Key West kick

The Village Grill remains a local favorite after 25 years

by Danielle Jackson

 

In July 1985, Randy Cox’s dream of opening his own restaurant came true. After eight years in food service and seven as manager of The Cutting Board Restaurant in Burlington, Cox was eager to have a place he could call his own. When property owners approached him with an opportunity to open his own place on Huffman Mill Road, he jumped at the chance.

 

Twenty-five years — and two additional restaurants — later, Cox’s creation, The Village Grill, still stands as one of Alamance County’s most popular eateries.

 

The restaurant — best described as an American grill with a Key West feel — is known for its signature Key West Chicken and fresh seafood specialties.

 

“The folks at The Cutting Board had been very good to me, and I didn’t want to be in direct competition with them as another steakhouse,” Cox says of his decision to focus on white-meat entrees.

 

A focus on fresh

Cox and his business partner, Wayne Bunting, say their focus on fresh, locally grown foods is a primary reason for The Village Grill’s success over the years. There’s no such thing as a bagged salad or frozen seafood at the restaurant, and all dressings and desserts — including its signature key lime pie, chocolate pie and strawberry shortcake — are created on the premises.

 

The Village Grill also serves North Carolina-raised poultry, locally made beer from nearby Red Oak Brewery, wines from Iron Gate Vineyards & Winery in Mebane and Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, and fresh local produce whenever possible. A new fresh seafood item is featured every week, from mahi and ahi tuna to crab cakes and grilled Atlantic salmon.

 

But the restaurant’s Key West Chicken remains a fan favorite. There’s an entire section of the menu dedicated to the specialty, which is marinated and tenderized on site. The marinade, which has a citrus and lime juice base, includes a specialized mix of brown sugar, red wine vinegar, and mustard, among other ingredients.

 

“We put a lot of time and energy into it,” Bunting says of the marinade.

 

The eatery’s décor — designed as an island theme with help from local artist John Wade — ties into its Key West theme. The Village Grill includes an open, airy dining room that seats up to 150 people and a bar in the back.

 

“We’re a restaurant in the bar business, not a bar in the restaurant business,” Bunting notes.

 

Cox and Bunting — who met while working for Biscuitville and also own the Blue Ribbon Diners in Burlington and Mebane — often can be seen around the restaurant, clearing tables after a busy lunch. It’s this focus on customer service that they also say keeps patrons coming back.

 

“Offering good service and good food have always been key elements in the success of The Village Grill,” Cox says.

 

Danielle Jackson is editor of Triad Living, Wake Living and Fifteen501 magazines.

 


Shrimp and Grits

(serves six to eight; recipe by Wesley Cook)

 

For the Stone-Ground Cheese Grits:

1/3-cup or about 1/2 of a red bell pepper, diced

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/2-cup onion, thinly diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 quarts or 6 cups chicken or shrimp stock

2 cups water

2 cups stone-ground grits

1/4-teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2-teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups sharp cheddar, shredded

1/4-cup Parmesan, shredded

2 ounces butter

1/2-cup heavy cream

 

Rub the red bell pepper with some vegetable oil. Roast at 425 degrees or under a broiler until skin turns black, constantly turning it over to cook evenly. Place pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to help loosen the skin. Remove blackened skin and core, then dice and set aside.

 

Place a teaspoon of oil and diced onion in a saucepan and sauté on medium-high until softened and golden. Add garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Add roasted red pepper, stock and water, and bring mixture to a boil. Add grits and stir vigorously with a whisk. Let the mixture come back to a boil, then let simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. While grits are cooking, prepare the shrimp (see below).

 

After grits are cooked, remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Cover with foil and set aside.

 

For the Shrimp:

36 to 40 shrimp, peeled and deveined, with tails on

2 tablespoons blackening spice or Creole seasoning

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large tomato, diced

1/2-pound Andouille or another spicy sausage, diced

1/3-bottle white wine

 

In a bowl, toss shrimp with spices. Heat a large sauté pan on medium-high with oil, then add sausage and tomato and cook until sausage starts to turn a darker brown. Add shrimp to pan and cook on one side. Turn shrimp over and deglaze pan with enough white wine to cover the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until wine has mostly evaporated and shrimp are opaque. Remove from heat.

 

To serve, scoop grits into large bowls or plates and place about six shrimp on top of each. Pour tomatoes, sausage and wine over top.

 


If you go

The Village Grill is located at 580 Huffman Mill Road, across from Holly Hill Mall in Burlington. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. To learn more, call (336) 584-1497 or visit www.bestfoodintown.com.