Is there an expiration date for a soft opening? A soft open is when a restaurant opens to the public for a trial period before declaring itself officially ready for business.
2201 Adams Avenue, University Heights
Ostensibly, it gives a new business the chance work out any kinks in a live service environment: refine menu items, train its wait staff, or make sure there are no glitches to its point of sale system, for example. And because it's just a soft open, the restaurant gets to ward off any scrutiny that comes with "officially" being open. In other words: step away from your plate, food critic, this is the preseason, and these games don't count.
Typically, I'll respect the process, and refrain from reviewing a restaurant in its soft open phase. Unless it's got so much pent-up hype that people are lining up on day one, I'd rather hold off a few weeks on tossing out my two cents.
But there's a limit. Grains, the vegan and vegetarian joint that opened at the former site of Adams Avenue Grill, soft opened in March. And when I checked back six months later, Grains' menu and servers informed me that, yes, the soft open was still in effect.
I don't know exactly what the soft open limit should be, but it's definitely under six months.
Those who remember Adams Avenue Grill will find the space has been stripped down, and refinished with plenty of bare wood surfaces (to show off the grains, see). Its comfortable and casual vibe pairs nicely with the craft beer list.
This being a veggie spot, there are assorted juices, teas, and other healthier soft drinks to be had. While a lot of vegetarian menus include a note offering to make dishes "vegan on request," Grains does it the other way around. For example, its meatless take on a Philly cheesesteak lets you know there's a "vegetarian option available." The big difference, of course, adding real cheese, instead of the vegan default.
I tried the "pulled pork" bánh mì, and stuck to the vegan substitute, since I've never had cheese on a bánh mì anyway. The melty texture of the soy-based cheese gave the sandwich some pleasing gooeyness that added to the meaty impression. More importantly, the baby jack fruit and tofu aping the pork was seasoned with a five-spice blend — holiday spices balancing out acrid Szechuan pepper — lending the faux pork an appropriate hint of sweetness, just savory enough and served on a grilled roll.
Maybe my vegan bar is set too low, and Grains' ownership has something truly special in mind for a grand official opening. But I'm taking mental note of a pleasant meat-free option in the uptown area, whether it's ready for me to or not.