A neighborhood’s gathering place


by Eric Ginsburg

If you live on the upper end of Elm Street — which shoots north from downtown Greensboro past Cone Health, through the tony Irving Park neighborhood and past the Golden Gate/State Street shopping area that’s making a comeback, across Cone Boulevard and curving between parts of Buffalo Lake and beyond a regiment of developments — there aren’t too many dining options.

The neighborhoods near the Canterbury School and Lake Jeannette aren’t totally forgotten, and certainly couldn’t be considered underdeveloped compared to most other edges of the city. Besides several chains and a grocery store, the intersection of Pisgah Church Road and North Elm Street does support a few quality food options, including Mediterraneo, Santa Fe Mexican Grill and Fuji Sushi Hibachi. But being that far from other dining options in the city, it’s easy to grow weary of the options and choose something like Barberitos or Bojangles rather than driving for — by Greensboro standards — what feels like a long time.

I’d know: My girlfriend Kacie lives in that part of the city, and if we’re getting dinner together, she generally comes back down towards me, at the edge of downtown. If we’re at her apartment and we want to go out for a drink, our best options are the ABC store or opening the refrigerator. Dinner and drinks? We’re going to Melt, where we pull up barstools and end up talking to beer man Charles Eric Jones half the time.

We love that place; it’s just that it’d be nice to switch it up and there aren’t any other options nearby. Or so we thought.

IMG_0337People had been telling me about the quality sandwiches up at Elm Street Grill, a place described to me as somewhere local moms would dip in for lunch and grab a panini, wrap or salad. I forgot about it, actually, until the owners showed up at a Yelp event in Winston-Salem, where a mishmash of restaurateurs offered samples of their cuisine. Situated by the door inside Flywheel co-working space in the Innovation Quarter, where Yelper Holly Kelton booked the party a few months back, the owners of Elm Street Grill offered up fantastic chicken tikka masala.

Wait, what?

Somehow in the description fans had given me, I’d missed that the restaurant serves a little Indian fare. The business name doesn’t exactly hint that it provides anything unique, either, and when Kacie went once years ago with friends, she only remembered enjoying the wings.

The realization stunned me enough that I ignored the other vendors that evening, save for the ones handing out booze, and posted up by Elm Street Grill for more. But when I showed up in person, I’d be surprised again.

Elm Street Grill is actually sort of a sports bar.

There’s a mammoth screen that is the focal point of the main dining area, which when Kacie and I showed up on Sunday night featured the Wake Forest v. Boston College men’s basketball game. As if that weren’t enough, a wall of televisions by the bar broadcasts about a dozen other channels, most of them tuned to sports as well.

But we’re in the area north of Irving Park, most of which would prefer to think of itself as an extension of the golf course neighborhood rather than an outlying residential area that is slipping into the county. And as such, this couldn’t truly be called a sports bar, at least not in the form we find them elsewhere in the city.

The closest comparison I can find is to imagine a version of Jake’s Billiards combined with Mellow Mushroom and 1618 Downtown, though significantly smaller than any of the above and with dimmer lights (at least this evening) and tables, booths and barstools taking up floor space rather than pool tables.

You’re probably pretty confused right now, and that might be my fault, but it’s also partly because I don’t know that Elm Street Grill does have a local equivalent.

I mean, this place is small enough that there’s one stall and one urinal in the men’s bathroom, but a large TV over the sink plays HGTV with the sound on. Maybe that speaks to the upscale-meets-casual vibe here more than anything.

The lettuce wraps with minced chicken
The lettuce wraps with minced chicken

I would go to Elm Street Grill for the same reasons I go to Jake’s: to eat quality bar food and watch a game in an environment that somehow manages to welcome fandom without succumbing to the douchey vibe, spilled beer and subpar cuisine that generally accompanies it.

I’d order the chicken tikka masala entrée, the delicious lettuce-wrap appetizer with minced chicken and Thai chili sauce or one of the paninis if I came here with Kacie on a date. If I came to watch a game I’d go with the wings, the Southern Comfort burger with bacon and pimiento cheese and fried green tomato that our server said is her favorite menu item, or the Wrangler Chicken in barbecue sauce and served with bacon.

Around halftime, I might order the overflowing chicken tikka tacos, which are tasty but don’t carry the mouthwatering flavor of the Indian entrée here. Kacie ogled the basket of fried pickles, and if we’d come to spend a few hours pulling for Wake, she would’ve partaken.

The jambalaya
The jambalaya

I’d skip the jambalaya, which lacked the Cajun inspiration to pull off the flavorful Creole dish, but I’m eager to try the more straight-up shrimp-coconut curry, a sweet and spicy Indian entrée that comes with steamed basmati rice and naan.

I foolishly thought I had a sense of Elm Street Grill based on other people’s descriptions. Then I figured I’d obtained a much truer sense by trying some of the food and meeting the people behind it at an event in a neighboring city. But after showing up, dining and trying to relay the experience, I’ve realized that Elm Street Grill is likely one of those places that you just have to take in first hand.

And that’s probably a good thing.


Visit Elm St. Grill at 3606 N. Elm St. (GSO) or at elmstgrill.com.