A character on the NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation" once said, "If it doesn't have meat, it's a snack." He'd be in heaven at the new Grill Hut on White Lane.
This is a place that honors, reveres, elevates animal flesh. It is smoked, grilled and sometimes both. The side dishes are good, but they're mere supporting players to the beef, chicken and pork that rules this former Amtrak car, which most recently housed the Burger Depot.
You may remember Grill Hut from its previous two locations: on Ming Avenue across from Home Depot in what was once a coffee kiosk, and near the Auto Mall. There was no real seating at the Ming Avenue site, just drive-through windows and a smoker outside. I used to drive by and worry that there weren't enough carnivores to keep that place going. But I think the new digs are going to help it find a more steady clientele.
There's a patio that will seat 50 when the weather warms up, and the interior looks spiffy and clean with booths in a gray, red and blue color scheme. My companion noted the artistically rendered pictures of meat on the wall, what you might expect from a restaurant that offers a "carnivore sandwich" ($12.49) made with beef and chicken.
We liked pretty much everything we sampled, though I have to warn you that they are prone to running out of food. On one dinner visit, my companion chose the pulled-pork dinner salad ($8.49) and got nearly the last of the fairly salty but very lean smoked pulled pork that is the restaurant's specialty. The salad -- fresh varied greens, cheese and tortilla strips -- was so good she didn't need the dressing, which she ordered on the side. I've done the same with a dash of barbecue sauce or salsa and found that preferable to conventional dressings. (They do have spicy ranch available, which is the trendy dressing right now, popping up all over.) The pork, also available in a sandwich, is right up there in quality with Champ's.
I ordered a ribeye steak ($18.99), which had a large fatty section near the top that required some deft knife work (difficult with the plastic utensils you get here), but I loved the taste of this beef. It reminded me of the garlicky filets they serve at those CSUB barbecues to raise funds for the athletic department. You could smell the smoke coming off the meat when it was brought to the table. My meal came with the choice of two sides: pasta, cole slaw, beans and fresh-fried potato chips. Get the chips -- thick, warm, crispy and amazing. The beans also are good, with three different forms of meat visible (ground beef, thin strings and a few small cubes). For a special treat, dip the chips into the beans and call it cowboy nachos.
On another visit we tried two of the sandwiches, the gourmet burger ($6.49) and the tri-tip sandwich "meal" ($8.99), which means it comes with two sides instead of just chips (like the burger). The burger was a solid, juicy half-pound patty served medium rare with a choice of cheese (American, pepper jack or provolone). The whole thing was pinched in a panini press after assembly (the lettuce and tomato on the side).
The tri-tip is smoky, with the tell-tale pink ring on the edge, thinly sliced and juicy, presented on a French roll that had been brushed with garlic butter before grilling. The menu showed it with cheese, but I must've ordered it wrong as mine was dairy-free.
The dessert specialties are two cakes: pineapple upside down and chocolate with cream cheese frosting (both $2.99), though the latter is not a Jake's imitation; the frosting is vanilla flavored. On our first visit they ran out of both before we arrived, but we have enjoyed the pineapple, which has a nice homemade taste without being too buttery.
Service is solid from a very cheerful crew of women who look like they love their jobs.
That's always a plus in the hospitality business.
The Grill Hut can be recommended for a fine dining experience.