The staff of Edgar’s Grille deserves a solid A. I don’t mean that figuratively. They are students at Helms College (supervised by professionals); and their performance in this unique dining room is outstanding. They try hard, and they succeed. The purpose of Helms College, under the auspices of Goodwill, is to provide career paths for youth who might not otherwise find them. Here they learn the culinary arts, including restaurant hospitality.
The goal of Edgar’s Grille is to present “New American cuisine with a Southern flair.” Mission accomplished! Many of the Dixie dishes served here set a benchmark. Seafood and grits, for example: The grits are Adluh brand — there are none better — and they are enriched with smoked Gouda and Parmesan cheeses to become the most luxurious grits imaginable. The seafood atop them includes huge Gulf shrimp and sweet little crawfish tails, plus a heap of smoky andouille sausage along with blistered tomatoes and caramelized onions. It is a sensational Southern meal (and copious enough for two healthy appetites).
Another regional classic, in this case a favorite hostess dish: deviled eggs. Edgar’s rendition adds a dash of pimento cheese to the mix then drizzles them with zesty chili oil. They come six halves to an order and are impossible to stop eating. Fried okra — so common on Southern menus — gets a unique twist, too. Instead of the usual bite-size nuggets, you get whole pods, sheathed in vividly seasoned cornmeal.
Memorable specialties that are not so regional in character include crispy maple chili Brussels sprouts, which are a brilliant swirl of bitter, hot, and sweet; and tempura-battered stalks of asparagus served with tarragon aioli. The menu is a broad one, including brick-oven pizzas, burgers made of ribeye ground with tenderloin, seasonal seafood and vegetables, and a long list of such inviting side dishes as smoked mac ‘n’ cheese, sweet potato mash, and truffled French fries.
This good food is served with students’ earnest enthusiasm as well as a professional polish that is a rarity in all but the most upscale dining rooms. In fact, Edgar’s dining room does have a swanky tone: modern, stylish, cool, and uplifting. It is all the more admirable considering that the restaurant’s fundamental purpose is not to make a profit, but for its student/staff to develop a skill set for success in the outside world. Yes, it is more expensive than a diner or a town cafe, but the food and service are good enough to justify a splurge. The experience of eating here is priceless.