The slogan at Phil’s Grill is “make yourself at home,” and for owner Phil Santomassi, you can indeed go home again. Having first moved to town in 1994, the former proprietor of got homesick after a brief move to North Carolina. So he returned to Darien, and opened the restaurant just around the corner from his former shop in the space previously occupied by Roxy’s Video on Heights Road. (Slideshow: Phil's Grill Open for Business in Noroton Heights)
The proximity to his old establishment is no accident. Ideally situated across the street from the , the new restaurant is sure to be a popular destination, not only for commuters, but for families as well. Several flat screens adorning the walls make it possible to keep up with the scores and stocks while eating lunch or dinner. Tables in the center of the dining room can be maneuvered to accommodate small or large parties, with large booths lining the sides of the restaurant. The kitchen is incorporated into the space, with the prep line and open-flame grill well within view of patrons.
The menu at Phil’s Grill is largely comprised of traditional pub grub, with some familiar items such as chili ($4.95 for a cup, $6.95 for a crock, $8.95 for a bread bowl), nachos ($8.95, we recommend adding grilled chicken or BBQ pork for an extra $2), and wings ($7.95 for 6, $13.95 for 12, $19.95 for 18). All of the above worked well, especially the bourbon BBQ wings, which were nicely fried and plump, accompanied by a sweet sauce. Less successful were Mussels “Nicky” ($8.95) which were a little too garlicky for our liking, though the grilled “rustic bread” was a nice addition.
The centerpiece of the menu is the burger list. The grilled half-pound angus patties are the most popular menu items so far at the restaurant, and with nearly a dozen inventive options it was easy to see why. Although the meat itself was a bit under-seasoned and cooking temperature was a little inconsistent, burger lovers are sure to spot something to their liking. We enjoyed the Hackers for Hope burger ($11.95) — 10 percent of proceeds from this burger will go toward raising money to fight cancer — topped with spinach, red onion and cheddar, highlighted by a delightful garlic aioli. Other tempting choices include the spicy, Tex-Mex-inspired Buch Burger ($10.95) which comes with jalapeños, pepper-jack cheese, salsa, guacamole and corn-tortilla chips on a Bavarian pretzel roll, and the Olympian ($9.95), culling traditional Greek ingredients such as puréed olives, feta and tzatziki sauce on a grilled flatbread. Phil’s also features a veggie burger ($9.95), turkey burger ($9.95) and a tuna burger ($12.95).
Entrées include a pasta orechiette ($11.95) which comes with Italian sausage, broccoli rabe and cannellini beans, combining a nice mix of flavors and textures. Texas BBQ pulled pork (available as an entrée for $10.95, or sandwich for $7.95) was appropriately tangy and moist, and the Junction chicken ($12.95) was winner as well, as the nicely seasoned breaded cutlet was accompanied by a medley of fresh arugula, tomatoes and onion tossed in a tangy orange balsamic glaze. The main dishes range in price from $8.95 for the macaroni and cheese (called “Under the Lights”) to $28 for the bone-in ribeye (“Ed’s Broken Rib”), and diners can choose two of Phil’s many terrific side dishes, the best of which were the curry-infused Caribbean coleslaw, baked mac and cheese, and the delightfully crispy, house-cut cottage fries.
Sandwiches ($6.95 - $12.95), panini ($6.95 - $8.95), and salads ($8.95 - $13.95) also dot the voluminous menu at Phil’s, and the “Blue Wave After School Specials” (a shake or root beer float along with a choice of chicken tenders, cheeseburger, two hot dogs, or grilled cheese along with fries between 2 and 5pm) should be a huge hit with students. Additionally, there is a kids menu and prepped dishes available for takeout, showcasing the amiable Santomassi’s knack for mass-appeal conceptualization.
Beverages include a small wine and beer list, along with sodas and shakes. Desserts are $5.95 and include a double brownie sundae, warm apple crisp, fruit tart, chocolate layer cake, and (best of all) cheesecake. Ice cream is also available at $4.50 per dish.
As with all new ventures, service was understandably inconsistent, yet extremely friendly. For a restaurant that has been open for only one week, we’ve encountered substantially worse and the staff seemed to get more efficient as the night wore on. A bonus is that on any given evening, you will encounter the friendly, charismatic Santomassi, one of Darien’s true characters, holding court or making the rounds throughout the restaurant. But the space can get loud when filled with families, and the lighting was way too bright. There is an attractive patio that promises to be choice seating once the summer months hit.
So where naysayers might think Santomassi bit off more than he could chew with a full-service restaurant, it appears his business savvy and preparation have paid off. With his finger on the pulse of what Darien sorely needed — a simple, fairly priced, family-oriented restaurant — Phil’s Grill has the potential to do enough to please the masses. It won’t win any James Beard nominations or Zagat awards, but that’s not what Santomassi is trying to do. And as a result, it appears he has a hit on his hands.
- Food: B-
- Décor/Ambience: C+
- Service: B
- Wine/Beer: C
- Phil’s Grill
- 340 Heights Road
- Darien, CT 06820
- (203) 202-9404
- Monday - Saturday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
- Sunday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.