Convenience is a difficult thing to shake when considering dining out options. When thinking about where to dine out, proximity to my home, ease of parking, and overall location are variables I consider, and I know I am not alone. I absolutely love the salad bar at Lucky's Market off of NE 13th Street, but the traffic to get across town is enough to take Lucky's out of my regular food rotation. That is a shame, but that's my choice, even though I also love to choose from a variety of veggies, proteins, and styles of premade salads, like Italian pasta salad or broccoli salad (pro tip: If it is available at Lucky's get it) and arrange each item as I see fit in my clear plastic to-go container.
This conveyor style of food selection is the first thing I noticed on entering the Grill Fresh behind the Swamp Restaurant in Midtown off of University and NW 17th Ave. Even before entering, the plethora of outdoor seating picnic tables and high-tops was extremely appealing, and I'm sure it will be well-received during Gainesville's famous football game days in the fall. Local owner Bob D'Alessio gave the GLOB staff a little tour, from showing us the sustainably grown lettuce growing just outside the building to giving a little background on the locally-sourced nature of most of the restaurant's ingredients. He proudly commented that this was going to be, and has been, well-received because it is a local "farm to bowl" spot with affordable prices and quality ingredients.
I liked that there are multiple size options that allow the customer to make it a single serving size or one for leftovers: the Kid's Bowl ($6.50) - 1 base, 1 veggie, 1 protein; Green Bowl ($8.50) - 2 veggies, 1 protein, 2 mixed greens; Four Bowl ($7.95) – 2 bases, 1 veggie, 1 protein; and Six Bowl ($9.95) – 2 bases, 2 veggies, 2 proteins. Also, despite having heard varying opinions on this, I also really enjoyed the interesting selection of ingredients available for combining. There may be some questionable combinations, but that doesn't mean you have to choose them. Half the fun of this style of dining is to try and see what works!
Of course I chose the largest portion size, the Six Bowl, image at the top of this review, to maximize my combination potential. Between four cold bases and four warm ones, it seemed there was something for everyone. In pans behind glass, each ingredient awaiting scooping by one of the many employees' tongs, I decided that the cold base dishes would suit a mid-70s Florida evening. The kale salad and the sweet potato noodles seemed the most intriguing, although I was close to trying the veggie quinoa salad. On to the veggies: The roasted Brussel sprouts seemed like a less common option, so I decided on those with the buffalo cauliflower, which I believe was a special at the time.
I think I was most impressed with the protein options, though. Namely, seeing sesame tuna poke on any menu in Gainesville would take me aback, but there it was (for a $1.50 upcharge). It is obviously not one of the locally-sourced ingredients provided. I opted for that and the Chef's Choice Protein, which happened to be shrimp. The mango habanero and creamy ginger sauces were tangy and unique, but the kale chimichurri was the winner. There is also a list of extras at additional cost, including cheeses, relishes and dips, but I opted out. With a drink, my total cost came to about $15.
Luckily, the GLOB team is very comfortable with the idea of ordering a variety of dishes and sharing. I was able to try the gambit. I'll start with my seafood-themed bowl: The tuna poke was pretty good, and worked perfectly with the sesame-flavored cold sweet potato noodles, which were almost glassy and thinner like spaghetti noodles. The shrimp wasn't particularly seasoned but was cooked well and allowed me to combine it with whichever ingredient I saw fit without combating with other flavors. The Brussel sprouts were OK, but that buffalo-style cauliflower was a wonderful taste surprise, giving a typically heavier, less-healthy flavor a much more health-conscious upgrade. The kale salad had a slight vinaigrette dressing coating it with some strawberry and almond slivers thrown in, which I particularly enjoyed. The kale chimichurri sauce would be delicious on anything really.
Some other worthy mentions: I love avocado, so I was delighted at the huge scoop of it atop GLOB Publisher Mike's southwestern-inspired bowl. The chunks of grilled chicken and steak were huge. This is not told upon ordering, but if you ask for your steak cooked a certain way, chances are they will accommodate, but if the line is very long it may not be the case. For those who enjoy larger-sized chunks of ingredients, this is certainly a theme at Grill Fresh. The square slabs of herb-marinated tofu were especially tasty with the kale chimichurri sauce. The mushrooms, carrots, and seasonal vegetables were also well-cooked. In addition, some of the soda fountain selections were worth a taste, namely the berry acai one and grapefruit-flavored one.
The combinations can be a tad unusual, but that totally works for me. That Six Bowl took me into lunch the next day due to the sheer amount of food. Although not exactly like my salad bar, grab-your-own approach that I enjoy most, this was a pretty decent alternative AND it was much closer to the central part of town, right across from the university. I want to give it another try, not only to try the food again but to check in with Bob and see how things are going, as he joined the GLOB team in our dining-out experience.
The Pluses and Minuses of Grill Fresh
Grill Fresh + indicators: Healthier lunch/dinner option, very centrally located, price decent value for quantity, unique options, many locally-sourced ingredients, ease of ordering, many different flavor combinations, vegetarian/vegan friendly.
Grill Fresh - indicators: Parking could be an issue, have heard that consistency of dishes provided is spotty at times.
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- Phone Number: (352) 505-5282
- Address: 17 NW 17th St, Gainesville, FL 32603
- Urban GLOB Location: Midtown
- Web Site: Grill Fresh
- Latitude: 29.65225
- Longitude: -82.34473
Laury Oliver Friday, 13 May 2016 07:38 Comment Link
It is possible that some Lucky stores are not as crowded as others. My family shops at Lucky on NW 13th St. The produce and salad bar are excellent. Everything is very clean and it looks delicious. We buy most produce and salad there.