The former Flying Saucer in Arlington’s Lincoln Square is now the space that Olenjack’s Grille calls home. Little has changed on the interior with dark wood tones, burgundy carpeting and a soothing linen-colored plaster on most walls. There is a bar area and mixed seating with a combination of booths, banquettes and tables. But the casual dining atmosphere does not really prepare you for the outstanding food that you are about to experience. There seems to be a slight disconnect on that point. It would make more sense to turn off the televisions, turn up the music and dim the lights a little to match the menu.
As I describe the meal, you will understand what I mean. For starters, our table shared the Tequila Brown Sugar Shrimp ($12). The plump and tender grilled shrimp with their tangy glaze of tequila, brown sugar and lime juice were attractive. But, the bed of fresh roasted corn and jicama left us scraping the dish for more.
Likewise, a creative appetizer of Ancho Pulled Pork ($10) was served atop cumin-scented potato chips. The slow roasted pork was garnished with avocado mousse and crème fraiche, green onions and tomatoes. This nacho-inspired treat was unexpected. And, a simple Chop Salad ($6) was a nice start with iceberg, bacon, cucumbers, tomato, radishes and more of the wonderful roasted corn. You see, this is not your standard pub-grub.
Entrees range from home-style classics to Creole and beyond. The Chicken Fried Steak ($14) is a top seller for good reason. The hand-breaded beef cutlet is aged for 21 days and is fork-tender. It is a giant portion, served with mashed potatoes, impressive roasted cream corn and black pepper cream gravy draped over the top. No complaints at our table, and nothing was left for a doggie bag.
One of Olenjack’s specialties, the Shrimp & Grits ($19), was amazing. A friend of mine commented, “What a surprise that something so simple can be so darn good.” Of course they are not your standard shrimp and grits, but an update on the classic dish with sweet shrimp, salty bacon, spicy andouille sausage, bitter mustard greens and tangy goat cheese grits. It’s like a party in your mouth.
The Pan Seared Scallops ($28) had a lovely stacked presentation. Four large scallops were topped with caramelized sweet onion and bacon relish, and a garnish of tender micro greens. But the bed of creamy grilled corn polenta was the highlight of the evening. After encouraging everyone at the table to take a bite, I regretted my generosity...when random forks began making unwelcome second visits. I felt like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, wanting to protect “My Precious” polenta.
Splitting a Crème Brûlée Trio ($8) among six of us was all we could possibly stomach for dessert. Three nicely sized ramekins appeared in interesting flavors. A simple cinnamon, a thick sweet potato, and the hands-down winner, a butterscotch bourbon.
There is no doubt that Brian Olenjack is one of the best chefs in the area, and Arlington is lucky to have him.