The shiny new ParkStone Wood Kitchen at Station Park in Farmington looks like a snazzy franchise along the lines of Brio Tuscan Grille or The Cheesecake Factory. And, well … it is and it isn’t. For now, ParkStone is a one-off. This is the first—a test model—of a restaurant concept developed by the folks who brought us On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina and Carrabba’s Italian Grill, which are scattered across the United States and beyond. In the case of On the Border, there are locations as far-flung as Korea, Saudi Arabia and Puerto Rico. So, if the ParkStone Wood Kitchen experiment pans out, who knows how far beyond Farmington the chain might grow?
You’ll be happy to discover that ParkStone isn’t as pricey as it looks. The restaurant—with sky-high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, oodles of big flat-screen TVs and a nifty outdoor seating area complete with a fire pit and sofas—looks like a high-ticket eatery. But, in fact, it’s quite reasonably priced, given what it must have cost to build. Typical wood-grilled meals—with free cornbread, a choice of two side dishes and an entree—run, in most cases, from about $12.95 to $20. So, don’t let the look of the place scare you away.
As you might surmise from the name, grilling is big here. Seafood, poultry, beef and even veggies are cooked over oak-stoked fires. That makes it all the more puzzling when food comes to the table cold or tepid, as it has a couple of times during my visits. Instance one: My son, Hank, loves corn on the cob, so he ordered corn as a side dish with his barbecued boneless chicken breast ($6.95) from the kids menu. By the way, the kids menu at ParkStone is pretty awesome, with choices of pizza, burgers, macaroni & cheese, barbecue chicken and chicken tenders, plus sides like steak fries, broccoli or mashed potatoes starting at $4.95, which includes dessert, too. Anyway, with Hank’s chicken came the corn, sporting nice grill marks and with the husk on—pulled back to use as a handle. It all looked great, until he took a bite. “Dad, my corn is cold,” Hank said. He wasn’t exaggerating. I can’t imagine where they keep the corn so that it gets cold—maybe the same place they keep the cold grilled veggies, which I encountered on a second visit. Both times, a seemingly indifferent manager offered to replace the offending side dish. But, having eaten tepid corn and veggies once, I didn’t really want to go there again.
The macaroni & cheese and mashed potato sides at ParkStone are great, however, and came piping hot. Large, high-quality pasta elbows are used for the mac & cheese and cooked perfectly al dente, served in a creamy cheddar sauce. Yum. The mashed spuds are cooked with the skins—which I love—with hints of garlic. And, even the steak fries (I don’t usually like thick fries) that came with Hank’s bodacious cheeseburger ($4.95) were delicious, fried with skins on and lightly dusted with sea salt. “This is the best burger I’ve ever had!” Hank exclaimed. I bit into his wood-grilled burger and he was right: That’s a damn good burger. And, even from the kids menu, it weighed in at what I’d guess was about one-third pound.
The missus didn’t like her grilled salmon, though I did. She found it too dry. And, true, they’re not going to cook salmon at ParkStone like they would at a sushi restaurant. It was certainly cooked through and through, not even slightly opaque in the center. However, I really liked the slight char from the grill and also enjoyed the accompanying Thai peanut coleslaw, which the wife found too spicy to eat. Sometimes opposites attract. To wit, she found my roasted free-range (natural and hormone-free) half chicken ($13.95) to be too salty, while I thought the herb seasoning was just right. The chicken itself was cooked perfectly, really tender and juicy with a slightly smoky flavor from the grill.
Dining alone during one visit, I bellied up to the bar near the rear of the restaurant. The bar is huge, and sports 40 different beers on tap—well, sort of. Turns out the 40 taps behind the bar are just for show. In fact, so is the bar. You can get beer, cocktails and wine at ParkStone, and there is a wide variety of beers (though not so wide a variety of wine), but they’re all procured by bartenders working behind a mirrored wall—the Zion curtain. So, the actual bar is really just scenery.
Since the bartender (I only counted one on my visits) has to make drinks for the entire restaurant and also function as the server for folks seated at the bar, service can be spotty. I ordered a rib-eye steak ($16.95) with a couple of sides, including that luscious macaroni & cheese, but was brought a side dish I didn’t order by the food runner who delivered my meal to the bar. When I pointed out the mistake, he looked sort of freaked out, mumbled something I couldn’t understand and left ... never to return. By the time I finally flagged down my bartender/server, I’d almost finished my meal but did, finally, get the mac & cheese I desired.
The wine list, as mentioned, is pretty puny—a little over a dozen choices altogether. They had run out of the Chardonnay we tried to order one evening, and when we switched to Pinot Grigio, we were informed that the wine was warm. So, our server stuck it on ice to chill while we ate our appetizers, which included excellent calamari with garlic aioli ($10).
So, ParkStone Wood Kitchen seems to be a work in progress. But, despite the aforementioned glitches, I do recommend it and plan to return. Good food at affordable prices and a nifty ambiance will always bring me back.
PARKSTONE WOOD KITCHEN
905 W. West Promontory, Farmington