I am a proud Rocket grad and have enjoyed watching the University of Toledo grow since my graduation. For a university its size, however, it has always lacked restaurant choices nearby. When Gradkowski’s opened on campus at The Gateway in January, I knew I had to give it a try.
Expect the unexpected
There’s no denying it: I quietly scoffed at the idea of an NFL quarterback opening a restaurant in Toledo. You have to admit, there are many famous people who think the next step is to open restaurants, start clothing lines, cosmetic lines, etc. and most experience minimal success. After all, what could a quarterback know about running a restaurant?
Gradkowski was a record-breaking quarterback for the University of Toledo and is currently a backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though a Pittsburgh native, Gradkowski resides in the Toledo area in the off-season with his wife and daughter. I understand, in the off-season, you can usually spot him at the restaurant chatting and signing autographs in addition to placing his hands on the controls of the operation.
As it turns out, Bruce Gradkowski and partners know a lot about what it takes to brand a stand-out restaurant, and they took this project seriously. According to business partner Mike Graber, Gradkowski jumped at the opportunity to open the restaurant when he was approached by the university. Graber, who designed the menu, describes the restaurant as New American with an Italian flair. I, on the other hand, describe it as a foodie’s playground; the menu is permeated with eclectic items and unique flavors. This new campus restaurant exceeded my expectations on many levels, from the variety of offerings to the standout service.
Slightly upscale but very kid-friendly
Though the second dining room features pristine white tablecloths, the front room has a more casual feel with beautiful wood tables and booths. The photographs on the walls tell a story not only about Bruce Gradkowski and UT football, but about the whole university. Though the atmosphere and menu are a bit more upscale, Gradkowski’s is very family friendly according to Mr. Graber. “We put a lot of care in the kids’ menu as well.” For $6.99, the six choices for kids include a beverage and a choice of either fries or butter corn. We were seated in the back dining room and loved the “aquarium” that played on four flat screens put together on the wall. We had never seen anything like it.
I’ve tried too many chicken tenders to count, but their hand-breaded tenders of juicy white meat were delicious. My youngest enjoyed the spaghetti, and my daughter opted for one of their specialty pizzas off the regular menu. As you would expect from a “scratch kitchen,” they make their own pizza dough.
According to Graber, the restaurant uses local suppliers as much as possible, which explains why the menu will change with each season. My husband ordered the Citrus Parmesan-encrusted Salmon with seasonal vegetables and fingerling potatoes for $17.99. Menu items ranged from $9.99 to $25.99 for the filet, which I might add, Mr. Graber said is one of their signature items. The menu offers salads, sandwiches, pasta, pizzas and a plethora of entrees. My meal, the Saltimbocca, which featured chicken, ham, polenta, provolone and asparagus spears, did not come with the signature pine nut pesto fries. I wanted to try them so badly. My wish was granted! Our fabulous waiter, Matt, offered to bring me a few so I could sample and, oh, they were tasty.
At Gradkowski’s, they aren’t afraid to mix it up a bit. For example, how about a maple glazed pork donut? Or maybe you crave a sandwich featuring sautéed pancetta, peanut butter, red onion and mayo? Personally, I’d love to try the $20 burger made with Pat Lafrieda signature beef, foie gras, quail egg, orange caramelized onion, stone ground mustard cream and arugula! You can view their entire menu online. If you have simpler tastes, however, no worries. There are plenty of choices on the menu for you and your kids as well.
Bottom Line: Bruce Gradkowski not only left his mark on UT’s football field, but also is now making his culinary mark with his namesake restaurant. Though the scratch kitchen is a foodie’s delight and the atmosphere is slightly upscale, it’s family friendly and the menu offers something for everyone.
1440 Secor Rd. (Gateway on UT’s campus)
Sun: 10a.m.-9p.m. (brunch served until 2p.m.)
Karen Zickes is a mom of three active children and freelance writer who resides in Holland, OH. She can be reached at