Juniper Grill: Tasty contemporary offerings with a Southwest flair
Be sure to make reservations if you're headed to the Juniper Grill on a weekend evening.
It would be a shame to have to wait for a table. Especially when it's a fairly good bet your mouth will be watering from the moment you walk in the door and take in the pleasant aromas floating out from the kitchen.
At least that was what struck us when we walked into this contemporary eatery that opened 13 months ago along Route 22 in Murrysville.
The restaurant is the latest addition to the Restaurant Holdings Corp., a local group that grew out of Atria's and now incudes three Juniper Grill locations, in Peters, Cranberry and Murrysville, as well as two Ditka's.
The menu here focuses on fresh contemporary offerings with a Southwest flair accented by the added twist of meats smoked on the premise.
On a recent visit, we had the opportunity to see what a well-tuned staff can do. Our table, near one of the area's only open kitchens, gave us a ringside seat to the smooth interaction between the kitchen staff and servers.
On a busy night, it was like watching a well-rehearsed ballet unfold or maybe just a fun entry on the Food Channel.
Managing partner Michael Diaddigo later told us that was what the management was aiming for when it shot for limiting the period between interactions between staff and diners to no more than 12 minutes. Our server was prompt and well acquainted with the menu.
On our recent visit, we decided to start with the Salsa Trio ($7). The salsa verde shined, while the fresh guacamole and fire-roasted tomato salsa were pleasant.
My better half thoroughly enjoyed the Smokehouse Platter. A sample of the baby back ribs, brisket and smoked chicken breast ($22) came with a side of Southwest potato salad. We all agreed we would skip the potato salad on a return trip in favor of hand-cut fries.
But that did little to detract from a nice selection of the smokehouse skills.
The ribs were pleasantly tangy, while the brisket and chicken offered a hint of smoke. It came as no surprise when we later learned that the brisket (his favorite) is a menu favorite, second only to the popular Cajun fish tacos ($14).
We opted instead for the Shrimp and Crab Enchiladas ($17.50) and enjoyed a healthy dose of seafood in a mild cheese sauce accompanied by drunken black beans and rice.
Got a taste for a salad as meal? Juniper Grill's Rotisserie Roasted Chicken and Avocado salad ($13.50) is a great plate, fit for two and loaded with greens, corn, tomatoes, goat cheese, almonds and a surprising treat — dates — in a creamy bacon dressing that accents, but does not overwhelm.
The wood-grilled salmon ($19.50) with grilled asparagus and squash was as good as any we've had.
Diaddigo attributes much of the restaurant's growing popularity to its emphasis on fresh, local ingredients prepared in a scratch kitchen.
“We have a freezer here, but the only thing in it is the ice cream,” he says grinning.
And it's not just the food, but the signature cocktails and margaritas that rely on fresh items — fruits, herbs and house-made simple syrups.
The Prickly Pear Margarita ($9) featuring Sauzo Blanco Tequila, prickly pear cactus syrup and fresh-squeezed citrus, might be the best thing we've had north of the border. A selection of mojitos and martinis complete a cocktail menu that in and of itself might merit another visit.
And then there's dessert. Diaddigo says the Juniper Grill is the only location, short of the Sarris store, that offers the candy company's ice cream on its menu.
Diners can go neat with two scoops ($5) or splurge and order the signature house-made cornbread and berries with Sarris ice cream ($7), a dessert made for two, or one very happy human.
Juniper Grill's recent addition of wine dinners, a natural for a restaurant that boasts a selection of 50 bottled wines. The most recent wine dinner, a Mardi Gras-themed event, was Fat Tuesday. Another one is planned for late March.
Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org,