With its creative kitchen and a great happy hour, Brick + Mortar should have no trouble staying put
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
I’m generally not a fan of food trucks — I prefer restaurants that stay right where they are, so when I find one I like I don’t have to chase it around. I have trouble keeping track of the schedules in my own household, so timing my visit to a favorite rolling kitchen is often just too much bother. But I’ll admit that the best of them have provided a valuable public service by bringing gourmet food to far-flung communities, inspiring people to do more searching on their own.
Food trucks apparently influenced Justin Safier and Travis Lester. The pair of restaurateurs saw mobile eateries’ popularity in Santa Monica and was inspired not to start their own truck, but to open a restaurant to compete with them. They named it Brick + Mortar, after the defining difference between themselves and their competition; their customers are protected from the elements.
The restaurant is situated in the rear of a modern upscale shopping center on Main Street near Ocean Park Boulevard, and the sign is easy to miss — at one point I was standing five feet from it and didn’t see it. Go behind the coffee shop, a little zig and zag past boutiques, up a ramp and you’ll find a spacious pub with a mix of comfortable booths, high-top tables and a long and well-stocked bar.
We arrived early enough for happy hour, which is a good strategy here. Some places in this area offer smaller portions for lower prices to make you think you’re getting a deal, but here the discount is real. We ordered chili-glazed wings and a crab cake from the happy hour menu while pondering our entrees, and of course selected a couple of drinks to lubricate the thought process. The white sangria had an interesting base of Prosecco, wine and rum but was a bit sweet and could have been made without agave, but the cucumber basil refresher and Sazerac were both excellent.
The crab cake was described as “jumbo lump,” one of the most prized grades, but if that is what they’re using here, they’re wasting it. The reason to use this premium meat is because it has superior texture and flakiness, so chopping it fine defeats the purpose. The meat was so completely blended with filler that the interior was creamy, and we mused over whether this was deliberate or they had substituted smaller and cheaper flakes of crab. The flavor was OK, but this is one item I wouldn’t order again.
The chicken wings were much better, the sauce moderately spicy with a distinct sweet-and-sour flavor that was enhanced by a dusting of sesame. Blue cheese dip was served with veggies on the side rather than the traditional ranch, and it was a good dressing that made me want to try the others that are made in-house.
For main courses we selected a burger (another happy hour bargain), roast chicken over butternut squash puree, and ahi tuna over coconut forbidden rice.
Forbidden rice acquired its name based on a legend that it was once only for Chinese aristocrats and forbidden to common people, and is a hip ingredient with a reason. The nutty richness, firm texture and deep purple color make it a great companion for mildly spiced dishes, particularly seafood. It was excellent in this setting with seared tuna chunks accented by lightly smoky broccolini and shiitake mushrooms with a dash of mild red curry.
I had been almost disappointed when my wife ordered a simple roast chicken instead of one of the more unusual items. Roast chicken is on just about every menu and sitting on the hot counter at supermarkets because it’s inoffensive — if you eat meat you probably like it. Roast chicken is often overcooked and usually bland, but the one served at Brick + Mortar was a cut above — made with free-range organic chicken that had real flavor, and the crisp, tasty skin had nice herbal notes. It was well-paired with the butternut squash, and the lightly pickled green bean, onion and radish salad on the side was a real treat.
As for the burger, it was the classic with cheddar, lettuce and tomato along with balsamic onions and a dash of horseradish mayo on a brioche bun, and it came with a mound of fries with truffle salt, parmesan and parsley. Those fries were hot and crisp but a trifle over-salted for my tastes — a delight at first, but cumulatively a bit much. I’d ask the chef to back off on seasoning next time, but would order this again because at the happy hour price of just ten bucks, this burger is the best cheap meal in Santa Monica. At the regular price of $16 it’s still in the running, because it’s a lot of good food.
We tried another pair of cocktails, the Prohibition and a perfectly made Old Fashioned, to reassure ourselves that the bar here was indeed firing on all cylinders, then asked for the check. Dinner for three, food only, ran just over $80, but the five drinks boosted the total to $151. That’s a lot more than you’d pay at the food trucks that inspired this establishment, but Brick + Mortar has cheerful good service, cocktails, comfortable seating, a roof and other amenities that are lacking at its wheeled counterparts. It’s also in the same place all the time, so you can find it when you want to return — and you will.
Brick + Mortar, 2435 Main St., Santa Monica (310) 450-3434 brickandmortar-brg.com