Dining review

Vibrant food, friendly atmosphere make it easy to unwind at Grind and Wine

The Baltimore Sun

How often have you been to a restaurant where strangers said hello and waved goodbye? If you had asked me that question a few days ago, my response would have been quick and simple: never. But now I’ve been to Grind and Wine.

Talk about a disarming experience. From the moment we stepped into the establishment, which opened last October in a Randallstown shopping center, we picked up a neighborly vibe. And, yes, other patrons really did offer greetings as they passed or settled into tables nearby.

If you don’t necessarily think culinary thoughts upon first seeing the name Grind and Wine, get your mind out of the gutter. (I admit I initially had a risque thought, too.) Once you see the restaurant’s logo, you realize the “grind” refers to coffee. Plans call for both the currently modest coffee and wine offerings to be expanded in the future.

With lots of warm, woodsy colors and textures, Grind and Wine looks — in the best sense of the expression — lived-in. Neither fancy nor fussy, it just makes you feel at home.

The dining area includes a library-like spot with comfy upholstered chairs in front of book-and-knickknack-filled shelves. Near the bar in back is a cozy niche dubbed the “wine vault,” containing a bistro table and racks of bottles.

If you choose, as we did, a spot by the front window, note that the tables include pew-like, rock-hard benches. I found them a bit of a trial by meal’s end, but, hey, a little discipline at dinnertime isn’t bad for anyone.

The whole place invites lingering. A good thing, too, since the service the night we visited was a little slow. OK, very slow. But it didn’t matter to us.

Our ever-smiling server, destined that night to handle multiple tables until reinforcements arrived, was quick with a “thanks for your patience.” Worked like a charm. Besides, as a woman at the next table said to us, the pace of this place ends up helping you unwind and forget the cares of work.

Drinks helped, too, including a suavely blended “Moon Over Manhattan” cocktail, and unassuming house wines by the glass that, at $5 each and two-for-one (a Wednesday-night special), tasted even better.

The talents of executive chef Marcus Crenshaw could be detected in the way he got fresh mileage out of even the most familiar fare. Shrimp and grits, for example, is an appetizer that’s way past trendy by now and can so easily be ho-hum, but not in this case.

The plate balances plump, succulent shrimp with Tuscan kale and the smoothest, butteriest, just plain tastiest grits I’ve encountered since one warm Sunday in Charleston, S.C., about 30 years ago (one remembers such things).

Chicken wings may be passe, too, but the tender Thai chili wings here delivered a spark from the thick, spicy coating. Another small plate held four mini-crab cakes that could have used a crispier outside and perhaps a little less sherry cream reduction.

Our entrees included a deftly made vegetable risotto that provided welcome crackle from asparagus and sweet corn, abundant flavor from basil oil and Parmesan. The cedar plank salmon with a tangy ginger lime sauce arrived flaky and moist, bolstered by roasted potatoes (regular and sweet) and grilled asparagus.

The same fine accompaniments came with my favorite entree, the pan-seared catfish, which again showed the kitchen’s sensitive touch. The expertly cooked filet, with its delectable exterior crunch, was so satisfying on its own that the bell pepper cream sauce seemed almost too much of a good thing. But I couldn’t resist that, either.

Desserts included a richly iced coconut cake of wonderful density and flavor, recalling the kind of baked goods I once coveted at church bazaars. The thick chocolate cake likewise pleased.

Grind and Wine doesn’t just serve enjoyable food. It adds in a taste of community and fraternity. Can’t get more appetizing than that.

Grind and Wine

Rating: 3 stars

Where: 3627 Offutt Road, Randallstown

Contact: 443-405-7070, grindandwine.com

Hours: Noon to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; noon to midnight Friday and Saturday

Prices: Appetizers $10 to $12, entrees $13 to $28

Food: American

Noise/TVs: A steady, but not oppressive, buzz when packed. There are a couple of TVs.

Service: Even when slow, it’s very friendly.

Parking: Surface lot

Special diets: They can be accommodated.

Reservations: Accepted Monday through Thursday.

Handicap accessible: Yes

[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]

tim.smith@baltsun.com

twitter.com/clefnotes

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