Turnhouse Grille is quietly running an unexpectedly intimate, chef-driven restaurant in a highly trafficked shopping center in Montford Park.
It’s tucked away mostly out of sight on the lower level of the ParkTowne Village shopping center in a historically tough spot to keep a restaurant afloat. Most recently, Tiki Hideaway shuttered after less than a year in business there.
But what makes that real estate tough to market — a small footprint in an obscure location — is the exact same thing that can create allure and insider loyalty for the right concept.
Three months into operation, that seems to be what’s happening at Turnhouse. Co-owner Andy Pressley says about 70 percent of their business comes from regular return customers and all of their marketing has been word of mouth. At 7 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, the place (albeit small) was packed.
Where I think Turnhouse will struggle is in training people to expect a full-service, higher-end “date night” dining experience in a shopping center known for fast food franchises.
ParkTowne is home to casual, quick-service concepts like Which Wich, Jason’s Deli, Bonchon, Qdoba and Smoothie King. But just around the corner on Montford and across the street at Park Road Shopping Center, full-service restaurants like Good Food, CO and Cantina 1511 thrive. So there’s hope.
Ted, a meat-eating dad and golfer whose favorite restaurant is Panda Express, and I, a vegan-except-for-pizza cat lady whose favorite restaurant is whatever obscure strip mall dive I can find, will share our side-by-side breakdown of our experience.
Katie: Dude central. There are a bunch of guys (I’m assuming an after-work crowd) hanging around at the bar. Looks like a casual, comfortable, not overly fancy happy hour spot. Along the opposite wall, some deep, cozy booths signal it could also hold its own as a special date night location. I don’t want to go on a special cozy date with Ted so we sit at a high top.
Ted: Excellent chandeliers. Cozy. Leather. It felt like Workman’s Friend meets Alexander Michael’s for the country club crowd. Turnhouse Grille is the type of place you’d choose for a drink with a few best friends or dinner date with another couple that you know well. It’s the perfect type of spot to get lost in great conversation. Booths along the left wall felt too intimate for a work night out with Katie, so we chose one of the four seater high tops.
Katie: Cocktails are in the $9-$12 range. Our server says the Booty Loop ($10 – Tito’s, mint, cucumber, lemon, prosecco) is the most popular so I go with that. It’s excellent — tart, fresh and lightly sweet — but I wish it was on the rocks and didn’t know enough in advance to ask for that. Maybe it’s not supposed to come that way. My second cocktail, a specialty Tequila Mockingbird with cran-apple cider and Herradura, was exactly what I was looking for — still tart, fresh and lightly sweet but in a tall glass with ice and a straw.
Ted: The three bourbon-based cocktails I tested had excellent balance – weren’t too strong and weren’t too sweet. I’m a little over the fancy craft cocktail scene and these drinks had the refreshing feel of not being try-hards. While there were plenty of beers on draft, you should go with a cocktail over your regular NoDa draft.
Katie: There aren’t a ton of options for a meat-free crowd here but I was happy with what I found. I started with the hummus ($7) served with warm grilled pita bread and vegetables. The pita is heavy on garlic, which I love but you might want to steer clear of it on a date. The hummus itself was thick and spreadable (again, something I like), not soft and dippable.
For dinner, I went with a safe, amateur order and got the margherita flatbread ($11). I’ve eaten many a soggy, depressing flatbread in my day (it’s often the lone meat-free option on many menus) and this was not that. It was a thin, crispy, slightly charred crust covered edge to edge (leaving literally no crust untouched) with cheese and then topped with cherry tomatoes and basil. I ate the entire thing while Ted gnawed on some meat on a bone. I want another one right now.
Ted: Katie’s order of hummus and flatbread was about as adventurous as booking a room at Hampton Inn. I ordered with the Steamed Buns ($9) and bone-in pork chop ($19). Reasonably priced menu. I ate all three steamed buns quickly and I’d rank them just below the steamed buns from Good Food. Delicious. I definitely made the right order with the bone-in pork chop. Meat was cooked perfectly. The fingerling potatoes and sautéed spinach were the correct companions for the meat.
Header photo via Facebook