What are the four words in the name of this place — Brick Wood Fired Bistro (click here to see hours, location, and driving directions), in Prince Frederick, Calvert County — supposed to mean? At first glance, you might think they’re selling wood-fired bricks. In reality, it is something more along the lines of a “restaurant in a brick-building selling some dishes that are cooked with a wood fire.” A bistro is typically a small, casual establishment, which bears little resemblance to this behemoth (reported to be 10,300 square feet when under construction); I imagine the word “bistro” was used because it has an alliterative connection to “brick” which is what looks to make up the structure of the place. A clearer version of the name might be something like “Brick: A Wood-Fired Bistro.”
When we arrived on Saturday evening (March 11, 2017) the parking lot was pretty full. We had a reservation for 8 PM, but arrived about 20 minutes early (we had earlier tried to visit Running Hare Vineyard to pick-up some wine, but couldn’t find any parking as they were swamped with people). There were a good number of people milling about the waiting area, so we were afraid we might be in for a wait, but fortunately they seemed to be ready to immediately seat us. We were offered the options of sitting in the bar or dining room, at a booth or at a table — it’s always nice to have options and we chose a table in the dining area.
It was quickly apparent that it’s a very family-oriented place, as there were lots of moms, dads, and kids in the place. We were quickly seated at a four-top where each place was set with a glass, small plate (bread or appetizer size), a small paper napkin, and a knife and fork. They quickly cleared the two extra settings from our table and offered us menus (click here to see the menu online), which we had looked at online before making our reservation. Despite the number of people in the room it wasn’t overly noisy — they did good job of adding sound-absorbing material to the space. Unfortunately, they had not taken the same care with the lighting which was bright, direct, and harsh — it was like sitting under spotlights, such that your own shadow could make it hard to read the menu (it also made photographing the food awkward).
I’d also seen a online menu of their custom cocktails (click here to see it), but there was no sign of it at the table, and when I mentioned it to the waitress, she acted as if she’d not heard me. Fortunately, I remembered the name of one and part of the name of the other. So I first asked to try a Bob Ford (that’s the name of the guy who killed Jesse James), but I got that one wrong. The waitress told me I must mean a Tom Ford (named for the fashion designer and movie director?), so I said fine. My wife Cindy ordered a Chardonnay.
Soon water was served from large, chilled glass bottles, but without ice. We had perused the menus, and after our drinks arrived, placed meal our order. Cindy ordered a Crab Avocado Stack (jumbo lump crab meat, avocado, and pico de gallo, with house-made kettle chips on the side) as her starter, and Creamy Chicken & Shrimp Romesco (chicken & shrimp with penne pasta, spinach, and roasted red peppers, in a creamy romesco sauce) for her main course. I selected Roasted Corn Chowder (charred sweet corn, bacon, and chipotle [that is, a dried, smoked jalapeño] peppers) as my starter and a surf-and-turf dish as my main course: Imperial Filet a la Bernaise (6 oz. filet mignon, jumbo lump crab imperial, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus, and bernaise sauce). We also ordered a side of Brick Fries (house cut wedges, truffle oil, Parmesan, house ketchup, to which we added mayonnaise, which we prefer to ketchup; it came with one ramekin of mayonnaise and one of ketchup) to share.
While waiting for our starters, the drinks were delivered. Cindy said the Chardonnay was fine and my Tom Ford (Bulliet Rye, Carpano Sweet Vermouth, Orange Bitters, and an ice ball — I think it’s a Brick Wood Fired Bistro original) was good — sort of like a Manhattan with a strong citrus note. When finished, I was glad to be able to make good use of the glass with its ice ball by putting my water in it — ice water, what a concept.
When our starters were delivered, they looked quite good, and I ordered a second cocktail, their Catcher in the Rye (George Dickle Rye, a Luxardo Maraschino cherry, Simple Syrup, with an Orange Twist); Cindy asked for another Chardonnay. Along with the starters, we also got the Brick Fries, which were really more like very large potato wedges that might not be considered “fries’” by many folks. The chips portion that came with Cindy’s Crab Avocado Stack was quite large, and had we known how big it would be, we wouldn’t have ordered the Brick Fries — there were a ton of potatoes on the table.
Then we dug into the starters. My chowder had a rich creamy base with some potato chunks in it. It had a good roasted-corn taste, but I didn’t get a lot of bacon flavor. Cindy’s crab and avocado tasted bright and fresh and they complemented each other very well, with the pico de gallo providing just a touch of Mexico to the combination. The chips that came with her starter were excellent, and it was quite difficult to keep from devouring them all. The second round of drinks was also served; mine, the Catcher in the Rye, was a bit sweet for my taste and I wished I’d stuck with the Tom Ford cocktail.
Next up were the main courses. Cindy’s serving was a huge portion and as soon as we saw it we figured a good bit of it would probably be taken home. The chicken was nicely cooked, as was the pasta, and the romesco sauce was decent; unfortunately her shrimp was a little over cooked and therefore on the rubbery side. The fire-roasted garlic bread that came with the dish was quite tasty.
With my dish, I cut off a small piece of the steak and tasted it,and it seemed properly cooked (medium) and then I tried the asparagus and they were cold. That made me stop and really look at the plate, only to realize a couple of promised ingredients were missing: there was no crab imperial and no bernaise! Cindy went ahead with her meal, and let me have some of it, while we waited for the waitress to come back into our area. Once she did, I quickly flagged her down. I pointed out the problems and she agreed the dish was incorrect and offered to return it to the kitchen and get a fresh version. (After I got home, I looked at the menu online and realized what had happened — I’d been served the other filet mignon dish on the menu, called the Signature Filet Mignon, which also has the garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus, but no bernaise sauce, with instead a rosemary-merlot demi-glacé, and no crab imperial. Now we wonder if someone else got my dish by mistake.)
While Cindy continued her meal, I enjoyed the potato chips and ate a few of the potato wedges. The waitress returned fairly quickly, in fact probably a bit too quickly with my new or revised dish. Now it definitely had crab meat on it and the bernaise sauce. Frankly, though, I’m not sure the dish was constructed properly, or if it was, then I don’t think the chef really understood his ingredients. The first version I got had the meat on the left side of the plate, potatoes on the right, with the asparagus arranged in the middle, and slanted atop the potatoes’ the meat was surrounded by a pool of the demi-glacé. The second version was built more like a tower, with potatoes on the bottom, then asparagus atop and on either side of the potatoes, then the steak on top of some of the asparagus and potatoes, which was then topped with crab imperial, and finally the whole pile had bernaise sauce poured over it. Interesting, yes?
Unfortunately, the table next to us also had a major problem. There were six of them, and it looked like they got their drinks just fine. But when the food was brought out, five were brought at the same time while the sixth person was left waiting for hers. And, she waited and waited, and no one brought her anything. She finally had to get out of her seat (she was seated with her back to the room, looking across the table at a wall) and flag down a runner, asking her to please get the waitress as everyone else had been served and she still hadn’t got her spicy mussels. Fortunately, the runner knew just what do, and went straight to the kitchen and brought back the order of mussels; but still, somebody was asleep at the wheel. The waitress (the same one we had) showed up soon after to apologize.
Getting back to our meal, bernaise goes well with steak and asparagus, but crab imperial is prepared with its own sauce, so doesn’t need bernaise added to it. If you want to do steak topped with crab, and then asparagus on the side with bernaise over all of it, that will work. I had wondered how they were going to present these combinations; unfortunately I now knew. I wished I’d stayed with the first dish. Besides the mixing of all the ingredients into one large mound, the asparagus was still cold, and now my steak was dry and stringy (I think they may have re-used the first steak I got). This time, the waitress checked-back fairly quickly to see how the second version was; given Cindy was nearly done with her dish, and I didn’t want to wait for a third try, I just said it was OK.
Soon after, we got our check, paid it, and headed for home. Overall, despite some bright spots, our experience was a disappointment. I think we’ll probably give them another chance when we’re over that way, because I think it was clear they have potential. Maybe we just caught them on a bad night. That said, with our table and the one next to us (so far as I could see), no effort was made to compensate for the problems encountered. The folks at Brick Wood Fired Bistro could learn a lot from the pros down at La Rive Breton (see “A taste of Europe in Leonardtown”). ♦