Monday, August 8, 2011

A brand-new life for 600 Ward Parkway

Posted By on Mon, Aug 8, 2011 at 2:11 PM

The once-popular Baja 600 patio is getting a serious facelift.
  • The once-popular Baja 600 patio is getting a serious face-lift.

Until the 1980s, there was a gas station at 600 Ward Parkway. It was torn down in the mid-'80s to build the domed structure that opened as the Parkway 600 restaurant in 1987. In the late 1990s, the building underwent renovations and reopened as the Pacific Rim-themed restaurant Japengo. In 2001, the restaurant was once again given a new concept as Baja 600. It finally closed — with a reputation for mediocre food and lousy service — a year ago.

The exterior walls and the dome are still standing at 600 Ward Parkway, but the building is undergoing a drastic renovation: The interior of the ground level has been completely gutted, and the once-popular outdoor patio has been ripped out in order to take the surface down 18 inches, according to managing partner Alan Gaylin. "The only thing we're keeping are the planter boxes," he says, "and we're sandblasting them out."

Gaylin says he and his business partners knew that it would take a major construction job to turn the domed building into the new restaurant they have planned for the space: Gram & Dun, a British-inspired gastropub that Bread & Butter Concepts (which opened the BRGR restaurant last year) hopes to have up and running by Thanksgiving.

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Gaylin admits that it might be wishful thinking to have the new venue open that early: just in time for the Country Club Plaza's busiest season. "We would hate to miss the holiday season," Gaylin says, "but if we're not ready, we won't open. We have a very strong philosophy about opening a restaurant before it's totally operational. But I have confidence that we've put together such a great team that we will be ready."

Gaylin says he's heard all the comments from naysayers about this new restaurant: that he's taking on too many projects at once (Bread & Butter's Urban Table opened only last week) and that the Plaza doesn't need more pub food (O'Dowd's Little Dublin is just around the corner, and the Granfalloon is right next door). But he's more confident than ever that he's on the right track. "The executives at the Plaza came to us in February," says Gaylin, who operates Bread & Butter Concepts with Houston-based businessman Glynn Roberts.

"They had seen our conceptual package for Urban Table," Gaylin says, "and they liked what we were doing. We felt there was a niche on the Plaza that was not being targeted. Most of the corporate restaurants on the Plaza skew to a younger demographic. We saw a need for a locally owned venue that would appeal to patrons between the ages of 35 and 65 looking for a culinary-driven restaurant that served cool comfort food."

Gram & Dun, Gaylin says, will serve one menu for both lunch and dinner — and, unlike Urban Table, it will be a full-service restaurant for both meals — offering soups, salads, starters, sandwiches, pasta dishes and steaks. "We feel that 75 percent of the items planned for the Gram & Dun menu are not currently being served by any other venue on the Plaza," he says. "The menu isn't set in stone yet, but we're considering wild-boar sloppy joes and beef bourguinonne with a twist."

Gaylin is developing the new menu with chef Brad Gilmore, who is currently overseeing the kitchen at Urban Table. Gilmore will become the executive chef at Gram & Dun after it opens, Gaylin says, and Daniel White — formerly the executive chef at Trezo Vino — will take over the kitchen at Urban Table.

The dining rooms at Gram & Dun, Gaylin says, will feature rich colors, wood floors and leather-upholstered banquettes: "It will be comfortable and clubby, but cool and hip as well. It will feel upscale — and no, there won't be tablecloths on the tables — without being stuffy or formal."

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