Grits Just Wanna Have Fun

Olivette, the posh restaurant at The Houstonian Hotel, serves chilaquiles that look an awful lot like migas, we all agree. Bill and Cheryl Alters Jamison both ordered the Mexican breakfast dish, while I went with two eggs poached in milk over cornmeal muffins. This column is called "Lunch With," but we're making an exception here.

A Real American Breakfast (2002, William Morrow, $34.95), the latest title from this wife and husband cookbook-writing team, is a whopping 454 pages long -- thicker than the average stack of pancakes. Among the more than 275 breakfast recipes in it, you'll find such Texas favorites as chorizo, menudo, eggs and machaca (Mexican dried beef), and chicken-fried steak and eggs. There are also several mentions of Irma's (22 North Chenevert), the Jamisons' favorite Houston breakfast spot. "We have a breakfast lemonade recipe inspired by Irma's, and we also mention her in the breakfast taco recipe," Cheryl says.

The Jamisons, who live in Santa Fe, started out as regional cookbook writers specializing in the Southwest. A few years ago, they branched out with American Home Cooking, an overview of regional cuisines across the country, which won them their third James Beard cookbook award.

"So why a book about breakfast?" I ask.

"While we were traveling around doing American Home Cooking, we asked people all over the country to tell us about their home-cooking memories," says Cheryl. "Everybody talked about breakfast -- it was striking."

People really like breakfast, the authors concluded, but somehow they have a sense of guilt about the meal. "Why is breakfast the one meal that has to be about fiber content?" she wonders.

"It seemed like people were waiting for somebody to tell them it was okay to eat breakfast again." So the Jamisons took on the wake-up-and-smell-the-bacon duties. "We're trying to bring a sense of fun back to breakfast," Cheryl says.

Where are they having the most fun at breakfast time? I want to know.

Cheryl votes for the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia. The seafood breakfasts there, like shrimp grits, are hard to beat.

"I didn't know shrimp grits was a breakfast dish," I say. Ouisie's Table (3939 San Felipe) and Fox Diner (2815 South Shepherd) both serve them at lunch and dinner, if I'm not mistaken.

"Yeah, they even call it breakfast shrimp some places," Bill says.

"Where have you had the best shrimp grits?" I ask.

"At home -- made with stone-ground grits," Cheryl answers. I told her she had to try the version made with fresh grits at Fox Diner sometime. Unfortunately, the fresh grits the restaurant flies in from Anson Mills in South Carolina are impractical for a cookbook, because the average consumer can't get them. The best grits for home use are coarse, stone-ground grits. Cheryl suggests ordering them from Southern cookbook author John Martin Taylor's Web site,

And if you're enough of a Southern breakfast fanatic to buy your stone-ground grits from Hoppin' John, you'll probably also want to go to White Lily's site,, to get the flour for your biscuits. White Lily is a soft wheat flour with very little gluten. It's bad for bread but makes outrageous biscuits.

"We call for it in our biscuit recipes," Cheryl says. The biscuits rise higher and get much flakier with White Lily flour. "When I called them to order some, the lady on the phone said, 'Now you realize that the flour only costs $1.79, but the shipping is going to be $3!' " For biscuits that good, $4.79 seems like a small price to pay.

"Where's your next stop?" I ask.

"New Orleans," says Bill.

"And what's for breakfast there?"

"At Mother's, they split biscuits and top them with the little burned bits of ham and the juice that collects on the cutting board as they slice it," says Bill. "I love them. They call them debris biscuits."

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Robb Walsh
Contact: Robb Walsh