Jan 7, 2012

Not Dun, Just Getting Started

Restaurant: Gram & Dun
Location: 600 Ward Parkway, Country Club Plaza, KC MO
Food: Upscale Gastropub
Service: Traditional Waitstaff
Atmosphere: GastroChic
Price: Starters/Salads $6-$15, Entrees $15-$30
Rating: Two napkins

There's plenty of hubbub about this new restaurant in the former Baja 600 location on the south end of the Plaza, Gram & Dun. And with good reason.

Admittedly, I was as pumped up as anyone about it for a couple distinct reasons: A) it's not a chain and B) its ownership, Bread & Butter Concepts, is responsible for two other respectable places in town, BRGR and Urban Table, both in the PV/Corinth area.

Glass-lighting effect added by me - not part of the table.
Bread & Butter has attached the term "gastropub" to Gram & Dun, essentially meaning it's loosely derived on a traditional pub concept (featuring libations) but is consciously dialing up the emphasis on its food (ergo "gastro"). After perusing the menu, I'd say it's a super-gastro gastropub as the food menu was much larger than I expected and the beers and wines, though also numerous, perhaps a hair less impressive in comparison.

Don't get me wrong, there's lots of booze to choose from--50ish beers and even more wines--but if you rule out the stuff you can find at your local grocery store, it's not jaw-dropping. So my first impression, after parking ourselves at a small two-top in the appropriately noisy bar area some 90 minutes earlier than our projected seating time, was to be slightly underwhelmed at the pub element.

I was in a wintery state of mind on this brisk night on the plaza, having just giggled at the tourists freezing in their carriage rides, and for some reason, to me, that means whiskey (as I write I'm enjoying a bourbon slush). So I picked up the cocktail menu and decided to try their sazerac. Man, did that hit the spot. Elizabeth opted for a Ginger Rogers with mint leaves, ginger syrup, gin, lime juice, ginger ale and lime wedge garnish. It was a nice crisp counter to my warmer, darker drink. And in the classy, dark, swank and positively buzzing surroundings, we were happy.

Soon, some busty, blonde, ditzy ladies grabbed the table next to us... either dressed up strippers or KC socialite/scenesters... the type who perpetually date Chiefs players and will only be seen at the city's current hot spot. Their hundred-dollar-Nordstrom-shirted male counterparts never joined them at the table--they stayed nearer the bar engaging in real man conversation and, generally, to be seen in the epicenter of the newest and arguably most popular restaurants in the city. I mention this only in an attempt to convey a little about what it feels like to be in the bar at G&D right now. This is the frequent clientele. Not a bad thing but humorously predictable and, over time, when they migrate to the next new hot spot, I expect Gram & Dun will take on a slightly more, shall we say, approachable tonality.

Service was very slow but not so bad as to draw ire. Here's what we ordered for food: 

Shishito peppers to start. We'd had these mild, skinny peppers at Ra and Girl & The Goat (Chicago) and thoroughly enjoyed them. Here, they were battered and flash-fried, which was great for one or two, but the bowl of peppers at Gram & Dun is humongous and they were thoroughly salted (thoroughly). Given our porcine-like refusal to limit our gastro-intake, we ploughed through the whole bowl, I'm ashamed to say, and were over greased and over salted immediately thereafter.

See what I mean about the size of the chips?
Bad timing, then, to start in on a bowl of homemade potato chips, each the size of my face. Thankfully the chips weren't mercilessly salty like the shishitos, but they didn't help the cause either. With the chips were three very inspired dipping concoctions: smooth guacamole, vanilla bean-enhanced tomato ketchup and spicy blood orange and habanero ketchup. They all worked despite my skepticism of the vanilla ketchup. Wouldn't want a lot of the stuff but as a counterpoint to the others, I really liked it.

The next item was supposed to be a green reprieve from Saltyfriedville - Brussels sprouts salad - but it failed to play the palette cleansing role we needed. The salad was yet another big bowl, this one full of shaved/shredded Brussels sprouts leaves, Manchego, celery, cranberries, walnuts and arugula, supposedly covered in a lemon vinaigrette though we failed to notice it much. After eating the few bites of the salad I had, I'm convinced Brussels sprouts shouldn't ever be the sole green used in a leafy salad. A mouthful of the stuff was unpleasantly textured, almost like a mixture of softened fingernails, raw kale and hair (this coming from a guy who LOVES Brussels sprouts done well). Okay, maybe that's a little over-the-top. But with each bite the salad seemed less and less edible. I think we each stopped after about three and plopped a napkin on top of the bowl to signal we were done with it. Yes, more vinaigrette may have been in order but wouldn't have cleansed the textural sins in that bowl. Bummer.

Fried, fried fried!
So, we dragged ourselves, parched and withered, toward an entirely unnecessary and abysmally selected (on our part as meal-assemblers) shrimp po' boy. Had we known the Brussels sprouts salad would've come up so short, we would have changed this order or nixed it altogether. Not only did the plate plunked down in front of us contain super salty friend shrimp, it was piled high with deep fried potato wedges. (Listen to me, complaining over my own poorly chosen indulgences and their calories which could sustain 10 human lives for a month when there are so many hungry people in the world.) We wrestled down a few bites and called it a nigh, not really noticing the jalapeno aioli or apple slaw that should've balanced the breadiness of the sandwich and friend shrimp.

Main dining area
Reading the preceding, you'd think my impression of Gram & Dun was not great. And while I admit I think they skew a little too heavy/salty on the food selections, I bear the brunt of the responsibility for ordering items that were too similarly prepared. Were I to do it over again, I'd still have the peppers to start (eating only 50% of the bowl with my companion) and then go into a different salad (Sangria?), perhaps indulging again on an entree that was not deep fried.

Taken in bar area looking toward south wing
There are lots of things on the menu I'd like to go back and try including the wild boar sloppy joe, shrimp and grits, loaded baked potato gnocchi and pork belly. But when I do, I'll be sure not to order and eat them all in one sitting.

A friend recently summed up the Bread & Butter Concepts restaurants well to me in saying that "none of their food is all that great but they do an impressive job of creating an atmosphere people want to be in. And the food's good enough to make for an enjoyable time." In the case of Gram & Dun this seems mostly true. I owe it the due diligence of a restaurant reviewer and to go try some more of the food before passing my full judgment. But based on what I've seen so far, I'm mostly impressed and employing a little more strategy in the ordering process, expect to like this place plenty.

Rating: two napkins


Anonymous said...

I am taking a faculty candidate we are interviewing tomorrow there for lunch and I was relieved to hear that it is a good place. I'll stay away from an order of all salty foods, though. Thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

i am SO GLAD to see someone else was disappointed with the food. the mushroom ravioli that i had was just like the kind i can buy from my grocer's refrigerator case. i was wondering if i chose the wrong thing, but it appears all seems on par.

Erica said...

Last time I was there, I ordered the shrimp and grits and it was all too salty as well. Maybe they need to work on how heavy handed they are with that.

That being said, I did order the Brussels Sprout salad and it was fantastic. Sad it wasn't the same experience for you.

Suzanne said...

I hope you give it another try! We ate there a couple weekends ago and declared it our "new' go-to. We did the bison meatballs for the appetizer and they were great. A good 'meat' flavor vs a meatball where sometimes the breadcrumb binder takes out the flavor. Very tangy mustard sauce on them.
I had the shrimp and grits, and I didn't find it to be overly salty, I found it to be about one of the best plates I'd ever put my face in. My dining parters had the Airline Chicken and the steak and both were happy with their choices as well.
And Happy...the Happy Cake...holy moley. Very good. Chocolate and lots of it w/salted caramel and bacon. Ah-mazing.

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