Ten years ago East Grayson Street just east of the Pearl Brewery in the Government Hill neighborhood was a collection of historic homes badly needing renovations. Take a walk down East Grayson these days, and you will find a revitalized, vibrant street of independent restaurants and bars, housed in those same historic homes. The Government Hill culinary scene is a story of revitalization, restoration and culinary sophistication.
At the center of the East Grayson Street revival is Grayze. General manager Bruce Martin and executive chef Pedro Cuellar have worked together since Grayze’s inception a year ago to provide guests with what Martin calls a “Barnyard Chic” dining experience.
Summer in South Texas is miserable, but the payoff for brutal heat is scores of evenings every year perfect for back porch cocktails and watching the sunset between happy hour and dinner. When it comes to outdoor space, craft cocktails and delicious food, Grayze is an SA power broker! Here are a few tips for your next visit:
Plan to arrive during happy hour. Grayze offers drink specials and discounted appetizers Tuesday through Friday 4–7 p.m. The cocktail menu is a collaborative effort created by their highly skilled bartenders. The menu is revised seasonally, including their cocktails. Try the Smash City for a combination of bourbon, lemon juice, green tea simple syrup, blueberries and mint, a light-bodied bourbon cocktail perfect for San Antonio evenings. The mint and green tea simple syrup are flavor-forward with hints of bourbon in the background adding spice and depth. This refreshing cocktail is clear to cloudy in appearance with muddled blueberries and mint served in a rocks glass. For something a little boozier, try the Jackie Brown, a restrained mezcal-based cocktail accentuated with brown sugar, simple syrup, lemon juice, basil and soda. During happy hour the Grayze cocktail of the week and glasses of wine sell for $5, and beers are offered at a discounted price.
Get seated, order a cocktail, and then spend some time with the menu. The servers are well trained and happy to explain the unique culinary perspective and give you a tour of the food. It is all local, seasonal and fresh. Start off with a few appetizers, take your time, and wait to order dinner. Grayze is meant to be relished and enjoyed with the cocktails, food and conversation interplay in such a way that you forget your day.
The Cheeks ‘n’ Buns sliders are quickly becoming local celebrities, so you will need at least one order. For all of chef Cuellar’s creativity, you really see his culinary chops in the Ma Frittes, (Texans, that’s French for fries.) For the spring he’s serving potato fries and sweet potato fries. They are a perfect thickness, somewhere between your standard hand-cut fry and shoestrings — crisp, but soft on the inside. The sweet potato fries are cooked with rosemary sprigs, and that flavor comes through beautifully and complements the natural sweetness of the potato. Chef serves them with grated Parmesan and house-made spicy ketchup. Get two orders of each kind … you won’t regret it!
Grayze offers several lighter options, including soups and salads. The Chock Sally salad may not qualify for “healthy,” but it is delicious. The chef plays off a traditional steakhouse wedge salad with baby iceberg lettuce, lardon bacon, smoky blue cheese and heirloom tomatoes. Instead of a thick blue cheese dressing he opts for a green goddess ranch, made in house, and blue cheese crumbles. The dressing keeps the salad light but bursting with flavor. The bacon is chopped into quarter-inch cubes and cooked to the edge of crispness. The smoky bacon, tart heirloom tomatoes and rich blue cheese play perfectly with the crisp lettuce. If you are looking for a salad that is equally delicious but actually on the lighter side, try the seasonal jerk chicken salad. The spiced slow-roasted dark meat, jicama, pineapple, cucumber and mojo vinaigrette make for a flavorful lunch.
Grayze also offers a great lunch special called “Lunch box 3-Way.” For $15 you can make your own combination of soup, salad and sandwich. Pair your lunch with a glass of La Marca prosecco or Crossings sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.
Grayze is slowly building a reputation for its burgers. It’s no surprise that with such a strong fry game, passionate burger-ing almost always follows. When I was perusing the menu, my waiter recommended the THE CHEESEBURGER — OFFICIAL. He commented on this being Grayze’s take on the Big Mac. That would be true only if someone sent the Big Mac to culinary school, upgraded every ingredient and prepared it meticulously. I took his advice and was very happy I did. In fact, he did an excellent job throughout the meal of making suggestions and steering me through the menu. THE CHEESEBURGER — OFFICIAL is a delicious combination of wagyu/Angus beef blend, house-smoked cheddar, caramelized onions and house-made sauce. The wagyu/Angus combination is brilliant. Wagyu beef is rich and fatty; on its own it can easily overpower a hamburger. However, when blended, it adds just the right amount of richness. These hamburger patties — you get two — are cooked on a flat top so they have a firmness and char that can only come from this particular preparation. The homemade bun and special sauce take this burger over the top. It is a truly delicious treat — in the top five burgers in San Antonio.
Grazye offers a variety of entrees on the seasonal menu. Note “seasonal.” With the exception of a few favorites the menu changes frequently. This rotation means the.team at Grayze is always innovating, experimenting, and searching for new flavors. It also means if you find something you love, go back next week and order it again. There’s no telling when it might be gone. Current seasonal entrees include “The Bird,” a roasted chicken breast with fresh herb mozzarella, house pancetta bacon, crushed ragout and fresh summer squash salad.
Finish off the meal with their take on “s’mores,” layers of chocolate pudding and graham crackers topped with torched marshmallow fluff. No worries if the weather isn’t right for Grayze’s porches — they have plenty of indoor seating as well. Stop in for lunch, dinner or brunch on Sundays. Grayze is ideal for private parties; they can accommodate groups from 20 to 200 with customized menus to fit any occasion. Tell them Scott sent you.
By M. Scott Austin
Photography by Janet Rogers