“Things have a beginning, middle, and end,” Robert Stehling told Charleston’s Post and Courier this week. And for the Hominy Grill, the restaurant he’s operated on the corner of Rutledge and Cannon streets for nearly twenty-four years, the end is near. Hominy will serve its final Nasty Biscuit on April 28.
Since opening in 1996, Hominy has celebrated the virtues of Southern cuisine, playing a vital role in Charleston’s development into a major culinary destination. Stehling’s revered takes on Lowcountry fare, from familiar classics like shrimp and grits to lesser-known dishes such as fried catfish in Gullah peanut sauce, have earned the restaurant a devoted following—in the Holy City and beyond. In 2008, Stehling earned a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast, among other accolades and glowing reviews. Now, Stehling (below) aims to decompress. “I’ve got a few good years to have fun. I don’t want to make up my mind yet,” he told the newspaper.
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Friends and fans far and wide began posting on the restaurant’s Facebook page on Monday evening. “I feel like I’m losing a member of my family,” said one. “I’m so sad I could drown my sorrows in a vat of your chocolate pudding, which won’t be around anymore for solace,” lamented another. Some even began making travel plans for a last visit.
Local chefs and culinary experts agree that Hominy’s absence will leave a hole in the heart of Holy City dining, too. Read on for their tributes to a Charleston institution.
“Hominy Grill has had the most compelling influence on Charleston. Robert Stehling came down here after working in North Carolina for Bill Neal, so he knew about Southern cooking. People like Jonny Apple from the New York Times wrote about him, and someone once told me that that mention was worth a million dollars to the city. Mimi Sheraton, a longtime food critic for the New York Times always loved to go there. Ruth Reichl, when she was the editor at Gourmet and even after, always loved to go there. When people come to visit us, I always take them there. I don’t know what I’ll do now to show them Southern food that’s classic, but unique in its own way. I loved the buttermilk pie, the shrimp and grits, the pimento cheese. My husband loves boiled peanuts and he says those are the best he’s ever had. I liked his grits so much. Oh, and that big, bad biscuit.”
“I really want to say ‘bravo’ to Robert for nearly twenty-five years of service. He has generated so much goodwill in our community and brought national attention to our restaurant scene. His vision for Hominy Grill shined a different kind of light on Southern cooking. He has comforted locals and tourists alike, has provided for his family, and given us all great memories.”
Hanna Raskin, food editor and critic for Charleston’s Post and Courier
“I am tremendously sad to see Hominy Grill go, but I fully understand how much Robert and [his wife] Nunally invested in it. They’ve given more than anyone can be expected to give. It’s a major loss for the city. I’ve come to really see how Hominy represented a community center in a way really no other restaurant has. And in a way, this means more work for me: We have so many people who come to Charleston and don’t know what some dishes are, like pinebark stew and country captain. Now, I’ll have to explain it instead of sending them to Hominy. I’ve lost my dictionary.”
Matt Lee and Ted Lee, Charleston-based owners of Lee Bros. Boiled Peanut Catalogue and authors: Hotbox: Inside Catering, the Food World’s Riskiest Business, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, and others
“We could always rely on Hominy giving us a new perspective on the familiar. It was at Hominy that we first encountered creamed collards, red-rice omelets, and shrimp and okra beignets where the rope from the okra serves to bind the batter, yielding the crispest, most heavenly croquettes. It’s hard to quantify just how many new ideas and techniques Robert introduced to our kitchen repertoire, which is why this hits hard. Also, it was always so fun to recommend Hominy to first-time visitors—we inevitably heard back that they’d loved it so much they’d dined there twice. All that being said, none of that inspiration is extinguished by the closing of Hominy, we’re just eager for whatever new chapter is in Robert’s playbook.”
“Robert taught me how to work with chefs. He was on the forefront of farm to table. As a farmer, that was important to me because he understood volume and bought what was in season. He embraced new products and displayed them in his restaurant. That was a big deal when I was first coming into this business; his orders kept me in business. He put Charleston on the map as a food destination and because of that, he led the way for others to follow.”
Shuai Wang, chef and owner of Short Grain food truck and soon-to-open Jackrabbit Filly in North Charleston
“To say Hominy is an institution is an understatement. When I first came to visit [Charleston] before we moved down back in early 2014, everyone told us Hominy was the place to go. And they were right. Hominy embodies Charleston and the South, serving delicious food that’s simple, yet complex and rich with history, comfort, and soul. Not just the food, but the hospitality, too. I wish [Stehling] the best of luck, and maybe a margarita or two on a sandy beach.”
“I loved the simplicity of the food. It was accessible, straightforward, and not too gussied up, which is getting harder and harder to find. I also felt like Hominy was one of few institutions in Charleston. Losing it is personally a massive bummer, because my wife and I had begun to go there often and would take friends and family. A mid-week breakfast was one of our favorite things.”
Cynthia Wong, award-winning pastry chef and founder of artisan ice cream company Life Raft Treats in Charleston
“Like everyone in the food-and-beverage community, I’m super sad to hear Hominy Grill is closing. It hurts to lose a restaurant where the chef has taken such pride in making the food that is close to his heart, and done it so graciously and beautifully for so long. It’s not food for show or Instagram fame, but dishes that held stories he wanted to tell. We don’t have nearly enough places like that. When I read that chef Stehling was “ready for a break,” I think many of us understood deeply what that meant. Raising a family in this industry means constantly facing a set of decisions where it’s difficult to feel entirely good about what you wind up choosing. I wish chef and his family nothing but the best, and I hope they enjoy their very well deserved time together.”