EXETER — Members of the Pambianco family are used to handling venomous snakes and dangerous alligators. Now, they’re handling burgers and fries.
With the help of executive chef Shaun Cruz, a Nicholson native, the American Grill on Wyoming Avenue in Exeter opened recently in the former Main Diner location, offering barbecues and burgers.
Bill Pambianco Sr., one of three owners with his nephew Cruz and son Bill Jr., had always dreamed of opening a restaurant. Standing in the way, however, was his successful Pet Zone store in Pittston, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
“We always wanted to own a restaurant,” Bill Sr. said. “We like adventures and doing stuff. We were going to do it with a customer of ours but my nephew has been doing it for 15 years.”
American Grill offers a fast-paced serving style of slow cooking.
Cruz studied Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management at Le Cordon Bleu. He’s worked in restaurants in the south for many years, but has returned home to run American Grill.
Cruz said his passion is meat. After trying 30 different blends of meat, the grill decided on a Grade A, chuck/brisket/short rib blend. All meat comes in fresh, never frozen. Cruz’s choice brisket is seasoned with a homemade dry rub and marinated for 48 hours. It then smokes for 14 hours.
All of the dressings, sauces and rubs are homemade at American Grill.
“I like to make everything I put onto a plate,” Cruz said. “That’s what can set us apart. None of our meat is ever frozen. If it is, I send it back.”
Through the first several months of operation, American Grill’s best-seller has been The Duke. The Duke has been on the menu for a few short weeks, but Cruz said 60 percent of the people who order food choose the item. The Duke is a smoked brisket cheesesteak on a fresh Amoroso roll.
“That’s been the biggest thing,” Cruz said. “I wish we would sell more burgers because they are high-end burgers.”
On the weekends, American Grill gets fired up. The outdoor area behind the establishment features a bar, pavilion and several picnic tables with ribs on the menu. Eventually, the business hopes to have local events such as car shows and small concerts on that land.
While the business doesn’t currently have a liquor license, Cruz said that’s something the owners are considering.
In the future, the establishment may feature specialty beers that can be paired with each dish.
The barbecue joint will be open throughout the winter as American Grill is in the process of getting an indoor smoker. Over the next several months, Cruz plans to run smoking seminars where participants can learn how to make southern-style barbecue.
“The food is like nothing you’ve ever had,” Bill Sr. said. “The food is perfect. We’re getting there.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick