I’m not much for mystery. Surprise birthday parties aren’t my jam. I like knowing what I’m getting myself into. All. The. Time. I’m a bit of a control freak that way. Given that, I was a bit apprehensive when Grayson Street Eatery first opened its doors days before Fiesta in April. What were the hours?
Were they doing lunch and dinner? What exactly constitutes a “Texas bistro”? There wasn’t, at the time, a curated web presence to research and most calls went unanswered.
When I finally did stop by, it was still unclear what was in store. The converted home looks more gallery than eatery, and a lack of ambient noise made for an eerily quiet lunchtime. I picked up lunch to go, and bemoaned the heavy, overly acidic dressing that covered my side salad. My pulled pork sandwich that day was equally egregious and made worse by the addition of dried cranberries.
Opened by first-time restaurateurs Johnny Moreno Jr. and Oscar Montiel, Grayson Street Eatery struggled during its first few weeks, which led to the eventual placement of Armando Diaz (formerly with Piatti’s) at the helm of the kitchen, along with sous chef Dominic Ramos, who most recently helped open Big Hops Gastropub and owns Gourmet on the Fly food truck. The transition was evident during my second, much more skeptical, lunchtime visit.
The menu is small and still undergoing changes just about daily. You won’t find any unknown ingredients among the soups, salads and sandwiches at lunch, with appetizers and entrees reserved for the evening. Wary of any surprises, I opted for the chipotle chicken salad sandwich with melted gouda and house-smoked bacon. The results? Creamy and rich, flavorful without being overwhelmed by the bacon, and the lightly toasted Bakery Lorraine croissant didn’t hurt one bit.
Sandwiches are served with a green salad (with a hint of vinaigrette) and homemade chips, both delightful and fresh, a nice yin and yang of health vs. indulgence.
Grayson also joined one of the dozen or so restaurants out there to carry a beet salad, and while the raspberry vinaigrette sounded a bit too 1990s country club, the smoked beets, feta and arugula all worked seamlessly.
One of my lunch partners opted for the fries, a solid offering made better with the tasty house-made ketchup that has notes of garlic and Worcestershire sauce.
Was my first visit a fluke? Was my second visit luck? Only dinner would break this tie.
I stopped by on a recent Tuesday evening, the first dinner service of the week, and half the menu was unavailable. No mussels for this diner, but I got my seafood fix with a pair of Panko-crushed crab cakes served on a bed of arugula with a citrus dressing. Loaded with fresh lemon zest and actual lump crab instead of bready fillers, the cakes were a pleasant surprise, though they could have benefited from a bright aioli.
For our entrees, our server did offer two specials, a pork green chili soup and a shrimp roll. We opted for the latter to excellent results. Usually only served at lunch on a bolillo roll, the tender whole shrimp are tossed in a brown butter aioli along with diced green apples and Bibb lettuce.
Because the ribeye and mussels used in the pasta dish were MIA from the entree menu that evening, I chose the meatloaf. Dressed with a thin barbecue-style sauce that held hints of smoke and paired with the house green salad, the loaf finally made Grayson Street feel like a home-turned-restaurant, mixed-media art be damned. (Just kidding—pieces by current artist Robert D. McBain were surprising conversation starters.)
While we did take advantage of the happy hour specials (from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday), we longed to enjoy our drinks out on the back patio, but were thwarted by the summer heat. The wine list is accessible with bottles ranging from the low 20s to the mid-30s, and the beer list of local and not-so-local craft brews is no slacker either.
Montiel, Moreno, Diaz and Ramos may still continue tweaking the menu, but I suggest they hone in on the specific ambience they want Grayson to project, especially given the eatery’s proximity to the Pearl’s culinary smorgasbord. They can either own their Texan side and make Grayson Street a patio destination with casual entrees and a bar, or lose sight of the their newfound identity as they struggle to encompass all the things “Texas bistro” could possibly mean. I’m hoping for the former.
Grayson Street Eatery
521 E Grayson,
Skinny: Government Hill’s latest eatery hones in on Texan flavors in a café setting. Fresh and organic ingredients meet casual vibes blocks away from The Pearl.
Best Bets: Gulf shrimp roll, meatloaf, house green salad, chipotle chicken salad
Hours: 11:30am-3pm Mon; 11:30am-3pm, 5-10pm Tue-Sat
Price: $8-$13 lunch, $6-$25 dinner