FF Profile: GRILL 21
by Stephanie Fineza
photo credits: Katrina Fineza and Patrick Fineza
Discover Grill 21—a casual and charming Filipino restaurant near the Gramercy area of Manhattan.
Tucked away from the popular tourist areas of Manhattan, this eatery is a wonderful find. We took a trip to see what it’s all about. Opening 9 years ago in 2005, before the popularity of the more recent hip Filipino fusion joints, Grill 21 is proving to stand the test of time.
Grill 21 rises above the common turo-turo (point-point) style of Filipino eateries. Everything is made-to-order so the plentiful plates present hot and fresh. We’d say it's certainly a winner among authentic Filipino food. On top of that, it’s affordable.
We arrive there on a Thursday evening. The outside is unassuming, not identifiable as Filipino on the outset.
We walk in and the ambiance is pleasant, not pretentious. The place is humming with chit chatter from workers from nearby hospitals on break as well as families. The decor is bright with floral, vegetable and country-side murals adorning the exposed-brick walls.
There is only one waiter but with this small, low-key restaurant, it’s certainly sufficient to service the diners. He’s soft-spoken, friendly, and happy to offer us recommendations for our order.
When the food arrives, it smells and looks delicious as well as overwhelmingly familiar—definitely reminiscent of Filipino home-cooking. We didn’t have a chance to try everything...but from what we did try, here are our top recommendations.
During dinner, we have the opportunity to meet with one of the owners of Grill 21, Henry Beck. He walks in wearing a baseball cap that says Brooklyn across the front, greets all the customers in the restaurant hello and proceeds to sit down with us. He points to his shirt. “Do you recognize this?” he asks us with a grin. “It’s the Philippines!” And indeed, it is. He displays the gold silhouette of the Philippine islands proudly on his black polo where a brand logo would typically be.
Henry is a New Yorker born-and-raised. He’s the co-owner of Grill 21 and his wife of thirty years Marissa Beck, who is originally from Manila, is his business partner. They have two daughters.
FF: Why did you open your restaurant Grill 21?
H: We wanted to raise awareness of traditional Filipino cuisine to the New York area and the U.S. This was a great opportunity.
FF: What do you think differentiates your restaurant from the other restaurants?
H: This is like what your grandmother would cook for you. This (Grill 21) is as authentic as it gets.
FF: Do you plan to open another restaurant?
H: We have the sister restaurant Pan De Sal bakery on the corner of 21st and 2nd avenue that has Filipino pastries and serves a buffet lunch and dinner everyday!
FF: What would your advice be to someone who wanted to open up their own restaurant?
H: Know what you’re getting into because it’s a lot of responsibility, a lot of work dealing people and to get people that are good. It’s like when you’re getting married, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.
FF: What would your advice be to future entrepreneurs?
H: Ah, very simple. My suggestion is the what I told my kids.
Make your avocation your vocation.
Find something you really like doing and get paid for it because most of us have jobs we don't like but we do it because we get paid for it. We have a family. We have commitments so we are sort of stuck in the maze... If you’re going to do something for a large portion of your life, do something you enjoy doing. Otherwise, you’re stuck in it. There’s resentment, you get angry, you take that home. It becomes problematic. So might as well do something, so that even though you don't get paid as much, will give you enjoyment or fulfillment.
FF: Have you visited the Philippines?
H: I’ve been there three times.
FF: What parts of the Philippines have you been to?
H: I've been to Manila, Baguio, Cebu, Palawan and Boracay.
FF: What’s your favorite Filipino dish?
H: I eat bifsteak, which I love. I love tortang talong, eggplant omelette.
I love Filipino desserts. The flan and brazo de mercedes are my two favorites.
As we continue eating and chatting, Henry pauses for a moment and gets up from the table returning with three spoons, “I'm going to give you the Filipino weapon of choice. Let’s see how Filipino you really are.” We laugh placing down our knives, wondering why we were even using them in the first place.
Thank you for having us Henry and Grill 21! With friendly service and our delicious meal, you’ve satisfied our taste buds, tummies and hearts. We’ll certainly be back!