Grill 454: A Mini-Review of the New Upscale Steakhouse

Grill 454 offers a Great Neck-worthy steakhouse in our neck of the Island. But are Commack residents ready to empty their wallets?

The wife and I miraculously found ourselves by ourselves on the final afternoon of the long holiday break. We dumped our kids on my parents so we'd have the leisure to browse undisturbed the deep-discount Christmas junk at Target, a selection of knickknacks we'd likely misplace before the opening of the 2012 holiday season.

But we were both quite famished, the Mrs. and I, and instead of hitting up the usual fast-food or "casual dining" joints, we decided to sample the latest restaurant to open in our quaint hometown, the literally named Grill 454, which is a catchier name than, say, Grill Veterans Memorial Highway.

I wasn't sure what to expect, considering that the venue previously housed Charlie Brown's, a family-friendly steakhouse and sports bar that disappointingly lacked references to Snoopy or The Coasters, as well as Golden Corral, which served what could be defined as "food" only if your definition was as broad as "something you can ingest that might not kill you."

We hadn't read the from a couple of weeks ago that described the restaurant, so we had no idea what to expect. We had passed the place on New Year’s Eve evening, and the parking lot was full. That didn't influence my assumptions of the restaurant's quality, however, because in Commack you can open an establishment that serves day-old bologna-and-muenster sandwiches and for the first month it will attract crowds that make passers-by assume it was the site of free tickets to a concert featuring Justin Bieber, Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney, and zombie Frank Sinatra.

We entered Grill 454 at 2 p.m., when there was a moderate lunch crowd (probably because most people had off on Jan. 2). We were led to our booth by a cheerful hostess, and I noticed that the restaurant looked very much like the old Charlie Brown's, but it was as if Charlie's cousin, an urbane interior designer (we’ll call her Sally), gave the place a slight makeover. (A few Charlie Brown's tchotchkes remain, like the old-timey photo in the men's room of guys practicing golf putts outside a dry cleaner while waiting for their pants to be pressed.)

We didn’t receive menus when we were seated, and I became agitated when a party of six received their menus. Moments after that, a waiter rushed over with menus for us, possibly because he overheard me mutter to my wife, "DID YOU SEE THAT THEY GOT THEIR MENUS ALREADY???"

Upon reading the menu, I soon understood what kind of restaurant I was in. Gone was the Charlie Brown's menu with laminated pages and color photos and random inserts promoting deep-fried jalapeno poppers and the salad bar. Hello, classy leather-clad menu with all-caps serious-serif text. The ribeye steak was described bluntly as RIBEYE STEAK — no need to tell you that it's USDA corn-fed Midwestern whatever. Don't know what COLORADO LOLIPOP [sic] LAMB CHOPS are? Well, the menu isn't gonna tell you what they are, so when you ask your server, try not to sound like a rube from the suburbs.

And be prepared to shell out 32 bucks for the privilege of licking those lollipops. There ain't no $9.99 "steak" with fake grill marks, paired with a fist-sized potato here, my friend. Like most "real" steakhouses – meaning the kind I dream about dining at every week but can only afford to patronize when I go to a bachelor party or win the lottery – the signature menu item is the porterhouse, and for 42 dollars a person, you might think you were in Midtown or Brooklyn.

The wife and I had no desire to drop 84 bucks on lunch, not counting sides ($8 each) and other et ceteras, so we did what we usually did when we went to a place a bit out of our price range: we ordered a burger.

More specifically, we ordered a burger ($13) with cheese ($1 extra) and a filet mignon steak sandwich ($18), and ate half of each. I'm always on the lookout for a good burger, and I judge a steakhouse more by its burgers than by its, well, lollipop lamb chops.

The service was still in its "we're trying to get our act together" stage. Two different waiters seemed to be assigned to our table. One took our order, but then another one dropped by to ask if we were ready to order. This wasn't really a problem at all; I'd rather deal with seven waiters than be ignored.

The food didn't take too long to arrive; that is, it never got to the point where I was muttering "WHERE THE HELL IS OUR FOOD?"

And how was the food? I'll note that I'm not a qualified restaurant reviewer, so I won't use critic-slang like "succulent" or raid the thesaurus for synonyms for "delicious" or "rancid," but I'll tell you this:

That was one hell of a burger.

There are a few individual things that can go wrong with a burger — tasteless meat, inaccurate cooking, inappropriate bun — that ruin the whole experience, and YES THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A BURGER EXPERIENCE AND IF YOU NEVER EXPERIENCED IT THEN YOU HAVE NOT LIVED. In the case of the 454 Grill burger, all the elements came together (the lettuce-tomato-red onion combo on the side wasn't perfect, but I'll give that a pass), including the fries (no charge for the fries, by the way).

The steak sandwich was also very good, and it's a cheaper way to sample the filet mignon. I was worried at first when I saw the steak sliced very thick, because that usually means you'll take a bite and yank out the whole piece from the roll like you're in a bobbing-for-meat contest, but the filet was too tender for that to happen.

My only (very) minor quibble: the bottle of Heinz we received was half empty. I haven't done a ton of research on the ketchup front, but those stubby grenade-sized jars are usually refilled (or are they new every time?) between seatings.

My Grill 454 experience was very limited, yes, but would I return? I'd definitely head back on a Saturday night with the wife (if I can convince my mom to put the kids to bed), slice through the teeming crowds, and squeeze up to the bar in order to have that burger again. I’d probably consider it for special occasions, like an anniversary (Mom? I need you to babysit again!) or if someone else is willing to pay for my meal (leave a message in the comment box if you're interested).

Knowing next to nothing about the economics of owning a restaurant, however, I'm wondering how well Grill 454 will fare. Commack’s dining experiences are mostly pizza, fast food, "ethnic" (Greek/Chinese/Italian/etc.), RubyChilisOutbackApplebees, and whatever they offer for room service at the Commack Motor Inn. The last interesting restaurant we had (as far as how I define a place as "interesting") was , and that place was replaced with…yet another Italian restaurant. (Not trying to put down , but I think you get the point.)

On one hand, Grill 454 is really the closet thing that resembles a real steakhouse ( calls itself a steakhouse, and serves steaks, but it is not a steakhouse) in our neck of the woods, but can such an upscale place (with upscale prices) pull in enough customers week in and week out at such a large venue? Maybe a place like Majors, the cheaper kid brother of Bryant & Cooper, might be a better idea.

If they start to run into trouble pushing that $42 porterhouse, they can always turn it into Burger Grill 454. Assuming there are more people like myself who'll shell out 13 bucks for a great burger.

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David January 05, 2012 at 01:21 PM
I have been to a number of fine steakhouses on both Long Island and in NYC and frankly, this falls far short of any steakhouse standard except for price... its right up there w price..
Carol January 05, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Too rich for my blood...$13 burgers. This is not a restaurant we will try.
Kathie January 05, 2012 at 01:56 PM
This was a great review and seemed to go along with the impression one of my family members had when they went during Christmas week. They opted for just appetizers because it was a bit pricier than they had expected. Not sure if they will return. I might go for a special occasion. We frequented Charlie Browns and were disappointed when that closed. We are a family of 6, so Grill 454 may be too pricy for the family celebration. Thanks for the info.
Anthony Zumpano January 05, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I totally understand that not everyone is going to want to shell out $13 for a burger, which is double what you'd pay for an excellent burger at Bobby's Burger Palace or even Five Guys, which will be in town very soon. But on a night that I want to go someplace "special," if I end up blowing 13 bucks on a meal I enjoy, it's OK that it's a burger. After all, I'd spend much more than that on crap they serve across the street at Applebee's, most of which is barely edible.
Anthony Zumpano January 05, 2012 at 02:06 PM
I was very wary when I saw that menu, especially when I saw entrees breaking the $35 mark. I've been to a couple of other steakhouses on Long Island, and have sampled Luger, the Palm, Sparks, and Smith & Wollensky. I would go to Bryant & Cooper every week if I could afford it, but Blackstone was extremely disappointing (and NYC-expensive).
Anthony Zumpano January 05, 2012 at 02:09 PM
I think people are going to be very disappointed and/or sticker-shocked when they walk in, mainly because "Grill 454" isn't a recognizable name and sounds like a mid-priced place. If they named it after a chain (The Palm: Commack) or do the old "make it sound like a law firm" (Bryant & Cooper, et al.) you'd probably be better prepared. Add the fact that it's in a space that used to house cheaper places, and there will be a lot of raised eyebrows from customers.
Carol January 05, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Funny you mentioned Maneros in Syosset...that's where we go to get our steaks, too. Expensive, yes, but definitely worth the cost.
Donna DeBello Reisinger January 07, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Let me begin by stating I am a bit of a foodie and tell the waitor upfront before I order that I am very particular. My waitor was up for the chaIlenge. I tried the Filet Mignon steak sandwich @ $18 last night, which he recommended, and had to send it back. The plate was 60% french fries, 20% roll, 10% filet mignon, 10% lettuce/tomato/dried up red onion. The meat was raw and cold. My waitor was attentive and immediately blamed the kitchen and returned with another plate. Same thing second time around, but I will say the Filet was cooked but still on the cool side. I guess I like my meat hot off the grill! My dining companion had a pulled pork sandwhich which was ok...nothing to wow us about. We did not expect to be eating sandwiches for dinner, but when we saw the menu (a la carte) prices, we were fortunate we were sitting on the bar side. This is the only part of the restaurant that has the "grill menu", where sandwiches and bar fare are served. Keep that in mind if you plan to visit. In this economy, I don't know how many people will patron a high priced restaurant with average quality. I would pay more for high quality, but the menu prices here are unrealistic. I sadly predict that the place won't survive, unless they revamp the menu or turn it into a gourmet burger restaurant, like Anthony suggests. It is a wonderful location...let's hope they read the local blogs.
melissa January 10, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Visited this restaurant on Saturday, January 7th. Decor is OK, but still has a lot of the same flair that once was Charlie Browns. Just the decor alone, makes it tough to take this place seriously to begin with. If you are going to do it, do it right! Services is poor. Wait staff is nervous, hurried and they seem to scatter around like mice. Took about 10 minutes to get menus, then another 15 to place order. Waitress didn't ask us for our drink orders, we had to flag her down for that. Waitress seem unsure of menus when reciting specials and was more interested in taking the order quickly rather than correctly. Ordered salad and chicken marsala, husband ordered salad and steak with a side of spinach. Salads were fine, chicken was nothing special. Husbands spinach tasted funny and his steak had a lot of char on it. I think we have made better meals on our grill at home. A table next to us had burgers. That wasn't an option on our menu - WHY NOT? In conclusion, I would not return nor recommend. Bill totaled $120, which is astronomical for the decor, service, and quality of food. This place better get it right and quickly, or they will go down the tubes just like previously establishments in that location. I would rather go to Friendly's!! Their steaks are better...NO JOKE
melissa January 10, 2012 at 05:45 PM
They didn't even offer burgers on their dinner menu when I was there, however a table next to us was able to order them. Strange...
Anthony Zumpano January 11, 2012 at 04:53 PM
"Nervous" would be an accurate way to describe the waitstaff when I was there.
Anthony Zumpano January 11, 2012 at 04:53 PM
I think you'd get a better idea of the philosophy over there in James Berstein's Newsday column from last week (http://www.newsday.com/business/two-upscale-steakhouses-open-on-li-1.3434221?p=) in which Bernstein quotes owner Lenny Passarelli: " 'I'll be honest,' said Passarelli. 'It's not easy' opening in a tough economy, even if, as Passarelli said, Grill 454 is 'moderately priced.' " MODERATELY priced? For where -- Roslyn? East Hampton? Midtown?
SpecialOne January 11, 2012 at 06:25 PM
I agree... Everyone is complaining about the prices, but insignia, pace, luger, blackstone all have a 10-20% bump in prices. The Porter at Grill 454 is 42 per person, I believe its like 60 something at insignia. 454 is one of the cheapest upscale steakhouse. "Moderate Pricing" is a fair way to put it.
KPLifer January 11, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Insignia has a much better atmosphere and an ability to attract "pretty" people. The Scotto's have a large following and have created a "destination"
KPLifer January 11, 2012 at 07:09 PM
The prices are about the same as Pace's. Restaurant need to excel at service and food quality to survive.
Anthony Zumpano January 13, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Good points...I haven't been to Insignia yet and I've only been to Luger for the lunch burger (yes, I love burgers), so I guess "moderate" meaning "moderate for high-end steakhouses" is accurate.
foodfan January 15, 2012 at 07:53 PM
My Husband and I tried our Grill 454 with the kids. The service was horrible. I mean really bad. They gave me the "kids menu" written with pencil on a dirty piece of paper. There seemed to be a lot of people doing nothing. After seeing another table ask for bread, we asked and about 15 minutes later got some. It took about 20 minutes for someone to take our order and 27 minutes (yes we counted) to get our table cleared and get our check. NOW THE FOOD.... I have to say, the food was very good. They could not cook a burger at the correct temperature to save their lives. No one seemed to understand the difference between med-rare and hockey-puck well. Finally, my kids got their burgers (3rd try) medium. Even at medium, which is over cooked for them, they are soft and delicious. The fries were excellent. The filet was perfectly cooked and delicious. The prices were pretty reasonable but it still looks like Charlie Browns to me. Some new fabric on the booths does not make that much of a difference. Today, customer service is so important. Although the food was very good, I would not return because the service was that bad. If you want a much better dining experience, try Insignia Steakhouse in Smithtown.... They have gotten it right there!!!!!
Jim Tampellini March 27, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Grill 454 is a so-so wanna be steakhouse. It's not "upscale" (food wise) or even in the league of Luger's or Blackstone's etc.. so don't even try to compare them. I have not been to Insignia, but have heard rave reviews. The reason why people don't see the burger on the menu is because there are actually 2 menu's one for the Grill side (to the left) and one for the Bar side (to the right).. They give you the menu based on what side you want to sit..It's a mystery why they did it that way..there's no apparent reason for making it so confusing. If I'm gonna drop $42 bucks for a porterhouse it will be at a welle stablsihed steakhouse..not one trying to break into the big legaues. I ate there with my wife last month and we had burgers, which were ok but nothing special. I think the burger from Jackson's are actually better. I doubt the place will last very long..the quality of the food does not justify the high prices.
Anthony Zumpano March 28, 2012 at 06:13 PM
We have friends who went there recently and (this is secondhand, so take it at that) it sounds like some of the problems remain, particularly the slow, erratic service. I still wonder how profitable this place is going to be.
Pat Turk April 28, 2012 at 04:52 AM
I live in Commack, so when we decided to take my son out for his 16th birthday I thought that Grill 454 would be a good choice.....WOW WAS I WRONG! To start our waitress informed us from the get go that she had a full dining room and that she was overwhelmed! UH OH Not Good! Ok then the wine... We tried to order two wines that were offered and of course they were out...not good! We eventually decided on something that they actually had available! Then the appetizers came and I ordered mussels in white sauce & it came in red sauce... The ceaser salad was only mediocre. Then the main course was served, mind you we haven't seen our waitress since we placed our order & my son is STILL waiting for his soda! The main course was a disaster! My salmon was VERY SALTY, and so was was our other dinner guests hanger steak. My husbands rib eye was cold and dry and hard as a rock! He never even ate it! We still could not find our waitress so we stopped another waitress to tell her we were unhappy with my Husband's steak. She sent over the manager who never bothered to introduce himself and wanted to know what our concerns were. He seemed unconcerned and rightfully removed my husbands dish from our check. Our waitress finally showed up because we requested our check so we could get out of there. She had NO CLUE that we had any issues with our food, or that we even had spoken to the manager!!! Wow what a poorly run establishment. Sooo disappointed!
Carol April 28, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Pat, thanks for this review. The early reviews made me wonder if this place would make it...now I wonder just how much longer it will last. I know we have no intention of going there - ever. Interesting though, that when you were there the DR was full! We shop at King Kullen in that shopping center...doesn't look like they ever have much of a lunch crowd from the number of cars parked in front.
Cathy November 10, 2012 at 10:52 PM
I just ate there last night with a small group. What a dissappointing experience. They sent a kids chicken fingers dish out & the center was RAW and the outside was burnt. The food was overcooked & overpriced & the portions were an absolute joke!!! Our waiter was no where to be found for the most part. We wont make the mistake eating there again!!!! Don't waste your time or money!!
Carol November 10, 2012 at 10:56 PM
So even after all this time they still don't have their act together. How much longer will they stay in business I wonder?
melinda muto November 18, 2012 at 09:51 PM
We just went there last night with a party of 8. we were seated in the "poker room"...the old salad bar room at Charlie Browns...but now a private room with curtains...the service was excellent as was the food. Maybe a bit pricey...but worth it with every bite of our steak! We must have had 4 people wait on our group...they even served us our sides. I have to say we also had the best french onion soup---ever.....we would definately go back there again....


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