Jay Fox's Dining Guide

FOX: CLASSY ITALIAN IN A CLASSY PLACE

“Eating is always a decision, nobody forces your hand to pick up food and put it into your mouth” — Albert Ellis

BRIO TUSCAN GRILLE
2500 E. 1st Ave, Denver
303-329-0222
www.brioitalian.com

IN SEPTEMBER 2009 THE WONDERFUL FOLKS FROM THIS COLUMBUS, OHIO-based eatery opened this store at Cherry Creek adjoining the Mall. Their first area store is in the Vistas at Park Ghetto.

After eight visits, I’m prepared to tell the rest of the world how good it is. I had to make sure that there would always be a table for me. Did y’all catch that this store’s HQ is in Columbus, Ohio? As in Buckeye Country, home of The Ohio State University? Go Buckeyes (next season).

The main dining room is very appealing with an Italian motif and comfortable seating. The seating capacity, including the bar area, is about 300. There are several private dining rooms available for parties and small meetings seating up to 36. On to the food.

This is not Ohio food. Ohio food is gray, like the weather, Even burgers in Ohio are gray. Here the food is representative of the Tuscany region of Northern Italy, some of the finest food in the world. G and I are planning a trip to Italy next fall.

Between G and I and several dining companions we’ve sampled much of the extensive menu both at lunch and dinner. There are minor differences between the two but the popular dishes are available all day. In reality, you can probably get most anything all day unless it needs special preparation. A burger at dinner or a steak at lunch is never a problem. The prices are definitely not cheap. They call it upscale affordable. They do have linen napkins and real tablecloths which is a good thing.

Start with one of more than a half dozen first courses, perhaps the roasted garlic, spinach & artichoke dip or calamari or my favorite: spicy shrimp with eggplant.

These dishes are followed on the menu by a large number of bruschetta & flatbreads of which G favors the roasted red pepper bruschetta.

There are a half dozen salads to choose from but the Caesar salad and the Brio chopped salad gets very high marks. There’s also a grilled salmon salad or a sliced steak salad for those that want to diet. Won’t find me ordering either. Wait until you hear about the desserts.

After you’re now full from munchies and salad, you can select from a list of house “specialties” at dinner or “lunch plates” at lunch time; same difference. This category includes beef, veal, chicken and seafood dishes. The lasagna Bolognese is terrific, but in this category I had a terrific veal Marsala. I also had the burger, in case you’re interested. It was a very pleasant surprise. The burger was served lightly charred and cooked perfectly. But if you get it with all that stuff you’ll never get the flavor of the burger. I had my burger served half plain and half loaded. Both sides were great in their own right. Sorry, I prefer a real burger without.

Then comes “The Grille” for dinner. I guess the difference is that these items are grilled. Duh? Ok, they offer lamb chops and pork chops in in this category at dinner. But at lunch, the grilled items are included with lunch plates. Hey, don’t ask me why.

Now we have The Pasta, dishes most of you come for. On five visits that I was recording, the pasta was perfectly al dente on four and slightly undercooked on one, but all were delish according to the diners. I rarely do pasta, cuz I’d rather have my carbs in dessert or bread. But I always invite someone who is a big pasta lover. I had three Italian friends on three separate visits, all of whom raved about the food, describing it as “surprisingly very good.” There are about a dozen pasta dishes on the menu, most very traditional. They also offer meat selections with a reasonable upcharge with pasta or salad.

We need to back up to muh favorite dish: spicy shrimp with eggplant. Oh my! Pan seared shrimp in a black pepper cream sauce over Romano crusted eggplant. I gotta tellya, this is one maaavelous dish. It’s so good I make sure there’s no sauce left by sopping up the plate with the house made sourdough bread. And I don’t even like sourdough bread. But this sauce is too good to send leftovers back to the kitchen.

On one visit G and I invited her eldest granddaughters, Emma, age 11, and Harper, age 10. Harper had three courses: crab cake, calamari and angel hair pasta with tomato and pesto drizzle. The calamari “was perfect, crunchy, and it had just enough lemon. For dessert I had a creamy, chocolaty (sic) tiramisu cup.” Emma “was delighted with an awesome appetizer and a marvelous main course and delectable desserts. For my main course I had a lobster and crab fettuccini… and was perfectly balanced by the variety of vegetables. The food was cooked perfectly.” She had the assortment of desserts, and managed to eat part of everyone else’s dinner and dessert. Emma can’t stand to miss out on any dish.

Now we skip back to the end of the menu and the desserts. The W brought an elegant-looking tray filled with an array of yummy-looking desserts. Of course you can never tell what they taste like until you eat them, but these are good. But the best is not on the tray. There are over a dozen desserts including panna cotta, tiramisu, cheesecake, carrot cake, caramel cake, and gelato. Some of these come in mini-sizes so you can get a sampling trio. But the secret wondrous dessert is torte di chocolate. Oh, my. Rich chocolate cake with warm center topped with vanilla bean gelato and chocolate syrup. Sop up every drop. There is a problem, tho. You didn’t think that they were going to get away with all wondrous and no bad? Sometimes the “warm” translates to “hot” and that’s not good. The gelato comes out mostly melted, and this is really good gelato, so if it does, it goes back to the kitchen for a redo. Cuz the mixture of the gelato and warm chocolate is disgustingly wonderful.

Service has always been first rate, even when I send the dessert back for un-hotting. The restaurant is open from 11 am to 10 pm Monday thru Friday, and 11 am to 11 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday until 3 pm. The complete menu is available online at www.brioitalian.com. They also have a large takeout and catering menu.

Cya.

Jay Fox is the dining and restaurant critic for The Statesman. He can be reached at jay@jayfoxcpa.com.