As a committed omnivore, I make it a policy never to apply human feelings or emotions to the flesh I eat. Give a cow pasture to wander through, a chicken all the space and freedom it requires. But when it comes to their slaughter, I chalk it up to a food-chain sort of thing: We’re higher up than they are, so we eat them. It’s the circle of life. Hakuna matata. Cue the Elton John.
But I have no hesitation when I say the following: The skate that I had to gnaw my way through at Brick gave its life for no apparent reason. Because I could have derived as much pleasure from a baseball mitt, or an under-hydrated flank of salt-cod. This wing was so overcooked that it had taken on the texture of dried-out chicken, was seasoned unevenly, and plated, amateurishly, with barely-roasted grapes, bland cauliflower, and a brown butter sauce as characterful as Celine Dion singing “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.”
It was just one in a series of vaguely depressing missteps. Our waitress kept on forgetting which beers were out of stock, which resulted in our having to order multiple times. The list itself is inconsistent, with some selections noted in their entirety and others simply with the brewer’s name. So which Sly Fox will you have? Which Lagunitas? You’ll have to ask; it’s not specified in writing.
The space itself retains a sense of neighborhoody sophistication, with enough light coming in from the sidewalk to brighten up the tables near the windows—as well as cozier, more indirectly lit corners to sit in that offer a greater sense of intimacy. In this sense, its balance of conviviality and romance is thoughtfully achieved and is one of the highlights of an evening there.
But the food really burrowed into my soul and elicited a deep, break-up-style depression. An order of duck nachos was a plate of—wait for it—four chips. Each was topped with a forgettable duck confit, a glop of crema, and pedestrian avocado mousse. The chips were straight from a bag and heading toward stale, and seasoned with a spice blend as electrifying as an afternoon at the DMV. There also was no perceptible acid or other sign of life in this overpriced hillock of mediocrity. Chicken fried rock shrimp were encased in a gluey carapace that was made additionally repellent by a buffalo-wing-style sauce and “Maytag aioli” whose juxtaposition of funkiness and high-toned heat did a disservice to actual Buffalo-style anything I’ve had recently.
A bowl of clams with remarkably dull chorizo proved that the addition of lots of butter does not, in fact, make everything better. Rather, when it’s unaccompanied by enough acid or seasoning (even given the white wine in it), it merely makes things heavy. The sad kernels of corn, the pieces of tomato, and the sporadic clove of roasted garlic did little to lift the occasionally gritty clams beyond the level of the piddling. Lamb burger, ostensibly a signature dish (it’s set apart from the surrounding items by a square frame on the page), was overworked to the point of meatloafiness in texture. Its crown of mahogany-toned “spicy onion jam” leaned far too heavily on an almost molasses-like sense of sweetness that obliterated the Manchego and all but a whiff of the meat’s gaminess. The fries, which I’d been hoping would redeem this Hindenburg of a sandwich, were underfried and floppy.
Desserts demonstrated the same sense of confusion in concept and carelessness in execution. The so-called “Brickwich” was a slab of flavorless ice cream slapped between two thoroughly generic chocolate-chip cookies. The brownie, also devoid of much flavor, was served in a martini glass, a trend I’d thought had mercifully died five years ago. And serving a square-edged brownie in a triangular martini glass makes the physicality of eating it unsurprisingly difficult.
This, unfortunately, seems to be a restaurant nearly devoid of a sense of guiding culinary principle. As it stands now, Brick isn’t just the name of the restaurant; it’s also a description of what you may feel like resides in your stomach after a meal here.
1708 Lombard St. 267.639.9440. brickeatery.com
Hours: Sun.-Tues., 5-10pm; Wed.-Sat., 5-11pm; Brunch, Sat.-Sun., 10am-3pm.
Price range: $1.50-$22.
Atmosphere: Attractive and clean-lined.
Food: Serious issues from conception through execution.
Service: Very sweet, but confused and not terribly professional.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014