A new ethnic restaurant concept has come to the Riverchase area, and it’s more than a little different from what we are used to in several ways. For all its quirks, the place is still charming enough to keep me returning. Genghis Grill is the name, and it is a chain franchise out of Texas specializing in Mongolian grill-style dining. The restaurant plays up the fictional connection to the medieval Mongol leader Temujin, who conquered a large portion of central Asia in the 13th century and was proclaimed Shining Leader or, in the dialect of the area, Genghis Khan. Most folks who track food trends will remember that this type of restaurant was really only popular in Taiwan in the late 1970s. The best real description I can give Genghis Grill is that it’s a build-your-own Asian stir fry.
The Mongolian grill is actually a huge flat top griddle where four or five cooks can work simultaneously on a dozen dishes at once. Food is kept separate with large wooden sticks. There is actually one other cook designated as the grill master whose job is simply to keep it all organized and flowing. It really is quite a show to watch.
The dining room at Genghis Grill is quite large, kid friendly and easily accommodates large groups. When I visited on Sunday, several large church groups and ball teams were dining. I was able to bypass a wait for a table because I was alone that afternoon and chose to seat myself at the adjacent full-bar area, which had numerous wine and beer selections as well as house specialty drinks.
After your drink order is taken, you are given a small metal bowl and directed to the food bars where you construct your own custom entree, selecting exactly what you wish to be included in your meal. In these days of rampant food allergies, and with so many people concerned about portion control, or eliminating this, that or the other thing from their diet, this is a dining concept whose time has come. I like my Asian food extra hot and spicy, but my wife has zero tolerance for peppers of any sort. Genghis Grill has no problem making everyone happy. Actually, I take that back. You can get bad food at Genghis Grill, but you will have no one to blame but yourself.
Many people try to put too many things together at once and end up with what can only be described as a big-hot mess. If you try to add too many ingredients, no individual ingredient can really stand out. Genghis sells single-bowl meals, but for just a few dollars more you can get their bottomless bowl. This is by far the better way to go. You can mix just four or five ingredients from the dozens available in small amounts, and then return for a second or even third round of completely different ingredients. My advice is, don’t overflow the rim of the bowl on any one trip. So consider when you are choosing your main protein just how much room you need to leave for veggies.
If you are intimidated by the huge number of choices, Genghis Grill provides about a dozen favorite recipes on cards that are easy to follow.
You can add as much or as little spice as you want, and they have sauces that you can combine in any proportion. The grill master will also ask if you would like the cook to add a starch, such as brown or white rice, or udon noodles. I even saw a few diners requesting a fried egg be added in.
All this is not nearly as complicated as it sounds. I find Genghis Grill to be both fun and delicious, but be aware that they have a few minor problems that come naturally with drawing huge crowds of hungry customers. First, Genghis Grill shares the Chase Circle Center off of Highway 31 in Hoover with five or six other successful restaurants. The designers of the center never planned for enough parking to support that many eateries. So finding a parking space can be a problem at peak times. Also, as I mentioned before, with a huge dining room and a multitude of food choices, Genghis Grill does have a bottleneck because it all funnels down to a single grill master to process hundreds of orders correctly. During peak times it can take 15 or 20 minutes of waiting to receive your food. That is not a major problem, as they have wide-screen TV’s in the restaurant, or maybe you can bring along a copy of Birmingham Weekly to pass the time. Waiting a bit between courses is a good way to enjoy, and get your money’s worth, from allyou-can-eat dining, especially if you have a lively group of adults to converse with.
Dee Marcus writes food-centric commentary for Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to email@example.com.