1. Food

Restaurant review: GrillSmith's reimagined menu and refined look give it a more modern vibe

The bar area inside of Grillsmith located on 14303 N Dale Mabry Hwy in Tampa on Thursday, July 27, 2017.
Published Aug. 1, 2017

CARROLLWOOD — At its acme, GrillSmith had six outposts, now only four: Clearwater (the first location in 2004), Lakeland, New Tampa and Carrollwood. With a tagline "craft by fire," it has held its own among grill-centric contemporary American restaurants like Stonewood Grill, FlameStone Grill and bigger guns like Outback. The concept has just undergone a renovation, logo update and rebranding, a prime opportunity to see how GrillSmith is faring in this competitive sector of the market.

The answer, in a nutshell, is pretty well. There are some eye-rolly things that seem like holdovers from a decade ago. Why must dishes be "fire-grilled" — sometimes even "to perfection" — or "oven roasted"? How else might someone roast? But GrillSmith offers an appealing setting for mid-priced, familiar-but-fashionable dishes with a lot of attention to plate presentations and juxtapositions of color and texture.

The Carrollwood location has a rustic stone-and-wood exterior with a broad patio under an overhang. A central bar offers an inviting hub of activities, and the lighting is just dim enough to create a little mood without requiring anyone to resort to their flashlight app to parse the menu. It feels squarely family-friendly but upscale enough to welcome date-nighters as well. And the menu prices bear this out: only a couple of entrees above $20, plenty of options in the $11.99 range and a whole bunch of snacks and sharables under 10 bucks.

Review: Food and beer pair nicely at Brew Bus' Eatery

Review: Don Rigatoni has mix and match pastas perfect for takeout

While much of the menu has stayed the course, whoever is responsible for additions, subtractions and tinkers is paying attention to national preoccupations. Burgers ($12.99) arrive peeking out from a nice glossy brioche stabbed through with a bamboo skewer, set down on a sturdy wooden cutting board, fries nestled alongside in a mini metal fryer basket. It's a contemporary and fresh presentation with quality ingredients.

Those wooden cutting boards are employed for a number of the "handhelds" (read: sandwiches) as well as some crowd-pleasers like GrillSmith's version of Bang Bang shrimp, theirs dubbed a straightforward Spicy Thai Shrimp ($9.99 and $5.99 for a smaller version, a nice option). Someday I'll do a story on the dozens of names this dish goes by, but this version has some drama, the Sriracha-mayo-glossed fried shrimp set down on chopped iceberg with a frizzle of curlicued beet and a ramekin of sesame-soy dipping sauce.

While GrillSmith's wheelhouse seems to be straightforward grilled meat and fish dishes with everyday sides (slaw, fries, sauteed spinach, mashed potatoes), there is an attempt to push the envelope with a handful of Asian dishes — a sweet but pleasant pad Thai flatbread, $9.99, and a special-only cashew chicken, $14.99, that isn't going to have Yummy House or China Yuan quaking in their boots but was quite solid — and a section of the menu devoted to "fitness plates" ($11.99 to $16.99). A smaller-portion center-cut sirloin (5 ounces), lettuce-wrapped grilled chicken and a veggie plate anchored by roasted beets and farro are all laudable and competent efforts to get us to make better choices.

That said, I'm guessing many folks opt for the side of jalapeno mac with its gooey mantle of cheese, the textbook indulgence that is the mini blue cheese and bacon wedge salad (a good deal at $3.99 with an entree) or the $5 build-your-own martini happy hour special before finishing it all up with a bananas Foster sundae ($8.99), a dreamy sharable concoction in a waffle bowl, Captain Morgan spiced rum giving the whole thing a sophisticated boozy twist.

In short, GrillSmith has refined its look and adjusted its something-for-everyone approach to take into account current enthusiasms and fetish foods. While GrillSmith bartenders are called barsmiths, servers are just called smiths, something Morrissey might be tickled by. The Carrollwood location smiths are mostly young adults, but many of them have the kind of assurance and familiarity with the menu that signals longtime employment.

Fourteen years is a long run for a small regional chain. GrillSmith has renovated and reimagined elements in such a way that it's easy to hope for 14 more.

Contact Laura Reiley at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.


MORE: Restaurant news and reviews

COOKING: Recipes and tips to do it yourself

TOP 50: Affordable restaurants to try in 2017


  1. Yesterday• Arts & Entertainment
    The Barrel-Aged Ramble Tamble spends time resting in bourbon barrels from St. Petersburg’s Horse Soldier Bourbon. Photo courtesy of Geneva Johnson
    The Tampa brewery’s American wheatwine spends some time in bourbon barrels.
  2. Yesterday• Arts & Entertainment
    Roll-up shutters create an open-air format in a space evenly divided between indoor seating and a patio. Photo courtesy of Salt Public House
    The Indian Rocks Beach venue’s casual atmosphere belies its elevated food and drink. | Bar review
  3. Cheez Its. San Luis Obispo Tribune (2005)
    Some boxes of Cheese Nips are being recalled. Do people even like Cheese Nips?
  4. Diners at Yummy House in Tampa. Times (2018)
    Escape the traditional holiday menus at these Tampa Bay restaurants.
  5. Yesterday• Arts & Entertainment
     Justin Grant
    The Lakeland brewery delivers a lively, medium-bodied pale ale. | Local craft beer of the week
  6. Bar Chinchilla in downtown St. Petersburg offers eight beers on tap, a well-rounded selection of bottled beers, wines and canned cocktails. Justin Grant  |  tbt*
    The tiny downtown bar has more than 50 wines available by the glass and a thoughtful beer selection. | Bar review
  7. Try a holiday punch with prosecco. Courtesy of  ABC Fine Wine & Spirits
    Some tips for perfecting the boozy vibe.
  8. A Thanksgiving plate MICHELLE STARK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s a game plan for preparing the big meal.
  9. The Bookstore at the  Oxford Exchange during its First Friday event on 09/06/13. TIMES (2013)  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Plus other Instagram-worthy spots around Tampa Bay.
  10. Winter squash at Lucky's Market Lucky's Market
    Butternut, acorn, spaghetti can all bring big flavor to the holiday table.