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.


Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar: Don’t judge a book by its cover


Don’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover

It is my belief that a if a restaurant fails at the simple things it is impossible for it to excel at the more complicated ones.  So when my friend raved about the bison burger at the Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar, I was delighted to try it as a sort of taste test before dropping significant change to delve into the main menu.

We arrived last night at the two level establishment on the Southeast side of Charlottesville’s downtown pedestrian mall.  The downstairs section is a supposedly upscale restaurant decorated in an earthy urban chic with a line of blocky wooden tables along one wall and a bank of booths featuring circular tables running down the middle of a rectangular space.  As it was a gorgeous evening, my dinner date and I decided to head up the non-temperature controlled stairs (I am guessing because it was a hot humid climb though it was only warm outside at this point.) to the Skybar, the rooftop hangout half of the establishment.  It is not really designed for eating with a bar for a focal point, a few padded sofa like benches and cocktail tables combined with a smattering of tall small rounds with tall chairs but it seemed like more fun.

We sat in the corner situated on the mall side of the establishment in oder to both people watch the two stories down on the mall and have a full view of the lounge.  Please note we were in plain full sight of the bar because this is important later.

There were about 25 patrons at this point in a space that might seat about 75 and three servers to handle them.  Someone came to distribute menus in about two minutes and chatted about the probability o f rain (we were seated under one of the bright blood orange colored umbrellas as I thought it might pour  while we were there, my companion bet me a beer wager otherwise.

Drink orders were taken about ten minutes later by a different server. The drinks were delivered promptly.  Then we made the critical error of asking for a minute to look at the menu.

Twenty-five minutes passed and even though there was little activity in the place, and another wait person joined the staff, no one came to take our order while they chatted amongst themselves or watched the Olympics on the TV screens mounted behind the bar.  After another 12 minutes and service to the table next to us, I walked over to the bar to alert anyone who would listen that we were ready to order.  Someone was sent immediately and we both ordered a Bison Burger, mine with no bread and salad instead of fries.

I also ordered a Mojito to stave off the wait.

My drink came in a short plastic glass.  The mint barely touched much less crushed, swam amongst  a mostly melted few chunks of ice.  The drink was sour-ish but mostly watery – it tasted more like Country Time Lemonade with a few drops of rum in it than anything else.  I resorted to chewing soggy mint leaves to derive some sort of flavor from this concoction.

After about 25 more minutes the burgers came.  My companion’s set in a nest of fries and oozing some yummy looking orange sauce under the slices of marbleized cheese slices and bun.  Mine was completely naked, forlornly situated next to the ordered salad.

“I want some of that yummy looking sauce,” I pouted to my friend.  So we flagged down a waiter and requested accoutrement. It came quickly with a nice apology and I happily doused my medium rare burger with roasted red pepper aioli sauce and covered it with the provided square slices of cranberry chipotle cheddar cheese.  I have eaten bison burgers before and this one was OK but far from exceptional.  It was adequitly moist but not perfectly cooked and after dinner it sat in my stomach like had eaten a rock.  It is easy to overcook bison as it is less fat than ground beef.  But really, there was not much flavor to it.  The sauce was pretty, orange with bright red specs implying heat but in actuality it barely had flavor.  The cheese was the most interesting thing on the plate, the darker colored cranberry threads offered a slightly harder texture.

Naturally, I sampled the fries and they were nothing to write home about.  Ordinary, thin and salty not particularly greasy, crisp or flacid. Just normal with normal execution.

The salad was good. Fairly fresh mixed greens, big moist slabs of sun dried tomato and a light creamy-ish local goat feta cheese pleasantly moistened with light olive oil dressing.

Overall, I was disappointed.  I had heard the food was good here but I had a different experience. Based on this trip, I would not recommend it and I am wary to spend the money to prove myself wrong in the main dining area.


BTW: My friend won the bet – no rain.  So on top of everything else I owe him a beer.  But I won’t blame the Skybar for that misfortune only my mediocre dinner and unimpressive service.

photos from google images

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