Darryl’s Wood Fired Grill: A restaurant that has shed its chain

by Brian Clarey

Ribs, of the beef and pork variety, are staples at Darryl’s Wood Fired Grill. (photo by Brian Clarey)

I´m not a fan of chain restaurants. Yeah, I said it. I’m not into all-you-can-eat breadsticks and steaks cooked on the griddle, thoughtless desserts and scripted sales pitches.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t find myself at one, for large parties with disparate food tastes, people in from out of town, the occasional quick bite in a convenient location.

And Darryl’s is not a chain. Not anymore, anyway. The High Point Road location of Darryl’s in Greensboro is the last of the venerable North Carolina-based franchise, begun in 1971 and eventually comprised of 36 restaurants in nine states. And it was here that the company decided to make its last stand.

A $2 million renovation added a rim of patio space around the facility, with a couple of fire pits and an outdoor bar. Inside the artwork has been upgraded, the tchotchkes scaled back, the look refined to reflect a renewed sensibility.

They still have the elevator table, hanging suspended over the bar, and the booth made from Coney Island carousel benches. The bars from the old county jail still cordon off a section of the upstairs dining floor. But the whole place looks like it’s been scrubbed with a wire brush.

The menu, too, has been bolstered by a new mandate: everything, save for a couple of salad dressings, is made from scratch at Darryl’s. This commitment to quality is evident in virtually every dish.

The menu at Darryl’s is not designed to blow diners away with creativity and exotica, instead it gives a predictable slate of tried-and-true all-American faves available at most chain restaurants of this type — done better.

All the bases are covered: fried appetizers, dips, soups and salads, sandwiches and burgers, steaks and chops, seafood, ribs. But meat is cut here on the premises, cooked over a hickory-wood fire. Soups are made back in the kitchen from scratch. Ingredients like panko, lobster tail, jumbo shrimp and prime rib add cachet. And the desserts and the kids menu are good enough to merit a visit all on their own.

The beer list, heavy on North Carolina brews, and wine selections are available in flights, making tasting accessible to customers, and thereare full cocktail and frozen-drink menus on the tables.

A recent trip was prompted by a “feed me” invitation from President Jeff McKee, and within minutes of sitting down our table was graced by an appetizer platter of favorites.

Stuffed mushrooms are filled with crab dip and then flash-fried with a panko breadcrumb coating. Fried provolone benefits from the use of high-quality cheese and a much better than average marinara dipping sauce. A buffalo chicken breast hits all the right notes and the housemade crackers are dense and flaky, a wonderful signature item.

But the best thing about the first course was a tempura-battered lobster tail, the treatment nullifying everything that’s bad about frozen lobster tail — toughness dryness and an overt fishiness — and emphasizing the meaty texture and rich flavor with a fabulous crunch.

A trio of soups — cream of broccoli, baked potato and French onion — testified to the competence of the kitchen staff. Though soup season is more or less over until the fall, it’s good to know a place that will always have homemade soup when the cravings hit.

And then came entrees, in staggering portions. Here’s a quick rundown.

Shrimp and grits: excellent, made with a tasso ham gravy. Roasted salmon: infused with the flavors of the hickory it was cooked over. Lasagne: Honestly, a chain restaurant has no right making marinara sauce this good.

But most remarkable were the ribs, a longtime Darryl’s staple. Beef ribs, ample, have strong flavor and texture to each bite. The pork ribs are so tender that they’re falling apart. Cooked every day and finished over the live fire, ribs alone are a good reason to visit the revamped Darryl’s on High Point Road.

wanna go?

Darryl’s Wood Fired Grill 3300 High Point Road Greensboro