On our first visit to Grille 54, we never stepped inside. One look at the packed parking lot and long valet line convinced us to wait for another night.
We tried again on a Saturday and got a table around 6 p.m. Ninety minutes later, the place was packed. Lesson learned: unless you're an early bird, call ahead on weekend nights.
Part of Grille 54's popularity is attributable to its Trinity location where Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties join and bedroom communities abound. However, the larger appeal is the sheer professionalism.
The owners have a wealth of experience - Greg Anastasas also owns The Rack pool hall and sushi bar in Tampa and Dallas Owens owned Mojito's Grill in Brandon. Executive chef Robert Scaffedi and executive sushi chef Nam Phan have created in kitchens for decades.
The experience shows. Grille 54's interior is a primer on upscale-casual, with muted lighting, dark wood, high-backed booths and a black-clad serving staff. The casual atmosphere derives partly from the presence of televisions tuned to sports all around the restaurant, and the fact that you can order a burger as well as lobster risotto.
The service was impeccable, friendly and professional. Every dish arrived promptly and cooked to order. Fans of consistency will love this place.
The menu is divided into an interesting, unlikely trio of main sections - sushi, meat and fish, and Italian. A Grille 54 logo highlights the recommended dishes, an easy method for navigating a large menu. There is a full bar and an extensive wine list, including plum wine and sake.
We found the sushi fresh and the rolls tight. They did all the familiar rolls well - spicy tuna and the Tampa roll, for example - and excelled with two house specialties. Nam Bomb, created by chef Phan, features snow crab, avocado and asparagus topped with salmon, tuna and eel sauce. The Sun Burn features lobster meat, asparagus and avocado topped with seared tenderloin and is served with wasabi vinaigrette.
There are some 50 different rolls to choose from, raw and cooked. There are also a half dozen sampler platters, good for sharing.
From the meat section we chose the kingpin, the12-ounce New York Strip. It came seared, almost blackened, on the outside and moist and tender on the inside, tasting more like a $30 steak than the $18.75 we paid. Somewhat disappointing was the side of saffron rice, which was a bit dry, but the vegetable of sautéed chard and escarole was a sophisticated accompaniment.
From the Italian section, we tried our waitress' favorite, the Seafood Fra Diavolo. It proved a worthy recommendation. Linguini is served in a bowl with steamed mussels and clams, a lobster tail, scallops and shrimp, all mixed with a spicy red sauce and topped with grated parmesan. It's perfect in the style of good Italian dishes: simple and fresh with robust flavors. Our only minor complaint involved the shrimp, which seemed slightly overcooked.
We returned to Grille 54 on a Sunday afternoon for a different atmosphere. While busy, there were open tables, and every NFL game was on television. While you can order from the regular menu, the special Sunday menu features bar food. We tried the blackened beef wrap, an enormous amount of ground beef spiced and encased in a wrap with bacon, lettuce and tomato. We also ordered chicken wings, which came with a spicy sauce and were far more substantial than the usual Buffalo wing fare.
In short, most everything served at Grille 54 was at least very good, and at times exceptional. For that alone, Grille 54 deserves the large crowds.
Bottom line: Dependable menu that includes sushi, American and Italian cuisine
Where: 10900 State Road 54, Trinity
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Children's menu: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar and wine list
Wheelchair access: Yes
Price: Entrees range from $13.75 to $18.95
Call: (727) 376-0254