Bounty o' Baskets

Hey, northwest residents: Grumpy's is a fantastic neighborhood restaurant

Grumpy's Grill, located at Ina and Shannon roads, is owned by the same folks who operate Ziggi's. Like Ziggi's, Grumpy's serves straightforward food at reasonable prices in a comfy and welcoming atmosphere--and the service always comes with a sincere smile or three. Yet Grumpy's is definitely a more grown-up kind of eatery, with a full bar, big-screen TVs and later hours.

Our first visit was for a Saturday lunch. There was a pretty decent crowd divided between the two dining areas: a small bar with small tables, characterizations of Grumpy and friends on the walls, and the TVs tuned to college football and golf; and the dining room with comfortable booths and a few tables, walls in the ubiquitous colors of khaki brown and pizza-sauce red, and large artwork featuring various potables and TVs tuned to college football and golf.

Our sweet, young server brought us the menu and gave us time to look them over. The menu is filled with usual pub fare, much of which is served in baskets, a touch I've always loved. Certain items stand out, such as a burger with peanut butter on top, and chicken wings with raspberry-chipotle sauce.

We decided on the mini corndogs ($3.99) for a starter. John ordered the Grumpy's cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and Grumpy's special sauce ($5.99 plus 50 cents for cheese); it comes with a choice of a side. (John picked the "buffalo sticks," which are specially created french fries.) I ordered the basil, beef and bacon sandwich ($6.99) with the regular house fries. We both ordered lemonade ($1.95).

The mini corndogs arrived in due time. There were about a dozen bites, and while the coating was crispy with a nice corn taste, the dogs inside were pretty ordinary. A dipping sauce would've made those weenies sing.

John's burger basket satisfied--what is it about food served in a basket that makes it taste so good? Juicy, tender Angus beef came on a buttery bun with the house special sauce, which enhanced the burger's juiciness. Sadly, the buffalo sticks--thinly cut fries--suffered from overseasoning, as fries almost always do.

The bread in my sandwich was also buttery, a french roll. Packed inside were thin slices of grilled beef, chopped lettuce and tomatoes, perfectly cooked bacon and a delightful basil mayo. The edges of the meat were slightly crispy, yet the beef remained moist, and the mayo had just enough basil so as not to overpower everything else. My fries were sizzling hot and delicious.

We opted out of dessert; nothing appealed to us, and we were full.

We returned for Sunday dinner. My interest got the best of me, and we ordered the raspberry-chipotle wings ($4.49 happy hour; $6.49 regular) for munchies. John ordered the beef medallions ($10.99) as his entrée, and I went with the mushroom chicken dinner ($9.99). Two sides come with each entrée; John chose ranch beans and cole slaw, and I ordered the mixed veggies and the onion rings, which cost an additional dollar.

The wings were intense with raspberry and light on the chipotle; thanks to the well-done skin, it actually worked. The only downside was the fact that some of the wings were so small that there was barely a bite of meat.

Three medallions of beef graced John's plate along with plenty of sautéed mushrooms and a rich au jus. This dish is often found in fancier restaurants, but this down-home version held its own. The ranch beans were thick with chili powder and could stand with the beans at many of the best steak joints around town. The cole slaw was bland and unimpressive.

I liked my chicken, but I didn't love it. Yes, the grilling worked, resulting in a juicy chicken breast with a slightly charred outer crust. And, yes, the sautéed mushrooms and provolone cheese that "smothered" the chicken were good. I wouldn't order it again, but that's just me; I'm sure others would really dig this dish. My veggies ended up being lots of cauliflower, a few carrots and some tiny sprigs of broccoli; they were dry and overdone. The onion rings were cooked to a nice crisp, but there should've been more of them.

Dessert choices included, among other things, cheesecake and chocolate cake. We chose the chocolate ($4.49). The presentation was beautiful: an extra large slice with four layers of cake, rich icing and a healthy drizzle of chocolate syrup--a chocoholic's dream. But when we dug in, we were surprised by an odd, fruity flavor that dominated any bit of chocolate. It took only another bite to realize the flavor was banana, and it was in the frosting. That a flavor could so dominate without being mentioned by the server (we didn't notice a written dessert menu) could only mean there was a mistake made somewhere. 'Twas a great ending ruined.

Every neighborhood needs a place like Grumpy's Grill: a place that is casual and comfortable, with relatively decent cheap eats and a few libations from which to choose. And while it isn't quite on our Best of TucsonTM radar just yet, with a little more work--especially with the side dishes--it may well soon be.

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