Fire still burns at Austin's Woodfire Grille
Restaurant offers no-frills presentation, but plenty of hearty, tasty fare.
When he opened Austin’s Smokin’ Steakhouse in Mayfield Village in 1994, owner Dan Gilbert said his goal was to “bring the fire” to Northeast Ohio.
The fire, Gilbert says on his company’s website, was the unique taste of wood fire grilling, a cooking process that adds a level of savory smokiness to ribs, steaks and chops, which he says was inspired by his mother’s Texas roots.
Gilbert hoped to repeat his Mayfield Village success in Brecksville when he opened Austin’s Wood Fire Grille in 2002.
Whether the fire is still burning as brightly eight years later was what I was set to determine during a recent visit to Austin’s Wood Fire Grille.
In addition to a variety of burgers and sandwiches, Austin’s also features about nine different types of steak, including a New York strip ($24.99) and the Smoked Prime Rib ($25.99 for a 14-oz fillet). Other dishes include the Twin Center Cut Pork Chops ($14.99), the Original Baby Back Ribs ($12.99 to $23.99) and the California Chicken ($14.99).
One thing worth noting about their menu is the lack of vegetarian entrees. With the exception of the Grilled Vegetable Sandwich ($8.49) and the Napa Burger ($7.99) Austin’s menu was pretty much a celebration of all that is meaty. Even most of their 10 salads had some type of meat as a main ingredient, whether it was chicken fish or beef.
I started off with the stuffed mushroom appetizer ($8.59) and a cup of the Smoked Chicken Chowder ($3.99).
Cream-based, the chowder was hearty but not heavy. The chicken was chunky and tender but not to the point of mushiness. And it definitely lived up to the “smoked” label, which gave the already excellent soup an added level of flavor.
The mushrooms I was less enthusiastic about. Five to an order, the golf ball-sized mushroom caps were filled with a crab-bread mixture topped with melted parmesean, mozzarella and reggiano cheeses. While I give credit for the use of real crabmeat, the dish had a much higher bread-to-crab ratio than it’s pricetag justified.
For my entrée, I settled on the cajun-spiced, blue cheese-covered Black and Blue Burger with a pasta salad on the side. I anticipated a giant sloppy, burger dripping with cheese and juices. What I got, however, was the unnaturally neatest, most unremarkable looking burger I have ever seen.
Nestled between a brioche bun (which I’m certain is French for dense-like-a-brick-but-soft-like-a-pillow) it looked like something I should eat with a fork and knife rather than my hands. But when I picked up the sandwich, I was surprised how heavy it was.
My delight at the burger’s size was matched only by my delight at how it tasted. Perfectly cooked, it manage to be tender without being greasy. The pasta side dish was a tasty combination of pasta, veggies, cheese and a creamy garlic dressing.
My only real complaint was that they could have been more generous with the blue cheese and the cajun spices, but I chalk that up to my own taste.
I somehow managed to save enough room for dessert. With about six options, I decided on the bread pudding ($5.99).
Like the burger, the pudding was fairly no-frills when it came to presentation -- little more than a square brick served on a specialty plate. But stuffed with raisins and covered with a sweet bourbon glaze, the dessert was filling, suitably ooey-gooey and delicious to the point of making you feel guilty for ordering it. The only thing missing was a cold glass of milk with which to wash it all down.
So is the fire still burning at Austin’s Wood Fire Grille? From my visit I would say most definitely. I haven’t come across many places around that embrace wood-fire grilling as Austin’s has, but more restaurants should follow the example and start a few fires of their own.