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July, 2010, Page 128
Photos by david Moore
Among the bevy of burger joints these days, Matt McLinn’s new place stands out as a haven for hamburger lovers.
Just when I thought I couldn’t get interested in yet another gourmet hamburger joint, along comes The Grind.
The eatery from Chef Matt McLinn opened in March, smack dab in the middle of the Valley’s burger boom. Just minutes from The Grind’s home at 40th Street and Camelback Road are the brand new emporiums of Zinburger, Relish and Smashburger. There are also longtime favorites Delux and Stax, and that list only covers a 6.5-mile strip of Camelback from 20th Street to Scottsdale Road.
To be honest, I haven’t gotten too excited about the mad rush toward high-end hamburgers. While upscale meat on a bun is one thing, upscale prices are another, and I wasn’t jazzed about the prospect of coughing up $10 (the cost of The Grind’s basic burger) for something I could pretty much make at home for a buck or two. Add $1 for cheese, $4 for fries and $4 for a soda, and a value meal this isn’t.
Ah, but McLinn has a few tricks up his sleeve – besides his elaborately tattooed arms. At the center of his operation are two coal-fired ovens. The beasts breathe at 1,000 degrees, broiling meats and vegetables and even sweet potato fritters ($5). For the burgers, McLinn brushes softened butter and salt onto the patties, plops them in a cast iron skillet, and the coal finishes the job in about four minutes, creating a flavorful crust while sealing in the juices with just a hint of smoke flavor.
Sweet and spicy burger with home fries
Then there are the recipes. As the former owner of the eclectic Methode Bistro and opening chef of BLT, McLinn isn’t afraid to shake up a routine. Witness his grilled Portobello burger ($10), the humble mushroom dressed to the nines in feathery, lightly fried zucchini, ricotta salata, watercress and garlic aioli. The ricotta gives a layer of salt and cream; the watercress provides pepper and tang.
The menu is short – four appetizers, eight entrées plus a couple of daily specials, four sides and four desserts. The space is small, too – longtime Phoenicians will remember the long, narrow room as the beloved Nosh-a-Rye Deli, and most recently Soma Café.
Yet Grind owners George Monzures and Allen Thompson have infused a cosmopolitan vibe. Monzures is a restaurant developer (Barcelona, Sol y Sombra), while Thompson is a restaurant and music marketing specialist (Big 4, Zowie Bowie), and the look is sophisticated in sleek wood and zinc and ruby red lighting, with the bar anchored by seven 42-inch, high-definition televisions. In a whimsical nod to Arizona pseudo-personalities, oversized black-and-white prints span the walls, including one of Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker, who is known to hold court in the curved booth beneath his portrait and enjoy a splash from his private bottle of Hangar One.
Still, when I walked in for my first visit, the place smelled comfortingly like ketchup. My server couldn’t have been friendlier, encouraging me to try the Custom Grind iced tea ($3), a black variety scented with black currant extract.
You can start with a warm bacon salad, tossing wilted greens, croutons and Parmesan in a splash of malt vinegar ($6), or a plate of gooey, rosemary-roasted brie decorated in strawberry relish and croutons ($12, serves two).
Don’t miss the chicken wings ($9), which are among the best I’ve ever had. Mahogany glazed and mesquite charred, the meaty creatures are lightly sweet but kicked with Szechuan pepper sauce, alongside a mound of watercress laced with fiery chile sauce and feathery curls of fried vegetables.
“All Nighter” sandwich
You can’t go wrong with a BLT burger ($10), the 10-ounce Harris Ranch patty perched tall on a fluffy bun. The bacon crunches, the beef drips with savory juices, and there’s zing from charred onions and homemade steak sauce. A peppercorn-crusted burger ($10) gets the bonus of roasted garlic, charred onions, watercress and a side of crisp matchstick fries.
But the sweet and spicy burger ($10) is the real rock star, topped in an unlikely but delightful tumble of candied jalapeños, fried ratatouille, watercress and roasted garlic aioli. As odd as it sounds, it works great, the juicy meat given a bit of sizzle from the chiles and peppery greens, and crunch from the tempura ratatouille.
For even more flavor, order a side of home fries ($4) scattered in a confetti of tarragon, chervil and basil. I could make a meal of another side: blissfully rich scalloped potatoes ($5) bubbling with cheddar and Swiss in a tiny iron skillet.
Other sandwiches are fine, though not as distinctive as the burgers. A chicken model ($10) veered to bland, while the pulled pork ($12) had too much going on. I liked the “All Nighter” ($8) – the combo of ham, bacon and cheddar on an English muffin topped with a fried egg is classic comfort food.
A chalkboard lists a daily steak, like one evening’s hangar cut that’s treated kindly with a red wine sauce and side of onion rings ($17). McLinn also presents some uncommon fish, such as azumadai or barramundi, nicely grilled and presented on a bun slathered with green olive tapenade under scatters of red bell pepper and watercress (market price).
The sweet stuff (all $6) can be hit-and-miss, so it’s tempting to make dessert of the cocktails, like the excellent Blueberry Hill ($10), which shimmers like a purple ruby of Absolut Berri Açaí, Funkin blueberry, lime, agave nectar, fresh mint and soda water. A Negroni ($9) is traditional in its balanced blend of Beefeater Gin, Campari Aperitivo and Cinzano sweet vermouth over ice with orange peel. Too bad the servers weren’t much help on recommendations. Three different staffers admitted to never having had a meal there.
Despite its minor stumbles, the restaurant feels – and the food tastes – very good. Indeed, this Grind could become a daily thing.
Portobello burger with scalloped potatoes
: 3961 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix
: 11 a.m. to midnight, Sunday to Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Thursday to Saturday (limited food menu after 10 p.m. daily)
: Portobello burger ($10), chicken wings ($9), BLT burger ($10), sweet and spicy burger ($10), “All Nighter” sandwich ($8), Blueberry Hill cocktail ($10)
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