Battle of the Fancy Shrimp and Grits: Imperial No. Nine vs. Joseph Leonard


The Southern staple of shrimp and grits has moseyed on up North and become fancified by many of Gotham’s top chefs at decidedly non-Dixie restaurants. Now, as My Cousin Vinny taught us, no self-respecting Southerner would ever use instant grits. But would they cry blasphemy at these chic versions? You know what, who cares! Manhattan pride is where it’s at, and we’re pretty stoked about shrimp and grits in any form. Still, some versions are better than others. So for this week’s battle of the dishes we present Battle of the Fancy Shrimp and Grits: Imperial No. Nine vs. Joseph Leonard.

We stopped in first at Imperial No. Nine, Sam Talbot’s new sustainable seafood spot in the Mondrian Soho hotel. The space is undeniably gorgeous, and much of the food is pretty, too. But we were particularly wooed by the shrimp and grits. Why? BECAUSE THE GRITS ARE BLUE! How cool is that? OK, they do sort of look like purple mush, but never having encountered blue grits before, this was pretty neat. Pieces of cut shrimp sink into the bowl of creamy cornmeal studded with large yellow niblets. A sous vide egg plops in the middle of the bowl, and coffee oil is drizzled on top, making this the most breakfasty bowl of grits around. At $15, the bowl isn’t huge, and is somewhat difficult to eat with a fork, but we have to say this was mighty fine.

Next up were the shrimp and grits at Joseph Leonard, Gabe Stulman’s rustic-chic West Village flagship. The $17 bowl of yellow grits came topped with an ample portion (six large pieces) of shrimp and andouille sausage, slightly crisped on the edges. The grits themselves could have used a little more salt, but were well-cooked with nice corn flavor. Yes, much more traditional — but still the type of comfort food ideal for a gloomy day.

Two worthy dishes, but which wins?

Imperial No. Nine!

Ultimately it came down to innovation and overall flavor. Yes, this dish might not look like the shrimp and grits we’re used to, but it shows how a dish can evolve from its humble roots into a truly modern offering, with the new result even more exciting than the comforting classic. And it was blue!