Glenwood Grill has been a Triangle favorite for 21 years. A popular neighborhood restaurant that serves Chef John Wright’s innovative dishes in a classy yet comfortable atmosphere
Revisiting The Glenwood Grill
by Fred Benton, Raleigh Downtowner
It is often said that getting older is a rich experience, a time in our lives when wisdom reigns over impulse. Hooey! There’s nothing good about getting older when most of your income is tied up in health insurance costs and struggling out of bed gets you the same burn as running four blocks did way back when. For my standpoint, one positive experience is taking in the fact that Glenwood Grill, a popular eatery in Glenwood Village Shopping Center (at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Oberlin Road), is already celebrating its 17th year anniversary. Heck, I still think of Glenwood Grill as new! But then I still can’t believe that Colonial Store isn’t there in the same shopping center anymore (but in its place, Harris-Teeter is). Or that yesteryear when I interviewed a chef I was the 30-something chatting with a 50-something chef. Tables, they have turned: the other day I sat across from Glenwood Grill’s chef, John Wright, and wanted to pat him on the head and tell the young man to keep up the good work! And an equal pat on the head to even younger sous chef Adam Reid.
John, as some of you might remember, was executive chef at the Grill from 1997 to 2005 when he left to conquer new horizons. But those horizons conquered, he’s back! Plus the Grill has a new look: sand colored walls replace the chilly gray to engender a much warmer ambiance. And best of all, those rigidly contemporary chairs, that looked so sleek but yet were as comfy as most sleeper sofas to the back are gone! Comfort reigns now so we don’t all have to kill each other to get a banquette.
The hallmark of the Wright kitchen has got to be one of the best renditions of Shrimp & Grits that I’ve found in the Triangle. And I say that with somewhat of a heavy heart. I’ll explain. I was raised on this low-country staple by virtue of one of my mother’s best friends, Sara Armstrong who grew up in Savannah. Mom, true to Sara’s teachings, would cook plain grits, then sauté freshly-peeled shrimp in lots of butter with simply a seasoning of salt, cayenne pepper and major squeezes of fresh lemon. This is served atop grits. There, the dish was done. Bill Neal while at Crook’s put shrimp & grits on the map by adding lots of other things such as cheese, scallions, bacon and more. I’ve always preferred the simpler way. But when my buds first hit those grits enlivened with pepper jack from the Grill, I was hooked! I could have made a meal on the grits alone (and one can as a side dish, $3), never mind the shrimp, the concasse of tomatoes, mushrooms, tasso ham, Italian sausage and scallions. You’ve got to try Wright’s rendition—of which this young chef—all of 36—is immensely proud, and rightfully so.
Our evening at the Glenwood Grill on a quest to taste the culinary wares of John Wright began by a copious tasting of bartender Peter Hansma’s fantastic mango margarita-tini. (have it with hot sauce if you dare). If I’m ever in the hospital and need to be intravenously fed, please Peter, come immediately and hook me up to a pitcher of these substantial martinis! I’ll waft away a happy man.
But back to dinner, one of the best appetizers in my opinion is Fried Green Tomatoes, accented with pimento cheese (could Sissy Ashby and Jean Martin, co-owners of the Glenwood Grill and formerly of Simple Pleasures and Jean now of NoFo ever be a part of any business that didn’t serve up the best pimento cheese!?), avocado-black bean relish and cracked black pepper mustard dressing ($7).
Then afterwards, for an entree you cannot miss the Carpetbagger ($27, $17/half)—which is a 6-ounce filet mignon with roasted mashed Yukon gold potatoes, sautéed spinach, oysters fried in Parmesan crust, sauce béarnaise and port-veal reduction.
I really like the fact here that dishes can be halved or doubled depending upon your appetite: a nice touch! When I return this is a dish I must have: Salmon & Carolina crab griddlecake with cheese grits, spinach, poached egg and hollandaise ($8, listed as a “Starter.”) And how about Carolina Rainbow Trout with Lobster Basil Corn Pancakes, cucumber rémoulade and turnip greens tossed with smoked peppered bacon ($21). Gotta have it!
I found John Wright talented, informative and easy to get to know. Ladies, he’s single, well versed in low-country cuisine and despite all his food knowledge is a simple man at heart. In his fridge at home at the time of this interview was jelly, milk and cereal (so not many trips to the grocery store to win his heart). And his favorite fast food? You won’t have to shell out megabucks when it’s your turn to treat: he had high praise for the double cheeseburger with all the fixings at Snoopy’s.
And last but not least I want to compliment the friendliness and accommodations of the Grill’s management that adds their own brand of warmth and hospitality to the Grill experience.