If you build it, they will come. Sometimes the universe rewards crazy. In the case of one 1989 triumph of cinema starring a dreamboat-era Kevin Costner, he was crazy enough to build a baseball field on his farm land on the hope that the spirits of dead baseball stars would come a-running. Though the parallel might be a stretch, the boys of Grill ‘em All were crazy enough to think that they could build a restaurant in Alhambra that featured a far more comprehensive menu than what they serve on their truck (a menu that was already populated solely by crazy-ass burger concepts) and that people would flock to it. Well, fictitious late 80’s farm-boy stud and former Cleveland based heavy metal/burger gods collectively rejoice, because in both cases, they were right.
We’ve talked about Grill ‘em All before, not only in the context of their truck, but because they do a kitchen takeover day on Oinkster’s burger week, year after year. Everything they make is always not only head-scratchingly clever, but consistently delicious. The menu at the first brick and mortar location, located in the same quaint shopping center as Alhambra’s Edward’s Renaissance Imax theater, is made up of the truck menu’s greatest hits, a few retired specials that previously debuted at the truck, and a handful of gems that you can only get in the restaurant (I made it a point to try things only available at this location). You can probably guess that from here I’m simply going to gush about how good their burgers are, and you’re right, but what you might not know is that they have other foods that are also better than any other version that exists on this earth, namely chicken wings.
At my insistence, Executive Chef Kenny Smith talked me through how these are made, after the first one I ate fell, literally fell, completely off the bone like a short rib that had been braised for 3 months. The wings are totally submerged in duck fat, and roasted at low temp. for 4 hours. They are then thrown in the fryer for just a few minutes to add color and crispness, and finally doused in a small lake of sweet, sweet chipotle sauce. House made blue cheese finishes them off, and if you’re a wing fan, don’t even waste time reading the rest of this- just go there right now. These dudes have changed the game. I never realized to what extent wings don’t like to come apart, until I found the ones that can’t stay together. I will never, NEVER go to this restaurant without ordering wings.
Given that there were so many gorgeous things from which to choose on the menu, and being that I am an aspiring fat person, I got 2 perfectly seasoned burgers, each ½ lb 80/20 ground chuck lead out of the grinder and sliced so all the threads of beef run vertically (just like they do at Playground). The first, dubbed “Trouble” is a special of the month, so waste no time getting in there and eating this masterpiece- you’ve only got a couple weeks. It came adorned with Chicago style Italian thin sliced roast beef, grilled sweet Italian peppers, house made giardinera, and the most stunning jus imaginable. It’s a meaty, salty, warm drippy mess and it is pure joy. The locally sourced bun (from Wheatland bakery) gets soaked with the jus but the flavor is so luscious you will not care if even notice, and the giardinera provides the perfect amount of crunch, tartness and spice. I really hope they decide to make this one available until forever.
Burger number 2 was the “Exciter,” a full-time offering that tastes like everything you love about thanksgiving in a single burger bite. This one wore duck con fit, frise, arugula, truffled herby goat cheese and cranberry gastrique. The duck had the look and texture of perfectly smoked Carolina style pulled pork, but with the mild gamey richness of duck meat. The goat cheese was strong with rosemary, which when accenting the duck and complimented by the cranberry was truly so reminiscent of a traditional thanksgiving flavor palate it should easily be the meal of choice given an out of season craving for turkey and family drama. Saddled up next to an order of “high on fries” which are french-fries buried under buffalo chicken and blue cheese, the possibility of happily dying right then and there crossed my mind innumerable times.
Still got room to spare? Well you’re gross, but fret not, Grill ‘em All also has dessert. There is only one choice currently, but don’t be saddened by your lack of options, because if they had other choices and you ordered one of those instead of the deep fried rum/apple bread pudding with maple bacon glaze (I know. Just saying that feels like sex), then you’d have really screwed up. Bread pudding is never a thing that I feel like my life is missing. Or it wasn’t until I had this. So rich, so sweet. Every flavor present, none over powering. The bacon adds salt but is hardly recognizable as meat unless you get a big piece. The apple chunks are many but still feel like prizes. Perfect texture, perfect…everything. Perfect.
At 3:30p.m. on a Sunday afternoon (a decidedly non-meal time in any western diet), I sat shoveling very modestly presented and priced gourmet food into my eager face, in a PACKED dinning room filled with unanimous agreement that Grill ‘em All is doing everything right. Each vegetable in the giardinera on the burger of the month is cooked and pickled individually, but you would never know that unless you cornered one of the busy cooks and asked them. Do you know what a pain in the ass that is, for what essentially serves as a condiment? Those chicken wings are slow roasted in duck fat for hours, but you can’t find that written anywhere either. The point is not to brag, it is to deliver a quality product, and these fellas do it impeccably. You built it, and they came. I recommend doing the same thing 1,000 more times all over the world, because they will keep coming.