The Memorial Grill
January 14, 2008
On my first visit to The Memorial Grill, I wasn’t disappointed. It was Christmas Eve and the hubby and I were exhausted from shopping and wrapping presents, and we simply picked the first place we saw that was open for lunch that day. My husband swears by the place, since they serve enormous portions that satisfy his Sasquatch-size appetite (not to imply that my husband is a Sasquatch, as he’s not at all; he’s quite fit and has a metabolism that I’d personally shank someone to have). But while I wasn’t disappointed in The Memorial Grill, I didn’t come away that impressed, either, and told my husband that I wanted to return a second time during their busy lunch hour and try to glean a better feel for the place.
So today when my lunch companions requested some “basic meat and potatoes,” I suggested The Memorial Grill. I feel a bit foolish now. But more than that, I feel bad that I didn’t enjoy the restaurant. I really wanted to like it. I like the small-town feel of the place; I like the fact that they’re surviving in a notoriously unlucky location; I like the fact that they’re making an effort to give the neighborhood a comfortable place to hang out, hit up after school, meet after swim practice or have a decent business lunch in the Energy Corridor.
They just need to make more of an effort.
The Memorial Grill is the kind of place that I would imagine could benefit from a Gordon Ramsey-style intervention show. It has good bones; it just needs someone to flesh them out and straighten them up. There are good points: pleasant — if a bit pedestrian — decor, excellent music (Yes! and Jackson Browne and other assorted 1970s soft-rock hits) played at the perfect volume, what could be a good location if it didn’t seem to be cursed and a fairly good menu.
Then it starts to fall apart a bit. The menu, while good, is too diverse. It’s the kind of menu that screams to me — screams to anyone who’s worked in the restaurant industry — half this stuff is frozen and nuked! I’m always put off by large menus, as you’re never sure whether or not your dinner will have been shipped in from Sysco’s two weeks ago and kept in cold storage until it was microwaved per your order.
Also, there doesn’t seem to be a theme to the menu. There are lots of Italian dishes (sausage and peppers, some pasta, some Italian-inspired salads), some Asian dishes, some random seafood dishes (tilapia and swordfish? um….no), a bunch of different hamburgers, some nachos — a little bit of everything. Again, never a good sign to me. Pick a genre or two and do them right.
Then there’s the issue of the food itself. It’s terribly mediocre. My mushroom-Muenster burger was blander than Elmer’s glue. My husband’s buffalo burger also had no taste — you could only taste whole-wheat bun and mustard, no buffalo came through at all. Today, my lunch companions idly picked at their food and all declared their lunches “Just okay.” Not exactly a stellar reaction. The baked goat cheese appetizer, however, wasn’t mediocre. It was just awful. The crusty loaf of bread had been microwaved within an inch of its little, doughy life and was too tough to even cut with a knife, let alone chew. We ended up eating the goat cheese on the breadsticks that came with our meals.
What The Memorial Grill lacks in flavor, they seem to be attempting to make up for in sheer size. The dishes are outright enormous, even by Texas-sized standards. But the problem with that equation is that if the food isn’t good to begin with, I certainly don’t want an entire trough of it. Worse, it creates an issue of excess, wasted food that the restaurant is going to have to price itself out of, by either charging more for the food or ordering cheaper, lower quality ingredients. It’s not a winning formula for anyone.
The first time that I went, the service was fantastic. The servers were singing along to the music on the speakers, happily working their way through the tables and amicably making conversation and recommendations. Today’s waitstaff seemed to be a different bunch entirely. They ran the gamut from sullen to dour and seemed more interested in lounging near the kitchen, commiserating with one another, than attending to their tables. One lunch companion had to ask for dressing for her salad three times, with the final request resulting in an impatient “Just a minute, okay?” from our server.
And the low point for me came when I discovered a big, fat fly in my iced tea. I’m not all that skeeved out by things like this (although maybe I should be), so I politely asked the waiter to please bring me a new glass as this one contained an unwanted visitor. His reply? “Is it doing the backstroke?” I was stunned not only by the cheesiness of the extremely trite and overused joke, but also by his utter lack of an apology over a patron finding a dead insect in their drink. He never did say anything else about the tea, just came by with a new glass about five minutes later and never bothered coming back by our table at any point to refill our drinks.
I don’t think I’ll be giving The Memorial Grill another shot anytime soon. There are far too many good places to go for lunch and dinner around here to bother with poor service and bland, boring food. But I do hope that the owners are able to turn the place around. I wish them well in that endeavor, but until that time comes…there’s still Nirvana, Liebman’s, Hungry’s, Napoli’s and Romano’s within a one block radius, all of whom are doing a much better job of serving the local neighborhood good food.