Editor’s note: This week, SCENE begins a semi-regular feature called Can’t-Miss Dish. For this inaugural story, reporter Miles Jay Oliver tries to recapture his roots.
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Once upon a time, a Southern writer and journalist moved to the Pacific Northwest.
From a world of hurricanes (the storms and the drinks) and jambalaya to a land of high-end wines and fry sauce. In spite of the limitless cornucopia of fresh fruits and veggies the Yakima Valley offers, I just haven’t found anything akin to the typically spicy Cajun fare I could get my hands on back home.
Based on word-of-mouth in my social circle, I’d been anticipating the opening of Norm’s of Yakima since late last year. Those in the know assured me it would be a “great place” with a “fun atmosphere.” But the other consistent expectation — an incredible menu — was something I mostly overlooked because, with a few minor exceptions, I haven’t been blown away by the flavor profiles of any dishes I’ve ordered locally.
I mean, you can take the boy out of Louisiana, but you’ll never take that yen for real Louisiana cuisine out of the boy. So when I saw shrimp and grits on the menu at Norm’s, I knew I was going to have to give it a try and let people know what I think. Right after placing my order, I snapped a photo of the item’s description from the menu and posted it to Facebook, letting everyone from the Southern half of my friends-list know I’d fill them in on the dish.
As expected, everyone from Louisiana was suspicious. Comments ranged from warnings that it had to be a trap to a friend who hoped I’d brought along some Tony Chachere’s — more popular than salt, it’s a spice mixture Louisiana folks count on to liven up pretty much anything coming out of a kitchen.
It’s not that people from back home are food snobs; it’s just that we are remarkably suspicious when anyone outside Louisiana labels something as spicy. Or Creole. Or when your server tells you they’ve got sweet tea. (“But is it sweet?” is the question that usually follows this exchange. Anyone from the South knows exactly what I mean.)
We just want to know that when we slide a heaping fork past our lips and experience the initial sensation on our tongues that it’s going to be close to something our mamas might have made.
So how does Norm’s Creole Shrimp & Grits stack up against those you’d order during a Sunday brunch in any Louisiana city from north of Shreveport to south of Thibodaux?
As described on the menu, it’s a combination of garlic and buttery white-wine-sauteed peppers and onions with blackened shrimp atop cheesy grits. The fact that the dish wasn’t nearly as spicy as I was hoping didn’t bother me. In fact, most of the other flavors were there in abundance.
The onions and peppers were done just right, and everything I ate got me feeling a little closer to home. But the real test was the shrimp. I mean, to call something “Creole” is setting the bar pretty high in my estimation.
Pretty close to perfect.
I’m not totally sure how they did it, but they managed to prepare the shrimp the same way they’d have been prepared for a springtime crawfish boil down South. But these shrimp were a little better because they were already peeled and ready to devour the moment the plate arrived.
The shrimp and grits earned their Creole monicker, and the dish will probably be my go-to every time I return to Norm’s for a while. It’s not the same as being back home, but it makes me miss my roots a little less.
In fact — other than dating me — these shrimp and grits are the closest you can get to Louisiana from 2,000 miles away.
The place: Norm’s of Yakima, 5 N. Front St.
The dish: Creole Shrimp & Grits: blackened shrimp, peppers and onions sauteed with white wine and spicy butter over cheesy grits
The price: $14