The University of Texas at Arlington continues its transformation from commuter school to cool destination, and here's another new restaurant to prove it: Grip Mediterranean Grill, which opened in early February in the groovy College Park District. This fast-casual restaurant is dedicated to wrap sandwiches, with a little tabbouleh on the side.
Grip joins neighboring restaurants such as Smiling Moose Deli, Digg's Tacos and Pho Express in the complex. It feels like an outdoor food court, with its range of eating options and cuisines.
Grip comes from Adam and Jay Chanaa, who also own Ali Baba and Terra Mediterranean Grill in Fort Worth. The name is a bit unfortunate; "grip" is a synonym for wrap. But the Chanaa brothers' expertise in Mediterranean food is well established, and their creamy hummus, divine. Grip features some of the same flavors, but in a quick-serve format. Two branches of Grip opened in fall 2012, in Dallas' Preston Center and in Denton; this Arlington Grip is the third.
The service model is similar to Chipotle, where you go through a line, choosing a main ingredient for your "grip" ($7), then point to additions such as lettuce, tomato, olives, cucumbers, radishes and the like. The server spreads it on a large soft pita bread and rolls it into a burritolike 10-inch wrap.
The main options consisted of three meats: chicken, gyro (meat sliced from a spit) or kafta (ground meat). Vegetarian options were falafel (chickpea) or haloumi (cheese). We liked the kafta, formed into a narrow log with a dark, almost blackened crispy exterior. Its combination of ground beef and lamb was assertively seasoned with oregano and other spices that made for a bracing contrast to the fresh lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and creamy sesame tahini sauce.
The falafel was formed into small orbs the size of meatballs, with good crunchy shells and a softly textured, golden-tinted center. Once enclosed in the wrap, they collapsed into bits of crunchy shell. For this wrap -- er, grip -- we requested a sprinkling of jalapeño to give the sandwich a little zip.
Dolmas ($3) were lovely little grape leaves, six to an order, each cylinder no bigger than your pinky. The grape leaves were tender yet firm, enclosing a filling of al dente rice with a subtle lemony flavor. Tabbouleh salad ($3), another side item combining chopped parsley, cracked wheat, diced tomato and onion, felt a little drenched by its lemony dressing.
Mediterranean salad ($7) was huge, with nearly all of the vegetables on the line -- lettuce, radish, green bell pepper and more -- tossed in a dressing that was made to order in a bowl by one of the staffers. We loved the use of pickling cucumber, sliced into sweet little rounds, and the inclusion of fresh mint, which added a real pick-me-up. The dressing, a combination of lemon juice, olive oil and cracked herbs, was irrepressibly bright.
The best item of the day was also the cheapest: roasted cauliflower for only $2. A bounty of cauliflower florets was brought to the table piping hot in a white paper cone, almost like Belgian frites. They were accompanied by a ramekin of tahini sauce, but the florets -- soft and mellow in the center, with toasty golden-brown edges -- were terrific all on their own.
The restaurant has a sunny personality, thanks to the walls of glass; minimalist furniture makes it feel clean and modern. Many items were pre-packaged, including food consumed on site. We felt a twinge of guilt getting our salad in a plastic container, since we were eating there; we would have liked the option of a regular plate and fork. But much of Grip's business is likely to-go; its prime location directly across from the College Park Center arena makes it a top pick for anyone dashing in for a snack before or after events.