by Sean Maloney
Episode 3: Mixed Grill Cafe
Address: 2600 Grandview Ave.
“I have no idea. It doesn't seem like there's ever anyone there. And you know how that goes ...”
Or something to that effect. I'm not really sure what I said about Mixed Grill Cafe but I know that I said it on the radio, during the morning drive*, and it was entirely cagey. I may have also said something about James K.Polk-style muttonchops being the next big thing in facial hair. James K. Polk didn't rock muttonchops. Total presidential-hipster fail. I don't spend a lot of time talking into a microphone while people are expecting me to make sense — gibberish and Glenn Frey jokes are more my deal. So I'd like to apologize in advance to anybody who took my grooming advice or got scared off from Mixed Grill Cafe by my super-noncommittal preview. There's a reason the dining room always looks empty: Mixed Grill Cafe delivers. And their food is good, which is awesome in a neighborhood where most delivery is either corporate pizza or iffy Chinese.
It's weird to say, so early in this column that is ostensibly about discovering food from other cultures in my own backyard, that it's nice to find some American food on The Road, but there it is. There are Mediterranean, Mexican and 'Murican options in case you can't decide between, oh, gyros and ribs or salads and fajitas, all cooked by folks who are from, um, somewhere. I didn't ask, but I'd wager that the owners didn't grow up in Cookeville. Mixed Grill is basically a flattop-and-a-fryer outfit, the decor is spartan and efficient, the kitchen setup minimal. As a dude who spent a good portion of college in the flattop-and-a-fryer game, I'd wager it's a really quick kitchen to scrub down and clean up. That makes happy cooks, and happy cooks make good sandwiches. It's no “fixed-gear bike shop,” and it won't be nominated for a Beard Award any time soon, but you can tell the folks at Mixed Grill Cafe have put a lot of thought — and heart — into their restaurant.
There's a place to cook food, a place to eat food and a door to send food out of — which sounds cold and ruthless, but it's actually pretty relaxing. The phone was ringing pretty steadily, and the delivery guys were in and out with big orders constantly, but the pacing and the teamwork made everything run really smooth. The staff were friendly and made sure to stop by my table in between filling to-go orders and pulling things out of the fryer — they didn't have time to chat, but they had time to check in and they did. And then they left and I got back to my work. I like that in a lunch spot, but truth be told I probably won't end up going to Mixed Grill Cafe again anytime soon. Instead, I'm going to put their menu on my fridge and add them to speed dial. Those folks don't need me to show up, but I'm probably going to need them bring an Italian Beef sandwich to my house by the end of the weekend.
Oh, and probably some chili fries — the ones I had yesterday were good but the cheese wasn't really melted, which wouldn't have been the case if I had them delivered. Chili fries. Delivered to my house. This might be the greatest development in my hangover-laden career. It takes a lot of booze to handle dealing with all these hipsters — partial or otherwise — and chili fries on my couch might be the only cure. When Chris Chamberlain did his First Bite review there he noted its out-of-the-way, kinda-terrible location. And it is just an awkward spot — wedged between the train tracks and a main thoroughfare, off a not-as-accessible-as-it-could-be side street with only an unassuming sign to declare its existence. And yet, it works. Because they deliver, which is really an underdeveloped market in this town. That's some American ingenuity right there, folks, and as worthy of support and respect as whatever hipster bike-rack the Times is into these days.
* Thanks to Mary Brace and Lightning 100 for hosting me, and thanks to everyone who shared, liked and trolled my post on Tuesday. You guys are the best. You helped make it the most popular blog post of my entire career. Which is kinda funny, really. You guys know I'm a music writer, yeah? I talk shit about New York all the time — you should check it out.