The Grill at Waterford is up to scratch -- and more

The meatloaf with mashed potatoes and the vegetable medley from The Grill at Waterford, in Midlothian.

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It's Thanksgiving. Most likely, you're knocking back a few cups of coffee, reading the paper and procrastinating as long as you can before you have to pop the bird in the oven.

If you're anything like me, toiling away all day to produce a homemade meal simply isn't your thing. I like restaurants. Go figure.

And restaurants that churn out made-from-scratch fare? Yes, I like those a lot.

Come with me as I venture to the end of the Powhite Parkway Extension and relish in the homemade goodness that is The Grill at Waterford.

Located in the former home of Sapphire Grill, this cozy little spot exudes much more hominess than you'd expect from its shopping-center locale.

Inside, just past the well-stocked bar, lies a narrow dining room decked out in sage-green walls covered with local artists' work, comfy booths and even a fireplace tucked snugly in the corner. The space has a distinctly "Grandma's house" type of feel, minus the kitchen window/service station stuck awkwardly in the center.

The genuine nature of the staff adds to The Grill's welcoming vibe. During our Friday dinner, the dining room was near capacity, but our server was quick to greet us with a warm smile and run down the list of specials, complete with prices and thorough descriptions.

The Grill's menu is straightforward fare -- club sandwich ($7.95), turkey Reuben ($5.95), seafood au gratin ($14.95) and honey bourbon sirloin ($14.95), for example -- but chef Jimmy Stump makes much of the menu from scratch, including soups, sauces, potato chips and desserts.

Combine that with owner Sara Atkinson's experience -- she was a former owner of The Hill Café, Church Hill's quintessential neighborhood hangout, and worked at the County Seat, a close-knit, family-owned Powhatan County eatery -- and I see a recipe for success.

Prices are reasonable, and a handful of appetizers are half-price on Fridays, including loaded fries (topped with "N'awlins seasoning," cheese, bacon, tomatoes and sour cream) and homemade hummus (both regularly $5.95).

Mini crab cakes ($7.95) caught our eye. The four piping-hot cakes were served over mini crostini and topped with diced tomato, creating a tempting textural combination. Stump's special sauce -- I asked; they don't tell added a spirited, spicy barbecue-laced kick, helping us polish them off in no time.

For entrees, we went with the steak sandwich ($7.95), substituting deep-fried mashed potatoes ($1 extra) for homemade chips, and shrimp and grits ($12.95).

Tender, juicy and perfectly seasoned strips of steak mingled with sautéed onions and a creamy cheese blend on top of a crusty roll -- not only the key to holding all the goodness together but also the mark of a good sandwich maker, in my book.

On the side was one of the most disturbingly addictive concoctions I've had in a while -- a football-shaped (and sized) mound of mashed potatoes encased in a deep-fried, golden brown crust. The interplay of crunchy and creamy combined with the chef's same secret sauce sent me over the edge.

A hefty portion of shrimp was served over fluffy, just-cheesy-enough grits and accented with the unexpected sweetness of caramelized onions. My only complaint was the unappealing lack of salt. Once I took made good use of the salt shaker, the dish improved but wasn't as extraordinary as I'd hoped.

Extraordinary, however, was dessert -- key lime pie and pumpkin pie, $2.95 for each. Flaky crusts dusted with just a touch of confectioners' sugar held two versions of silken delight.

The key lime was a classic balance of tart and sweet. The pumpkin was so earthy that its nutmeg and cinnamon accents stung my taste buds. Sorry, Mom, but the pumpkin pie I'll be eating today won't even compare. The Grill has its pie down.

The Grill at Waterford is just what chain-clogged Chesterfield County needs -- a local spot overflowing with made-from-scratch fare and a staff that seems as happy to be working there as diners are eating there.


Freelance writer and graphic designer Dana Craig considers dessert the most important food group. The Times-Dispatch pays for the meals on her unannounced visits to restaurants. Contact her at dcraig@timesdispatch.com.

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