When you work downtown, lunch breaks are like love affairs. There are new flings that feel sort of naughty and exciting, blind dates that don't always go well, casual reunions with plain but pleasing acquaintances and old flames you know will never disappoint. The Brick Oven Bistro is an old flame. Not that anything about it is old--quite the contrary. The recipes call for the freshest ingredients; the menu, while consistent, is always changing; and the staff is a diverse mix of friendly people who wear intimidating hats with gusto. The Brick Oven falls into the old flame category because I have eaten there for so many years, and not once have I had a meal that didn't tickle me as pink as the blushing applesauce.
The boy and I are fans of the Bistro's set-up. The counter style ordering is not only fast, it's also fun to slide along the gauntlet of vittles, picking with the eyes and nose instead of the imagination. Our favorite lunch is the "two-sided" Beanery Club, a hearty sandwich of slow-roasted turkey, smoked bacon, veggie trimmings, your choice of homemade condiments on either Italian or sunflower wheat bread with two side dishes, usually coleslaw and rum-pot beans. The boy slapped a tray down and ordered one, substituting a side of the hand-mashed, skin-on potatoes for the slaw and slathering Grey Poupon on one side of the warm sunflower wheat.
I went a bit simpler with the BLT, basically the same sandwich minus the turkey with a side salad of fresh baby greens and a little Italian goulash (olives, cauliflower, capers) thrown on top. I chose a simple vinaigrette dressing and asked for a side of the Bistro's famous sour cherry mustard. It goes best with ham but kicks any meal into high gear. On our way to the cash register, I grabbed a deluxe pickle à la carte and a bowl of blushing applesauce. The boy asked for some secret recipe lemonade, a potion he claims is the perfect mix of sweet and tart. The price was laughable next to the mountain of food we were carrying, and we wasted no time in picking a round, shady table.
With so many delicious items to choose from, what to nibble first? Ignoring custom, I went for sweet. The blushing applesauce, named for its deep magenta hue, is the way applesauce probably tastes in heaven. Adding raspberries and cinnamon (that's my guess) to the traditional apple gives it a flavor that would crown any Thanksgiving dinner, and the texture is more velvety. The aftertaste was a lovely accent to my first bite of sandwich, as always a great blend of simple, flavorful fixings on one of the best breads in town. Fresh baked everyday, the sunflower wheat is fluffy on the inside and wonderfully crunchy and sunflower-studded on the outside. The boy's face was enough to signal his agreement. His rum-pot beans were tender and tangy, and the mashers drizzled with brown gravy (possibly Madeira) were airy and substantial all at once. Then came the pickle--the most perfect pickle in the city. It was intensely crunchy and unmistakably brined in a lot of garlic. The bread pudding is lovely, too, but Bistro pickles are a great way to end the kind of meal that makes you sigh.
In a sentence, the Bistro makes food that dedicated moms would make--wholesome, simple and full of love--and they even do the dishes.
--Erin Ryan once got her tongue caught in an electric mixer covered with brownie batter.