From the outside, you might mistake Bonnie’s
Grill for just another hole-in-the-wall hamburger joint. Mistake
being the operative word.
Step inside and you’re immediately immersed in the kind of warmth that surrounds a place that has clearly been conceived with boundless energy and a passion for good, simple food.
Anthony Bonfilio and Mike Naber started Bonnie’s Grill two years ago. "I’ve loved to cook and eat since I was a child, and it was my father who lit my passion," says Bonfilio. "He was always cooking for weddings or for the Knights of Columbus or for spaghetti dinners."
Bonfilio, who has been in the food service business himself for the last 24 years, named this, the first restaurant he has owned, after the father he so loved.
"Bonnie was my father’s nickname in World War II," says Bonfilio. "I decided to use the name for my restaurant as a salute to him."
The interior of the restaurant is small, with a long bar that seats 10 to 12 and overlooks the open kitchen. Here Bonfilio stirs soup, flips burgers and oversees orders with the agility and speed of a short order cook. There are several small tables at the back with metal chairs and red plastic seats. The floor is black-and-white checkered linoleum.
The works of local artists are displayed on the brick walls, and the exhibits change every two months. On this evening, the dining room is surrounded by beautiful black-and-white photographs of sculptures and cityscapes. The overall atmosphere is warm and quaint, part diner, part Left Bank cafe.
The menu is limited - appetizers, salads, sandwiches and desserts - with a pullout special featuring a different soup, sandwich and entree selection each night. Hot and spicy regional American cuisine is Bonfilio’s specialty, as he has developed an intense love of spicy food over the years.
"Initially, it was Buffalo wings that turned me on to hot food," he says. "I have a collection of 500 different hot sauces in my apartment."
Indeed, all the food has a hot accent. Soups are something of a specialty for Bonfilio, who claims to have never made the same one twice. "I always look for a new twist on familiar flavors. I like to throw in something unexpected," said Bonfilio.
We started with the orange fennel lentil soup, which was exactly what Bonfilio had described - the familiar flavor of lentils was delicately accented with citrus and the subtle flavor of fennel. Habanero and chipotle chilies added an intense heat to the soup, which detracted from the smoothness of the unusual flavor combination.
The heat of the polenta with vegetables worked much better. Carrots, celery, peppers and onions were sauteed with hot chilies, the total beautifully accenting a slice of coarse polenta. The Buffalo wings, too, were satisfyingly hot. They were served with thinly sliced celery and carrot sticks and a cool blue cheese dressing that complemented the heat of the crispy fried wings.
I was particularly looking forward to Bonfilio’s burger as I had heard raves from more than one friend. I was not disappointed. The meat, grilled to medium rare perfection, was of the highest quality and had a great charcoal flavor. With tomato, lettuce, onion, pickle, ketchup, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, I was in juicy, tender hamburger heaven.
Even the bun was superior, with more substance than most while not overburdening the meat. The burger came with an adequate amount of french fries, but was served with an aioli mayonnaise that added too much richness in this instance.
The small samples we tried of the pulled pork and sloppy joe were fine, though they couldn’t compete with the burger, and we were feeling mighty full and eager to move on to desserts.
Of the four desserts offered, our favorite was the chocolate brownie - dense, moist and chocolatey. There was a peanut chocolate chip torte that was slightly gelatinous in the middle and macaroons that were good though not as almondy as I like them.
Bonfilio’s forte is soups and burgers. Combined with good service, reasonable prices (most dishes are from $4 to $9), and a very pleasant atmosphere, it’s a great place to stop in for dinner after a busy day at the office or for a good, cheap weekend meal. Though you’ll need to arrive early as Bonnie’s Grill gets very busy.
Bonnie’s Grill is located at 278 Fifth Ave. at Garfield Place. Bonnie’s accepts Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Entrees: $4 to $9. For more information, call (718) 369-9527.
©2002 Community News Group