Friday, September 18, 2015

Brick & Mortar: A Full Restaurant Review

Thirty-Seventh Birthday

Even though Brick & Mortar has been open only five months, I can sense immediately upon my arrival that the restaurant has settled into its groove. 

With my husband and mother in tow, I walk through the doors at seven, happy to find shelter from another rainy evening. The dimly lit, intimate interior of the restaurant is welcoming. A wine bar dominates the back wall, and behind it are tastefully displayed bottles. Potted plants hang from repurposed pallets above the bar, and the walls are paneled with reclaimed wood planks. A picture window at the front of the restaurant provides ample opportunity for people-watching along Central Avenue. The total effect is an interesting blend of modern lines with rustic finishes, which turns out to be a nice reflection of Brick & Mortar’s offerings. 



The dinner menu is diverse. So too is the lengthy wine menu. We order a bottle of wine that our server, Lance, recommends — a Bordeaux-style dark and fruity red blend. It’s my birthday, so for food, my mom, husband, and I decide to go for it, ordering as much on the menu as we can without making ourselves sick. 

Carpaccio of Beef Tenderloin with House-Made Ravioli

Our strategy is to target variety, sampling many of the small plates. Our first course is the carpaccio of beef tenderloin with poached egg ravioli, parmesan, and microgreens. The beef is a delicate cut, and the ravioli is pillowy. The egg oozes from the pasta when I pierce it with my fork. This first course is indicative of everything we would try that night: complementing and contrasting flavors and textures placed on a single plate. 

Flatbread with Prosciutto and Fig Preserves

Next, Lance brings us a savory flatbread topped with prosciutto, crumbled bleu cheese, greens, and fig jam. Flatbreads are pretty ubiquitous these days, but I find this far from disappointing.  The crisp crust is the perfect delivery system for this savory-sweet appetizer.

House Beet Cured Salmon with Juniper and Dill

As the evening rolls on, the small bar and dining room, mostly empty when we arrived, fills to capacity. Lance tells us, as he drops off a plate of bright beet-cured salmon with juniper and dill, that this is normal, even for a Wednesday night.

Next is the local gulf shrimp, served with baguette slices in a bowl of white beans. The  well-seasoned shrimp are lightly firm, and the beans make an unexpected but delightful pairing. 

Salmon Bite

Gambas Ajillo Featuring Gulf Shrimp

My favorite dish of the evening was our last, the veal meatballs and parmesan polenta. This is comfort food in its purest form. The polenta is creamy, and the meatballs melt in your mouth.

B&M Veal Meatballs with Creamy Parmesan Polenta

And while the meatballs may have been comforting, dessert is the biggest surprise. I choose to live on the edge and order a lavender panna cotta served with jamon, a Spanish cured ham, similar to prosciutto, covered in a local honey syrup. The flowery, mild panna cotta and the salty, sweet jamon are not meant to be eaten in one bite but alternating bites so that the contrasting colors, textures, flavors, and scents provide a balanced experience. The dessert is innovative and, I think, a win.

Lavender Panna Cotta and Jamon (ham)

At the end of our meal, Chef (and co-owner, with Hope Montgomery) Jason Ruhe stops by our table, introduces himself, and confirms that we’ve enjoyed everything. He’s personable and happy to talk about his new restaurant. For most of his career, Chef Ruhe has run a catering business with his partner, and he still does from the aptly named Brick & Mortar. Even though the dining area is small, in the back there is a huge kitchen with a 20-foot hood to accommodate the catering side of the enterprise. 

In the course of our conversation, I ask Jason where he received his training. He tells me he has no formal training. I'm surprised and impressed; his skill definitely betrays any lack of formal training and speaks to his experience in the industry.

Chef Ruhe’s personality permeates Brick & Mortar, translating into an atmosphere that feels like you’re having dinner at a friend’s place. I can speak for my whole party when I say that, from beginning to end, the staff was friendly, knowledgeable, and provided excellent recommendations. The food at Brick & Mortar was excellent, beyond a doubt, but it’s the service and the atmosphere that will keep me coming back.

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