Palm trees may not be the first things that come to mind when thinking of Burlington’s Huffman Mill Road, but they’re the first things diners see as they approach The Village Grill.
From the outside, the restaurant — with its teal, peach and seafoam roof and a sign that looks as if it was made using clip art — seems like it would be more appropriate in a beach town or vacation destination. The tropical trees out front certainly don’t match the law firm, the nail salon or any of the other shops in the neighboring Huffman Mill Village strip mall.
But The Village Grill is a Burlington institution, and its light, tropical-esque fare has earned it a spot on the Burlington dining scene.
Established in 1985, The Village Grill has been around long enough for it to gain a loyal following from area residents and Elon University faculty and staff. Elon students don’t visit the restaurant very often, though, according to co-founder Wayne Bunting.
“We see more of them when mom and dad are in town with them,” Bunting said.
The Village Grill is just down the road from Panera Bread and Starbucks, spots Elon students visit regularly. Its unmistakable sign is even visible from the ever-popular Cook Out. But financial factors, not distance or lack of recognition, may be keeping students from the Grill.
With a focus on seafood and poultry, the restaurant may come off as too expensive or formal for the typical college-student dinner. But slightly steeper prices shouldn’t stop true seafood enthusiasts from getting their fishy food fix. While signature dishes such as the “Crab & Shrimp Cakes” or the “Lime Cilantro Salmon” come in at about $18 a plate, the Grill also offers less-pricey dishes like the “Cheeseburger from Paradise.”
Before The Village Grill, Bunting and his co-founder Randy Cox first worked together at The Cutting Board, another Burlington eatery.
The Cutting Board’s menu is centered around red meat, primarily steaks and burgers. When Bunting and Cox started The Village Grill, they took another focus. They made the Village Grill white-meat centric, with the majority of menu items consisting of variations of grilled chicken and fish.
“We wanted to present a healthier side in the interest of the consumers,” Cox said.
The Village Grill isn’t Bunting and Cox’s only collaboration. They also opened Blue Ribbon Diners in Burlington and Mebane in 1990 and 2006, respectively.
The menu at The Grill contains steak dishes now, but when it was founded the focus was on lighter fare. Even today, the most popular item on the menu is the signature “Key West Chicken.”
The restaurant serves the chicken in several different dishes, though the most popular are the “Grilled Chicken Pasta” and the “Key West Chicken Salad.” The Grill’s “Key West Chicken” is marinated in a sweet marinade made with key limes, among other ingredients, that sets it apart from the average grilled chicken.
“We’ve gone through a couple remodelings, but our menu is still focused on Key West Grilled Chicken,” Bunting said. “We’re still doing the same things we did 30 years ago.”
The Grill’s most popular seafood dish is its “Lime Cilantro Salmon,” which is grilled with a soy-lime baste and topped with lime-cilantro butter. All seafood dishes are also served with a choice of house or Caesar salad.
“We do all salad preparation in-house,” Bunting said. “Everything is fresh.”
All the seafood The Village Grill serves is also fresh. In addition to salmon, the menu features tuna, shrimp and tilapia, with other seafood dishes — including mahi mahi — as occasional specials. The menu is seasonal, Bunting said, to ensure all ingredients are fresh.
For diners 21 and over, The Village Grill boasts an extensive wine, beer and drink menu. Regardless of age, The Village Grill has a plate to fit every palate.