Take your next lunch break at Graze

BY BEN VERHILLE | MAY 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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Local small-plate restaurant Graze describes itself as a “food guru experience.”

The establishment, quietly nestled on the Pedestrian Mall, 115 E. College St., with a small outdoor patio, is not only known for its delicious tapas-style food but also for its legendary martini bar.

I found the staff members at Graze to be friendly and very proud of what they have to offer.

Although this venue seems to be one of the more active restaurants on social media — I have had Graze posts on my newsfeed since my freshman year — I didn’t have the opportunity to come here until this week.

And thank God I didn’t, because if I had known about the lunch buffet before, I may have eaten here an embarrassingly large number of times throughout my freshman and sophomore years. For $8.99 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day, customers can dine on a buffet of “chicken lips,” big island sliders, grilled chicken lettuce wraps, beef tacos, macaroni and cheese, dim sum green beans, Mediterranean salad, sesame ginger salad, baked potato soup, and chicken tortilla soup.

The restaurant’s dim interior in no way reflects the actual mood but instead is reflection of the emphasis they place exclusively on the cuisine.

The staff’s interactions are friendly and funny, making me feel immediately welcome and comfortable. The employees at Graze appear to really enjoy their work.

And how could they not? Tapas are meant to be shared — or experienced — with friends.

Brace yourselves; I chose the lunch buffet for a reason, and there is a lot of ground to cover.

My first run through the buffet made me realize that one review isn’t going to be enough, but I might as well start somewhere.

Both salads were drenched in a light dressing, but aside from the dressing, they seem rather dreary and included only shaved carrots, iceberg lettuce, and onions. They are probably the least impressive part of this entire selection.

The chicken tortilla soup was warm, rich, and had a low-frequency spice that is forgiving to those of us who avoid words like “fire” or “alarm” with food. The dish reminded me of Spanish class, without all the annoying assignments.

Next came some spring rolls. The exterior of the rolls were golden, crunchy, and flakey, exactly how I like it. The interior texture only complemented the excellent presentation of the exterior through consistency and structure and let the richness of the sweet and sour sauce take the lead on flavor.

And how sweet and sour that red sauce was — not overpowering but not that watered-down crap I normally get with my Chinese food to-go.

The big island sliders packed a punch on flavor. The small chicken patties were topped with coleslaw and served on a warmed bun. The chicken was spiced and admittedly delicious. But the piece that made this plate for me was the mango mayonnaise. This tapa shows that Graze knows how to play old favorites in a new setting.

And finally, I tried the “World Famous” Chicken Lips (what an odd name for such a delicious chicken tender) served with Budweiser blue-cheese dressing. These tenders lived up to my expectations — and I think the secret is in the breading. They were richly breaded and marinated, a classic dish with something special about it.

Right as I thought I was done, my server came and dropped off a warm, soft, chocolate chip cookie. Mmmmmmmm.

But don’t let just the food be the reason you try Graze. The staff members freshly squeeze all their own juices and mixes for their martinis and all other drinks.

I ordered just regular lemonade, and it was the perfect balance of sour and sweet. The effort made to create homemade touch was apparent. I wanted to sit on my back porch and watch someone mow my lawn while drinking this delicious nectar.

I thought I was in heaven … but then I tried the passion-fruit mixture.

Now, I take back everything I said about that lemonade. I just left behind Iowa and woke up back in the Bahamas. Sweet, tart, and mind blowing — definitely order this drink. I’d come back just for the passion-fruit juice.

Or, if you’re one of those “of age,” word on the street is that you should definitely order it in a martini.

Where: 115 E. College
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
What to try: The lunch buffet for $8.99 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day

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