the counter or by the window, and keep the cups of black coffee coming.
577 Union Avenue, Williamsburg
Roots Café: This South Slope coffee shop’s wooden sign is easy to miss, but once you find this gem you’re sure to become a regular. Quiet and dimly lit, the spot is perfect for reading or catching up on work—and for satisfying a craving for grits of course. The cheese grits are delicious and rich, easily serving as a meal without making you feel like you need to loosen a notch on your belt. There’s also an extensive menu of coffee drinks and loose-leaf teas, as well as a patio that just might become your favorite summertime haunt.
639A 5th Avenue, South Slope