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For 35 years, the owners of Grady's Pizza and Subs stayed tucked away in a strip center on 12th Street, a couple of blocks east of where Mississippi dead ends, serving up excellent pizza, subs and salads.
But Grady's shook things up a couple of weeks ago, opening a second location at 10901 Rodney Parham, on the Shackleford side of the Kmart parking lot that once housed Lone Star Steakhouse and, more recently, Ponchitos Mexican Grill.
Wisely, Grady's owners didn't stray from the formula that has been successful since 1981. The new Grady's only improves on the original: The new spot is larger, brighter and, while not fancy, it's a bit more upscale. This Grady's is more easily accessible to West Little Rockers. Rather than just beer and Sutter Home labels, there's a full bar and a nice selection of beers and wines. The menu is like the original with six pasta dishes added. At the 12th Street location your only option is to pick your pasta, sauce and meat for a mix-and-match dish.
Grady's skews toward St. Louis-style Italian, so in that spirit we started with the toasted ravioli ($4.75 for six). They were crisp and filled with gooey mozzarella. The homemade marinara was exceptionally fresh and tasty. We could have gone after it with a spoon.
Grady's makes its soups and chili daily, and we ordered both — a bowl of chicken noodle soup ($4.95) and a cup of chili that paired with half a homemade meatball sandwich for $7.95 as one of the "meal deals." The soup's broth was rich and filled with oodles of thin noodles and small shreds of chicken breast. It was hearty and tasty.
The chili was standard issue with chunky ground beef, plenty of beans and lots of tomato. It's nothing special, but we still finished it. The half sandwich included two plump meatballs — not overly herbed or spiced, but good — on a basic hoagie roll with that fabulous marinara. It would have benefitted from more mozzarella.
Grady's offers plenty of predetermined ingredient selections on its pizza, or you can build your own. And there are almost limitless choices when you factor in size (11-, 14- or 16-inch); crust (traditional, seven-grain whole wheat and gluten free [11-inch only; add $1.25]); sauce (homemade red sauce, alfredo, Mama Rosa, olive oil and garlic, salsa, sour cream or barbecue), and cheese (premium mozzarella or Steve's St. Louis blend of cheeses).
We went for a 14-inch All-American (ground beef, pepperoni, purple onion and fresh mushrooms) on traditional crust with the homemade red sauce and Steve's blend of cheeses. It was $16.95, and though the menu didn't mention it, we saw that we were charged an additional $1.50 for the Steve's cheese — a blend of mild cheddar, Swiss and provolone that is featured on Imo's pizzas in St. Louis. The blend is gooier and runnier than traditional mozzarella and somewhat resembles cheese dip. We liked it. The crust was crunchy around its edge and a bit thicker on the bottom.
The chicken pesto linguini ($10.95) featured about half a breast's worth of thin, very tender slices that had plenty of Italian herbs applied. The pasta was cooked just right, but wasn't dosed with much pesto at all. Instead it had a distinct black pepper punch. Fresh spinach and tomatoes provided additional flavor. It came with a decent house salad and garlic bread.
Grady's makes its two desserts fresh daily and serves them up at bargain-basement prices — $3 for a slice of lemon ice box pie and $3.25 for a slab of St. Louis gooey butter cake. (You can get a whole one for $12 and $15, respectively). The lemon pie incorporates whipped cream into the filling, which rides high on a graham cracker crust. The gooey butter cake is so sweet, so buttery, so good. We wish we had another slab right now.
When you walk into Grady's there's almost no room between the front doors and the hostess stand, and it must get really cramped when there's a crowd. Some of the decor is clearly left over from the steakhouse days, such as the corrugated tin on the short walls between tables. The neutral tan and green color scheme is punctuated with several framed posters and photos from Arkansas and St. Louis. There is a mixture of booths and tables and plenty of seats at the long bar.
Given that the original Grady's is still thriving after 35 years and the new spot only improves on that model, we see a bright future for this location.
Grady's Pizza and Subs
10901 N. Rodney Parham Road
One of the major upgrades at the new Grady's is the full bar and a particularly nice selection of wines. On-tap choices include J Winery Pinot Gris and Simi Cabernet Sauvignon, two outstanding Napa Valley choices served at a bargain price — $6.50 for the J and $6 for the Simi.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.