DALTON, Ga. -- I was in the Dalton area recently and decided to try a restaurant whose ads I've seen regularly in the Times Free Press.
Cornerstone Grill & Rumors Bar is off the Rocky Face exit, far from Dalton's main urban area in a neighborhood far from upscale.
But sophisticated decor, a varied menu of seafood, meat, fowl and pasta, an extensive wine list and a promise that everything is made in-house allows the restaurant to rise above its surroundings.
Where: Cornerstone Grill & Rumors Bar, 2311 Chattanooga Road, Dalton, Ga.
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Rumors Bar opens at 4 p.m.
Price range: $3 (vegetable sides) to $29.50 (entree meats: rack of lamb, beef filet, yellowfin tuna).
Cornerstone's menu offers something a little different.
Appetizers range from grilled or sautéed feta rolls ($6.50) to fried calamari ($9) and oysters ($11) to pan-seared or blackened tuna with pickled ginger ($12).
Two soups -- homemade tomato basil or chef's weekly choice -- are $4.50. Salads come as baby greens, the Caesar-style De Cico and Greek ($6.50-$8.50).
Fried catfish ($13.50) is on the seafood menu, but so is shrimp- and clam-stuffed salmon, grilled or blackened yellowfin tuna and white bass ($22.50).
A wood-fired grill turns out chicken breast with roasted red pepper sauce $(12), hickory-grilled pork tenderloin or ribeye and lobster tails ($28).
Not in the mood for grilled? Chicken is served sautéed with capers ($12.50); backed with olives and tomatoes; Parmesan or Marsala, or stuffed with ricotta and sun-dried tomato. Pork tenderloin and roasted rack of lamb are seasoned with rosemary and garlic; twin beef filets ($28.50) are served with cog-nac sauce.
Pastas come in parmesan, dill, cream or fennel-and-basil sauces with a choice of meats or fish. Sandwich choices include pimiento cheese, burgers and fish tacos ($8 to $12.50)
The list of side dishes also has some innovative offerings. Alongside the standards -- potatoes baked, garlic mashed or fried -- veggie options ($3 each) include grilled red cabbage, grilled or sautéed portobellos, spaghetti squash, sweet potatoes and broccoli.
Only the desserts are fairly standard -- ice cream, cheesecake, creme brulee, Key lime pie and coconut cake ($3.50-$7.50) -- although the server said almost everything is made in-house.
The 11-page wine list has a broad selection of reds, whites and sparkling wines from California and Oregon as well as France, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Australia. A few wines are offered by the glass, but most are by the bottle.
The beer selection is small and runs toward light beers.
Other beverages include Tazo-flavored tea ($2); iced tea, coffee and espresso, soft drinks and bottled water.
Our server brought a basket of crusty Italian-style bread and honey butter right away, and we chose the antipasto platter as a starter. Thick-sliced salami and brined olives were served with smoked Gouda, Swiss and Havarti, and a hunk of Gorgonzola cheese. They went well with the delicious bread.
We both ordered hickory-grilled meats: 14-ounce ribeye and grilled pork tenderloin with house-made peach chutney. Both came with garlic mashed potatoes, and we had an additional side of grilled vegetables -- red onion, zucchini, yellow squash and sliced carrots.
The meats were well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, with just the right touch of hickory. The smoky flavor was a little much for the grilled vegetables, but the potatoes were a garlic lover's delight.
Our visit came at the start of the dinner hour. We were greeted and seated right away, and our server was prompt, friendly and professional, seeing to the table without hovering.
The Cornerstone is plain outside but quietly attractive inside -- a blend of polished and rustic elements that works well. Classical music wafts from speakers.
Tables in the front of the room -- placed well apart for privacy -- are set off from walled and curtained booths by a stacked-rock wall set with pottery jugs.
Several side rooms are available for parties or business meetings.
With tasty food, a bit of imagination in the menu and friendly and efficient service, what's not to like about the Cornerstone Grill? I'm not in the Dalton area often, but when I am, I'll definitely make the Cornerstone my dinner destination.