Restaurant review: Revamped Red Brick offers bold vittles, good beer and sports

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From the January 9, 2014 edition

“Out with the old and in with the new!” was the time-of-year-appropriate obvious decree for the thoroughly rehabbed and recently reopened Red Brick Tap & Grill, nee Red Brick Inn. Yet another revived classic Merion Village dive, Red Brick’s modernizing makeover was implemented under the aegis of the owner of Easy Street Cafe who’s added Red Brick to his acquisitions. Though sentimentalists will inevitably decry Brick’s new look and sporty identity I applaud the results.

I do miss the painted-over life-size “outsider art” murals of trompe l'oeil fake-framed baseball stars formerly gracing the funky old place’s walls. Other than that? Well, let me put it this way: I’d previously “wind up” having an occasional drink at the wacky old Brick; now I’ll visit the convivial new Brick to eat, sip beers (30 on tap) and watch games.

Still invitingly vintage outside, a roomier and sleeker interior redesign shows off Brick’s dramatic transformation. Now almost everything is red. This includes comfy padded booths and banquettes, (non-brick) walls and window trim. Enhancing these are black and white accents, warm lighting, a wooden floor, fancifully retro tables, TVs, a large and attractive bar plus a wall of comic book covers that, while a non-sequitur visual element, reinforces Brick’s commitment to fun.

And hell, it is pretty fun in there. Lately, a mixed-age, good-timing crowd similar to Easy Street’s all-over-the-map clientele has been showing up in packs to order genre-outperforming bar food and scratch-made pizzas off Brick’s huge, take-nothing-too-seriously menu.

An illustrative entrance into Brick’s “cuisine” are the meaty, salty, spicy and smoky Chicken Rolls (12/$10). Wrapped in bacon and slathered with ranch dressing, these chicks-in-a-blanket are kinda goofy. But since they’re lean bundles of still-juicy white meat enveloping jalapenos and crisply sear-grilled, they’re also bold and irresistible little snack-bombs.

Salads scored better-than-average, like the big Spartan Chop ($10). Spartan more by ethnicity (like Easy Street, Brick is a bit Greek) than frugality, it’s a fully loaded Greek salad muscled up with beets. The creamy, tangy, heavily dressed and not-bad/non-trad Caesar ($7) was — and this is typical of Brick — unrestrained in an err-on-the-side-of-never-bland way.

The piquant, tomatillo-based pork Chili Verde ($5) was universally popular at my table. It was also —likewise typical of Brick — modestly sized.

Pizzas are prominent, and exhibit strong influences from Mellow Mushroom (Brick’s chef is a long-time MM vet). Their soft handmade crusts, which are extra-thin in the just-snappy center, puff out exaggeratedly along golden-brown edges. I liked the lusty Mad Hatter ($14), a garlicky, sorta Greek salad/Italian sub hybrid with feta, spinach, kalamatas, red onion, pepperoncini, pepperoni, ham, salami and mozzarella.

A la carte sandwiches (handcut fries — mine were undercooked — are $3 extra) run the gamut from mix-and-match sliders (3/$4; the house-smoked brisket and burger were best); to the house-pulled-pork-starring Ricky Ricardo ($9; a smallish but solid — and properly smashed and crispy-bunned — Cuban sandwich); to tricked-out hot dogs and sausages built with locally-produced Falter’s tube-meats and warm poppy seed buns.

From that last group, I sampled the extra-spicy Escobar ($5), made with griddled narrow and soft chorizo logs, pickled jalapenos, feta cheese and that zingy Chili Verde. It was messy but zesty, and a kicky nosh. And like this place in general, if you’re just looking for a not-taking-anything-too-seriously good time, you can have some fun with it.