In preparation for my trip to the South, HM arranged a training session at Bruno's. I hadn't been in years and was interested to see what the new chefs had done with the place. Upon entering I noticed that it is still a bar, most of the seating is the same, though I think some of the high backed booths have been removed. It's comfortable place for a drink, but what about the food?
We had a very wide selection from the menu. Started with hush puppies, I'm not one for hush puppies having eaten my fair share of them as a kid (Long John Silver's was my father's second favorite fast food place). These were nothing like Captain Silver's version – they were perfectly fried, tender (not crumbly) and not greasy at all. I'd have them again. Next, the smoked trout pot, which was really a brandade of smoked trout. We smeared the brandade on thinly sliced toast points and found the combination of smokey, salty and creamy flavors well balanced. The Frito Pie was just o.k., I think this suffered from a lack of chili, all the elements were good, but there seemed to be far more fritos than chili, -- one of us had had this dish before and she said the ratio of chili to fritos was different last time, probably just an oversight. Tangent - here's a preview of a fantastic Frito Pie I had in Atlanta:
Fox Bros BBQ - Frito Pie
Mac n Cheese – this was fine, but even better were the grilled asparagus with pork belly and a soft cooked egg. The asparagus was well seasoned and grilled to a smokey tenderness, the soft cooked egg had a runny yolk and the pork belly, good execution of a tried and true combination.
Onto the main courses. Oyster Po'Boy, if they served these at lunch, I would come regularly. Crispy cornmeal coated oysters on good french bread with a spicy bright slaw – very good, also thought that the bread on the sandwich was exactly right (airy and toasted) staying out of the way of the rest of the flavors. The chicken fried steak had a crispy outer coating flecked with herbs – I'm not a chicken fried steak person, but I liked it. Our friend from Louisiana proclaimed that it might be the best chicken fried steak he'd ever had.
Finally, the bbq pork ribs, now I have been a regular at Memphis Minnie's for some time, and for some reason my last few visits were not as good as before (the brisket has been a bit oversteamed from sitting too long). I suspect that turnover at real bbq joints is as important as it is for sushi places. Luckily, I now have a new place to go for ribs. Bruno's pork ribs were smokey tender, with a bit of chew. The bones were cleanly frenched and served with sauce on the side. They don't need the sauce, but the sauce is pretty good a South Carolina vinegar style of sauce. We got the ribs with spicy cheese grits on the side. The texture wasn't as smooth as expected, but the cheesy grits spiked with green chile flavor hit the spot. To top it all off it came with a beautiful, fluffy on the inside, crispy on top, biscuit served with honey butter on the side. We all agreed, these chefs know Southern food.
We sampled all of the desserts that night. Churros, whoopie pie and some kind of toffee cracker that they called Crack. The toffee cracker crack was a matzo cracker sandwiched between two pieces of toffee and punctuated with a hit of sea salt. Toffee is fairly easy to make, but often the flavor balance is off, either it's too buttery or too sugary. This one was perfect and the matzo cracker in the middle was brilliant, a good way to emphasize the crispiness of the toffee and add an accompaniment to the sugar – and of course the sea salt added the right hit of salt at the end to bring out all the flavors. So far so good, and then came the churros. These were about five churros coated in cinnamon sugar, looking exactly like what you see in Spain. Wow, a crispy exterior crunch gave way to a soft moist interior – hands down the best churro I've eaten. I would return here just for these churros – (I would've also loved the nice little pot of chocolate to go with them). Then I moved on to the whoopie pie. It was what you'd expect, a orange whipped cream sandwiched between two soft airy pieces of “bun” made of chocolate cake. It tasted just fine, but I'm not completely sure because all of my senses were temporarily overloaded by the pleasure of the churro I had just had.
The service was very friendly and welcoming. The chef came out of the kitchen several times to look at the tables. At the end of our meal he came over and checked on us. I love it when the kitchen is really intent on taking care of you with their food. I mean, not just satisfying you getting your order out and over with, but taking care of you and genuinely hoping that you enjoy their food.
Unfortunately, the bar atmosphere and loud music at Bruno's does somewhat of an injustice to the kitchen by distracting from the food. On the bright side, this is seriously good comfort food. One of the better meals I've had this year, good enough to put up with the loud music. I'm looking forward to my next visit.
Favorites: Churros, Churros, Churros, Ribs and spicy cheesy grits, oyster po boy, Toffee Cracker Crack, chicken fried steak.
Mission at 20th