The logo says Central Grille was established in 2016. The earliest Yelp reports (from mid-February this year) indicate otherwise. But no matter, whenever the doors actually opened, Central Grille was primed for diners. The redo of the old Shakers Family Restaurant at the northwest corner of Burchett Street and Central Avenue, after all, is just the latest project for partners David Yost and Randy Hoffman, whose present stable of restaurants includes Canoe House and Shakers in South Pasadena, Diner on Main in Alhambra and Central Park in Pasadena.
David and Randy have a long history in the restaurant business. David is the son of Hank Yost, a master restaurateur who opened the original Salt Shaker on Arroyo Parkway in 1970 and went on to create several similar establishments in and around Pasadena. Randy is David’s brother-in-law, husband to David’s sister Deborah. They’ve demonstrated their mastery in modernization without ceding the best of tradition in quite a few prior projects, and Central Grille is another success.
The renovated Shakers had been in business for over 40 years, and like its still-operational sister in South Pasadena, largely appealed to older clientele and families with younger kids. Probably the nicest thing you could say about its interior was that it had lots of cozy booths and was homey, with low wallboard ceilings and recessed lighting. The all-day breakfast menu was one of the prime comfort food draws.
The new Central Grille dining area has some but not as many cozy booths (we snagged one on our recent visit) but the vibe is completely different, with high wood ceilings, brick and wood-faced walls and, contemporary lighting. Diners are younger and noise level higher, possibly (probably?) due to the addition of a full line of adult beverages and lots of flat-screen TVs. A sleek, stainless steel kitchen peeks out from a tile surround and a large bar curves around a well-stocked set of shelves.
The menu’s been upgraded almost as thoroughly as the surroundings (created, as the website states, “in collaboration with Chef Carlos Velasquez, showcasing many inspiring and healthy selections”), although some of the old Shakers favorites still remain, especially on the breakfast and lunch menus. If you’re a fan of Pasadena’s Central Park, you’ll recognize many of the same dishes or variants thereof. I’m not sure the sampling we tried was particularly inspiring. It certainly was not healthy. But most of them were tasty and we left satisfied.
Our visit coincided with dineLA’s late July period and our tickets to Glendale Centre Theatre’s latest production. So we three arrived at 6 p.m. and ordered from the three-course menu (a bargain at $29). We’ve had the chilled gazpacho soup with fresh avocado at Central Park (delicious) so we skipped it and ordered chicken tortilla soup for starters of caesar salad (with an excellent garlicky dressing but, alas, no whole anchovy filets), crispy cauliflower bites and crispy truffled Brussels.
The cauliflower had been mixed into a heavy, possibly corn-meal based batter before being formed into small crusted bites for frying. They came topped with a mild cheese sauce and a Technicolor confetti of corn, red bell pepper and green onion. The taste and texture reminded me of hushpuppies and we enjoyed them immensely.
Our crispy Brussels dish (a flurry of salty, well-oiled leaves) is a transplant from Diner on Main’s and Canoe House’s menus and, at least to me, head and shoulders above all the other Brussels sprouts items now in vogue. Like potato chips, they’re addictive, especially since they keep their crunch. Any truffle flavor in the oil escaped me.
And as for the blistered capers, they were tiny crunchy orbs that mostly nestled in the bottom of the bowl. In her book “Heartburn,” Nora Ephron wrote “any dish that tastes good with capers in it tastes even better with capers not in it.” I mostly agree, but these Brussels didn’t suffer a bit from their inclusion.
I was dying to try buttermilk fried chicken (with Yukon gold garlic mashed potatoes, connected corn and Brussels sprouts salad). But after our server informed us that the chicken consisted of boneless breast instead of dark and light meat on the bone, I changed my mind in favor of braised boneless beef short ribs with a rich au jus and au gratin potatoes and unspecified veggies.
My mate decided on broiled New York steak with mushroom brandy cream sauce and the same potato and veggie pairings as my entrée. And our friend decided on sesame almond crusted salmon with lemon butter sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. Our consensus? Although the short ribs were a second choice, they were first in our preference, melt-in-the-mouth tender with a wonderful gravy.
The ribs came with a nice sauté of carrots, green beans, beets and (of course) Brussels sprouts. But the potato cake was odd, made up of thin tuber layers interspersed with dryish cheese and topped with an undistinguished sauce — far from perfection. The rough-textured mashed potatoes that came with the salmon were far better.
The desserts (“famous” carrot cake, key lime pie and warm apple/boysenberry cobbler with French vanilla ice cream) were all just dandy. The carrot cake is indeed renowned, appearing on the Central Park, Diner on Main and Shakers menus, as well as Central Grille’s. But the pie is also featured at Central Park, Diner on Main and Canoe House, so its reputation is equally widespread. At any rate, all three made for a happy ending to a very pleasant dinner and a perfect prelude to a fun evening at the theater.