By Jim Ayres
Remember Miami Subs? In its 1990s heyday, its South Beach-inspired pastels and pink and blue neon lights and interiors were seemingly everywhere. Miami Subs did, indeed, serve submarine sandwiches, but also cheesesteaks, burgers, chicken, wraps, and salads.
But after a disastrous merger with Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips in 1998, Miami Subs’ quality went to hell (I experienced it firsthand) and the cult-ish restaurant scaled back as fast as it had expanded.
Today the renamed Miami Grill has just a handful of locations in Florida. However, the original Miami Subs concept lives on in Houston as Island Grill. The loud tropical décor has been muted to Mediterranean blue and beige, with nautical hints in the light fixtures and decorative mirrors.
In each of five area locations, you’ll find a menu as diverse as the old favorite, with breakfast added to boot. My visits to the West University location in Rice Village have been quite good.
Hummus & Pita, that old standby appetizer, isn’t wildly seasoned but a dash of lemon juice and a splash of hot sauce gives the dip the kick it needs. The pita bread is deliciously warm and chewy. You can’t go to Island Grill without having some.
An Athens Greek Pizza is similarly unassuming but oh so good. Made with genuine 00 grade flour, the pizza comes in 7- or 12-inch sizes and is topped with mozzarella, gyro meat, red onions and feta. Flash cooked in a striking brick oven, the pie is crispy yet toothsome, and the simple flavors shine.
Another time I tried the Island Greek Salad. Now, after a Wedge Salad, the one I seek most on a menu is a Greek Salad and this one did not disappoint. Over romaine lettuce you get sautéed broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, feta, tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, red onion, and Kalamata olives. Balsamic vinegar and EVOO come generously on the side. I could eat this salad every day!
The Chicken Kabob Plate is a deeply savory counterpoint to the zesty salad. You’ll find breast chunks nicely seasoned with paprika and turmeric, accompanied by sautéed onions, tomato and grilled pita. Choose two of four available sides: brown rice, Greek salad, fries or hummus.
Island Grill’s portions are considerable, so you won’t go hungry here! Items I’m waiting to try include Falafel Balls, one of their burgers, maybe a Salmon or Pastrami Pita, Chicken Piccata and, of course, breakfast.
Morning offerings include omelets, pancakes, tacos and, naturally, breakfast pitas.
Let’s switch to restaurant technology for a final thought. Have you ever had a robot server? I have! On a visit to Spanish Flowers’ new location on Durham, a wheeled robot with a cute cat face brought us our check and took our credit cards.
That’s all it does for now, but it has the future capacity to take your order (via a touch screen) and bring your food (grab it from her yourself). And just wait until you hear what she says if you take too long! I’m anxious to see if this becomes a trend.