By Hope S. Philbrick
When it was announced that Chef Keira Moritz would be leaving Atlanta, I felt like I hadn’t dined in her restaurant often enough. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the personable chef with natural talent.
Moritz is a Georgia native who attended Valdosta State University, earned her culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C., and then a foodservice management degree from the university’s campus in Denver, Colo. After graduation, her career led to stints in Denver, Aspen, Portland, San Francisco and Atlanta—until Kimpton Hotels shuttered Pacci Ristorante, where she’d served as executive chef.
When I heard a few months later that she was opening a restaurant in her hometown of Valdosta, I was relieved. At least she was within driving distance! Sure, a location in Atlanta would have been my first choice, but what’s a 4+ hour drive when delicious cuisine is the reward? Yet it took me awhile to get down to her restaurant. Now I can’t wait to return.
I have a confession: I adore shrimp & grits. It’s a love so deep that it causes temporary blindness: If I see shrimp & grits on the menu, I can’t see anything else. I have to order it. For the first few years after I became afflicted with this condition, I tried to persuade myself to order something else, fearful that I was becoming an addict. Then I just accepted it. And over time, I’ve embraced it. Because what’s truly amazing about shrimp & grits is that while it can be a simple dish, it’s also remarkably versatile: Every chef makes it a different way. It’s a great dish for me to gauge a chef: If I’m wowed by his or her shrimp & grits, that’s really saying something.
Maybe I am, as my husband says, “a shrimp & grits connoisseur.” Or maybe I’m just obsessed. But, either way, this statement is 100 percent true: Chef Keira Moritz makes some kick-ass shrimp & grits.
That should be expected of a Southern girl. Who named her restaurant Steel Magnolias. Who wowed Atlanta critics long before she moved home, bought a historic building, fixed it up so cute that I wish she’d stop by and redecorate my condo, and raised the bar for Valdosta’s dining scene.
If shrimp & grits were a musical composition, recipes range from classical to rock. Moritz’s take is like smooth jazz: Her dish dances across the tongue with sweet and spicy flavors, soft and toothsome textures in balanced harmony.
Other menu items are equally interesting and as competently made. Options range from classic Southern comfort foods like pimento cheese to gourmet dishes like duck confit. The menu tells the story that this chef is a Southern girl and a skilled professional.
Southern Slaw Salad features a crunchy mix of cabbage, carrot, almonds, pecans, corn topped with apple cider-ginger vinaigrette and served with a tender pulled pork and pimento cheese wonton drizzled with sriracha aioli.
Moritz says, “Our food base is Urban Southern, taking the roots of classic Southern cuisine and showing a new way of looking at them.” As is true of contemporary chefs across the Southeast, the focus is on fresh, quality ingredients sourced from local farmers and artisan producers as much as possible. Her compositions sing.
And she’s made Valdosta a dining destination.
132 North Patterson Street
Valdosta GA 31601
-Photos © HSP Media LLC