The Gist: http://delfriscosgrille.com/phoenix
The Why: Generally not one to visit chains – even mini-chains deemed best new concept by respected publications – I have to admit that when a fellow gourmand posted photos of the croque madame at Del Frisco’s Grille’s new brunch I swooned a little bit; little did I know that less than a week later I’d receive an invite from Allie Marconi of MMPR Marketing to attend a complimentary blogger’s brunch on November 3rd at 12:30pm. Equally fond of these events (perhaps less so) than I am of chains given the inherent biases involved I will say that I waxed and waned as to whether I should attend but after e-mailing Allie and being assured that “We would never want to limit your creativity and definitely want you to feel as though you can write as freely as you choose. The brunch will be a la carte, so you will be ordering items from the menu provided in the invitation. You can also bring a +1” I gathered up a friend and confirmed that we would be there.
The Space: Located directly across from the Biltmore, or directly in front of the AMC Esplanade 14 depending on how you look at it, Del Frisco’s Grille is a swanky space befitting the upscale location and with high ceilings, an airy design giving way to a lovely patio, and an open kitchen juxtaposing a well stocked bar and walls of wine the space has all the curves and contours of a modern top end steakhouse without feeling heavy or bourgeois in the least. Light and sexy with blonde wood, black lacquer, and beige tile throughout an added bonus on this particular afternoon was the four televisions each visible from the outdoor patio, each showing a different college football game (including the Buckeyes.)
The Service: Expecting superlative service given the nature of the meal I have to say things fell a little short in this regard largely because I’m pretty sure no one had informed the servers of exactly how the event was supposed to go. With the brunch menu provided by Allie clearly the point of our visit we were instead presented with both the standard lunch menu plus the brunch menu and informed by our server that we could only select two items – a clear aberration of what I was told by e-mail that was eventually straightened out by the GM leading to smooth sailing from there on out with a 3-course meal presented with excellent descriptions of concepts and sourcing by competent servers led by our captain, a fellow Columbus transplant happy to discuss all things Ohio – especially those relating to the colors Scarlet and Grey.
The Food: Four plates from the brunch menu, two desserts, coffee, and a carafe of Sangria (all on the house.)
White Sangria – Pinot Grigio, White Peach Purée, Peach Schnapps, Fresh Berries: I generally don’t imbibe even if someone else is paying, but with our server insisting and my friend up for some morning libations we opted for this; a very good choice with three of my favorite fruits working nicely with the dry white wine. Careful not to drink too much as I still had a full day before me I’d venture to say I drank about two glasses and could definitely see spending an afternoon at Del Frisco’s as a valid option for those wanting to watch the game without the clamor of a sports bar.
Croque Madame: A must order when present on the menu for myself but an item previously unknown to my friend this take on the French classic featured a rather young Gruyere along with American white cheddar cheese, thin slices of jambon, and light sauce Mornay atop toasty whole grain bread. Presented alongside a light salad with a touch of vinaigrette and topped off with an over-easy (and unfortunately slightly overcooked) egg this would prove to be the weakest of the day’s six selections largely due to the mildness of the ham, crustiness of the bread, and relative lack of runniness from the yolk.
Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles: I was admittedly a bit weary of this dish since many upscale restaurants seem to be tackling this southern comfort food trend lately but after some debate between this and the benedict I think we made the right choice. Featuring a trio of mini cornmeal waffles each topped with a crisp and juicy breast of chicken plus a strip of crispy hickory smoked bacon what really set this dish apart was the crystal hot sauce spiked maple syrup. Soft and doughy meets crisp and juicy meets sweet and spicy – perhaps it wasn’t as ‘down home’ as Lo-Lo’s or as refined as Bouchon but either way it was pretty damned good.
Banana and Mascarpone Stuffed French Toast: If a picture says a thousand words then I simply suggest you look at the image above – from the caramelized bananas to caramelized crust on the custard soaked brioche this was amongst the best French toast preparations I’ve had in recent memory. Creamy meets crunchy and loaded with flavor even before the addition of Grand Marnier spiked maple syrup this was the dish of the afternoon without question and paired with the same thick-cut hickory-smoked bacon as the waffles the only thing that could have made this better was a tableside flaming a la bananas foster.
Red Velvet Belgian Waffle: Trying to decide between the lemon ricotta pancakes and this as our second sweet course was the flip of a coin but in the end these turned out to be quite good and far less predictable than I’d expected. With all things appearing in Red Velvet ever since the cupcake craze began my biggest fear was that there would be nothing “Belgian” about these waffles, but what arrived was actually quite impressive as the quartered waffle was slightly yeasty and plenty raised with a crisp exterior giving way to a steamy and soft interior with hints of cocoa as opposed to being over the top chocolate. Again graced with bacon and drizzled rather than slathered with whipped vanilla bean cream cheese the flavors were all nicely balanced and restrained – a very well executed dish and a great choice for those not wanting an egg dish but also not wanting something quite as sweet as the French toast.
Nutella Bread Pudding: With coffee, a great blend with good cocoa notes and a bit of caramel roasted specially for Del Frisco’s, served I explained to our server that although I realized the complimentary dishes were limited to the brunch menu I would gladly pay the $10 for dessert as I simply couldn’t justify leaving without trying the bread pudding…but in the end, no check arrived. What did arrive next, however, can only be described as everything Mike likes in one gooey pile with a crisp exterior giving way to a nearly molten center rife with buttery cubes of brioche sealed together with Nutella. While I’d be foolish to call the dish ‘subtle’ in any way since it is certainly not for those without a serious propensity for the hazelnut spread, the team at Del Frisco’s actually did a rather impressive job in attempting to add some levity to the dish with a surprisingly light ball of nearly espresso intense house-made coffee ice cream drizzled with caramel. All in all it was my favorite dish of the afternoon and certainly on par with the bread pudding at The Mission for best in the Valley.
Pumpkin Cheese Cake with Gingersnap Crust: Not requested (or even on the menu) the GM opted to end our meal with this – a seasonal special that I generally would not have ordered but something that both of us really enjoyed as the lightly whipped no-bake amalgam of pumpkin, pumpkin spice, mascarpone, and cream cheese was intense in taste but light on the stomach while a crust of gingersnaps and a dab of crème fraiche acted as point/counterpoint serving to highlight both the sweet and savory aspects of the squash admirably.
The Verdict: With my ‘comp-disclosure’ fully noted and the inherent biases of such a review set aside to focus strictly on the food I will simply say that although I generally don’t venture into chains (or free meals) I really enjoyed my afternoon at Del Frisco’s Grille. While not every dish was a knockout everything was entirely serviceable and the kitchen did manage to wow my taste buds with three of the items – all dishes that I tend to seek out on a menu regardless of where I am, and thus compared to a relatively large sample size. Pairing the French toast, the Chicken and Waffles, and the Bread Pudding with good coffee, a nice patio, four televisions featuring four different games, free valet, and good company I really cannot think of a better way to have spent Saturday afternoon…though a Buckeyes win and a zero-bill certainly did not hurt.