"Restaurant reviewing must be so fun!" is the response I get when people find out I do food writing on the side. I smile and politely agree, while I mentally recall irate restaurant owners, sketchy kitchens ("Go straight through for the bathroom...") and, once, a raw chicken sandwich. Occasionally, I'll come across a restaurant that is completely unexpected and provides me with a rare surprise, instead of rare chicken.
Downtown Grill is part of a quiet but ongoing campaign to gentrify Fairview. It sits right down the street from the Fairview Carrs and is on the cusp of downtown, with all of the convenience and none of the parking problems. My husband and I parked in front of the adjacent gym, and watching the folks on the ellipticals made us feel even hungrier.
We met two of our friends in the dining room, a tasteful renovation that included a plate-glass waterfall and fireplace. It was modern but still cozy. The restaurant was fairly empty for 6:30 on a Saturday night and our server told us that breakfast and lunch are the busiest times. I was apprehensive when I heard that; DT Grill has been open since March 25, so they've had plenty of time to work out the bugs. I was somewhat mollified when complimentary jalapeño cheddar biscuits arrived at the table.
Owner Logan Stanley has infused Southern flair into a standard menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and pizzas. The honey-laced biscuit was a warm welcome, while shrimp and grits ($9), brisket ($15) and the smoked rotisserie chicken ($19) beckoned. There are a few wild cards: fancy osso bucco ($25) and a "D.T. Fitness Bowl" with brown rice, veggies and chicken ($15), obviously meant for the poor souls slaving away next door. The server actually recommended this, but I couldn't do it. I chose the banh mi panzerotti ($13) instead: a type of open-faced calzone.
My husband went whole-hog with a full rack of ribs ($22)-- fitness bowl be damned! It was the right choice. He plucked a single bone from the mass of meat on his plate and it pulled free so easily it was almost obscene. The smoked mashed potatoes and coleslaw were loyal sidekicks, but really, the incredibly tender meat outshone them. My panzerotti (creamy sauce, succulent chicken, tender-crisp carrots) was delicious but paled next to the flavor of Jeff's ribs.
Our server Lindsay was a wealth of information about the restaurant and its chefs. She rattled off all of the things that are made in-house -- an impressive list. "We hand-cut the ribeyes, smoke our own meat, hand-cut french fries, batter our sweet potato fries, make our own bread, crack the crab that goes into the crab cakes -- we even make all the desserts ourselves except for the ice cream and we don't grow the berries. But, we are getting an ice cream maker, so that will be house-made soon, too!"
We were caught up in her infectious spiel and, despite the protests of our straining waistbands, we ordered dessert: eight perfect little beignets ($8) with strawberry sauce, salted caramel sauce and chocolate sauce, bought at Costco. Just kidding -- they were house-made. The salted caramel was so good it made me think of that old lady in "Patch Adams" who just wanted to swim in spaghetti noodles. That crazy old lady had obviously never tried this salted caramel.
My husband and I came back for lunch, specifically the blue wolf burger ($14) and the pulled pork sandwich ($13.50). Our service was a little slower and spottier, but the food was worth the wait. Although the burger was overcooked and the blue cheese just a nuance, it was still one of the best burgers I've had in a long time, and the french fries were excellent. When I asked my husband about his pulled pork, he fatally responded with, "It's better than yours."
Downtown Grill is striving to improve the neighborhood through inspired cooking and the effort shows. Our server Lindsay said it best: "He (Logan Stanley) thinks if you do everything by hand, it tastes better."
By Riza Brown
Daily News correspondent