By Jenny Quill, contributing writer
Graffiti Grill has a new menu, a new team running the kitchen (though they’re hardly strangers to Lake Bluff), a new attitude, and, soon, a new name.
Dan Rogers opened the casual dining restaurant in 2011 on the site of his family’s former retail garden store, Rogers Nursery, on Rte. 176. Rogers, a grilling enthusiast and a regular competitor at Lake Bluff’s annual Ribfest, had no prior restaurant experience, but felt the area “really needed something like Graffiti Grill.”
“We felt there wasn’t a place that really did good food fast,” said Rogers. “And we thought it was a good location and something fun that people would enjoy.”
With a few years under his belt, Rogers decided it was time for a change. So he partnered with Kenny Karnazes at the beginning of the year to revamp the restaurant’s kitchen and menu.
“I needed someone who could handle the food,” said Rogers. “Kenny took everything we had and said, this isn’t going to work; this will work. He took our BBQ and turned the dial up a notch. The food’s better than when we opened because we have a guy with 40 years’ food experience running the kitchen.”
Indeed, Karnazes has been working in restaurant kitchens since he was a teenager. He got his start as a chef at Scranton Cafe, which was owned by his father. The family later sold the restaurant, only to buy it back in 1988, renaming it Bluffington’s. Karnazes eventually left Bluffington’s (it’s now owned by his brother Doug) to start his own catering business and oversee the food operations at The Village Grill at The Lake Bluff Golf Course, a venture he left in Dec. 2013.
“The challenge for me is that [Graffiti Grill] didn’t have the greatest reputation,” said Karnazes. “We’re tweaking the restaurant from the kitchen forward. I changed almost every product. The quality wasn’t there before. That’s what I’m bringing in.”
Like Karnazes’ other restaurants, this, too, is a family affair. His daughter, Jennifer Karnazes-Hernandez, a former executive chef at The Vine in Grayslake, is working alongside him, tweaking the menu and overseeing the eatery’s catering operations.
Their different approaches to food—Karnazes-Hernandez jokingly refers to her father’s dishes as “80s comfort food” while describing her style as “fun, frilly, and girly”—have resulted in a menu highlighted by tried-and-true classics given a fresh twist. The Village Club, for example, has the standard club ingredients—roasted turkey, avocado, tomato, lettuce, and applewood smoked bacon—livened up with a red pepper pesto mayo.
The revamped menu also includes a few items that have what Karnazes calls the “awe factor.” Take the Cubano melt—a toasted roll smeared with whole-grain mustard topped with pulled pork, a heaping portion of honey ham, melted Swiss cheese, and spicy pickle slices. Also awe-inspiring, if just for its football-size girth, is the Texas BBQ burger, a Black Angus burger smothered in the Grill’s homemade BBQ pulled pork, melted cheddar, and creamy coleslaw.
Just about everything is now made in-house, including the daily soups and barbecue, which is slow roasted and grilled on-site.
“We’re a great alternative to fast food,” said Karnazes-Hernandez. “It’s fresh, it’s fast, and nothing’s processed.”
Friday’s fish fry remains, though that menu has also been revamped to include a grilled option, as well as a pasta dish for those who don’t like fish. Saturday nights are steak nights. “We’d love to see couples come out for dinner,” said Karnazes.
Graffiti Grill serves wine and beer, including brews from Lake Bluff Brewing Company and Revolution Brewing. On Saturday mornings, Karnazes-Hernandez has been serving mimosas and towering Bloody Marys. The hope is to expand the cocktail offerings as the temperatures warm up. In addition, they plan to build a gazebo out front so that, come summer, customers can sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.
And there are more changes coming soon: They plan to add weekday evening hours starting in April. They’re also hoping to give the revitalized restaurant a new moniker. In fact, they’re looking for suggestions. If you have an inspired name idea for the restaurant, you can post your suggestion on the Grill’s Facebook page.