The Snug — the steakhouse on the corner of Davis and Pleasant Home roads — has recently undergone something of a transformation. New owners, a revised menu and a new lunch service have ushered in a period of change for this traditional date-night restaurant.
Tom Sparks and his wife, Christine Grove, bought The Snug in early June of this year. A radical departure from their previous endeavors, Sparks said he wanted to do something their entire family could be involved in and The Snug was a perfect fit.
The restaurant is now also a large part of their relatives’ daily lives. From the head chef to the baker, many of Tom and Christine’s family play integral roles in the running of The Snug. An appropriate business model, given the previous owners successfully operated The Snug in much the same way for over 20 years.
The Snug is known for its steaks and a few other popular dishes. Chef Jack Daniel, formerly with La Maison, is intent on keeping the restaurant’s long-time clientele as well as attracting new customers. Favorite dishes are still on the menu.
“The crab dip has not changed,” Daniel told me, “and the steaks; they haven’t changed and they are all still certified Angus beef.”
New dishes are already on the menu, but Daniel says they will be gradually introduced; some seasonally, while others as permanent additions. The opportunity to try new things appeals to Daniel; however, he doesn’t want to deter the restaurant’s regular customers.
“We’re staying a little cautious so as to not offend the established clientele,” he said. “We want to keep them coming back.”
What diners might notice is an increase in quality. Smaller farms are now providing the restaurant’s pork and chicken, and Daniel is happy to be serving fresh meat and poultry from smaller suppliers.
“We have several long-time regulars who come in and we talk to them,” he said, “and so far we’ve had nothing but positive feedback.”
“Being older, I look at the restaurant and say, ‘Let’s take our time,’” he said. “The younger ones look at it and they want to do everything right now. There are things that we can change, and we’re conscious of it, but we’re going to do that slowly. We didn’t throw out an ‘under new management’ sign because I don’t intend to offend the previous owners.”
Upon entering the restaurant with two of my daughters, the first thing that struck me was the potential for intimacy. There are no televisions blaring noise — instead, there is a pleasant background buzz of glasses clinking, people talking and laughter. The seating is divided up into multiple dining areas, some larger than others. The popular Patio Room located to the right of the front entrance is perfectly positioned for diners who want to eat in larger groups, but still want their privacy. Throughout the restaurant, wood tables are complemented by upholstered and leather bound booths, traditional artwork and exposed brick. It’s cozy and welcoming.
Service is extremely important to me, and our experience at The Snug was wonderful. Our server was the head of wait staff, Damon Sparks, who was polite, attentive and very kind to my youngest — that alone made all the difference to me. We were immediately greeted and seated at a booth, and our drinks came out quickly. The sweet iced tea is apparently one of the best my 18-year-old has ever had and she said, “everyone should serve tea like this.” After being handed our menus, Damon gave us the time we needed to make our choice. It really wasn’t easy an easy decision.
The Snug offers serious variety — I was impressed by its selection of meat, poultry and seafood. Dishes range in price, too, from lower-priced salads, appetizers, hamburgers and sandwiches, to seafood and pasta, steaks and even a massive 24-ounce prime rib. The Snug even offers a vegetarian and gluten-free pasta dish.
Past complaints leveled at the restaurant included the charge that the prices are super high for the “average customer.” Daniel says that’s why the menu changes were vital.
“We know some customers find the prices a bit high, and we still want to cater to the people who have come to expect this,” he said. “But we want to be sure there is something to meet everyone’s budget.”
The menu now includes a seafood pasta dish Daniel says is already a favorite among customers. The sauce is made from scratch using clarified butter in which scallops and shrimp are seared, then shallots, garlic and Sriracha are added. Then the sauce is deglazed with white wine and finished off with fresh cream, cilantro and lemon juice. Priced at $21, I couldn’t pass it up and decided it would perfectly follow the crab dip as an appetizer.
My dining companions decided against seafood, opting instead for a large steak with mashed potatoes and vegetables, and a child’s portion of chicken tenders and green beans. In the end, we all ate some of each other’s food because there wasn’t a dish that arrived on the table that didn’t look appetizing.
The appetizer turned out to feature a large bowl of creamy, seasoned dip filled with jumbo lump crab meat and a generous mound of warm, buttery toast. It was insanely delicious, prompting the 18-year-old to declare her next date would have to take her to The Snug. After devouring two-thirds of the toast, we decided to save room for our entrees, but the remaining dip was coming home with us.
The entrées arrived after about 10 minutes. The al dente fettuccine was topped with three or four big fat scallops covered in a silky, golden sauce alongside a handful of shrimp — two wedges of toasted crusty bread sat atop. Visually, it was stunning. Yet again, the portion was substantial and I could find absolutely nothing to complain about. The sauce was creamy and decadent. The cilantro added a sharp contrast to the buttery cream and went perfectly with the meaty scallops and shrimp.
As much as I loved the pasta, after tasting my daughter’s steak I look forward to eating one the next time I’m at The Snug. In both appearance and taste, the steak was beautiful. It was moist and flavorful, perfectly seasoned and cooked exactly to order, and the sides of mashed potatoes and green beans were fresh and delicious. I totally would have eaten it in addition to my pasta, but that’s my gluttony talking.
Of all the food I ate over the course of the evening, the bread in particular surprised me. Bread shouldn’t be sweet or spongy or excessively salty. It should be crusty, but not to the point where you are breaking teeth or lacerating gums. The Snug has got it right and the bread I was served is possibly the best I’ve had in Augusta. Baked on the premises, it will soon be joined by other baked goods including all the bread used for the restaurant’s sandwiches. Sparks told me that both a bakery and off-site catering is an eventual plan — family members Taylor and Laura will head up the catering and the bakery, respectively.
Adding catering and a bakery to the restaurant will involve using the kitchen and bar located in a retail space on the corner of the building currently occupied by the previous owners. But again, Sparks says he wants to take his time in making changes. Sparks also says he isn’t interested in causing anyone any discomfort and they want to show respect for the work the previous owners did.
“We’re happy with the tradition that was here,” he said, “and we’re going to try to carry it on, but we’re going to add a few of our own touches.”
That’s fine by me because from what I’ve seen of their changes, so far so good. The Snug is a wonderful little restaurant, run by committed and genuinely involved people. To see a well-known locally owned steakhouse fall into the hands of yet another family that genuinely cares about good food is promising and encouraging. Not to mention, a huge bonus for the rest of us.
The Snug Steak & Grill
240 Davis Road
Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-11 p.m.; Saturday, 5-11 p.m.