Some time ago I spent 18 months in Memphis. Although eating a lot of foods that weren’t indigenous to New York didn’t treat my system all that well, one that did was shrimp and grits. I mean, take two things I love, add andouille sausage to it; what can go wrong?

It turns out a lot can go wrong. Even in Memphis I only found a couple of places that made it perfectly. One place, which is part of a restaurant chain owned by the same people who own Red Lobster, made a very bland version of it. Another place that swore by its Louisiana roots made a meal that looked wonderful, but it was so salty that I ate less than half of it and my legs cramped up the rest of the day.

Still, the quest for shrimp and grits led me to see if there were any places in Syracuse purporting to make it, and I found two likely candidates. I’d never been to either of these places so I figured this would be a good opportunity to check each place out.

Laci's shrimp and grits
Laci’s shrimp and grits

The first place I tried was Laci’s Tapas Bar on Hawley Avenue. I went there for dinner and the place was pretty packed, so packed I actually sat at the bar to eat my dinner… if you know me you know that’s rare, and in normal circumstances I’d have walked out and maybe come back another day. This time I was on a quest so I decided to suck it up for the experience.

Based on my first observation I thought I was going to be eating cheesy grits, which isn’t what shrimp and grits is supposed to be, and I noticed bacon instead of andouille sausage. Then I tasted it… very nice indeed! The grits were cooked just right, which I don’t encounter all that often in central New York, and the use of small shrimp made it feel like I was getting more shrimp than I know I was. The bacon added a nice touch in flavor to the extent that I didn’t miss the sausage at all.

The only gripe I had was that it was a relatively small serving. However, since they tout themselves as more of a healthy option for meals that seemed to make sense, and for the price… I paid more for the same meal in Memphis and got more food so if I go back I’ll know to ask for two portions or indulge in an appetizer.

peanut butter surprise

Since I was still hungry I decided to order dessert, which was called Peanut Butter Surprise. It was a small chocolate cake the size of a cupcake and the surprise was peanut butter mousse. Unfortunately, I couldn’t taste the mousse as it was fairly light and the cake was a bit soft and mushy, so I ate less than half of it before calling it a night.

Next on my quest was Creole Soul Cafe on East Jefferson St, where I went for lunch. It’s in the old Dey’s building just up the street from both Gannon’s and Cafe Kabul. It touts New Orleans style cuisine, which made me think of the one restaurant I went to in Memphis where my portion was too salty. Yet when I walked in the door, even though it was the peak of lunch time, I was surprised to see that I was the only client in the place.

The menu showed something called grits and gravy, which you could have with either shrimp, andouille sausage or alligator (?) or fish. I decided to have both shrimp and andouille, but worried about gravy in my grits, something I’ve never had in all my years of consuming grits. I also ordered a sweet tea, figuring a restaurant purporting to represent a Southern city must have good sweet tea.

grits and...shrimp
Creole’s Shrimp & Grits

Let me say this; when I got home I couldn’t find a single example after doing a Google search of shrimp and grits looking anything like this. It didn’t look like it was going to be appealing… and it wasn’t. The grits were overcooked and the gravy was overwhelming, and neither had any flavor, to the extent that I had to keep adding salt to it. I usually don’t like this type of cheese on anything I eat and I didn’t like it here either.

Having the fried shrimp on the side instead of it being grilled and an actual part of the meal was very disappointing based on what I was hoping for. Even though it turned out to be tasty, it was way over-breaded so most of the flavor was in that. Those other things on the plate… that wasn’t sausage! lol It’s possible it was gator, and I bit into one, hated the texture and taste and didn’t try another one. Since I hadn’t eaten anything on the day I went ahead and ate it all, and its only saving graces were that it was a bit more food than I had at Laci’s and the sweet tea wasn’t bad… not great but not the worst tea I’ve had in town (at least it had some sweetness; thank goodness for McDonald’s sweet tea lol).

Obviously if I had to make a recommendation Laci’s wins hands down. I did mention to one of the proprietors of the joint as I was leaving that I enjoyed my meal, though I missed the sausage, but that the bacon added something that was a pretty nice extra. If I get the craving for it again I know where I’m heading.

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