I sat in a booth across from a group of four men. As my dining partners and I waited for our burgers and steaks at Bonney Lake’s Midtown Grill, I watched the table of men with their eyes glued to different flat panels. One had his eye on a soccer match; another watched the daily sports highlights. They talked, ate and kept their eyes on the scores.
Steaks, burgers, sandwiches and seafood in a setting with a stylish environment – Bonney Lake’s newest sports bar seems a win on a lot of levels. And dig a little deeper into the background of Midtown and it makes sense that the restaurant feeds the sports-loving crowd. Midtown is the sibling restaurant to the more casual Bonney Lake Tavern, which long has been home to sports and burger fans alike in this East Pierce community.
In May, Bonney Lake Tavern owner Gary Wofford, a former University of Washington Huskies football coach, bought Zato Grill from Maximo Ansola III and continued what Ansola started before he sold the restaurant: a transformation to a sports-themed restaurant with a wide-ranging menu of sandwiches, burgers and higher-priced steaks, chops and seafood.
Gone are the funky tattoo-inspired wall murals and the sleek, low-slung seating near the bar that gave Zato a lounge feel. The eclectic fusion menu also is kaput. The current incarnation is an attractive space with high-backed booths and a modern color palette that’s appealing to a broad audience: the words “kid friendly restaurant” are painted on the window, myriad flat panel televisions make neck twisting unnecessary.
The menu feels expansive: pub-style sandwiches and burgers priced $10-$12 with pastas and chops in the $15 range and a mix of higher-end steaks and seafood in the $20-$28 category. The immense menu could either appeal to diners who want broad choices, or perplex diners with its clutter.
On one visit, I lamented that if I’m paying a premium $25-$30 for a steak or seafood, I probably would swap a sports bar atmosphere in favor of a fancier environment. My dining partner reminded me that some diners don’t want the fancy bells and whistles – like crumb brushers, wine books and the need to dress up – that come with those pricey restaurants. Fair enough. What kind of diner you are will determine whether you embrace Midtown’s menu and concept.
Digging into the appetizer menu, we found interesting-sounding concoctions heavy on calories and flavor. Chorizo-fueled sausage dip ($9.99) with a velvety cream cheese base threaded with spinach tasted meaty delicious accompanied by a pile of fried flatbread triangles. (A peeve of mine: when the ratio of dip to dipping vessel is wildly off. Midtown got it right.)
Salmon and crab skewers ($11.99) proved fresh in concept – four skewers of salmon and crab cake smooshed together kebab style made for interesting yin-yang with a garlic-basil cream sauce for dipping. Cakes heavy on filler make for sturdy kebabs, but left me wanting more crab.
The bacon-wrapped prawns ($9.99) fumbled, with some pieces tasting rubbery and lukewarm, others snappy and steaming hot.
Entrees come with a choice of salads, which goes toward making the bottom line a better deal at Midtown. A Caesar salad dressing tasted bright with lemon and fragrant with garlic, and a crisp mixed greens salad topped with freshly diced cukes and tomatoes arrived on a chilled plate, a welcomed touch. If a restaurant’s success is in the details, that is one detail I appreciated.
Sandwiches and burgers earned high marks for consistent execution. Burgers come on sturdy, soft buns that surrendered to a crunchy toasted interior; half-pound patties showed the universal sign of a good burger – flame-grilled marks. A barbecue burger ($10.99) came with a light glaze of tangy sauce with a kick of heat, fried onion straws added flavor and crunch; a bacon cheeseburger ($10.99) was towering with melted cheddar and criss-crossed strips of chewy, thick bacon. Both were topped with leaf lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and a creamy, tangy layer of house-made burger sauce. Burgers come with crunchy, golden fries.
A Cuban sandwich ($10.99) tasted unctuous – a layer of luscious roasted pork paired with a secondary porky punch of smoky ham. Swiss cheese added a rich note, contrasted by sharp Dijon mustard. Pickle spears added pucker, but turned unwieldy when stray spears fell out of the sandwich.
Steaks on two of three anonymous visits were uneven. On one visit, a 12-ounce sirloin ($18.99) and 14-ounce Kansas City-style bone-in New York steak ($24.99) – both ordered medium rare – arrived with perfectly flamed diamond grill marks, a slather of butter and tangle of fried onions straws, but cutting into the center revealed medium and medium well centers, respectively.
But I appreciated the server’s sincere apologies and the offer to replace the overcooked steaks. On another visit, an 8-ounce filet mignon ($27.99) was closer to its target, right on the border of the ordered medium rare. Steaks arrived with sides of broccoli on one visit, and asparagus and red peppers on another. A choice of sides includes standard fries, a baked potato or pilaf.
King crab legs ($28.99) were sweet and well executed with a side of melted butter, but serving only three legs made for a spendy meal.
The menu also offers Italian: chicken ravioli ($16.99) paired with a creamy garlic butter sauce was fragrant with a heady thump of rosemary and smoked provolone, but chicken parmesan ($17.99) arrived as a thick breaded breast that was overcooked and dry and short on sauce and mozzarella cheese. I didn’t detect any of the promised truffle in the side of mealy potatoes. A recent menu change now offers pasta with red sauce instead of the potatoes.
A note on service: It was friendly and spot-on in drink refills and taking care of minor problems, but service also trended casual and chatty, which may appeal or detract, depending on your mood.
And one more note on the atmosphere. An open door to the patio let smoke waft in. Management might want to keep tabs on that for indoor diners.
Midtown GrillWhere: 20609 State Route 410 E., Bonney LakeInfo: 253-862-3767 or http://www.midtowngrillbl.com/
More on Bonney Lake dining ....
The Bonney Lake dining scene has lost a restaurant. Andre's, a higher-concept restaurant serving comfort food with ethnic and regional American twists that I reviewed in August 2009, has closed two years after opening. Stay tuned for details if another restaurant moves into that space.