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Parallel Universe

Why you can't judge a grill by its menu alone.

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If the art that hangs on the walls tends toward the pedestrian (pastoral landscape, floral still-life), maybe it's the perfect corollary to a dining experience at the Grill at Waterford. That's not nearly as bad as it may sound. The art is easy to absorb, friendly and familiar. And best of all, it was made locally, by hand — not mass-produced.

Even if you've never heard of the place, you've been here before — maybe in another town, maybe back in the '80s. But certainly it was before the propagation of chains like Applebee's and Chili's dragged the once-proud bar-and-grill tradition into the gutter of the culinary world.

Sure, a cursory glance at the menu might evoke more shrugs than ahs, but as with many things in life, it's not originality but execution that makes the difference. This is straightforward cooking — no frills, but up to snuff. Most everything is made in-house. The difference that makes is all-encompassing, if subtle.
 
When was the last time you found a truly good sandwich? That's likely to happen here. Obvious things such as sautAced onions and mushrooms are signature bar-and-grill food, but when done right they're pure comfort. Slow caramelization, not too much butter. And all cooked to order, thank goodness. What really set this fare apart are the homemade potato chips and french fries, the as-you-like-it steak sandwich and the freshness of the crusty baguettes.

Beyond the food, the people working at the Grill at Waterford ensure a fine experience. The service is friendly and efficient. No fewer than four different folks visited our table, with chef Jimmy Stump delivering the entrees himself, and the owner presenting the check. A 20-person book club lunch meeting was handled well. And our waiter, who served the cozy back room by himself, skillfully worked in our order before the logjam of sandwiches and salads that I was sure would have delayed us to the point of frustration. Throughout lunch, as the place filled up, the staff moved with precision to handle everyone's needs. A number of large parties, including a throng of Ladies of the Red Hat, attested to the local popularity of the place and the reasons people keep coming back. Quick and friendly can coincide when servers are well-trained.

That this is a real neighborhood bar-and-grill is evidenced by the collection of coloring books and crayons neatly tucked in a wicker basket beside the roaring gas fireplace — something my daughter noticed immediately. Simple and thoughtful. Making everyone's life a bit easier. These folks want your business, all of it, including the Bloody Mary weekend breakfast crowd, the beer and apps gang at the bar during big games, the Brandermill Neighborhood Association meetings and the casual first dates.

In an age of increasing competition for business, restaurant service will no doubt become a deciding factor in which businesses thrive, survive or fold.

While we drove home along Mid-lothian Turnpike, my 3-year-old asked why we never go to any of the restaurants she could see lining the highway in various strip-mall storefronts: “They have burgers and fries there too, don't they, Daddy?” I explained that it's not always a question of what is served. Sometimes what matters more is the how. S

The Grill at Waterford $-$$
763-0555
13548 Waterford Place, Midlothian
Tuesday-Friday: 11 a.m.-midnight
Saturday: 8 a.m.-midnight
Sunday: 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Wheelchair accessible
Nonsmoking
www.thegrillatwaterford.com

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