Overall impression: At 10 minutes to noon on a recent Thursday, we were lined up out the door for lunch at the Grille on Congress. The mostly male crowd was dressed in khakis and polo shirts. They came for well-priced, solid American comfort food, sizable salads and the guarantee that they would be out in under an hour. It's an impressive feat.
Background: Peter and Suzie Donovan have been restaurateurs in Boca for a very long time, first at Khaki's and since 1999 at the Grille. Boca can be a tough town for restaurateurs, but the Donovans have hospitality down like clockwork.
Ambience: Handsome in a '90s kind of way, the yellow walls are decorated with black-and-white photographs of their customers. The high-ceiling in the dining room lends the 150-seat space a grandeur that belies the restaurant's location on busy Congress next to a Chevron.
Starters: Warm buttermilk biscuits are complimentary and served "on demand." One staff member's devoted job is to traverse the dining room with a tray of these amazing, oversize biscuits. White-bean chili ($3.50 cup/$6 bowl) is one of the dishes that made the Grille (and Khaki's) famous. Made with Great Northern beans, tomatoes, onions and peppers, this low-fat bowl of goodness has an ever-so-slight kick. Each day brings a different soup ($3.50 cup/$6 bowl). We had a tomato bisque that was so thick you could have served it over pasta.
Entree excellence: At lunchtime, most entrees fall well below $15. At dinner, the average entree is less than $25. One day, I had salmon spinach salad ($13): loads of baby spinach lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette and topped with red onion rings, hard-boiled egg, croutons and a nicely sized salmon fillet. Chicken or grilled fish can also be added to the basic Caesar ($8). The Grille Cobb salad ($12) is a popular choice, with mixed greens, turkey, tomato, egg, artichoke, blue cheese and a choice of dressing. Penne pasta with vodka sauce and chicken ($11) was superbly satisfying. Along with the house tomato-vodka sauce, peas and Parmesan are included in this high-fat treat. There was so much chicken in the dish, it was difficult to tell the poultry from the pasta. That's a nice problem to have. Smothered chicken ($11) combines a boneless breast with onions, mushrooms, cheddar cheese, rice and vegetables. Unfortunately, the chicken was dry. Big eaters will be delighted with the 16-ounce New York strip steak ($17).
Sweet! Exceptional carrot cake ($7) or traditional tartufo ($7) that even includes a piece of maraschino cherry in its center.
Service: Outstanding. The staff isn't afraid to make recommendations, or in the case of one server, tell you which dishes are more healthful than others.
Liquid assets: The wine list will definitely please the budget conscious.
5101 Congress Ave., Boca Raton
Hours: Lunch weekdays, dinner Monday-Saturday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot or free valet night