Get to the grill at Zona

By Dave Greber

August 27, 2014 Updated Aug 29, 2014 at 12:15 AM EDT

(WBNG Binghamton) One of the first downtown restaurants to offer a meal with a view is now taking that experience to a whole new level.

Zona & Co. Grille is once again setting itself apart from other downtown eateries with the JAG Grill, an eight-person table that doubles as an outdoor kitchen.

Or as Zona owner Mike Tulsey likes to put it: "Anybody who's familiar with fondu, it's fondu on steroids."

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But Tulsey says the grill is about more than what it can do; it's about what it represents.

"I'm all about unique and one-of-a kind, and this isn't something that you can go to Store A or Store B to have this experience," Tulsey said. "It's bringing the backyard barbeque to a whole new level."

Tulsey got the idea when he was in Bermuda, where a JAG Grill was powered by propane. But any grill man worth his sauce knows true grilling is done with charcoal -- or better yet, wood. So, he decided to bring it to his new patio outside the restaurant in downtown Binghamton.

Here's how it works: Guests pick their protein, like beef, chicken, pork or fish. The possibilities are endless, which is one of the reasons the octo-grill requires reservations. And to prove his point last weekend, Tulsey impressed us with an octopus from the coast of Spain.

For our dinner, we started with a grilled romaine Cesar salad, grilled caprese salad, shrimp with Zona's mango habanero sauce and bacon-wrapped diver scallops.

And remember, you can participate as much -- or as little -- as you want.

"People have the misconception that they're left on their own to grill their own food," Tulsey said. "That's not what it is whatsoever. I'm here as a guide. I'm here as a server. I'm here as an informant, kind of walk you through it, and ... What it really is, is it's an experience."

On to the main courses. We started with filet mignon that Tulsey carved from an entire tenderloin right in front of us.

Then we moved on to grilled mahi-mahi over grilled pineapple with a strawberry and jalapeno salsa, ribs, grilled -- and raw -- oysters, and of course, the octopus

And if you've never done dessert over an open flame, you're missing out.

We finished one of the best -- and coolest -- meals we've had with white and dark chocolate-drizzled grilled peaches, homemade blueberry ice cream and whip cream.

Reservations can be made by calling Zona & Co. Grille at (607) 772-9662. Zona is located at the corner of Hawley and Washington streets in downtown Binghamton.