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I Give Up, Brio Tuscan Grille – Review

In Annapolis, Maryland’s new Towne Centre development (Really? Town with an e AND Center as Centre? WOW — that place must be REALLY posh!)¬† they’ve opened up a Brio Tuscan Grille restaurant, a chain based out of Columbus, Ohio that claims eating within its walls is like an “Escape to Tuscany.” I’d have to agree, because the last time I was in Tuscany I had the misfortune of being led to some terrible tourist trap where I had the worst meal of my vacation.¬† It was devastating to have your one meal in famous Tuscany ruined by your tour company, but on the bright side, now I can relive that crushing disappointment any time I want just by driving down the street.

Our local newspaper’s reviewers could eat out of a fly-infested dumpster and declare the experience “unique” and “protein-filled,” the other patrons “abuzz” with excitement -¬† if they thought the dumpster’s owner might consider advertising -¬† so I thought I’d type up a little unbiased review.

My husband Mike and I have gone to Brio maybe five or six times, because we love sitting on the open air patio when the weather is nice. They have some decent wine selections, which means we cleared the first barrier to entry for Mike. Nice. But finally, this weekend, we realized visiting Brio over and over is like going to a fast food joint thinking THIS is the time you’re not going to spend the rest of the day in the bathroom evacuating your bowels with the frightening speed only fryer grease can provide. You are setting yourself up for disappointment.

The first time we visited Brio, my husband had the lasagna. The portion was large enough to end hunger in Africa (though personally I would have used it to end hunger in America first, and then ordered a pasta dish, which I then could have used to end hunger in Africa). After eating for a while (and not making a dent) Mike asked me to try it, and though the sauce had a little zing to it, I had to admit for the most part it tasted like a frozen dinner from my childhood. I checked his plate for the little hockey puck brownie, which I remembered was the best part of that childhood meal, but they had stiffed him there. Bastards.

I asked the server if it was in fact frozen, and was told no, it was made fresh. Made fresh in Ohio and then shipped here frozen? Maybe.  Or maybe I should be impressed by the kitchen skills that can create a frozen-tasting dish out of fresh ingredients? Paired with my own overcooked veal and a very average Caesar salad, we left largely disappointed. I felt a little like someone had promised me an upscale meal and then distracted me from the Olive Garden sign as we entered. But at the time the restaurant had only been open a few weeks, and we thought maybe they needed a little time to get their act together.

Following that first experience, we largely stuck to appetizers on following visits. The Calamari Fritto Misto was so bad we each ate one, then my husband had one more to confirm the horribleness of it, and then we were done. While the calamari itself wasn’t like a bunch of tough rubber bands, which was nice and surprising, the fried part of the concoction was utterly without flavor and too heavily battered. Here, I’ll give you the secret recipe: Take a steaming ring of calamari in one hand, and a spoonful of Gold Medal Flour in the other. Put them both in your mouth. Mmm. Nummy. Optional - throw in a spoonful of the nasty garlic aioli fandango sauce which smothered half the plate. Clearly they were thinking: fried, covered in mayonnaise… what could be bad?

The ginormous Bruschetta sampler arrived with two pieces each of four different flavors, drowned in a sticky sweet balsamic glaze that made them all basically taste the same whether you reached for the steak or the roasted red pepper. At least the bread was nice and crisp the first time. A second attempt during a later visit brought forth a soggy horror that turned me off it forever. It made me think how I used to throw bread to the ducks when I was little. I imagined my grandfather scooping my tossed bread back out of the bay, adorning it with some diced tomatoes and adding some buffalo mozzarella, and then serving it to me for lunch. Mangia!

When we asked the server if we should try the Crab and Shrimp Cakes, we were asked “Do you like Maryland crab cakes?” Of course we do! we said. “Then I wouldn’t get them,” he finished. Hm. I should know better. You don’t order a “Philly Steak Sandwich” in Georgia, and you don’t order crab cakes in Maryland when the chain you are eating at is based out of Ohio.

I turned to the server for help again. What about the Ravioli CapreseRomano crusted ravioli topped with tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella and cilantro pesto drizzle? I felt like Dr. Lightman on Lie to Me as I detected his lip quickly curl and then relax again. Disdain.  Never mind. We get it. Of course this is the same kid who eventually steered us towards the calamari, so maybe the Ravioli was the winner.

I’m a big fan of blue cheeses, so I thought I’d give the Gorgonzola Lamb Chops a whirl. They came out overcooked and one out of the four so badly charred that any attempt to pick it up by the bone turned it to charcoal dust.¬† Tommy from Rescue Me must have been drunk when that one jumped in the fire. Starving after our inedible calamari, I managed to eat three of the little chops by pretending this was really my excellently prepared lamb from the night before that I lazily nuked for a quick snack the next day.

So I give up, Brio. The white flag is raised. I’ll sit on your porch and drink your wine. I’ll nibble from your bread basket. But I’m afraid when I’m done, I’ll get up… and go out to dinner.

Amy Vansant

Voted Funniest Non-Mommy Blog by a Bunch of Moms I Got Really Drunk.Amy has been finding creative ways to make no money since high school.

11 Responses

  1. Jim

    By far, the most entertaining and honest restaurant review I’ve ever read. Unlike the “infomercials” found in any local publication, this describes a REAL experience. Nice job!

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  2. Lauren

    I’m going to have to politely disagree with most everything you said. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a bad experience at this particular location, perhaps you should try another one? because I’ve been to five different locations up and down the east coast, from florida to new jersey, and have never had an experience that wasn’t worth raving about. I’ve eaten things I don’t even particularly care for that were absolutely delicious. They use high quality, fresh ingredients, NEVER frozen, and possibly the most noteworthy aspect I’ve come across is if there is an unusual allergy or request or even a problem with your food the executive chef is more than happy to come to your table to reach a solution. It sounds like they had a terrible chef at the Maryland location you’re referring to. I think you’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t give Brio another shot.

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  3. Amy Vansant

    Clearly the Brio in Annapolis is dead to me. And when I travel I really make it a point to not eat in a chain restaurant and do what I can to find a local gem. But you certainly could be right, you little Brio corporate spy you… I might just live next to the only dud!

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  4. Lynda

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was the only person on the planet who doesn’t like Brio. The location where I, too, love to sit on the patio while avoiding dinner is in Southlake, Texas and frankly, it is home to some of the worst food I’ve ever eaten. Like the Gorgonzola lamb chops… highly recommended by friends (and the server) but after my experience, certainly not by me. I love lamb. I love gorgonzola. And yet, if I had closed my eyes while eating these, I would not have been able to identify any of the ingredients whatsoever. “Overcooked” and “salty” would be my adjectives of choice.

    But I can’t convince my friends… and so it seems I am doomed to choosing between a lonely life full of good food at another restaurant – or sipping wine, trying not to get too wasted, while I watch everyone else eat!

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    • Amy Vansant

      Yes! I too fell victim to the Gorgonzola chops – and I love both as well! And if that is really your stomach I would like to know what you DO eat!

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    • Leslie

      Strange. I am an incredibly picky eater. Being born in NYC and raised just outside Chicago with friend’s who’s parents came straight off the boat from Italy I am an Italian food snob. And I love Brios.

      I found this site looking for the recipe for the Brio crab cake which I ABSOLUTELY LOVE! Even stranger is I have only been to the above Southlake, Texas location and have never had anything their that I didn’t enjoy. I’ve also brought others there who have loved the food at the location. I even hosted a wine and food pairing event there which was marvelous.

      I am normally not even a big seafood fan and I USUALLY HATE lobster (which I know is also odd) but the Brios’ lobster ravioli I’ve had there was amazing.

      So sorry to hear of anyone’s bad experience because there is nothing worse to me than a bad meal. Well except bad sex.

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  5. Raymond

    If you don’t do to this for a living, you have no life

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