The Height of Low Country Cuisine
Inspired by the Carolina coasts and Southern cooking, Chef John Wright knows when to tweak the Glenwood Grill menu and when not to change a thing.
By Alex Dixon
Photos by Davies Photography
Chef John Wright doesn’t like to give out his pimento cheese recipe.
And you can’t blame him. Wright knows his way around Low Country cuisine as only a veteran chef could, so you’re probably better off just to come to his restaurant—Glenwood Grill—and eat it there.
Wright has led the restaurant, located in the Glenwood Village shopping center, for more than two decades. Before that, he was right in the heart of the burgeoning Southern restaurant scene, working at Magnolias in Charleston, South Carolina.
“There wasn’t really much Low Country food around here in ’97, other than Crook’s Corner out in Chapel Hill,” Wright says. “When they recruited me from Magnolias, they looked to focus on that. I always wanted to keep focused on Low Country and American cuisine; I don’t stray away from it too far by any means, but I think I’ve got it figured out.”
While restaurants throughout Raleigh have come and gone in the nearly 30 years Glenwood Grill has been open, business is still booming with customers new and old. “We’ve got people who’ve been coming here even since before I came in 1990. I’ve obviously worked hard to keep them,” Wright says. “But in the last 10 years I’ve worked to attract a younger crowd. The proof is in the pudding with how busy we are. We’re busier every year.”
While the menu changes slightly based on seasonality, Wright has some staples that customers wouldn’t allow him to take off even if he wanted to. “Most things don’t change; I pretty much keep it the same. But there are the things that—if I tried to take them off—my customers might hunt me down,” he says. “I do about a 60 percent menu change when I do it, and try to keep some of the same proteins but just be creative with it. Then we do daily specials, and that kind of thing.” Glenwood Grill staples include dishes like the she crab soup, seafood and grits, and their signature “Carpet Bagger” entrée—filet mignon with Parmesan-fried oysters.
With a footprint of only about 800 square feet, the Glenwood Grill kitchen is limited as to what it can do.
“I like to pick a protein and do three, four different variations of that—what I feel is popular and streamlined—because we’re so small in the kitchen,” Wright says. “I can’t do a bunch of custards and things like that, which are easily done in a higher-volume place with proper equipment. Because we’re so small, people are amazed at what we can actually do in there. Being creative on that point is probably one of the neatest things.”
With such a small staff, all of the Glenwood Grill employees are sure to become familiar with each other, and Wright has maintained a supportive culture with little turnover. The manager has been at the restaurant for almost 18 years, while several kitchen staff have been there more than 10 years. “I always give my staff as much accolades as I possibly can because I couldn’t do it without them,” he says. “It’s important to me to have a family orientation around
Wright says the majority of patrons come to Glenwood Grill based on word-of-mouth recommendations, and he likes to refer to it as the hidden gem of the area. People may drive by the restaurant multiple times before realizing what and where it is, only for it to be pointed out to them by friends and regular customers. “Raleigh is such a booming town, and for Glenwood Grill to still be here in the heart of everything, I think I’m more proud of that than anything,” he says.
Seafood & Grits
Serves 4 to 6 | Courtesy of Chef John Wright
Ingredients for Grits:
2 ¼ cups stone-ground grits
½ pound unsalted butter
7 cups chicken stock
½ cup cream
1 cup pepper jack cheese
Salt and white pepper
1. Bring stock, with butter, to a boil and add the grits.
2. Turn down to low heat, stirring constantly until grits are cooked, about 30 to 40 minutes. Add cream and season with salt and white pepper; add pepper jack cheese to finish.
For Each Serving:
2 U-10 scallops
1 oz cremini mushroom
2 oz fresh sweet corn
½ oz maple pepper bacon
2 oz chicken stock
Dash of white wine
Dash of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Garnish with Gorgonzola cheese and scallions
1. Sauté the shrimp on high heat with olive oil, and sear the scallops. (Use a non-stick pan to get a good sear on the scallops and remove at medium-rare.)
2. Add bacon, mushrooms, and sweet corn.
3. Cook until done; add lemon, wine, and stock. Add basil and cream, and season.
4. Garnish with scallions and Gorgonzola cheese.
for Fried Oysters:
2 parts Grana Padano cheeses
2 parts Italian bread crumbs
1 part all-purpose or rice flour
Salt and pepper
1. Finely grate Grana Padano cheese using food processor.
2. Add bread crumbs and flour to blend evenly; salt and pepper to taste.
3. Coat oysters and fry at 350 degrees.
2603 Glenwood Ave #151, Raleigh, NC 27608