Familiar face opens Grits & Gravy

Published 6:59 pm Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Maurice Wilson had a blank look on his face for only a second.

The owner of Grits and Gravy, a new restaurant on E. Washington Street, had just been interrupted by one of his employees, who said a customer on the phone didn’t know what she wanted.

“She wants a sandwich,” his employee told him.

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Wilson’s surprise lasted only for a few moments, until he started creating a dish in his head.

“OK, tell her I’ll do a grilled chicken with fresh mozzarella,” Wilson said. “And sautéed spinach.”

After the employee reported a favorable reaction by the woman on the phone, Wilson headed to the grill and got to work.

The former executive chef at Main Street Jazz Restaurant in Suffolk and 456 Fish and Omar’s Carriage House in Norfolk said he’s bringing a Southern flair to Suffolk.

“I do it all,” Wilson said. “I can do anything.”

Wilson’s restaurant is opening in the same building where Tipton’s Diner opened just a few months ago. After Tipton’s closed, the opportunity to have his own restaurant was too much to resist, Wilson said.

“This place opened up so quickly,” Wilson said. “For not having any signage and no advertising our first weekend, we did really well.”

The eatery will serve up classics such as burgers, sandwiches and fried fish, Wilson said. Side dishes such as macaroni and cheese and collard greens also are on the menu, but Wilson resisted calling his fare “soul food.”

“It’s good ol’ fashioned food,” Wilson said. “It’s Southern comfort food.”

Wilson, whose family is from Suffolk, graduated from the Cincinnati Culinary Arts Academy and has won numerous awards for his dishes at other restaurants. He now teaches culinary classes at Tidewater Community College and is private chef for a family in addition to owning Grits and Gravy.

“I’ve done the frou-frou stuff, I’ve gotten the awards, now I have a shot to have my own restaurant,” Wilson said. “I pray that I’m successful.”

The diner also will serve as headquarters for Wilson’s catering business, which will serve a wide range of dishes, Wilson said.

“Anything from meatballs to lobster kabobs with a chardonnay demi-glace,” Wilson said. “I can do anything.”

Demi-glace is a sauce of beef, chicken or veal stock traditionally added to meat dishes in French cuisine.

Grits and Gravy is located at 200 E. Washington St. Wilson will be open initially from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Wilson said the hours may change based on demand. For more information, call 739-0906.