Gibson's Grill is a bit tonier than Johnny and Katrina Giavos' other restaurants — Kitchen 64, Sidewalk Café, Kuba Kuba, and 3 Monkeys Bar and Grill — and yet, the comfort level is there, both in the food and the service.
Adjacent to The National, Gibson's is a great place to grab a pre- or post-show bite (and drink). With three distinct areas in the two-floor restaurant, you're sure to find a spot to suit your mood, whether it's the more traditional upstairs setting of booths and tables, the downstairs dining area with its walls of cozy banquettes, or the bar with flat-screen TVs. There is a definite rock ‘n' roll vibe downstairs, with a large Ed Trask painting of a mosh pit and framed album covers from groups like the Police and the J. Geils Band.
Plus, you never know who you'll see at Gibson's. On my first visit, I was sitting upstairs when Gov. Tim Kaine came in with first lady Anne Holton and a group of teenagers (plus the requisite security) and headed downstairs to the lounge.
Gibson's menu is varied, if a bit heavy on appetizers and sandwiches, with a nice selection of salads. The homemade potato chips were definitely of the can't-eat-just-one variety. Served in a cone and dusted with Parmesan cheese, they were delectable. A real standout was the fried calamari over mixed greens with a balsamic drizzle. It's a dish I still think about, it was so good. The sweetness of the crisp and tender calamari was tantalizing against the cool greens and the richness of the balsamic vinegar.
Tasty but less memorable was the Grilled Roast Pork Cubano Sandwich. The pork and ham were thinly sliced, but some bites were all pork and others all ham. The mustard and pickles added some punch, but the bread was dry. (Kuba Kuba's version is better.) The choice of Asian slaw as the side was disappointing; it had a hint of ginger, but overall it lacked punch and was a soggy, bland blend of cabbage and peppers.
Alternately, the Greek salad had great eye appeal and lively flavors. The greens, red tomatoes, cucumbers, and pepperoncini were topped with feta and dotted with black and briny green olives and surrounded by pieces of fried pita bread.
As at all of the Giavos restaurants, portions are generous at Gibson's Grill, so come hungry, share an entrée or do as I did and take home the leftovers. The lobster mac and cheese was rich with Gruyère, Asiago and Boursin cheeses and big chunks of lobster. It seemed like the more I ate, the more of it there was.
The Black and Bleu Filet was cooked as ordered — rare — and the steak could have been cut with a butter knife. It was topped with just the right amount of blue cheese to add tang but not overwhelm the beef, and an accompanying demi-glace brought it all together. The sides were just as satisfying: The potato cake was crispy outside and soft on the inside, while the vegetable of the day — a medley of zucchini and yellow squash sautéed with onions — was well seasoned and cooked tender-crisp.
I love meatloaf, so when the waiter told me on my second visit that it was a special of the day, I didn't hesitate. Two thick slabs were nestled on mashed potatoes and topped with fried onion straws. The meatloaf was divine, with flecks of carrots and peppers and a whisper of heat. The crunch of the onion straws played well against the creamy mashed potatoes, which my dining companion described as "dreamy, like the ones grandma made on her best mashing day." I concur.
Desserts change daily and come in large portions, too. The bread in the Blueberry White Chocolate Bread Pudding wasn't as moist as I would've liked, and the white chocolate was overwhelmed by the blueberry compote that topped this finale. On the other hand, the Key-lime pie was one of the best versions I've tasted, with a creamy texture and zesty lime flavor.
There are many reasons to head downtown. You could spend an afternoon at the Library of Virginia or an evening at The National. And coming soon is CenterStage. Combine any of those with a meal at Gibson's Grill for a great outing. Or just go to Gibson's Grill — it's worth the trip.
700 E. Broad St., 644-2637
Appetizers $4 to $9. Salads and sandwiches $5 to $10. Entrées $18 to $23. Desserts $4 to $6.
Monday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Thursday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to midnight.