Romance and Fine Dining at the Emerald Grill
If you haven’t been to the Emerald Grill recently, you will be amazed at all the positive changes that have transformed it from a dreary room with mediocre food to a brightly-decorated, clean eatery with food to rival many local restaurants at prices that cannot be beat.
Central to these changes is the addition of Chef Todd Wilczewski. Charming and passionate about cooking, Chef Todd speaks eagerly of his hopes for our restaurant. “Not only are we making changes to the menu to attract more members,” he told me, “but I want to be a resource for everyone in the community. I plan to work with the cooking club to offer workshops and ideas. I want to give everyone a chance to learn about good cooking.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Todd comes to us after many years in Atlanta, Georgia, where he received his degree in Culinary Arts. His food is featured on the cover of the textbook On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals, and he worked as a chef in Atlanta before joining us here.
Having been the victim of several culinary disasters at the Emerald Grill in the past, we were reluctant to try another meal at the Community Center. Does anyone else remember the St. Patrick’s Day disaster with its shoe-leather corned beef and grainy, still-powdered instant mashed potatoes? Recollections of 25 minute waits for a simple drink, uninspired menus and unappealing buffets replete with overcooked vegetables and bland main dishes had driven us away. The dreary lighting, dark tablecloths, and overcrowded furniture, all placed to hide the disgusting, stained and ratty carpeting kept us from returning.
It was only the rave reviews on Facebook of patrons declaring their joy at the changes that convinced Bob and I to join the Whelans for a Valentine’s Day celebration at the Grill.
With low expectations and a determination to enjoy the company in spite of any possible problems, we arrived for the 6:15 seating. I looked around at the recently renovated and redecorated dining room. Brand new floors and lovely light-colored tablecloths brighten the room considerably. Curtains soften the view to the bar and the pool areas. Beautiful roses graced the tables and holiday decorations were placed on the walls. The lit fireplace lent its glow to the ambiance. Fewer tables meant that the room was comfortably full, but not crowded. Soft dinner music, provided by “Rob and Blue J”, added to the festive atmosphere. Already we could sense that this would be a large improvement on any of our prior experiences here.
Our waitress, the lovely Melissa, introduced herself and quickly delivered our drink orders. And then…the appetizers. Cajun crab cakes with a delicious sauce (What was that wonderful sauce, Chef Todd?) and a tomato basil crostini that was rich and tangy. It occurs to me how much details matter when we are dining out. The appetizers were delicious, but they were also plated so nicely that the experience was delightful even before the first bite. The red wine sauce on the beef was fragrant and rich, and the raspberry sauce on the cheesecake was, when combined with the white chocolate chips, a superb feast for both the eyes and the appetite. The strawberries on the chocolate mousse were fresh and juicy and sliced just to the stem, so they looked beautiful and provided a small slice for each bite of chocolate.
One thing the Emerald Grill offers that is simply not possible in a commercial restaurant is the sense of community. Throughout dinner, we visited and were visited by our neighbors, (though we did not see a single board member this evening!) and we chatted about the meal and the neighborhood. Manager Ryan Culverson and his staff kept everything running smoothly in the background as we enjoyed one another’s company. With all the pieces in place, the center really can function as the heart of ELA. At the end of the evening, Chef Todd stepped out of the kitchen to greet us all. He accepted compliments gracefully and chatted about his plans for improving the kitchen even more.
As we bundled up and headed out into the snow, I looked back at the room and smiled. The Emerald Grill is finally ready for business.