Celebrate a classic Southern combination at Jekyll Island’s Shrimp & Grits Festival this weekend.
by Rebecca Lynn Aulph
The perfect combination of island time and Southern comfort to cap off the sunny season, Jekyll Island, Georgia’s seventh annual Shrimp & Grits Festival takes place September 14-16. “The weather is always favorable and the food is always flavorful,” says Jekyll Island Authority Communications Specialist Anna Hall. The main task at hand over the weekend: Which vendor’s shrimp and grits to try. (Scroll down for a recipe.)
Located midway between Savannah and Jacksonville, Jekyll Island is accessible by a 6-mile causeway from the mainland and city of Brunswick. The festival is also offering a Brew Cruise from St. Simon’s Island on Saturday that consists of a 45-minute, covered boat ride including drinks and food from Coastal Kitchen for $40 a person.
Regardless of your arrival style, once you get to the island’s historic district, your tastebuds had better be ready to sample variations on the festival’s namesake. On Friday night, you can partake in $3 dish samples from restaurants like the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Tasteful Temptations, Zachry’s Seafood, Fins on the Beach, SandBar and Grill, Halyards and King & Prince Resort.
Regardless of how the participating restaurants interpret their shrimp and girts, Hall describes the dish as “an ideal combination, no matter what recipe you follow. Hearty grits paired with fresh shrimp and, depending on the recipe, topped with cheese or Cajun seasoning. There is no way to go wrong with these staple two ingredients as the base of a recipe,” she says.
While that may be true, things still get competitive. Whether you’re a cooker or an eater, there’s a competition for you. On Saturday and Sunday, respectively, the festival will host amateur and professional cooking competitions with judges like Scott Jones, and consumer panel judges, like you. Shrimp eating contests are also on the agenda, with live music and cooking demonstrations sprinkled in between.
Jekyll Island Authority is also kicking the festival up a notch this year with a special brew to help the grits go down. In the new Craft Brew Tasting tent, guests can sample the best brews from Southern Eagle Distributors throughout the weekend. Pay $10 for 10 tastes and an extra $3 dollars for a commemorative beer glass. If brew isn’t your thing, there will be plenty of other mementos to take home, such as a find from the Arts and Crafts Vendor Village, signed copy of Rebecca Lang’s “Quick Fix Southern” cookbook or official festival poster by artist Sue Russel.
Seven years ago, the festival, also known as The Wild Georgia Shrimp Festival, was created to celebrate two things: Southern cuisine and Jekyll Island. Each year, the festival draws in more visitors and hosts new attractions, helping turn doubters into shrimp and grits worshipers. While some locals want to keep the event a secret and save all the shrimp for themselves, Hall says the word is out.
“Both shrimp and grits are staple ingredients along the coast of Georgia and have been trademark foods for us here for centuries,” she explains. “This festival pays respect to that food tradition and invites both new and frequent shrimp and grits foodies into this world. Word always spreads, and we just keep getting more and more popular.”
Jekyll Island Club Hotel’s Shrimp and Grits Recipe
1 lb. fresh Georgia white shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 bundle green onion, diced
1/2 lb. andouille sausage or other spicy sausage
Garlic butter (recipe below)
Flour as needed
White wine to taste
1/2 squeezed lemon1 cup heavy whipping cream
Old Bay seasoning to tasteSalt and pepper to taste
Cheese grits (recipe below)
Garlic Butter for Sauté
Soften 1 lb. unsalted butter, 6 oz. bacon fat, 2 Tbsp. of minced garlic, 1 Tbsp. paprika and 1/2 tsp. each of chopped thyme, parsley and oregano. Mix all ingredients together and set aside for later use.
Follow recipe on package, except use less stock. You want the grits to be tight (stiff), so use chicken stock instead of water. Add medium sharp cheddar cheese to taste add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside but keep warm.
In sauté pan, add garlic butter (you probably have enough to do two or three batches). Add sausage and onions, let sauté and then add shrimp, cream, wine and lemon, and let cook for 3 minutes. Add Old Bay and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer, then sprinkle flour on top and mix in. Continue doing this until you get the right consistency. Let it simmer a little while longer to cook out the flour taste. Put the grits into bowl and top with the shrimp mixture to serve.
Photos courtesy of Shrimp & Grits Festival; recipe photo from Jekyll Island Club Hotel’s Facebook page.
The Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival kicks off September 14 at 5:30 p.m. and runs through September 16 at 4 p.m. While the festival is a free event, there are some activities that require tickets or cost money. For the full event schedule, click here.