Opened earlier this year, Red Brick Tap & Grill is a sister operation to nearby Easy Street Cafe in the Merion Village area south of German Village. The interior is, naturally, red brick; the ceilings are high; and the casual seating is spacious, both at the bar and in the dining area.
Opened earlier this year, Red Brick Tap & Grill is a sister operation to nearby Easy Street Cafe in the Merion Village area south of German Village. The interior is, naturally, red brick; the ceilings are high; and the casual seating is spacious, both at the bar and in the dining area. Because of its location behind the building, the patio is quieter than most outdoor venues, where patrons must often deal with street traffic.
To get an idea of just how far the bar-food scene has come, consider that Red Brick set out to make more of its food on premises than many white-tablecloth restaurants.
Another plus: the menus haven’t been a rehash of the same old stuff. Yes, they do have some burgers and sandwiches, but many of them were made distinctive by the use of house-smoked meats, such as the pork belly in the BLT.
The pork belly was in strips, just like regular bacon, but with a gentle crispness and plenty of smoked-pork taste. Unfortunately, a menu revision now offers a BLT with a more-common style of bacon, also said to be made in-house, and costing two dollars more. On my sandwich, the amount of bacon and tomato were reduced from that on the former sandwich (Red Brick BLT, $8.99).
The Caesar salad ($6.99) is made entirely of romaine lettuce, has an appropriate dressing and gets its croutons in the form of two slices of French bread that have been toasted and brushed with what tastes like a garlic butter made with powdered garlic.
The Southwest salad costs a dollar less on the new menu ($8.99) but omits the smoked chicken in the previous salad. An annoying amount of iceberg lettuce stretches the chopped romaine, and the tiny amount of the promising-sounding roasted-poblano salsa didn’t seem to have any poblano or other chili pepper — just a few black beans. It just isn’t worth the money.
One of the permanent menu’s soups is a chili verde ($4.99) that has had an excellent green-chili flavor. It’s said to be made from poblano peppers and tomatillos, along with cilantro. The bottom line has been the taste of fresh green chili given body by the addition of finely cut pork that’s been smoked in-house.
The heat level was moderate — neither timid nor fierce. Whether the soup, which is the only one listed on the new menu, survives in the same recipe is the question.
Another impressive in-house creation has been the from-scratch dough used for the pizza crusts. It has had good yeast-raised flavor and an appropriate chewy texture. Baking in an appropriately hot oven provides a crisp bottom and to browned toppings.
The “black magic woman” pizza ($12.99 for a large “small”) is a great showcase for the crust, which supports a spicy jerk sauce without getting soggy.
On top of the sauce is mozzarella, a flavorful mix of jalapeno slices, bell pepper, onion and chunks of pineapple. The star, however, has been the pieces of house-smoked pork, which pack a flavor punch that seemed to soak up the jerk seasoning and make it its own.
The price of the Frankenstein bratwurst sandwich has gone up $3 ($7.98 on the new menu) and lost its bacon wrap. In place of the wrap there is supposed to be some kind of bacon, which my sandwich lacked.
The short, stubby bratwurst was of decent quality but seemed lost in the French-style bun, which was about twice as long. The fried egg is still there, while the habanero-jack cheese has been replaced with a less-assertive pepper jack. The onion-straw topping remains but can’t save the uninteresting collection underneath it.
Red Brick’s fresh-cut fries ($3.99) had been crisp-skinned and fresh tasting, but the most recent order sampled tasted stale and dry, apparently from having been prepared a long time before they were ordered.
The dessert lineup has benefited from pies ($5.95), apparently made by another sister operation. They have had a well-prepared crumble topping and are nicely crisp and not too sweet. While the crust isn’t exciting, the fillings have been worthwhile.
The apple pie has had pieces of apple that seemed to be hand-cut and fresh, packed tightly with barely enough room to form the brown-sugar sauce during baking.
The strawberry pie also packed in the fruit by cutting the strawberries in pieces rather than leaving them whole. There was no garishly red jelly — just enough sweetness to season.
New draft offerings are emphasizing India pale ales and other hoppy brews. “Psychopathy” ($6) from Mad Tree Brewery of Cincinnati is a clean-tasting example, one that appears to be made without high alcohol.
Original Sin’s apple series now include an elderberry-flavored cider ($4.25) with a pleasing tartness and complex fruit flavors.
* * *Red Brick Tap & Grill
92 E. Gates St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of five)
Price range: $4.99 to $10.99 (sandwiches); $12.99 to $22.99 (pizzas)
Ambience: spacious, dark wood, red brick, often noisy
Children’s menu: Child-size items available
Reservations: not accepted
Accessibility: OK through the back entrance
Liquor license: full
Quick click: An impressive start has taken an unfortunate detour