For whatever reason, every time I have tried to eat at Downtown Grill over the past few months something has come up that forced me to change my plans (Case in point found in this blog post). I figured the best way to remedy my bad timing when it comes to reviewing this restaurant was to be spontaneous. This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival gave me reason to be in downtown Macon late on a Friday afternoon and I decided to apply my spontaneity theory knowing full and well that the festival always brings big crowds and long wait times to the downtown eateries.
What the heck, it was 5pm and the restaurant had just opened and I was feeling lucky. I knew I could count on my date to go along with my spontaneous approach to dinner since she is one of those rare individuals that always trusts my judgment when it comes to matters of the stomach. When the hostess broke the bad news that all the dining room tables were booked for the evening, we asked about a table in the bar area. She quickly informed us a table in the bar was open, but the Downtown Grill’s bar was in fact a Cigar Bar. One can never compare a dinner in the bar area of a fine restaurant to the full on dining room experience, but once again I was going with the flow on this Friday night. Damn the Cigar smoke, full speed ahead into Downtown Grill it was...
The Cigar Bar at Downtown Grill is fairly cozy with a smallish traditional bar and several round-top tables. Surprisingly, the cigar smoke added a welcome fragrance to the bar area and after a few cocktails we forgot about the odor completely. The menu seemed rather minimal upon initial inspection, but like all good locally owned restaurants the real menu items of interest are always the Chef’s Specials. Our waiter launched into an unbelievably detailed description of the four different appetizers the Chef had prepared for the night. Since we already had settled on the Tomatoes and Mozzarella salad for an appetizer, we asked about the entree specials. The waiter smiled, took a deep breath and recited an equally impressive list of Chef Specials where each one sounded better than the last.
While waited for our entrees to arrive we snacked on the perfectly crusted, warm loaf of bread that came to the table first. Being careful not to eat the entire loaf, my date gave me that “Really??” look when I went for my third piece of bread. Just in time to diffuse a long conversation about my overwhelming addiction to bread, our appetizer arrived. The Tomatoes & Mozzarella were served with fresh basil leaves and just enough seasoning to bring the dish to life without drowning the taste of the fresh tomatoes. Sitting in the bar area at Downtown Grill gives one a great vantage point for people-watching. During our meal we saw just about every patron enter the dining room for their reserved table. Judging by the crowd I would say that night I would say the dress for this establishment was business causal and the slightly upscale compared to some other downtown eateries. It was amusing to hear the hostess recite the same message to at least a half dozen potential walk-ins; “The dining room is booked solid till 9:30pm, the bar is open seating, BUT just so you know in advance, this is a Cigar Bar”. The result for the majority of unreserved guests was to walk on down the alley and look for another place to eat. It seems cigar smoke was not a fan favorite of CBF attendees.
When our entrees arrived the true magic at Downtown Grill came to life. I ordered the Andouille sausage and panko crusted trout with aioli sauce and for side items I picked the cheese Grit soufflé & sautéed spinach. Wow, I had never imagined you could use Andouille sausage to encrust a trout, but what a brilliant idea! The filet itself was juicy and cooked to perfection while the crusted topping gave it a very unique taste. The light aioli sauce was the right twist to bring all those disparate flavors together into one awesome mouthful of yumminess. I eat a lot of trout dishes since it is always a safe choice when trying out a new restaurant, but this dish stood out as one of the best trout dishes I’ve eaten in a long time. The cheese grit soufflé was out-of-this-world good. My date went with the pasta & cream sauce with shrimp. The pasta was cooked just right, not too soft nor too hard and the cream sauce was a nice blend of creaminess and enough tomatoes to add zest to the taste.
After a great appetizer and an entree that set a new trout record for my taste buds, I just had to hear the desert options from our waiter. I usually don’t order desert since I like to fully digest my meal before adding on those extra desert calories. My date was beyond stuffed from her meal and when I mentioned adding desert she just gave me that laugh which means, “No chance in hell that is going to happen”. Since she is a lightweight when it comes to heavy duty dining, I took it upon myself to try the most tempting desert on the chef’s recommended list. Let me just say, I never thought you could pack so much oral satisfaction into a slice of ice cream cake.
The cinnamon, vanilla ice cream cake with graham cracker crust lovingly drenched with a honey Amaretto sauce was simply sublime. Add in the toasted almond chips and the experience was the most awesome thing to happen inside my mouth this year. My date even broke her resolve to try a spoonful and then went back for at least 3 or 4 more bites. For that desert alone I would have braved an entire cigar smoking convention of Cubans. I mean it was the best combination of tastes any desert has offered my palate since I first tried ice cream.
When the check came I was glad this meal was going on the expense account. If you are going to Downtown Grill be prepared to pay a price for all the tasty delights the Chef has in store for you. Of course, I found the meal and the overall experience to be worth the cost. You can place this restaurant firmly in the must try category for Macon dining. I thoroughly plan to go back soon and try the full on dining room experience, but with food this good a seat in the bar will do just fine.
562 Mulberry Street Ln., Macon, Georgia 31201