Downtown St. Pete does it again. While it’s difficult to eat quickly enough to keep up with its continually burgeoning restaurant scene, I’ll continue to try. This week’s golden spoon award goes to Brick & Mortar, the 6-week-old hatchling of Jason Ruhe and Hope Montgomery, the husband and wife team of In Bloom Catering which has served the Tampa Bay area for 10 years.
Having rented the kitchen and the private dining area formerly occupied by St. Pete Brasserie, the couple intends to continue providing to their catering niche while following their dream to own their own restaurant.
With well-honed culinary skill sets already firmly in place, Brick & Mortar is off to a magnificent running start. The space is intimate and charmingly farmhouse-rustic, seating approximately 50 inside and 15 al fresco along the sidewalk. The somewhat abbreviated menu focuses on small plates (which my better half and I delved our way through as you will see below) with a short selection of entrees and daily specials featuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients and a painstakingly admirable level of thought and care reflected in every offering.
While most of my culinary cravings are best served with a defibrillator, the Grilled Romaine proved to be a salad I can firmly stand behind. The substantial lettuce heart boasted a faint wafting of char (while refraining from being grilled until wilted) and the tangy, creamy bleu cheese and lemon garlic dressing drizzled atop it was sheer culinary wizardry. I’ll take a bowlful of dressing and a spoon for dessert, please! Accents of shaved Parmesan cheese and pickled red onions made this a standout.
The Caramelized Onion and Cheese Tart was a study in decadence - every aspect from tender, flaky crust to luxe, creamy filling practically melted on the tongue. Goat, Parmesan and bleu cheeses converged in this holy grail for fromage lovers, with razor-thin slices of tiny tomatoes creating a candy-like, ruby lace around its perimeter.
Brick & Mortar’s silken Pork and Chicken Liver Pate is some of the best I've tasted in a very long time. Adorably presented in its own precious, Lilliputian glass jar and served with crostini and seasonal jam (in this instance, a fine blueberry), the most unexpected element on the plate was a surprisingly addictive assortment of house-pickled veggies. Marinated in a heady myriad of spices including star anise, fennel, coriander, peppercorn and red wine vinegar, the floral-scented mélange of cool and crispy carrots, red onions, green beans and asparagus was a delightful foil for the earthiness of the pate.
A trio of fat, velvety veal meatballs lolling in a cuddly bed of Bob’s Red Mill Organic Polenta (grits on steroids) completely owned me. The crushed tomato sauce ladled over it had an almost electric pop of bright freshness that was followed up by a pleasing surprise ending via a Fra Diavolo-esque after-beat of heat. Garnished with grated Parmesan cheese and fried basil leaves, this $11 “small plate” is generous enough to be in meal in itself.
Our tasting dinner culminated in a warm peach cobbler studded with blueberries and strawberries, crowned with an irresponsibly massive dollop of whipped-to-order heavy cream, proving once and for all that Brick & Mortar is the ultimate avenue for meeting one’s MDR for fruits and veggies (in that roundabout way that The Unhealthy all cherish).
A newbie that’s doing everything right, Brick & Mortar should be on every foodophile’s “to do” list.
My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.