John's Lunch casts a long shadow on Pleasant Street. While several fast food joints run the road in that stretch, the indomitable John's continues to set the bar for fried food in the neighbourhood.
And while burgers of all kinds converge on the strip across from Value Village, Off the Grill---which opened in the fall of 2013 in the old Arby's---is offering something a little different. A quick-service restaurant focusing on rotisserie chicken and BBQ ribs, they also have grilled sandwiches, wraps and salads, and sides that fall a little more on the fried side---waffle fries, onion rings, wings, and deep-fried macaroni balls.
When my friend Mark and I wander in around 8pm on a Friday night, the restaurant is almost empty. There is only one cashier milling around behind the quiet counter, and one table of four in the dining room.
To get the broadest sense of what's going on in the kitchen and coming off the eponymous grill, I end up settling on the quarter chicken and half-rack baby ribs combo ($19.99)---the word "back" has never been so missed on a menu---and Mark gets the sweet chili chicken sandwich ($6.49). I get onion rings with my combo, while he gets waffle fries. We also decide to try the mac and cheese balls ($3.69), too.
While you order at the counter and the restaurant has all of the countenance of a typical fast-food joint, we learn when a server---our cashier---drops off the mac and cheese balls that there is actually table service for the food.
After one bite of the mac and cheese balls I know that I don't want another. The breaded crust has no real crispness to it, I suspect in part from steaming in the closed clamshell box it is served in. The balls are bland and slightly overcooked with the noodles semi-hardened along the edges. The tomato sauce they sit in adds a bit of flavour, but a bland milkiness overwhelms.
Things start to look up. Our server delivers the ribs to the opening strains of Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street." It doesn't get better than that, you guys. So, 20 seconds later, we're eating chicken and ribs to the smoothest, lol-iest sax solo of all time.
I'm not sure what is house-made at Off the Grill: the fries and onion rings seem standard, but the coleslaw and desserts have a nice hominess to them. It is all, for better or worse, pretty generic. Perhaps most importantly though, at least in terms of fast food, the oil is clean so the onion rings and waffle fries taste as they should. And they are good.
The ribs are decent. They cut easily with a butter knife, and meat pulls off the bone pretty easily. I went with the standard BBQ sauce recommended by our server. It is a pretty solidly sweet note, and I end up wishing for something more complex. The chicken is great, very moist and tender. The mildly acidic coleslaw on the side cuts through the sweetness of the sauce. It's actually my favourite thing on the plate.
The sandwich is a pile of lukewarm shredded chicken tossed in sweet chili sauce with a cool, messy salad of yellow pepper, cucumber and cilantro coleslaw on top. It's just OK.
Our server asks us how we liked everything, emphasizing the mac and cheese balls. My answer is a bit of a verbal shrug. He comes back moments later with a coupon for a discount on a future meal. There still aren't many reasons why I would bother going anywhere but John's in that neighbourhood, but that kind of attention to customer service is actually a pretty good one.
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Off the Grill
392 Pleasant Street, Dartmouth
Mon - Wed: 11am - 9pm
Thu - Sat: 11am - 10pm
Sun: 11am - 9pm