Food, like travel, has become an accessible form of adventure. It’s hard to run out of new things to try, and there is always the ever-lingering chance of discovering a new restaurant where you’ll return for a second or third time. Good food (or just the possibility of it) is difficult to turn down – even if that means taking a two-hour bus ride just to eat at a highly praised restaurant, or trying a dish that combines ingredients that aren’t naturally paired together. Perhaps traveling will not be as satisfying without food and vice versa – not without one inspiring the other at least.
This particular philosophy is the driving force behind Griddle, a 26-seater restaurant that just opened last July in the food mecca of Maginhawa. It’s the brainchild of college buds Cellina Santos and Jan Wesley Samson, both travel enthusiasts in their early twenties, who decided to quit their corporate jobs and finally start the business they’ve been planning since after college. Cellina loves to cook (she plays a big part in conceptualizing the menu) and has had operation-management experience in his past job. Both characteristics have clearly helped them with being very hands-on in the business.
“It’s more than one year in the making. Nung pagka-graduate namin, tapos parang nag-get together lang kami kasama namin yung isa naming friend, sinabi ni Cel na she wanted to have a business, tapos ako yung nag-agree sa kanya. ‘Tara, business tayo!’ Then dun na nag-start,” Jan says. [Rough translation: After we graduated, we had a get-together with one of our friends and Cel said she wanted to have a business and I agreed with her. ‘Let’s go start a business!’ And that’s where it started.]
Griddle is a travel-themed food joint to be specific, offering comfort food with a twist in a thoughtful, laidback setting inspired by elements of travel. The walls are painted sky blue, complemented by touches of brown and white in other parts of the restaurant. Plenty of decorative elements of travel abound, such as passport napkin holders, airplane decals and tiny models of airplanes hanging from the ceiling. The vibe is laidback, ideal for friends who just want to catch up on a quiet Saturday weekend over comfort food that’s so ridiculously affordable, you can even get coffee and dessert afterwards.
The best time to go here is when the Maginhawa crowd still hasn’t woken up – mid-noon, so you can get the best seats on the second floor. Once you’ve marked your territory on the corner couch, head downstairs to order and maybe check out the travel trinkets on the counter. The menu is currently limited, but plans for more options are underway once the kitchen is expanded.
To get started, they have the Lechon Tacos, chunks of oven-roasted lechon pieces served with flour tortillas, tomatoes, onions and a side of lechon sauce. It’s a good idea for tacos, but I think it would also be great with soft, slightly grilled tortillas, and sour cream or aioli instead of lechon sauce, to add a sour contrast to the generally rich dish.
There’s also the Spaghetti Pomodoro with Pesto Chicken. The chicken is tender and seasoned nicely, but the sauce could use more herbs and a little bit more oomph.
If you are going here for the rice meals, though, this is where Griddle confidently shines. Their Grilled Lime Pork Belly is straightforward and delicious, with a cut of pork so big, it occupies half the plate, plus white rice and buttered carrots and corn. The meat is tender, tasty, and charred just to the right amount. Squeeze the lime over the pork belly to cut the richness and fat, and you’ll probably ask for another cup of rice.
Now, Cellina and Jan might not want their restaurant to be known just for chicken wings, but their wings are simply excellent. They’re releasing two new flavors very soon: the Maple Avenue, a breakfast version of chicken wings, crispy and coated with maple syrup and bacon chunks; and the Chimichurri Chicken Wings, garlicky and herby with the parsley and white sauce.
The best one would still be their Honey Bagoong Wings, though (Cellina’s own recipe), which may raise some eyebrows at first, but are guaranteed to win over any skeptical eater. The chicken wings are juicy and well-seasoned, the skin perfectly crispy, coated with a gleaming sauce of honey and specks of bagoong that strikes the balance between sweet and savory. For six pieces, you only pay P130 – a lot more than what you usually get from other wing joints (pun intended) – which also means you can afford even more wings, and maybe even a side of rice.
Of course, the Griddle Steak is on the top of the must-order list. You get a perfectly-seasoned steak with a side of kimchi rice and mashed potatoes that’s probably good for two, but too good to share with someone else. For less than two hundred. The mashed potatoes are buttery and decent, but the best sidekick would be the kimchi rice, which has enough spicy kick to complement the rich, thick slab of beef. And that beef? It’s so tasty on its own, you can just ignore the gravy that goes with it and not miss anything.
106B Maginhawa Street, Teacher’s Village East, Quezon City
Photos by Jess Jacutan and Ian Benetua