by Bethany Turner
Live on Grace
121 Grace Street
Price point: $$
After seeing a play in June at Browncoat Pub and Theatre, I walked past its neighbor, Live on Grace, for the first time at night. I’d viewed the storefront during daylight hours, but never had I seen the wall-length windows in the pitch black of Grace Street emitting a warm, yellow glow. Inside, Susan Savia crooned to guests crowded around the open, low-level stage, their chairs pulled close. Everyone—Savia, the audience and even the servers—shared in a wistful camaraderie apparent on their faces. If I could have caught the image in a still frame, it would be a perfect window display.
Last week, I had the pleasure of venturing inside Live on Grace during a different hour. As the sun shone brightly against downtown’s historic streets, the lunch bunch descended upon Chris Delavore’s seven-month-van old baby. Delavore opened the restaurant and music venue after undergoing a career change.
“I was laid off in September and decided that I wanted to follow a dream I always had: owning my own restaurant,” he explained. “After looking at different places for a few weeks, I found 121 Grace Street and knew I wanted to make live music a major part of the restaurant, and be a comfortable place [to get] great food.”
Though the tables aren’t aplenty in the space, it works for the venue’s intimate setting. Black walls are the backdrop for random surfer art hanging here and there, as glass-top tables tuck the venue’s schedule and flyers for diners to see. The bar spans the room, where people crowd its wooden structure for specialty drinks, like Live on Grace’s espresso martini. Made with Van Gogh vodka, Frangelico hazelnut liqueur and heavy whipped cream, it’s a concoction that could make anyone more pleasant in the morning, if only the rest of the world would get behind its indulgence rather than plain-Jane coffee. (A girl can dream, right?)
Live on Grace’s menu covers many palates, carnivores and vegetarians alike. The bunch sampled many of their specialties, including a taco salad, vegetarian quesadilla, pulled-pork barbecue sandwich, tender ribs and a juicy burger, cooked to medium perfection. Live on Grace also panders to pescatarians and seafood lovers, serving fried shrimp and flounder. Of course expected bar food also has its place here: wings (bone-in or out), chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks.
The taco salad appeared in a puffy, flaky, and crispy tortilla bowl, topped with thinly shredded cheeses, freshly made Angus chili, jalapeños, lettuce, tomato and sour cream. Although named the “Firehouse Taco Salad,” it tasted more sweet than spicy; however, the staff is so accommodating, they’ll bring over extra hot sauce for any firecracker to indulge. The salad also makes an appearance on the $5 lunch menu, something marked by items like homemade spinach ricotta pie or a loaded baked potato with a cup of chili, showing the restaurant’s willingness to turn bar food up a notch.
We indulged in another Mexican-inspired dish with a veggie-friendly quesadilla, filled with gooey cheddar cheese, earthy portobellos, green peppers and onions. A huge fan of mushrooms, it was nice to see them appear multiple times on the menu: within Philly steaks (as an accoutrement or the “star” ingredient), fried as an appetizer or even as a burger. Thus, Wilmington’s vegetarian community will find a friend here.
Meat-lovers also will relish in sated appetites, especially with the smokehouse bacon and Swiss burger. Served in a half-pound portion of Angus beef, the sandwich is topped with thick-cut bacon and a generous slice of Swiss. The chef cooked it a perfect medium, too, with dark edges gradually lightening to a tender, pink middle. It was burger heaven as the juices flowed throughout.
The barbecue sandwich was savory, thepork pulled from a slow-cooked Boston butt. In true ‘cue fashion, the sandwich included homemade shredded slaw on top of the meat, along with a tangy surprise I did not expect. Pickles added a welcoming dill crunch to the sandwich. The Kaiser roll served with the barbecue was soft and didn’t steal the show, as dense breads sometimes do. Who can enjoy a sandwich when the bun is so much bigger than the meat, or too crispy and dry, overpowering the other ingredients? Sandwich breads should be a tool for eating, like silverware, that complement a meal. Live on Grace understands this.
After dining out numerous times around town, we lunch bunchers have noticed a lack of ribs on many a menu. Live on Grace fills a void in the baby-back-rib world and will please bone-suckers time and again. Delavore receives the ribs fresh and roasts them for four hours until they literally fall from the bone. His BBQ sauce is a family recipe, piquant with savor yet not swimming in sweet brown sugar or honey. After one bite, a slight spice awakens the palate on the back end, but it’s really light, not bold. His recipe boasts an unobtrusive tang, allowing the focus to remain on the meat. It was by far our table’s favorite dish of the day.
Seemingly, Live on Grace understands sidekicks as well as main entrées. Their homemade russet chips are puffy and crunchy. They’re thick but not hard, topped off with the chef’s special seasoning. Served with a sweet chile aioli dip, I could have snacked on them for weeks if it weren’t for its heaviness. Shannon Rae Gentry, our current foodie intern, suggested a lighter version made with a yogurt base instead of mayo—“it could lighten it without losing much flavor.” Not a bad idea to try at home.
Live on Grace unexpectedly served us a plethora of sound eats. What we thought would be another run at run-of-the-mill bar food proved something different in the end. Not even fast food restaurants can beat their “five meals for $5 in under five minutes” lunches. (Unless one opts for the dollar menu, and let’s be real—why would anyone want to subject themselves to a sub-par chicken nugget when they can get a spinach ricotta pie?) Plus, the staff here go beyond typical service, extending their menu to any special request, as long as the ingredients are on hand.
Open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturdays and closed on Sundays, more information on the restaurant is available at www.liveongrace.com.
Additional writing by Shea Carver