Brick and Mortar: A Local Restaurant Review

Once upon a time, there was a charming Italian restaurant on the outskirts of a college town where locals could get very good food at a relatively reasonable price. The restaurant was semi-conscious of its vegan and gluten free patrons, offering dining opportunities for each that were both satisfying and tasty. Then one day the owners of that delightful little neighborhood stronghold decided to go “trendy” and changed the restaurant format to poorly executed, ready- to-descend -down-the-bell-curve-of-current-food-trend dishes in an unimaginative atmosphere.

I speak of the tragic transformation of the beloved Pizza Bella on Mill Creek Road in Charlottesville to its new incarnation, Brick and Mortar. Same owners yet a total abandonment from the formula that made Pizza Bella successful.

Let’s start from the beginning…

I entered the half full restaurant and no serving staff greeted me. Strike one – all guests should be warmly greeted in a restaurant. OK, I am not the Queen of England so why should I expect to be noticed -except that I might be a paying customer- whatever.  Once I have the bartender’s/hostess'(?) attention I ask about a table for two but self-select seating at the bar. There is no hook for my purse. I remark on it. The bartender informs me that many people have commented on the lack of purse hook but the GM has ignored the request. How horrifying that such a simple request has been ignored. Strike 2- customers are paramount. I order a Moscow Mule that is presented to me with mint in it which totally screws up the ginger/vodka/lime harmony. It is undrinkable so I ask for a blush vino verde instead. $8 for a few ounces of a consumable yet much less-than-fabulous wine. OK, to be fair, I have probably paid more for worse wines but this is a neighborhood hang out not a four star establishment.

The burger I ordered came with grilled onions, pancetta and cheese (I fail to even recall what type of cheese it was, it was that unmemorable- maybe a swiss?) The onions, watery rather than actually grilled and luke warm rather than hot. The burger was cooked the way I requested and was just fine yet a bit dull in taste (I had to request salt and pepper). The salad that came with it (because there are no gluten free bread options offered) was refrigerator warn, meaning, slightly dried and not exactly fresh. It was served with a common ranch type dressing I could have easily  purchased from the Food Lion next door. When the burger was served, I had to request cutlery even though we had been at the restaurant for at least 20 minutes by that time. Strike 3. The fries…obviously from a previously frozen batch with a smattering of parmesan semi-melted atop were…well….. boring. They reminded me of a very poor version of the amazing parmesan crusted fries drizzled with truffle oil at Keswick Hall. I wonder if the KH fries were the inspiration…?

My dining companion ordered the same burger with the sweet potato wedges. The burger “was a bit bland,” according to her while the wedges were prepared with the skin on and, “mushy with uncooked bits throughout”. The most interesting thing about the meal was a spicy mayo served with the wedges, which my dining mate had to request, even though it is listed on the menu as condiment served with the dish. Strike 4- it is important not to make assumptions about your clientele. I am guessing that the server thought that a kid would dislike a condiment with a kick. Either that or the it was improperly plated in the kitchen.

Overall: My dining experience at Brick and Mortar was as exciting as staring at a brick and mortar wall. It seems to be simply copying the hot items on other successful restaurants in town without the culinary talent or the level of service to complete with them. I hope the owners quickly end this game of dress-up and go back to the yummy Italian food they do so well.

I also felt undervalued as a customer, something that is deadly in a town jam packed with good restaurants.

Ash Lawn Opera’s MADAMA BUTTERFLY flies high

“Get your hankies out,” warned Michele Krisel, Artistic Director of the Ash Lawn Opera, at the end of her curtain speech Sunday afternoon. “It is never too early to start crying during Madama Butterfly.” And she was right.  By the last ten minutes of the performance sniffles could be heard from all over the audience (including several from yours truly).

Once again Krisel and her hand picked artistic team have managed to pull off a champagne experience on a beer budget with this production.  Charles Murdock Lucas’ set is simple yet effective in depicting Cio-Cio San’s Japanese house of paper in which this story of clashing cultures is set. Lauren Gaston’s costumes are effective in developing a contrast between the sumptuous softness of the geishas and the apparent tastelessness of Pinkerton’s American wife.  And Dan Ragazzi’s minimalist direction allows the story to flow through the music- as it should. (I particularly enjoyed his use of ninja’s that flow on and off the set with necessary props.)

Krisel also knows how to cast a show to optimal effect. Pinkerton as played by Jason Slayden is just the kind of handsome devil that could break any girl’s heart.  But the star of this show is clearly Eleni Calenos who plays Butterfly.  Calenos puts forth a beautiful voice and a heart piercing dramatic performance as the naively trusting girl. She had the audience in the palm of her hand in her final tragic aria, To Die With Honor.

If you go, remember to bring tissues.  It is a truly beautiful tragic tale.

Photo by Natalie Krovetz

Photo by Natalie Krovetz

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