In the heart of Ballantyne is where you will find Stone Mountain Grill, flanked by Einstein Bros Bagels and across the street from Vine American Kitchen.
The website describes the location as having the feel of a mountain lodge retreat. I completely agree.
The interior of this establishment has a warm and comfortable feel, with a pleasing distribution of lodge-type decor. One side offers a long bar with plenty of tall cocktail tables. The other is the dining room, with plenty of space between tables and comfortable seating. You also can enjoy a feel for the outdoors on the patio, nicely appointed with tables and couches.
I wish I could report that all the dishes I tasted meet or exceed the very pleasing atmosphere. Unfortunately and disappointingly, that is not the case. The menu itself was the first thing that struck me as being a little too broad to be extremely good with that many different venues of food. It begins with several appetizers that criss-cross cuisines, followed by tacos, pizza, wings, salads, wraps, burgers, sandwiches, steak, ribs, a bunch of entrees and, in case that’s not enough, “other good stuff,” as in quesadillas and sliders. Even with a few main ingredients sharing the menu as an appetizer or wrap, it is a huge challenge to get that many divergent food items executed
Let’s start with the appetizers. The firecracker shrimp is one item that is very well executed and tasty. Crispy shrimp are tossed in a hot “boom boom” sauce and topped with chopped greens and ranch dressing. The shrimp were cooked just right and the flavors married deliciously. Also enjoyable was the Buffalo chicken dip, arriving with plenty of warm tortilla chips – which worked well to enjoy the house-made pulled chicken in a flavorful and creamy sauce. You also can indulge in jumbo lump crab cakes, utilizing a traditional recipe; they are pan seared, then topped with fire-roasted corn salsa and aioli. Additionally, you can partake in mozzarella sticks, fried pickles, Caprese salad, a wild berry baked brie or seared Ahi tuna to start or for a snack.
Let’s talk about the signature tacos. Jerk chicken, Baja fish, fajita steak and firecracker shrimp are the choices. They are all delivered in a blue corn tortilla wrapped in a soft flour tortilla and served with black beans and rice.
One of my guests ordered the Baja fish tacos on one visit – grilled white fish with Mexican slaw, jack and cheddar cheese, avocado salsa and chipotle sour cream. After taking a bite, they realized the fish was cold. Not just warm or even room temperature – literally stone cold to the touch in the center. We informed our server, who felt it for herself and completely agreed; stone cold. About 12 minutes later another plate of tacos arrived and unfortunately, yes, the fish was still cold (it’s beyond my comprehension that it can happen, but it does). Other choices include jerk chicken, fajita steak or firecracker shrimp. I’d suggest the firecracker shrimp for seafood tacos.
Burgers include a choice of a half-pound of Angus beef, a turkey burger or a vegetarian burger (the menu doesn’t go into the ingredients). They offer a corn-dusted or multi-grain bun, along with a choice of fries, cole slaw, fresh cut fruit, green beans or black beans and rice. I can’t say I recall ever considering a side of green beans with my burger, but who knows? There are a half dozen selections for burgers, including a chipotle jack, a western bacon, a pimento cheese version and a sunrise burger served with smokehouse bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and red onion with an egg cooked sunny side up.
I ordered the Monterey burger on one visit – avocado salsa and house-made pico de gallo, lettuce, pepper jack cheese and herb aioli dressing. The burger bun and the toppings were all very good. The burger itself was lacking flavor and was on the dry side. To compound my disappointment, the side of onion rings was terrible and way overcooked.
I am able to report positively on a few of the main dishes on several of the entrees. The smothered chicken is a grilled breast topped with onion, mushrooms and provolone cheese and smokehouse bacon cream sauce. It arrives with mashed red skin potatoes and green beans. The chicken was very nicely prepared with the meat tender and juicy. The combination of bacon, cheese and veggies were yummy. The mashed potatoes also were good. The green beans, and it was a healthy portion, were way overcooked. The cedar plank Atlantic salmon also came out looking and tasting great. A fresh 8-ounce filet, seasoned, cooked and served on a cedar plank. It arrives with seasonal vegetables; in this case summer squash and zucchini. The cook needs to know that summer squash cooks faster than zucchini. The squash was, yes, overcooked. Also tasty was the blackened chicken pasta – linguine with asiago cream sauce, diced tomato, smokehouse bacon, roasted mushrooms and shaved parmesan; a very nice harmony of flavors. The herb-roasted chicken came out very nicely prepared and cooked just right. It was accompanied by the mashed potatoes, which were fine, and the green beans, which were well overcooked.
The lack of attention to detail, which appears to take place in the kitchen, spills out into the dining room. Service was generally good, not great. The servers lacked the warmth that is exuded by the atmosphere. On one visit, the table seated next to us had a couple of cocktail napkins on the floor and no one attempted to pick them up throughout our dinner. On no visit did we see a manager walking around. My guests and I never came face to face with someone who might be strolling around and checking on guests. Even when we sent back the cold fish in the tacos, no one in charge came by after the second failed attempt to check on us. If they had, we would have informed them.
There needs to be a strong “guest satisfaction as priority one” culture in every restaurant, and perhaps even more importantly for those who have recently opened. Here’s a perfect example of an opportunity missed. On the most recent visit, as my party was leaving the restaurant, it had quieted down and there were four people at the hostess stand. It appeared to be three who were hosting and one who may be a manager. We barely got a goodnight. Here’s a tip – one or even two could have stepped before us to hold the doors open as we exited, and expressed a “How was everything?,” or “We hope you enjoyed,” or “Have a great evening, we look forward to seeing you again” or anything along those lines. What I heard, loud and clear was that the piece of paper in front of the four of them at the reception stand they appeared to be engrossed in was more important than our party of four and the $200-plus we just plunked down.
This is the third attempt to make a go of this location. It was opened once and closed; and then, oddly enough, re-opened with the same venue by the same owner. And then it closed shortly after the second attempt. This is a somewhat different take on a similar theme, with a better atmosphere, a new and different menu and new ownership. I’m not very confident that in this particular case, without improvement, the third time will be the charm. There are too many restaurants in this area that are doing a much better job and are consistently getting it right.