The interior of Brick & Mortar, a recent addition to the 500 block of St. Pete’s Central Avenue, is all about reclaimed wood. There are inset pallets sporting small red clay pots with flashes of green popping out. Opposite the entrance door, behind a handcrafted wooden bar that nearly stretches the length of the back wall, is an expanse of reclaimed wooden boards in a style often seen on HGTV. The distressed brown wood provides visual interest and many shades of grey. There may not be 50, but grey also permeates the walls, hanging industrial lamps, columns and framed dry-brushed molding under the bar. And grey also sets the tone for the evening. There are several disconnects — grey areas, if you will, as part of an experience that should soar.
The cutlery, which is flimsy enough to conjure Dollar Store bargains, is neatly bundled in a charcoal paper napkin tied up with string. This combo immediately brands the evening as far more casual and low-rent than the finesse of the food deserves.
The menu sports seasonal dishes that integrate fresh local ingredients. As I peruse the options looking for what piques my interest, my eyes fall upon slow-braised oxtails, which I dearly love. Another tablemate is set on the black cod with coconut milk and ginger. So when our server announces that these two of the six main courses are not available, we are dismayed. We’re not dining during peak weekend hours, although the place is packed and abuzz with abundant decibels.
I’ve heard subsequently from friends who dined at B&M on a day when those two dishes were available that the oxtail was delicious (if a tad rich) and the cod was tasty, too (if a tad overdone). Still, it’s a significant goof when a restaurant has only four of its six entrees available, even given the fact that B&M has been open for only a month and a half.
All that said, I really liked the food, which reflects the expertise gleaned by co-owners Jason Ruhe and Hope Montgomery in their decade of experience as In Bloom, the catering company.
Like, for instance, the hand-cut truffle Parmesan fries. Regular readers know of my ongoing rant about full-service restaurants that can’t deliver a crisp fry with a creamy center. It’s not rocket science, but it is food science: Soak to remove starch, cook almost through at a lower temp, and crisp in hotter oil till golden just prior to serving. I’m pleased to report that B&M’s huge bowl arrives crisp, coated with Parmesan prior to the second high-temp plunge, and drizzled with just enough white truffle oil to thrill without overwhelming. The garlic in the accompanying aioli ramekin has been roasted to mellow the flavor and it is just right to add dimension — if you can hold off long enough to dip, since these inspire a gluttonous impulse to stuff as many fries in your mouth as quickly as possible. The bowl is so deep that the bottom bits soften as they cool down, so be aware of the risks.
The caramelized onion and cheese tart is a mini deep-dish pastry instead of a flat tartlet in the French style. The flaky pastry is delicious, and the sweet onion combines with goat, Parmesan, and blue cheeses in a creamy mix that marries well with thin slices of roasted grape tomatoes.
Ultra-thin carpaccio of deep red beef tenderloin is tiled across the plate until it meets house-made ravioli. With a fork and the slightest twist of a wrist, the pasta yields, and yolk from a soft poached egg filling bursts forth, leaking yellow gold with leek and goat cheese mousse. A touch of truffle oil and crisp greens combine to make your palate soar.
The grilled romaine heart retains its crunch, gets added zest from pickled red onion, and creamy goodness from a blue cheese and lemon garlic dressing that knows how to walk the line and show restraint, lest it overwhelm the lettuce and shaved Parmesan.
House-made fat noodles are great with just fresh peas, mint, grated cheese, and citrus zest. It is a mistake to add the braised short rib and tiny Brussels sprouts that our server offers due to the missing entrees. This is a mash-up where the parts shine alone.
B&M’s ground chuck burger is a savory treat with bacon onion jam, aged white cheddar and peppery arugula. As is the citrus and herb-brined airline chicken “roast,” the Frenched breast sporting a little drumette, with yummy broth, thyme-roasted fingerling potatoes and sweet caramelized young carrots as bright as a crayon.
There is no dessert menu, just a spiel from our server, who announces that the lavender panna cotta (which I see jiggling on an adjacent table as I sit down) is available — but they’re out of Parma ham, which is one of the accompanying garnishes. This is useless info; either don’t serve the dessert or serve it one garnish short. Announcing to your diners that, oops, we can’t serve this dish the way it was designed, doesn’t inspire confidence.
So we order the other two options: molten chocolate cake with chai cream and stone fruit cobbler. The cake, a charming brownie-esque wedge, is delicious, if not at all molten. The scrumptious cream adds a new twist; this one is a winner even as it is a misnomer. The same cannot be said for the cardamom blueberry and peach cobbler in a ramekin. The warm fruit has lost identifiable shape and the topping, too, is mushy. Unless you have lost all your teeth, skip this one until they get it right.
539 Central Ave., St Petersburg. Appetizers, $9-$13; entrees, $13-$27; desserts, $9; wines by the glass, $8-$13.