Jul 30, 2010

A Solid Experience at Grand St. Cafe

Restaurant: Grand St. Cafe
Location: 4740 Grand, KC MO
Food: Solid, unpretentious American cuisine
Service: A pleasure. Attentive but unobtrusive.
Atmosphere: Fun, but upscale, too. Decor looks outdated.
Price: Moderate. Sandwiches and burgers for $9, dinner entrees $17-$30
Rating: three napkins

For quite some time, I've wondered why Houston's seemed to be the only upscale yet reasonably priced American cuisine in town that provided a dependably pleasant experience on each trip. Who were its peers in the local restaurant scene? And why was I always going back there?

City Tavern downtown was mired with issues during its entire existence, finally bringing it to its knees and being replaced recently by the new Grunauer, which I'm anxious to try.

The Fairway Grill was nice, but I only had the pleasure of eating there once, before it turned into another houlihan's branch - such a disappointment.

There's J. Gilbert in OP, Capital Grille, Prime Rib Grill, The Majestic, Benton's, Plaza III, etc., but they're squarely in the well-defined steakhouse category, which is a different thing, entirely.

And then there are several other very decent American restaurants that aren't in the same price range (Bluestem, The American, Michael Smith, Skies, R Bar), level of service/ambience (The Westside Local, Blue Bird, Farmhouse), or seating capacity (Room 39, Pot Pie, Julian).

So, it would seem I've been on a bit of a quest to find a Houston's peer - hopefully a locally owned one - I can add to my repertoire of enjoyably predictable and high quality American fare restaurants for those frequent family events and life occasions that require a crowd pleasing, approachable menu and reasonably large dining room.

Enter Grand Street Cafe. With Groupon in hand, we made the quick jaunt across the Plaza Friday night for my very first meal there. This moderately sized restaurant is located just East of the Plaza's boundary and immediately South of the original Winstead's. I'd heard good things about the food, but no one seemed overly excited about the place... like it just didn't make for a special occasion. To say it's an unassuming restaurant on the exterior is an understatement. One could easily enter the secluded parking lot and not even notice its entrance, as it occupies the bottom floor of what looks like an off-plaza office building.

Inside, however, ordinary appearances are replaced by a sparkling bar above which hang luminous contemporary light fixtures. Also lighting up the place are the smiles of the patrons. Last night was one of those occasions when it seemed as though everyone was having the time of their life. It's an intangible quality that a few restaurants exhibit and adds attractiveness to the possibility of returning in the future.

Just past the bar on the right, as you walk back to the main dining area, is the exposed kitchen, clean and well-kept. Always a positive sign and indicator of good food to come. I'd be remiss not to mention, though, that the rest of the dining room - its floral wallpaper and rattan chairs - seemed outdated. So for those who want their dining experience to be ultra contemporary or classically chic, Grand St. strikes out, here.

I like my wine lists long and my menus short. Grand St. hit the mark on both. Elizabeth ordered up a $10 glass of Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay (good call) and I got the house Merlot (bad call). The waiter was visibly pleased with Elizabeth's decision ("Always a great choice") and, judging by the scowl on his face, had a hard time not kicking me for mine. I take it Grand St.'s philosophy is that the house wine is for cheapies. Given the accuracy of that assumption as pertains to myself, I say "point taken, Grand Street."

The weather being dangerously hot and humid, ceviche was a clear winner for our starter. Winner turns out to have been an understatement. In a short, pretty tapered glass, our waiter delivered a bright, citrusy, but meaty, helping of halibut, scallops, shrimp, onion, tomato, chunks of avocado, jalapeno and cilantro, layered on top a small amount of shredded romaine. We thoroughly enjoyed every bite of this delicious, cool, flavorful app that we spooned onto our assortment of tasty, crisp wafers. On the side, as an added bonus, was a square shot glass filled with what tasted like a very good virgin mary, finishing the dish with a nice peppery kick. Result: we were happy, yet appetized. Ready for the serious eating.

I went neolithic with my entree choice, ordering up Grand Street's massive double-thick pork chop. This mammoth chop of meat was brined, then marinated in herbs and spices, and cooked to a perfect medium. Not the juiciest of cuts, Grand street did a wonderful job ensuring the combination of their cooking process and ham hock sauce gave the pork a pleasingly tender texture. The ham hock jus itself added needed salt and a nice porky undertone. The whipped potatoes on the side were super-light in texture, almost like the cauliflower  puree we make at home often (a good thing), and the green beans, though the tiniest bit overcooked for my taste, were a nice green addition. I cleaned the plate.

Elizabeth went with chicken, which turned out to be some of the better chicken we've ever had. A warm plate with two succulent oven roasted cuts (thighs, I believe), bone-in and skin-on, with tart artichokes, tasty oven-roasted tomatoes that were so sweet and tangy they almost seemed to be sun dried, and a lemon jus came with green beans and two ravioli filled with Grand Street's homemade chicken sausage. The only element on the plate not remarkably tasty were, surprisingly, the ravioli, whose sausage filling was completely lacking in flavor - odd for sausage - and pasta casings were waxy... rubbery... needing a sauce or some kind of moisture. I'm intrigued about ordering this meal again, if for not other reason than to see if these ravioli were an anomaly. I bet they're usually better.

When the dessert menu came around, we laughed it off, already happy and round from our feast.

Circling back to where we started, my finding is that not only is Grand Street quite comparable to Houston's, but it's also a better value. I did a quick menu comparison and found many of the same items on both, Grand Street being equal or cheaper in each case:

Caesar Salad: Houston's - $13, Grand St. - $9
Ahi Tuna Salad: Houston's - $16, Grand St. - $13
Chicken Sandwich: Houston's - $13, Grand St. - $9
Burger: Houston's - $13, Grand St. - $9
Salmon: Houston's - $23, Grand St. - $20
KC Strip: Houston's - $38, Grand St. - $29
Filet: Houston's - $31, Grand St. - $30

A good value for good food. I'm not trying to say Grand St. is a top 10 place in town by any means, but I did like it (outdated decor being its biggest drawback), and I think it's an offering in a category that is surprisingly vacant in KC (or north of 95th, at least). So I give it three napkins, value being the largest driver for that third prestigious cloth. Hope you find it as enjoyable as I did.

Rating: three napkins
Grand Street Cafe on Urbanspoon


KC Wort Hog said...

I've only been there twice but have enjoyed it both times. Their happy hour is definitely worth going to - and their white cheddar fondue with pretzels is fabulous!

As for Grunauer - I just posted about it after going again last night :)


Amanda said...

I totally agree with your review!! I've been there a few times and have always been pleased: the beef soft tacos are delicious!! And the most recent lunch I had the pork chop was amazing. Also want to plug that Grand St. is very good at dietary restrictions:
they have lots of gluten free options including some tasty rolls!

JMM said...

When I moved to KC 16 years ago, I went to Grand Street with a group from my new job. The decor in the dining room was exactly the same as it is now! Hence, the dated look. Regarding the food, we always have a good meal there, but I question your evaluation of "value". We rarely get out of there for less than $80. Must be the wine...

KCNapkins Guy said...

JMM, even with my detailed cost comparison grid, you're still questioning the value??? :)

Thanks for the comment on the decor. Glad to know I wasn't being hyper-critical and it really is dated.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...