There isn't a better place to sit in the city when you're there. You're sitting better than anyone around: The lights behind the bar twinkle, refracting through bottles. The blue-and-white checkered tile is smooth and perfectly accepting of a solo diner.
The counter of the Grape Restaurant can only hold a few like-minded souls. Sitting right means you’ve got a martini in front of you. A couple of green olives, glinting with housemade Boursin cheese, lounge under the icy sheen. The drink is as cold as a glacial lake. The mushroom soup coats the spoon with its creamy opulence. The bacon crosses the salty tang of white cheddar on the cheeseburger.
For so many reasons, losing the Grape is not, to utilize the cliché, the end of an era — it’s the end of a landmark. It’s been nearly four decades, about 12 years since the Luscher family grabbed the keys, and the food, the bar — the cheeseburger — never lost their heat. Before brunch ended, they had a crunchy fried-chicken sandwich that would have cured the madness of Popeyes.
In October, the Grape will close for good.
There are memories to grieve over. We’ll miss the simplest things: warmed bread with marble-white butter, unbelievably creamy, with a light snow of Maldon sea salt, the cheeseburger.
It’s the end of a landmark because of its tried-and-true focus on the good, warming stuff. The real old dishes, unblemished by time and age, were championed at the Grape. Mussels and garlic kept us sane. Pommes frites didn’t care what it looked like in portrait mode.
Through the evolution of Lower Greenville, the Grape has been a mainstay. There was a sense of intimacy and comfort in the dining space. It's almost by the nature of tables being so close together, but the atmosphere of companionship while dining here is nearly as important as the food, and a unique, endearing trait of the Grape. It's a model that isn't readily available in our restaurant-dense city.
On the day the news broke, owner and chef Brian Luscher was at peace about the decision.
“It’s purely a business-based decision,” he says. “I don’t think you need a Cox School of Business MBA to put two and two together. … It’s not a public utility. This isn’t electric or water or gas, this is a business. And it’s an amazing time in Dallas, because there’s more restaurant options for the diner. It’s a buyers' market.
“We were in front of lease renewal and a TABC renewal and a couple of other considerations, and after years and after trying to go through some decisions with our family, we just decided it’s time for the next adventure."
The next adventure is going to involve more time for Courtney and Brian Luscher to spend with their 14-year-old daughter. Luscher's Red Hot 2.0 is "on the table," he says. Among quoting Rush lyrics and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, he talked about the importance of finding time for people in the industry.
“A chef’s life is work all day, so you can get your ass kicked all night on every single holiday and weekend and that’s exactly when my kid wants to go do stuff,” he says. “It’s so easy to get caught up with day-to-day, too focused on the cutting board — and you don’t get a chance to look up and look around.”
Luscher — who says he's in his 50s, but he's 75 in "chef years" — is glad to have until October for the restaurant to close.
"We’re not going to put a fucking chain in the door in the middle of the night. I feel really strongly about this part: We’re going to bring our tenure to a closure with as much dignity as we can muster," he says. "I'm going to make sure every single one of our employees has placement. All of our contracts and vendors will be satisfied. None of our payroll checks are going to bounce. We're going to pay our taxes. We're not going to be in a dispute with our landlord."
His business style through the years has been with "a handshake and eye contact.
"We're going to come to the end of this chapter the same way," he says.
A couple of years ago, Brian Luscher said, in response to the age of tweezered food: “One should not be penalized to dine well.”
It sums up the Grape pretty well. Eating well at the Grape meant you got a damn good bowl of pasta, a simple chicken dish with an excellent bottle of wine; it meant that your experience went unbothered by hashtags or foams.
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The mushroom soup — which will probably haunt the Luschers like the Eagles set must have “Hotel California” — goes against every trend and diet out there. That's one of the reasons it’s great. It’s important to keep in mind as the dining-out bubble inflates and retracts here in the city.
The good, old stuff will, and should, have its place — just like the Grape will always be remembered as a landmark. It should be designated as one, too: We should pass the bones of the Grape and see a plaque.
The last day of service at the Grape is Oct. 10.
The Grape Restaurant, 2808 Greenville Ave. (Lower Greenville). 214-828-1981. Open nightly starting at 5:30 p.m.