Light My Fire
At its peak, Firebirds delivers perfectly prepared steaks. But it could be the finer touches that help it rise even higher.
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Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
1225 Churchmans Road
Wood-fired steaks $18.25-$26.95
Anything steak, pecan-crusted trout, crabs cakes, tortilla slaw
The smell hits first. Firebirds Wood Fired Grill does in fact have several wood fireplaces that produce warm, unmistakable sweet smelling smoke. As first impressions go, it’s pretty wonderful. That is, if you’re lucky enough to make it inside the door.
Firebirds, a boutique chain restaurant, is situated in a trifecta of casual family dining chains, part of Centre Point Plaza on Churchmans Road, which also houses a Red Lobster, an Olive Garden and locals like Potstickers Asian Grill and Deerhead Hot Dogs. The cluster of restaurants creates a feeding frenzy effect that results in long waits and one giant, nightmarish parking lot at dinnertime (see also: Rocky Run Plaza in North Wilmington).
Yet it’s probably unfair to compare Firebirds to its unruly, more wipe-down neighbors when you consider the small size of Firebirds’ fleet (just 15 restaurants countrywide). A better comparison might be upscale chains like Sullivan’s Steakhouse, or our own Iron Hill. All of these strive for that gray area between casual family dining and fine dining, all have expertly trained staff and warm, sleek interiors.
Firebirds seems to fit this mold. The concept was born when owner Dennis Thompson visited the Rockies and brought the Colorado ski lodge-like vibe back to his native Charlotte, North Carolina. Today the restaurants feature oversized stone fireplaces, exposed wooden beams and stacked stone columns. There’s a wall of wine bottles (Firebirds bottles its own wine via Napa Valley’s Girard Winery) and a few rustic touches like pounded copper planters mixed with modern features, like the glowing backlit liquor bottles behind the bar.
Is this what Aspen looks like? Can’t say for sure—I’ve never been. And I can’t imagine too many strip-mall hopping Delawareans have, either. But as my dining partner said on one visit, “I feel like I’m on vacation somewhere.” So there’s that.
I was more excited about the food. When I spoke to corporate executive chef Steven Sturm last winter, he swore by the wood-fired grill, powered by hickory and oak. The flavors and textures imparted into beef by an open flame can’t be matched on a griddle, he said, and the smoky aroma elicits primal and nostalgic feelings. He wasn’t kidding. Stoking a primal fire might be so easy a caveman can do it, but Firebirds’ steaks are handled with deft precision.
A seven-ounce center-cut filet mignon arrived with a perfect char on its surface and wrapped in bacon. The crispy black grill marks provided such a pleasing texture and contrast to the meat inside, which, even at medium doneness, was tender as a marshmallow. It came with a gargantuan russet baked potato encrusted in sea salt and topped with more of Firebirds’ apple-smoked bacon. My partner called it the greatest baked potato she’d eaten in her life, which is probably the nicest thing you could ever say about a baked potato.
Page 2: Light My Fire, continues...