Just over Florida's border, find the shrimp that stole Christmas


The Georgia coast has introduced some culinary treasures into the American national cookbook, from the okra and lima-bean packed Brunswick stew to the black-eyed peas and rice of Hoppin’ John. But the epitome of Golden Isle fare is one part sea, one part land: shrimp and grits.

Shrimp and grits have been a staple dish of the Georgia coast since Gullah slaves started mixing their coastal catches with the gritty ground hominy introduced locally by the Native American Muskogee. The comfort food has since become more than a typical Southern meal as any foodie will tell you. It has entered the trendy zone, with celebrity chefs whipping up exotic versions of the savory dish.

The eastern buckle of the Grits Belt hasn’t forgotten its roots, as evidenced by Jekyll Island’s 12th Annual Shrimp and Grits Festival, which was supposed to kick off in mid-September. Unfortunately Hurricane Irma put a kink in the schedule, and the original event was postponed. But you can’t keep a good grit down. The event was rebranded, merging the original Shrimp and Grits Festival with the annual Jekyll Island Tree Lighting celebration. Thus was born Merry Shrimpmas, slated for the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The festival has – you guessed it – shrimp and grits. Chefs and food artisans will be serving up funky variations of the classic dish amid traditional styles. (A little cheese on mine, please.) There will be plenty of other dishes, too, with a variety of flavorful food-truck options to tickle your taste buds.

Festivities climax with the lighting of the Jekyll Island Christmas Tree. (Hopefully they won’t be hanging shrimp on the tree.) There will also be an artist’s market, fireworks and snow. Kiddies can get enjoy story time with Santa (Does Santa know about the Grinch?) and mail letters to the North Pole.

Jekyll Island is an easy drive for anyone in eastern southern U.S., from the South Carolina lowcountry to the Florida swamps. Orlando’s only a 3 ½ hour drive from a bowl full of shrimp and grits and a brilliant tree lighting. Plus, if you’re looking to mix seafood and starch with seasonal festivities, you can either wrap a crab cake and put it under the Christmas tree or road trip it to the Merry Shrimpmas festival on Jekyll Island.

If you go:

What: Merry Shrimpmas

When: Friday, Nov. 24, 2-8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 25, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Where: Jekyll Island National Historic Landmark District

Cost: Free admission

Online: jekyllisland.com/shrimpmas

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