An Upscale, Casual Menu Is in Play at the PGA Tour Grill

At the PGA Tour Grill in Congressional Plaza in Rockville, the portions are large and the choices are many, including shrimp and grits, from left, a salad with tuna and a steak with asparagus. Pizza and daily specials are also featured.
At the PGA Tour Grill in Congressional Plaza in Rockville, the portions are large and the choices are many, including shrimp and grits, from left, a salad with tuna and a steak with asparagus. Pizza and daily specials are also featured. (Photos By Sarah Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rockville Pike might seem an unusual location for a prototype of a national chain restaurant affiliated with the PGA Tour. But the idea of the PGA Tour, an association of professional golfers whose events create revenue for its members and for charitable causes, was born on Rockville Pike in 1968.

The PGA Tour Grill opened in March at a former That's Amore location in Congressional Plaza, though its official debut will be marked over the coming days in association with the Booz Allen Classic, to be held June 22-25 at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel.

All that's left of the building's old interior are two massive stone fireplaces, built for the original occupant, Shelly's Woodroast. The main dining rooms are light and bright, with lots of wood and metal accented with watery blues and pale grass greens. Sleek halogen chandeliers hang from the soaring ceilings.

Here, the golf references are subtle: What look like photos of vegetables along one wall are really tinted close-ups of golf balls; a close inspection of flower prints reveals the buds are actually the heads of woods. A montage over one fireplace mantel is all about golf, and a photo mural over the entrance to the main dining room is of the famous island 17th green at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

The golf associations are more overt in the wood-paneled bar, where all the flat screens are tuned to the Golf Channel and golf photos abound, and in a rear dining room, where there are more golf tournament photos, and where the artwork over the mantel is a framed collection of old woods -- stuck like arrows into the wall.

Despite the decor, the PGA Tour Grill follows much the same dining formula as that used by other local upscale casual restaurants, such as the Clyde's Group, Virginia's Great American Restaurants (Sweetwater Tavern, Coastal Flats), Harry's Tap Room and Harry's Essential Grille, and the Yellowfin/Big Fish Grille/Red Sky group out of Annapolis. The portions are large and the choices are many, including seafood, steak, rotisserie chicken, wood-oven pizzas, dinner-size salads and several daily specials. Executive Chef Darrell Goodman hails from the Houston's chain.

There is a reasonably priced wine list, and service is attentive if not the most polished (there was way too much chattiness for me). But for a place that attempts to eschew the sports-bar mentality and appeal to women and families, the attire of the female servers -- zip-up shirts and too-short skirts for the mostly 20-something staff -- only undercuts those efforts.

The Tour Grill serves later than most of its neighbors: The kitchen doesn't close until 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. The restaurant has several different spaces that can accommodate private parties of about 15 to 40 people.

Soup is a good way to start any meal at the PGA Tour Grill. The house specialty changes daily. If it's Monday, it's creamy potato; on Sunday, it's French onion. In between are rotisserie chicken tortilla, mushroom and artichoke, roasted tomato and basil, New England clam chowder and hickory-smoked chili.

Pizzas, cooked in a wood-fired oven, are good to share as an appetizer, but are no threat to more classic Italian versions.

Tuna, on the other hand, shines. It is the star of a carpaccio appetizer and a seared wasabi ginger tuna salad. The cuts of tuna are pristine, with no connective tissue or off-color flesh, and in each version the fish is perfectly fresh. The underlying salad of lettuce, kiwi, avocado, Asian pear and green onions is unusual, and the flavors marry well with the wasabi vinaigrette.

While the Tour Grill salad and the Caesar are good renditions of basic preparations, other salads are more original. The steak salad includes chunks of mango and avocado in a spicy Asian vinaigrette; goat cheese and toasted pecans are the main adornments of another.

The kitchen also shows a sure hand with the daily fish specials, either as entrees or sandwiches. And the crab cakes are jumbo lump crabmeat with no filler and just a touch of binder.

Steaks here are choice, rather than big-name-steakhouse prime, but a filet ordered medium rare was cooked to a perfect cool red in the center, nicely seared on the outside and with a fine, almost buttery texture. Unfortunately the accompanying buttermilk mashed potatoes had almost no flavor. Better choices are the Tour Grill fries, crisp shoestring style, and savory grilled vegetables.

The surprise hit of the menu is shrimp and grits, a Low Country favorite that features wonderfully plump stone-ground grits bathed in smoked cheddar cheese and spread across a triangular plate. Jumbo shrimp are placed around the grits, and everything is surrounded with a rich Virginia country ham gravy.

But not all things Southern are as good. The Sugarloaf Peach Cobbler with blueberry muffin ice cream is doughy, and the peaches aren't very flavorful. The Irish cheesecake contains less cream cheese than many other versions and suffers for it. My only recommendations are the Key lime pie and Gifford's ice cream, the house brand.

PGA Tour Grill 1699 Rockville Pike, in Congressional Plaza, Rockville (Twinbrook Metro station), 301-770-3312. Reservations only for large groups. Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. Appetizers at lunch, $5 to $10; entrees at lunch, $8 to $28; appetizers at dinner, $5 to $10; entrees at dinner, $10 to $28. Accessible to disabled diners.

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