One of the restaurants which participated in Saturday’s “Taste of Falls Church” will be the Open Road Grill on Lee Highway near Merrifield, a place I’ve ignored for years when I’m whizzing past and glance over at the filled parking lot.
Where would I park?
Filled parking lots tell a lot about what’s inside: Good food at good prices which is why crowds come and they’ve been coming for almost ten years to the Open Road Grill.
When I finally stopped by last week, I saw signs in the lot directing drivers to free overflow parking just around the corner. I went inside to order and chat a few moments with the senior general manager, Rees Freiberg.
My first impressions of Open Road’s decor made me think that I’d taken a detour to the West.
The wooden tables, floors, chairs, and walls definitely give it a “manly man’s” feel but with a homey, comfortable warmth — maybe like entering a huge “man cave” where women are not excluded.
Indeed, underneath a motorcycle hanging above the inside bar were plenty of women enjoying themselves, ordering food and laughing.
The big television screens on the walls were all set to show weekend football, and the Nats were up when I was there, losing again. (The restaurant’s website lists the game lineups.)
Frieberg said business has been pretty good, like 20 percent over 2019 figures — which are pre-Covid numbers.
The most popular dish, Frieberg said, is the open road burger ($14), which, once I saw it, could be nicknamed the “big and juicy” because that’s how it came out, loaded with a slice of cheddar cheese on top and crowned by a huge, thick onion ring. It was so good I almost ordered a side of them ($5) until I considered my caloric overload and guilt.
With its grilled taste, the burger was delicious, — even if it was a little redder than I expected for my “medium” request — but, in no way was I going to send this tongue-thriller back for more cooking and risk shattering the sumptuous treat soon to land on my taster.
Instead of fries (calories) with my burger, I ordered broccoli and cauliflower for the side dish (no extra charge for the substitute), and the veggies were excellent, cooked al dente with a hint of basil or rosemary but which the kitchen insisted was only a garlic butter sauce.
Another favorite at the Open Road Grill is the salmon ($19) with a larger-than-life piece of fish served atop greens, grilled corn, tomatoes, pickles, goat cheese and garlic croutons in a sherry vinaigrette with every bite as good as sales say.
I had to try the spinach salad ($8) too, for who can resist fresh spinach with goat cheese, candied walnuts, granny smith apple pieces and subdued red onions in an apple vinaigrette?
Tasty and supreme, but one must admit: it’d be hard to mess up a spinach salad. It also came with applewood bacon chunks which were a little tough, like bits of compact tofu (I am not a fan), but the price was a knockout ($8).
(I didn’t eat all these dishes at one sitting, more like three!)
My pal, Jordan, ordered a grilled chicken sandwich ($14) which was huge, about a half inch thick and she said the taste matched the appearance (recommended). And the goat cheese! It’s in everything, and scrumptious on top of that! A killer!
Jordan kindly shared her fries with me, a “faux fry” eater, making myself feel better by not ordering any but tasting some from others’ plates. I pronounced the fries almost as good as Five Guys’. She graded them higher.
Open Road’s bar menu consumes a whole page in small type. I can’t drink most hard stuff and did not try the restaurant’s top seller which Freiberg said was the “Maple Old Fashioned” ($14), but after he described it to me, I was tempted to start drinking. They age “Knob Creek” rye whiskey in white oak barrels for three weeks and mix it with organic maple syrup, cinnamon sticks and orange bitters.
Other popular items are wings and “our French dip is awesome,” Freiberg exclaimed. It’s a slow-roasted sandwich served with horseradish cream ($18) and fries, but since I was over budget by about 20 percent in dollars and intake, I declined to order more.
For those who want outside dining, there is a big tent in the parking lot and plenty of tables under an awning with an outside bar and overhead heaters for chillier weather.
Sharing the building with Open Road is its fancier sister next door, Trio Grill, with “semi-fine dining,” Freiberg said. “We wanted two awesome restaurants which didn’t compete with each other, each with its own ‘scratch’ [original] kitchens. One’s great for business meetings and the other one [Open Road] is super family-friendly.”
On a lazy Thursday afternoon at the Open Road, all ages from toddler up to 80+ years were observed, with the Happy Hour crowd (4 – 7 p.m. weekdays), bustling and delighted with the food, themselves, and the beer and wine specials.
Open Road hosts live music Tuesday – Thursdays from 5 – 8 p.m. and on Friday and Saturdays from 7 – 10 p.m. (Artists are listed on the website.) Alas, a waiter told me there was no dancing.
The site between Shreve and Gallows for the restaurants works well and draws customers from Falls Church, Fairfax, Merrifield and Tysons. Freiberg said: “I don’t think we could have picked a better location.”
During the worst part of Covid, the restaurant remained open for takeout only, and the staff was laid off but everybody who wanted to come back has been welcome, and Freiberg is seeking to hire more: “We’re not quite where we want to be [with staffing], but close.”
Open Road Grill, 8100 Lee Highway, 22042, ph. 571-395-4400 opens at 11 a.m., Monday – Friday, and 10:30 a.m., Saturday and Sunday. Order in, order out, order curbside or delivery, but leave your dancing shoes at home. Giddyup! www.openroadgrill.com