If Northside had a Mini-Me, surely it would be The Grove. Terry and Amanda Vincent opened The Grove in the space I used to call “Kay’s-Ray’s-that Mexican place that was supposed to open” on Dec. 1, 2010. Like Northside in general, The Grove could use a little sprucing up. But isn’t that part of the community’s (and restaurant’s) charm?
I often hear the word “eclectic” used to describe The Grove because of the combination of its traditional diner atmosphere and the numerous vegetarian options on the menu. On follow-up, owner Terry Vincent chuckled and said, “We’re a diner but our food’s not quite diner.”
You still see burgers and deli sandwiches, but The Grove offers some solid vegetarian options as well as a rotation of creative daily specials such as quiches and lasagnas. Vincent and his wife are vegetarian, but many of their friends are not, and he said that they’ve always had trouble finding a good fit for dining out.
We ended up at The Grove on Valentine’s Day. I admit it wasn’t a conventional pick. There were no flowers, checkered tablecloths or strolling violinists, but the vinyl booths were comfy and an inviting place to settle in for a meal. The tables are naked (as was one of the hanging lights from the ceiling), but each table included an odd little dish with an air plant in it. (Note to self: These spiky little plants are apparently easy to grow and, therefore, might survive in my house.)
Along with a few booths and small tables, The Grove has the classic diner lunch counter with round stools affixed to the floor. Other traditional touches include a Bunn coffee maker and an ice machine. As we studied the menu I could hear the sound of something hitting the grill.
The restaurant carries various sodas, juices and regular tea as well as organic green tea for beverage choices, but since it was Valentine’s Day we brought a bottle of Pinto Grigio to share, which we poured into old-timey red plastic cups the server got us, apologizing that they had nothing fancier.
Vincent said that they make everything from scratch at The Grove, from the mayonnaise, salad dressings and soups to the pasta sauce and truly addictive freshly cooked potato chips.
The daily specials on the night of our visit were Blackened Chicken or Tilapia Tacos ($8.50) with chips and salsa and Meatloaf ($7.50) with a side salad and soup. The soup was a Middle Eastern stew of lentils and potatoes — definitely more exotic than diner fare.
When I found out that the tacos were made with flour tortillas (I’m a corn tortilla gal myself), I went with a side salad ($3) and a vegetarian Corn Cake Burger ($6), which came with cheddar cheese, red onion, a slice of red pepper, lettuce and chipotle mayo. My husband had the Bruce Burger ($7), which was topped with lettuce, tomato and red onion and came with mustard on the side.
The salad, with Romaine, red onion, tomato, homemade croutons and cilantro lime dressing, had tasty croutons, but I expected the dressing to have more punch. Both the sandwiches were good. The corn cake was “meaty” and covered with a thick slab of melted cheese. My favorite part was the mayo. I’m really tired of going to restaurants that advertise — no, warn you — that something will be hot, and it turns out to be about as spicy as a bowl of oatmeal. The Grove’s chipotle mayo was no false advertising. It was a wonderful spicy topping for the sandwich’s corny flavor.
The other big hit with me was the potato chips. They were salty, warm and crisp. We got ketchup, thinking we’d use it with the chips, but eat these puppies naked to truly appreciate them.
Husband had ordered his burger medium, but it arrived more on the rare side. After convincing him that he needed to have them throw it back on the grill, he called over the server, who sheepishly apologized, explaining that he’s vegetarian and was a little unsure how to tell if it was done to the right temperature. No harm, no foul when something is taken care of so sincerely. Husband got his medium burger a few minutes later and it was really good. You know, burger good — full of grilled fatty flavor.
We wrapped up the dinner with the daily homemade cheesecake ($2.75) and cookie selection (75 cents): chocolate covered cherry for the cheesecake and peanut butter chocolate chip for the cookie. I thought the cookie was a little dry, but I had no complaints about the cheesecake. This one won me over with the thin layer of dark chocolate that topped the bright red filling.
All in all, I had a pretty good Valentine’s Day. More importantly, I’ve got a solid new neighborhood restaurant!
Go: 3938 Spring Grove Ave., Northside
Surf: Search “The Grove Northside” on Facebook
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Entrée Prices: $3-$9
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty
Accessibility: Fully Accessible