Grill One Eleven

(Rockford, MI) — Our friends in Rockford have been telling us about Grill One Eleven for quite some time, so when the opportunity arose to head slightly north on Saturday, we jumped at the chance. We drove into the quaint Rockford downtown area, found street parking just a block away, then strolled past sidewalk sales to the restaurant. Cheerful music pipes in through speakers mounted near the corner streetlights, and we hope it reflects the time we’ll have tonight...

He Fed:

Although I had a big lunch—the Grandwich competition just started, after all—my appetite is returning little by little. We enter the restaurant off the main street, which ends up being the back door? There is a dimly-lit narrow hallway that leads to the main space. We pass the kitchen door then pop out near the bar. There are tables further back, a staircase on the right, and a hostess stand on the left. We explain we have reservations (we are a tad early) and will wait for our dinner companions at the bar. She may not have heard because she makes as if to seat us. Awkward. We explain again that we’ll wait for our friends, then just go sit at the bar for a drink.

Not long after, we are joined by Chris and Carrie. Our hostess asks if we would like to sit outside. No way! It is too darned hot. Despite my protestations, she leads us upstairs and opens the balcony door to see if we like it. I refuse to go out. I said no once, and I have no intention of sitting outdoors in that stifling heat. Finally she gives us a table near the back.

To begin, we order White Cheddar Fondue and Marinated Stuffed Portabella. The fondue is pretty mild, served in a rye bread bowl with pita points and herb bread for dipping. I expected some veggies to dip into the cheese as well, but the bread is nice. I’m not a huge fan of the stuffed mushroom, though the roasted pepper and craisin tastes fantastic, especially when the whole thing is drenched in pepper coulis. The portabella just exudes a dry kind of liver taste, which I don’t find appealing but everyone else seems to love.

Before the appetizers, I ordered a sparkling water. Once we are done with the apps, I wonder where the water is. Our waitress completely forgot! No worries; her protege (trainee) retrieves the bottle of Voss for me, then departs. I pour some into my glass of ice and peer suspiciously at it. There are no bubbles! I examine the bottle and discover she had brought me still water instead of sparkling. Thankfully another waitress notices my vain attempts to get our server’s attention, and she takes care of me.

As it so happens, I also hear that other waitress as she tells the table next to us about the night’s dinner special—Ahi Tuna. It sounds pretty good but I don’t catch all the details. Why hasn’t our server related the special to us yet? Strange, but here she is, ready to take our dinner order. “Have you decided on dinner yet?” she asks. I ask what the special might be. She pulls out her notes and relates, “It’s a cajun salmon steak seared...” What? Salmon? I tell her that I overheard another server telling other customers that it’s tuna. “Oh. Well, maybe. I wasn’t here last night. Let me go check.” Between the sparkling water mishap and relating the wrong special (what would have happened if we ordered that?), I’m losing faith here.

Eventually, we get the right information. I know Juliet would love the tuna and, sure enough, she orders it immediately. (My nibble off her plate later tells me she made the right choice; the tuna is amazingly prepared.) For my course, I opt for the Roasted Pesto Pasta. It’s vegetarian but I can use a break from meat. The portion is a bit small for $15 but I’m not super-duper hungry so I let it pass. Unfortunately, the pasta itself tastes like...nothing! There are some nice Kalamata olives and feta cheese, but the basil, roasted garlic, and shallots don’t do much to elevate the pasta itself. It’s very weird. I keep diving in with my fork, hoping I’ll discover a flavor profile that never really materializes.

I have no interest in dessert at the end, but Juliet wants the carrot cake. I’m glad she orders it! Looking nothing like traditional carrot cake, it’s more like an oversized Little Debbie treat, topped with cream cheese icing and strips of roasted sweet potatoes. Wow. In just a couple bites, it nearly erases all the other errors of the evening. When we settle the bill, our server asks, “Ok, time to fess up. Which of you had three glasses of wine?” Turns out, none of us had three glasses. And just like that, the sweet memory of the carrot cake dissolves. I won’t be back to Grill One Eleven.
She Fed:

It's been ages since we hung out with Chris and Carrie so I am eager to catch up. We overestimate our drive time and end up at the restaurant a few minutes early. We park it at the bar where Jeremy enjoys a beer while I sip club soda. We only wait a few minutes before our friends arrive and we're seated upstairs.

I decide to switch gears and try the Basil Grapefruit martini. I don't usually start dinner with a cocktail these days, but it sounds refreshing on this hot and humid day. I'm hooked on my first sip. It's a blend of Hendrick's, orange liqueur, muddled basil, and grapefruit juice. The basil and grapefruit pairing is delightful. I don't taste orange, which is okay by me, as I find it sweet and cloying at times. This martini is almost savory with herbal overtones from the basil. It goes down smooth. I end up finishing my first one quickly and order a second to have with appetizers.

Carrie highly recommends the marinated stuffed portabellas with their unique "craisin" stuffing and a red pepper sauce. Despite the heat outdoors, I'm also craving fondue. No matter that piping hot cheese in a bread bowl doesn't jive with 90-degree weather; it just sounds good.

When they arrive, the mushrooms are beautiful. They've been roasted and filled with a bread crumb stuffing studded with dried cranberries, roasted red peppers, baby bella mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and sweet onions. There's a gorgeous red pepper sauce dribbled over each large portabella cap. The stuffing is quite good; my only complaint is the larger chunks of onion aren't completely cooked through. Don't get me wrong, I like a little "tooth" to my veg, but this is a bit too much. All the other veggies are diced uniformly and cooked through. The mushroom caps are meaty with good flavor. The cranberries give it all a little slap of tart sweetness while the red pepper sauce is rich and creamy.

The fondue is delicious as well. A pumpernickel bread bowl brims with glossy white cheddar, surrounded by pita chips and pumpernickel bread sticks. The fondue isn't sharp, but it does have more of a kick (which I like) than I would expect from the "mild" description on the menu. It's everything a fondue should, luscious, and just downright ooey-gooey. It doesn't take our foursome long to polish off most of it. I'm tempted to grab my knife and fork and cut into the bread bowl at this point.

We overhear the waitress sharing a special with the table next to us so when our waitress approaches the table to take our orders, Jeremy asks about the special. There's some confusion over whether it's salmon or tuna and she heads to the kitchen to ferret out the answer. Turns out it's yellowfin tuna with a cranberry (what's with the cranberries in July?) apple chutney, rice pilaf, and steamed asparagus. I've been debating between "build your own sandwich" with salmon on rosemary foccacia or a ribeye, but the tuna sounds interesting so I go for it.

The restaurant has filled up nicely and some folks are even taking tables on the deck. (Earlier we declined to sit on the deck despite the very hopeful hostess's attempts to steer us outside.) There's a bit of a wait for our entrees, but it gives us time to catch up. When my tuna arrives I ask for a glass of white that will compliment the fish and she suggests the moscato. Normally I'd pass on a sweet wine, but I decide to give it a try. The tuna is cooked perfectly rare and encrusted in a mixture of sesame seeds, both white and black, and freshly cracked black pepper. The fish is clean and slightly sweet at the center. The sweetness of the chutney complements the bite of the cracked pepper. Despite my misgivings, the sweet moscato brings out the complexity of the dish.

Jeremy doesn't seem too keen on his pasta and there are a few very minor glitches with the service, but I think Grill One Eleven offers tasty fare and relatively solid service. Three of us at the table ordered cocktails and raved about them. Seems like a great place for drinks and appetizer sharing with a large group.

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