First, the name: love it. Just the right degree of clever.
The menu tries for some of the same and occasionally scores as well. Take the Cheeks n Buns, in which the name and the product come together perfectly in the form of just greasy enough barbacoa cradled in a sturdy slider bun with cilantro ginger slaw and kewpie mayo for crunchy/tangy contrast. At happy hour, one of these puppies is three bucks. Run, don't walk.
The Chicky Licky isn't quite as successful as a name — and neither is the sandwich. It can be had as a full-size banh mi or, again, during happy hour (and on the lunch special), as a slider with confit chicken and mixed herbs. I've had it both ways, and don't get me wrong — it's a good sammie. But having been seduced by the "confit" aspect of the chicken, I expected a tad more. Admittedly, I often expect more.
Continuing with the name thing, let's next arbitrarily pick the Caulicious. This plate turns out to be reasonably straightforward roasted cauliflower with a nutty, tahini vinaigrette, and it successfully delivers just what it says it will. As for The Harvest salad (they seem to have run out of cleverness when naming this one), it may deliver more than it needs to. There are red and golden beets, chewy barley and farro (the distinction between the two is lost in context), shaved, raw asparagus and pretty crunchy green beans, dabs of creamy ricotta, a few almonds and a vinaigrette in which the advertised preserved lemon doesn't quite come through. Top all this with a few greens and there's just a little too much going on — especially for a menu on which all the food offerings are simply labeled "Grub."
Time out: Can we just have a moratorium on manipulated mac and cheese? Grayze's take is simply called "The Mac," and with its four cheeses, caramelized onion and topping of pickled chiles, it's decidedly wicked and probably better than many. But enough, already. As it's un-American to knock burgers, I won't presume to diss the Grayze Burger. It, too, is better than many with a dense, properly cooked patty topped by "freedom cheese" and "garden fixings" that include zucchini. A fried egg is only a buck extra and worth it. But if you're going to go with the burger over less mainstream choices such as the Fiery Red Head (a blackened redfish po'boy), then you must have the fries, here called Ma Frittes. In fact, you should have the fries no matter what you order, they're that good — and only $4 at happy hour, FYI. That perfect pairing of crisp, peppery exterior with almost-creamy interior is only enhanced by especially good "grayze" ketchup and garlicky aioli.
At this writing, and here we go again with the names, there were only two dishes that might be normally called mains or big plates — the Kiss My Grits (shrimp, tasso, pickled mustard greens) and the Porkshank Redemption. On the evidence of the pork, braised in white balsamic with fig, this is a category that deserves to be developed further. (Lamb shank was the dish's first iteration.) White polenta made especially creamy with mascarpone served as a bed for the lush pork mantled with the braising reduction, and some arugula and baby nasturtium leaves were scattered about. There was mention of salsa verde on the menu, but it wasn't really detectable — or even necessary, for that matter.
The Grub side of the menu is under the charge of Pedro Cuellar, formerly of Arcade at Pearl; we hope to see some more-ambitious dishes as the kitchen matures. The Sippin' side, on which all names are, alas, conventional, is the responsibility of James Moore of TBA where a new drinks menu has recently debuted, possibly suggesting some future cross-pollination. Cocktails on the current list at Grayze are limited, but creations such as the Date Night with bourbon and date simple syrup, and the Grayze BLVD with both Cherry Heering and Fernet added to the normal rye and vermouth, have been well-executed. A good selection of sparkling wines should come in handy on the covered rear patio come spring — now, in other words. Dogs welcome, too.