A few weeks ago I was contacted by a representative of Bonefish Grill about the "Bonefish Grill Challenge." The challenge entailed dining at a local Bonefish and comparing it to a similar local competitor. While I had heard positive things about Bonefish, probably since we shy away from chain restaurants, we had never dined at a Bonefish before. The "challenge" sounded creative and I accepted. We received a $25 gift certificate in the mail from Bonefish and a $25 AmEx card for the other restaurant of our choice. Bonefish asked in return that I do an honest review of the restaurants.
This past week, we had a chance to check out the Bonefish here in Gainesville, as well as a local competitor of sorts, Ballyhoo Grill. We had never been to Ballyhoo before either, but I had always been a little amused how it was touted during Gators football games by the national sportscasters (it turns out that Ballyhoo is popular with the Gators sports programs; hence the announcers talking it up).
We tried out Bonefish on a week night, taking a seat at the bar. The decor feels clean and upscale. For our starter, we ordered the Cajun chicken egg rolls. A couple next to us raved about the bang bang shrimp (it seems everyone raves about the bang bang shrimp). The mustard sauce served with the egg rolls could have used a little more heat, but the rolls were nicely done and tasted fresh. Four our main course, I decided on a special, the pad thai with wild gulf shrimp. Traci ordered a sirloin steak with mashed potatoes and green beans. The shrimp in my pad thai were huge, and I enjoyed Bonefish's twist on this classic Thai dish. I had a few bites of Traci's sirloin and could see why she enjoyed it. The service was friendly and prompt. Overall, we had a good meal and an enjoyable experience.
Later in the week we checked out Ballyhoo. From the outside, Ballyhoo looks fairly upscale. Inside, the decor is more of a relaxed beach restaurant. Bonefish feels like more of a date or groups place, whereas Ballyhoo looks like more of a place you'd go for drinks after work. There is a covered outside area with tables and live music. We sat inside at the bar. We skipped a starter. Instead, I had a cup of she-crab soup (a la the lowcountry) and a chilled wedge salad. My soup was okay. The wedge salad, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise - not a classic wedge (actually more of a choppped salad), but definitely a meal-sized portion. Traci had a side salad and a flat bread margherita pizza. The pizza was tasty. The vibe at the bar was pleasant and service was good. Overall, another positive experience.
Here is a picture of Mrs. FoodHound standing next to the Tree-bow wood carving at Ballyhoo (Okay, it's supposed to be Wuerffel now to appease the NCAA, but it's still Tree-bow).
The knock on Ballyhoo seems to be the service on the weekends. The food did come out a little slow even on our mid-week visit. In comparing Bonefish and Ballyhoo, at least based on what we tried, I give the edge in food quality and taste to Bonefish. As for the decor and environment, it's not really fair to compare the two, as Bonefish goes for a more refined, upscale feel, while Ballyhoo isn't uber-casual, but is certainly the more relaxed of the two. Service-wise, both were solid, but neither was knock-out. The Bonefish menu is more focused, which is usually a good thing. Ballyhoo has a large menu, which often means more opportunities to make mistakes.
In short, this was a fun contest, which helped expose us to two more restaurants in town.