I spent Valentine’s Day a few weeks ago eating dinner alone, surrounded by couples but squeezed into a table for one at Whisk Gourmet in South Miami. I chose Whisk because it’s my go-to, close-to-home date night restaurant, even when that date is with myself. But it wasn’t sad; it was exactly how I, Annie Cappetta – a writer, gardener, beekeeper, cook, baker, but above all foodie – was supposed to celebrate Valentine’s Day. With a book (ironically enough, it was Best Food Writing 2017) and my trusty leather-bound notebook in tow, that meal celebrated what I love in life: relaxing, alone time, reading, writing and my main squeeze – eating.
And what a meal to celebrate. The service was exceptional, especially considering I was a single diner on V-day eating around a shift change.
Whisk is known for its crispy brussels sprouts with parmesan and red pepper aioli, and while they pack a seriously salty punch, they didn’t disappoint as my appetizer. For my entree, I ordered the special: slices of fried grits, slathered in short rib gravy and topped with melted cheese, a sunny-side-up egg and scallions. The gravy was full of rosemary and tasted like home, adding the perfect reminiscence of family and love for the day.
Fried grits are a quintessential way to do leftovers. We all have a finite number of meals to eat in our lives, so we shouldn’t be eating the same thing two nights in a row. But that doesn’t mean leftovers should be eliminated; it means they should be elevated. To make this dish, traditional, warm grits are cooled overnight until their consistency becomes loaf-like and sliceable. The grits are then sliced and deep fried, making what was a classic porridge into a whole new creation.
The “grits fingers” were crisp and golden on the outside while the center was warm and creamy. The contrast makes the insides seem even more velvety-rich than it might have seemed in the original form.
I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, not traditional grits territory. I have an Irish-American mom who loved marrying into my dad’s Italian-American family so much that she hangs out at the Italian cultural center, takes Italian language lessons and competes in Italian cooking contests. Instead of grits, my parents would fry up polenta leftovers, or pre-chilled store-bought polenta in an unappealing tube, prepared the exact same way as these grits fingers.
Food is as much about words as it is about ingredients. This dish was dubbed “grits fingers poutine,” so I had concepts of cheese curds, Canada and fatty decadence in my brain before the meal even came out. This dish could have been called “cheesy fried polenta with rosemary gravy,” substantively the same thing but with a whole different set of expectations and recollections.
Overall, this delicious meal at Whisk embodied what I love about reading and thinking about food: It can bring you back to eating poutine on your family vacation in Quebec, or your dad’s quick weeknight dinner of fried polenta. It made something completely new out of ingredients and concepts that are so familiar. That’s why I’m using this meal to launch my new food column, Annie’s Gotta Eat. A girl’s gotta eat, and I especially have to because it’s a daily event I look forward to.
Eating is my true love, but my affair is with writing. It would be a waste to keep the thought and attention I give to my meals to myself. My friends already use me as a hub of Miami food recommendations, and I want to share that love and information with all of you.
Food writing can sometimes be problematic, demeaning lesser known food cultures or ingredients by labeling them as “bizarre.” But the best writing tells stories we never knew food could tell. One such food story was in a book I received for my birthday called What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories. It contained biographies of historical figures from the vantage point of the way they ate. And it was exceptional.
I promise in this column I’m never going to get on a Columbus-like soap box and proclaim a restaurant my “discovery” or dismiss an unfamiliar food. I just want to tell the stories of really good places I’ve eaten that are accessible to University of Miami students and I think you might like. Plain and simple.
Whisk Gourmet is walking distance from UM’s campus at 7382 SW 56th Ave., South Miami. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Contact: 786-268-8350
Annie Cappetta is managing editor of The Miami Hurricane. She is a senior majoring in political science and ecosystem science and policy.