Grille 86 (finally) opened yesterday with a preliminary menu, a full draft list and more than 800 guests.
The bar is clean and spacious with a large u-shaped bar, two side rooms with ample seating and 31 televisions for every sporting match being broadcast.
“Compared to Sports Bar, I think it’s going to be a place where people can come in on an average, any day and have a good time,” Mikael DaSilva, a freshman on the UConn men’s soccer team, said. “You know, Sports Bar is a place you can go on the weekends, but here you can enjoy it Monday through Friday. It’s local.”
The menu for opening day was small but covered all aspects of the food realm; appetizers included a home-made hummus platter ($9), chips and guacamole ($6), “86 nachos” ($8) with chicken or chili for $4 more, deviled eggs ($4) and various pairs of grilled skewers including teriyaki chicken, portabella mushrooms ($4) and short rib ($7).
General manager Michael Texera spoke confidently about the fresh and local foods incorporated into the new menu.
“We are interested in bringing back food to the area,” said Chaplin-native Texera. “To bring back some sort of honesty to food.”
The primer menu also has two salads, green ($7) and caesar ($8) with the option to add shrimp ($8), chicken ($5) or steak ($9).
Our server Sarah said she enjoyed the menu, trying each item before the opening.
“We try to locally source everything, which makes it taste better I think,” Sarah said.
There is one sandwich currently available, the “Crispy Chicken” ($12) which is soaked in a pickle brine and fried twice for extra crisp with tomato, pickles, coleslaw and sriracha mayo.
The Jordan burger ($14) has chili and onions on top, named after the affiliated Washington Redskins tight-end Jordan Reed, who is from New London, Connecticut.
The grill and burger are named after Reed and his jersey number 86, which alternatively means “out of” in the restaurant business.
Several items were “86’d” by the dinner rush, including burger buns, tortilla chips and bacon jam (yes it’s a thing).
The issue last night was storage space, since it is hard to plan for almost 1,000 guests served on an opening day in Storrs, according to Texera.
But he is assured the storage will be resolved and expanded in time.
Soon the restaurant will have a special 86 board with a new item to try with limited quantities, but once it runs out, the item will be “86’d.”
“Our goal is to be one of the top 50 restaurant bars on a college campus,” Texera said. “And I don't think that's unattainable.”
The menu also has bone-in wings and boneless tenders at $9 for 6 and $14 for a dozen, with flavors like XXX, Buffalo, Korean Fried Chicken, Bourbon BBQ, Coca-Cola and Sticky Thai to name a few.
Texera said a weekday happy hour would soon be available with half-priced starters, $3 glasses of wine and select draft beers and $4 specialty cocktails.
On a regular night, the 24 beers on draft are served in 16 ounce and 25 ounce glasses, with a variety including Dog Fish 120 Minute IPA, Abita Purple Haze fruit beer, Thomas Hooker #NoFilter session IPA, Blue Point Toasted Vienna lager, and Lawson’s Finest Sip of Sunshine double IPA.
In addition to happy hour, there will also be weekly Taco Tuesdays, acoustic performances on Thursdays and Sake Sundays with discounted sake cocktails and authentic rice bowls.
The dishes come from mastermind and head chef Willis Stepp, who previously worked for four years at Public Kitchen and Bar in Providence, Rhode Island.
“The plan is to have 25-26 things that are really good,” said Texera. “Not 40-50 average things. That’s too easy.”
Texera hopes the clientele will include families in addition to students and Mansfield residents.
The restaurant has not set official hours, but according to Texera, the tentative schedule will be staying open to 1 a.m. weeknights and possibly 2 a.m. on weekends with nightlife and occasional guest-DJs, starting around 11 p.m.
“There's plenty of people who actually want to come in and have a drink, and not feel blasted by the atmosphere,” Texera said.
The tables stayed filled until the kitchen closed, and even a few more customers came for drinks afterwards.
A small room to the back of the restaurant features a pool table and a punching-bag video game, for a more social and playful night out.
Above the TVs are exposed air ducts and steel beams. The walls below boast the occasional UConn jersey along with several wooden and neon beer signs.
The floors are still clean and smooth and the place still smells of fresh paint; it’s just waiting for UConn and the Mansfield community to come and see what Grille 86 has to offer.
Francesca Colturi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.