Jessica Holbrook taste-tests the Pu-Pu Platter appetizer, French onion soup, New York strip steak with potatoes, walnut-crusted grouper with green beans and the patty melt at Canal Grille.
Taste: 4/5. Lots of unexpected flavors and interesting pairings.
Service: 4/5. Friendly but slow. Not great for a quick meal.
Ambiance: 3/5. Dated atmosphere in an out-of-the-way location, though the bathrooms are great.
Concept: 4/5. I loved the blend of American, Italian and Asian influences, as well as the variety of the menu.
Pricing: 4/5. A little steep, though serving sizes are generous.
I’ll admit I walked into this review a little confused.
Canal Grille has great online reviews. Its menu boasts pages of delicious sounding options—from Asian entrees to seafood to pasta to steak. It was reader’s choice for family restaurant in About’s 2017 Local Faves.
So I was surprised when my phone’s map app directed me to a pockmarked parking lot next to a grocery store and dingy shopping plaza.
The restaurant is a small, nondescript building. And its interior, though it was decorated for Christmas when we dined there, was nothing spectacular. If anything, the atmosphere is dated with low ceilings and ho-hum decor.
Thankfully, looks can be deceiving. Very deceiving in this case. Despite an atmosphere that suggested bland, uninspired food, I enjoyed two genuinely delicious meals. I can see why Canal Grille has such a loyal following.
I grabbed lunch on a quiet weekday in mid-December. The restaurant, at 2223 Locust Street, is a few minutes from Canal Fulton’s historic downtown.
I was tempted by the restaurant’s lunch menu ($7.99 to $9.99), which included some of the same entrees found at dinner, but ultimately settled on greasy comfort food: a patty melt and fries ($8.99).
The fries were perfectly tasty but nothing special (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The sandwich was the real standout of this meal, with crispy rye bread and perfectly caramelized onions. I ordered my burger medium well, but it came much closer to rare. It was still juicy and delicious, so I happily ate it anyway.
I’ve typically had Thousand Island or mustard with a patty melt, but this one came with a sweet barbecue sauce. It was a unique spin on the diner classic, but I’m not sure it was the best accompaniment to the stronger flavors of the onion and rye.
I ate lunch a little later than normal, around 2 p.m., but the restaurant was still relatively busy. Service was friendly but slow. I almost went to search for my waitress to request a check so I could leave.
Service was much faster and just as friendly when my husband, Dave, and I returned for dinner the following night.
The crowd at Canal Grille definitely skews older, but we spotted several young families at dinnertime. It also seems to be popular for group dinners. On both visits, I got to people-watch as a large table held a white elephant gift exchange.
I couldn’t decide on an appetizer—they all sounded great—so we started our meal with a Pu-Pu Platter ($12.99), which included barbecue spare ribs, fried shrimp, breaded wings, crab wontons and a spring roll accompanied by a sticky sweet and sour sauce.
The wontons were my favorite—I loved the visible pieces of green onion in the cream cheese mixture—closely followed by the crispy, peppery spring roll. The ribs were tender with a smoky-sweet barbecue sauce. The fried shrimp was sizable and crispy. The only downfall of the dish was the wings, which were bland and greasy.
Our entrees came with soup, and we opted to pay extra for a crock of French Onion ($4.49 or $2.50 surcharge with entree).
It was well worth the extra price. I hadn’t had French Onion soup in years, but I’ve been craving it since we left the restaurant. The caramelized onions were sweet and savory and matched perfectly with the brown bread croutons and decadent gooey cheese.
Canal Grille has a popular King Cut Prime Rib special on Friday and Saturday nights ($17.99 to $21.99), but since we visited on a weeknight, Dave settled for a New York strip ($21.99). His steak was cooked a perfect medium rare and well seasoned though the un-rendered fat cap was unappetizing.
I opted for the Walnut Crusted Grouper ($13.49), which has rave reviews online. I must have visited on an off night because I was disappointed in the crispy, fried fish. I wanted a stronger flavor from the walnut batter, though the fish was juicy and the tarter sauce a nice accompaniment.
I loved the side of green beans, which were fresh and tender and came stir-fried (I think) in a delicious Asian-style sauce. I’d happily order them again.