by Eric Ginsburg
This can’t be right, I thought to myself as I followed my phone’s navigation through winding residential streets not far from Wake Forest University. I must have entered the address wrong.
But at the last possible curve in the road before supposedly arriving at my destination, a small commercial complex with a couple of storefronts came into view. I had slowed my car to a crawl at this point but still didn’t see a sign for a restaurant, only what looked like a private bar with two dapper gents standing out front and sharing a cigar.
There’s no way, I thought as I parked around the corner, behind a BMW and directly in front of a few sizable homes. This can’t be “Diamondback Grill.”
When a friend recommended one of his go-to Winston-Salem restaurants, he made Diamondback Grill sound like a low-key spot to grab a sandwich that might possess a little pizzazz, and said something about farm-to-table ingredients. I’d pictured a neighborhood spot, yes, but a dive, or at most something upscale yet casual like Emerywood Fine Foods in High Point. With that in mind, I invited my friend Andrew to join me for a bite so we could catch up while trying something new.
As soon as I walked in, a couple minutes before my friend, I immediately thought, This is going to look like an awkward date, and Andrew’s going to be wondering why the hell I nonchalantly invited him to a place with $23 grilled swordfish and pork chop specials.
But Andrew’s a cool dude, and appeared unfazed by the white tablecloths and clientele that overwhelmingly looked dressy enough to be at a wedding reception. I immediately made a joke about it, and pointed out that the menu also contained a $10 sloppy Joe or $9 turkey, apple and brie sandwich to balance the scales.
The large television behind him showing the Boston Celtics game and the lively mood in the room helped, too, and we were seated on what appeared to be the more casual half of the restaurant.
Regardless of what anyone expects on their first trip to Winston-Salem’s Diamondback Grill, they probably won’t anticipate the scope and versatility of the restaurant without a careful account from someone who’s already been. A close read of the menu on Diamondback’s website will help — there’s lump crab hushpuppies, seared yellowfin tuna, a quesadilla of the day and oyster nachos, and that’s just a partial listing of the “snacks” section.
Where else around here can you order a vegan burrito, Paleo zucchini noodles, grilled Norwegian salmon and hazelnut picada or a sloppy Joe? Plus the menu lists four taco options, a filet mignon salad and baked kale and beet chips.
Scouring the menu, I could see why someone had recommended this place — fresh, local ingredients including a strong selection of seafood but also comfort items like veggie lasagna and shrimp & grits, making it easy to show up regularly and have widely varying experiences.
The quinoa bowl with artichokes, roasted beets and herbed cashew cheese tempted me, but on our server’s recommendation, I ordered the sea scallop salad special, which came with cranberries and chunks of grapefruit. And I threw in the enticing Devils on Horseback — maple bacon wrapped around raw almonds, gournay cheese and peppadew pepper topped with house sriracha — as an appetizer.
Andrew ordered the baked kale and beet chips to share; I’m glad he did, especially thanks to the beet chips, which were firmer and more flavorful. And as I imagined after taking in the menu before he arrived, he gravitated towards the sandwich section, opting for the blackened chicken tacos. They proved to be tasty, much more so than the accompanying sweet potato fries, but didn’t hold together well.
But my choices really delivered.
I still wish I’d ordered the lump crab hushpuppies, but the Devils on Horseback — a variation on a dish I’ve had before by the same name with figs or dates instead of almonds and pepper — are a great starter to share, not pretentious or classless but right in the middle, ideal for a friendly meal or a date alike.
And if the well prepared scallop and unique and satisfying pairing with grapefruit is any indication of how this kitchen handles seafood (which takes up a considerable amount of the menu), then sign me up.
Patrons crowded Diamondback Grill on a recent Friday night, likely the reasons that orders took longer than expected to emerge from the kitchen. And if I hadn’t had somewhere to be, I would’ve tried to convince Andrew that we should order another round of beers, pick a shared plate or two, and stick around for a little while.
Visit Diamondback Grill at 751 N. Avalon Ave. (W-S) or at diamondbackgrill.com.