Bruce Gradkowski won a lot of games as a record-setting quarterback for the Toledo Rockets.
Now a backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he can chalk up another victory with Gradkowski's, his New American restaurant, located at The Gateway on the University of Toledo campus.
Gradkowski's style of play at the Glass Bowl was never conservative, and the menu reflects his flare for the dramatic with items such as a maple-glazed pork donut, baked goat cheese, a $20 burger, scallop and bacon pizza, and black and bleu Stilton pasta.
We first visited the West Toledo restaurant on a Friday night, and the establishment was bustling -- maybe a little too much for our taste as we were tucked away in a busy corner where the wait staff came and went quite often.
Once we had our appetizers, though, we lost ourselves in the variety of the food.
We couldn't decide which appetizer to try, so we ordered two: the baked goat cheese ($10.99) and maple-glazed pork donut ($7.99).
The goat cheese was incredibly delicious with a generous amount of tangy and creamy cheese is served in a pool of fresh marinara sauce and garlic ciabatta bread. Even if you run out of bread, you'll want to eat every last bit with a spoon.
The donut also was a hit as a pure novelty, but our table was split on its taste; a Krispy Kreme donut is cut in half and seared on the grill, then topped with pulled pork, pecan-smoked bacon, and tangy cole slaw. The already sweet donut is smeared with maple glaze. It works better than you'd think with the sweetness of the donut playing well off the sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, but the maple flavor was a little overwhelming for some of us. Just give it a try.
The pork and peaches dinner ($15.99) stood out in many ways and should remain in the restaurant's playbook for quite some time. Three juicy pork loin planks, emblazoned with grill marks, were topped with a peach chutney and served with fingerling potatoes and baby kale. The rest of the table was a little envious of the pretty dish.
The citrus Parmesan-encrusted salmon ($17.79) and eggplant rollatini ($13.59) also were hits at our table.
A generous salmon filet with a light coating of salty Parmesan cheese crust was cooked perfectly and served with a compound butter that added to the richness of the dish. It came with generously salted fingerling potatoes as well as a roasted purple potato. Opting for the steamed broccoli was a treat, with nearly a whole head of broccoli on the plate.
The rollatini was a lasagna-type dish, made with breaded eggplant instead of noodles. It was not heavy; nor was the accompanying linguine, which was made with a light alfredo sauce.
The only disappointment of the night was the Ultimate Pat Lafrieda ($19.99). A burger with Pat Lafrieda signature beef, foie gras, a fried quail egg, caramelized onions, an artisan mustard cream, and arugula; what could go wrong? Ultimately, there was just too much going on. The foie gras gets lost in myriad ingredients and made it taste a little greasy; and frankly, there are better burgers in town for half the price. The coniques, or really fancy tater tots, could have used a dipping sauce.
Whereas the high-priced burger was a miss, the lobster roll ($16.99) for lunch was worth every penny. The French baguette could barely contain the whole chunks of fresh Maine lobster meat, lightly dressed with mayo, lemon juice, celery, and red onion. The sandwich was quite filling and I hardly touched my pinenut pesto fries.
The pizza crust at Gradkowski's is outstanding. A thin crust that is airy and fresh would taste great with any of the toppings, but the BBQ chicken ($9.99) was particularly tasty with a very sweet barbecue sauce and gooey mozzarella cheese complete with grilled chicken, red onion, and basil.
The pesto chicken macaroni and cheese ($8.59) is cleverly put together. While the chicken didn't add much to a decent three-cheese and pesto sauce, neither did it take away.
The berry cobbler al a mode and limoncello cake (both $6.99) are over-the-top fun.
The cobbler had a generous portion of steaming hot blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries under a thick pastry crust and was cooled with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was simple, straightforward, and perfectly executed.
The citrus of the lemon gave the moist cake a lighter feel and was complemented well with the mascarpone. It had a beautiful raspberry glaze drizzle.
Gradkowski's is unusually small, but it boasts a classy atmosphere with a beautiful wooden bar. Now that the warm weather is here to stay, the restaurant also offers a large outdoor patio, which looks like it might be the place to be for Rockets games in the fall.
Bruce Gradkowski, who lives in the Toledo area in the offseason, was there during one of our visits and seemed more than happy to get pictures taken with patrons.
Just like the quarterback for which it is named, the restaurant scores on Sundays with an upscale brunch.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org.