Bob and I dined out recently (twice, to be more precise) at the newly-opened Brick House Pizza & Grille in Clifton Park. We’re always excited when there’s a locally-owned option to be found in the sea of chain restaurants up here.
The Brick House building is located in the Village Square shopping center on Clifton Country Road. Its building formerly housed the failed Arizona Pizza restaurant, and prior to that short-lived endeavor, it was the home of entertainment stores Strawberries and FYE.
The current incarnation is owned by the same family that previously owned the locally legendary Mama’s on Route 146, from 1982 to 2005. After a brief try at retirement, Mama’s family decided they wanted to get back into business. Mama is now 70 years old, and keeps a close eye on things at The Brick House. How do I know? Keep reading.
The parking lot was quite full – we ended up having to park in the Trustco Bank lot – but we only had to endure a short wait, which we spent enjoying cocktails at the small bar in front of the open-ish kitchen. Nothing special to report here – standard draft offerings, with lots of Miller Lite neon hanging around.
We were seated in a comfortable booth, and noticed that seating in the restaurant was a bit odd – there seemed to be a lot of unused/underused/misused space. I’m fairly certain they could fit two to three more tables in the place if they tried. Each of the booths has its own small TV set, equipped with DirecTV. But, the one in our booth seemed to be broken. Our server later confirmed that it was the only one in the place not working. Of course.
The service on our first visit (a Saturday night, two weeks before Christmas) was pretty slow. It felt like an eternity before our server arrived to take our dinner order (luckily we still were nursing our cocktails from our wait at the bar). She seemed extremely frazzled, and wasn’t paying attention as she took our order – her mind was clearly elsewhere. I’ve never worked in a restaurant so perhaps I am unqualified to make this assumption, but there seemed to be way too many servers on the floor that night – a situation which drove me nuts, because the service was SO SLOW.
Here’s the thing that really stuck in my craw that night: busboys carting garbage, buckets of dirty dishes, and huge containers of ice back and forth through the dining room – there’s got to be a different way to get that stuff in and out of the kitchen without traipsing through the dining room – it was very off-putting. If the kitchen doesn’t have a back door, someone needs build one. Watching bags of stinky garbage parade by my table makes me ill. (I didn’t notice this the second time we ate there, but probably only because we were seated on the opposite site of the dining room.)
We ordered boneless wings to start, Bob ordered a personal cheese pizza, and I ordered a Chicago Cheese Steak calzone. Our entrees arrived at the same time as our appetizer – extremely poor timing on the kitchen’s part. But, Bob and I are accustomed to eating pizza and wings together, and it really didn’t bother us as much as it might have if we’d been at a more expensive restaurant.
So, here’s where things got interesting: when I cut into my calzone, it was COLD. The dough looked like it had been in the oven long enough, but the ricotta and mozzarella were just cold. I began to doubt myself for a minute – are calzones supposed to be cold? I’m not Italian, not even a drop, so I’m not always sure when it comes to Italian food. When Bob, also not Italian, told me that it was indeed supposed to be hot, I summoned the waitress.
First thing she said was, “Are you sure?” (I hate sending stuff back – it’s always such a pain in the ass. But this chick made the experience just ridiculous.) After I needlessly confirmed my temperature assessment, she took the calzone away with a promise to make me a new one.
After a few minutes, a man in a black chef’s coat came to the table to confirm that I had received a cold calzone. He seemed pretty miffed, but luckily not at me. He apologized profusely, and assured us it would not be on the bill. A few minutes after THAT, Mama herself (Stephanie Van Auken) came over to the table.
“I see the big boss stopped by – did you guys have a problem?” she asked. We explained what happened, and then she sat down next to me in the booth. Yes, she really did sit down. I had to skooch over. She told us how the new place came to be: after they sold Mama’s in 2005, she wanted to stay retired (her exact words were “I wanted to move to Florida and make some nice billionaire a millionaire”) but her family was itching to get back in the business. She also explained that they’d only been open for two weeks at that point, and they were having some issues training more than 30 new employees. We chatted about some other stuff, after which she stood up, gave us both hugs (!) and wished us a Merry Christmas. We absolutely fell in love with her – she’s just the nicest lady.
The calzone arrived shortly thereafter, cooked perfectly. The filling was hot cheese, with a pocket of seasoned shaved beef. It was, as calzones often are, enough food for dinner and a subsequent lunch. Bob’s wood-fired pizza was quite tasty, with a chewy- and crispy-in-the-right-places crust, and a rich not-sweet sauce. The wings were unlike any I’d ever had before – they are not pre-formed breaded nuggets, but instead whole sliced breast pieces, deep-fried without breading and generously sauced (we tried BBQ sauce the first time, and Hickory Smoked the second time. Both good).
On our second trip, Bob ordered the pizza again (no surprise there, really) and I got the make-your-own pasta bowl with whole wheat penne, garlic butter sauce, and sauteed vegetables. Quite tasty – they use a good quality whole wheat pasta which was not gummy in the least, fresh vegetables (red and green bell peppers, onions, broccoli, sundried tomatoes) and a light hand with the garlic and butter. Their bread basket contained a small loaf of Italian bread, which was hot and fresh (but I’m guessing not homemade).
The rest of the menu is pretty typical – salads, burgers, pasta, sandwiches, chicken parm. Nothing out of the ordinary. It’s not haute cuisine, but it’s a great place to grab a beer, eat a pizza, and catch a game. They also offer trivia on Thursday nights.
Our cold-calzone saga just goes to show you what good service can do. If it weren’t for attentive owners and just plain niceness, we probably would never have gone back. But, we did go back and had a great experience the second time. And we’ll definitely go back again.
Brick House Pizza & Grille
5 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park