In what he calls his “past life,” Nick Yebba built a car rental empire, starting with 54 vehicles and expanding to more than 600,000 over 25 years. Seven years ago, the East Boston native teamed up with his son Nick Jr. to open Teresa’s Italian Eatery in Middleton. In October, they started building a new family empire, Teresa’s Grille 19 in North Reading, followed a month later by its upstairs neighbor, the upscale steakhouse Teresa’s Prime.
Each Teresa’s serves a different audience, but Grille 19 has the broadest appeal. It’s a dim cavern with a massive, uber-hip bar that seats 42 and comfortable, family-friendly booths and tables that fit about another 100.
Set on the site of the former Thomson Country Club, its giant parking lot and bright sign beckon drivers from Route 62. Yebba bought only the club, not the golf course on the 30-acre property. Like the other Teresa’s locations, Grille 19 takes its name from Yebba’s first wife and Nick Jr.’s mother, who died at 45. The “19” refers to the clubhouse or nearby bar, the slang term “19th hole,” at which golfers gather after playing 18 holes.
Yebba is a nightly presence at the restaurant, shaking hands and checking on customers. And while Grille 19 is often packed, Nick Jr., who oversees all three restaurant kitchens, is still refining the menu.
The website menu doesn’t come close to matching what’s available at the restaurant. Beer can chicken, for instance, listed on the site, was disappointingly not available at the Grille. “We waited to see what people really liked and the original menu, about 50 to 60 percent of the people really enjoyed,” Yebba says. “We’ll keep tweaking.”
What Grille 19 does offer is a little bit of everything, some on the sister restaurant menus, like pizzas from Teresa’s Italian Eatery and steak frites ($19), a variation of Teresa’s Prime, along with an extensive cocktail, beer, and wine menu.
The thin crust, Neapolitan-style pizzas overflow the 15-inch trays; nothing skimpy about these toppings. Abbruzzi ($18) with sausages, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, mozzarella, ricotta, and red sauce is flavorful and the crust is just right. Chicken portobello ($17) with tomatoes, pesto, mozzarella, red sauce, chunks of chicken, and mushrooms is too heavy on pesto and too light on mushrooms and chicken. It leaves a substantial pool of oil beneath the pie. Last week, Grille 19 added the option of personal-sized pizzas ($8).
Other comfort foods like a veggie panini ($8) with roasted vegetables and a Plain Jane Buffalo chicken sandwich ($9) hit their mark. The panino isn’t a bit greasy, and the grilled chicken is cooked perfectly. The sandwich is paired with unusual, loose, corkscrew fries that are excellent. Both are served with good breads from La Marca & Sons in Malden, though Yebba is building his own bakery, which he says should be completed by late February.
The entrees appear to be the most in flux. On two visits, three dishes are priced differently, made with different ingredients. Pork scaloppine ($14) is crispy like a schnitzel but not memorable, even with a sweet homemade applesauce. Baked stuffed haddock ($15), and grilled salmon ($15) are merely average. Neither fish is particularly flaky or moist, though Yebba says beer-battered fish and chips ($15), with the same haddock, is impossible to “keep on the shelf.”
Appetizers and salads are extensive, and generally very good. Nachos with chicken ($11), layers of black beans, jalapenos, pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole, and a blend of melted cheeses, is quite large and filling. Calamari ($10) leans a bit too heavily on Grand Marnier sauce and doesn’t let the seafood shine. Roasted beet salad ($9) with fried green tomatoes, field greens, crumbled goat cheese, and a drizzle of balsamic is well made, with sweet beets and crisp tomatoes.
Grille 19 may still be figuring out its formula, but with a vibe that welcomes families, a bar crowd, and customers in fancier attire upstairs stopping in for a drink, it’s reaching out to everyone and bound to nail it.