Brio Tuscan Grill in Cherry Hill has been open a little while, but with the MOB of people who pack the parking lot of the Cheesecake Factory, this is one area we typically avoid unless it’s very off hours for traditional meal times. I picked Jim up at the airport this morning, and by the time we finished running errands, it was half-way between time to get Eilis and lunch time, so we decided to find a place to eat. We were going to go to our diner, the Club Diner in Bellmawr, but a crowd in their parking lot made us consider dining closer to school in case we were running late.
We headed over to Ponzio’s in Cherry Hill, but on the way decided to see how busy Pei Wei was. This is a new Chinese “diner”, operated by the P.F. Chang restaurant chain. Fortunately for us, Pei Wei was also packed, so we took a spin around and found a parking spot at Brio. I’m a little leary of Italian restaurants, because I don’t do pasta since my surgery, but I figure I can always find a salad or soup, even on a Friday during Lent, so we headed in.
The restaurant decor is warm, muted, and kind of an upscale informal. This is not the place where someone writes their name on your table cloth. The napkins are linen, and they have nice chair covers. The kitchen is open, and while it certainly seems like it should be a loud place with the number of tables and the open kitchen, it really wasn’t loud at all.
Because it’s Friday and Lent, we’re not allowed to eat meat. I chose the small plate crab cake, and Jim ordered the mushroom ravioli. We ordered Granuaile spaghetti, and you had your choice of sauces, so we chose just a marinara. I also ordered the lobster bisque for everyone to share.
The bisque, which is not the best option if you are bypassed, is a thick, creamy soup with bites of lobster and a bit of a spicey flavor. It comes in a small uncovered tureen type bowl, and the portion was more than enough for one person, and definitely more than enough for me. I had a few nice sized spoonfuls, but quickly felt like it was filling me up. Granuaile ate quite a bit, and Jim managed to get a couple of bites in. The further out I get from my surgery, the less I can eat of soups like this. They really just seem to be too heavy for me.
I hesitate to order the crab cake, because you know how some of them can be bread crumbs with essence of crab. Jim asked the girl how heavily breaded they were and she said that they are more than 95% lump crabmeat and lightly breaded to hold them together. That sounded like my Aunt Annie’s crab cakes, and I can eat crab meat very easily, so I jumped on ordering the platter at that point. I have to tell you, if you are NOT gastrically altered and hungry for lunch, this is not the meal for you. The lone crab cake was about the size of a camera lens cap, and it was topped lightly with a citrus pesto. It sat atop a nice amount of roasted vegetables, which included potatoes, zucchini, carrots, and beets. The roasted vegetables were delicious, and they were so perfectly roasted that they had a nice caramel color to them and tasted SOOOOO good. I didn’t push myself to finish them, but did eat quite a bit. For $12 at the diner, we would have gotten two large crab cakes, two vegetables, soup or salad, and rice pudding, so this definitely was not an inexpensive meal, but I was full and satisfied with my altered anatomy.
I did taste a bite of Jim’s ravioli, and if you are able to eat pasta, I still can’t really recommend this dish. It was delicious, without a doubt, but the huge portion of ravioli were stuffed with mushrooms and ricotta cheese, then liberally topped with Alfredo sauce, which was then topped with toasted Parmesan cheese. There was a sweetness in the dish, and it was smooth and creamy, but even if you can eat pasta without trouble, the portion is WAY too huge, and the fat content in this dish must be through the roof.
As a former fat girl, the desserts caught my eye almost from the parking lot. If you have not had gastric bypass surgery – or if you have had surgery and find you don’t have trouble eating sugar – you will find a nice selection of what they call Dolchinos. These are small samplings of dessert – most of which seemed to be in cappucino cups. For a $2 price tag, this is definitely a nice way to end a meal here. You will not get a huge mountain of cake or pie, but you do get a nice taste of a beautifully prepared dessert. I’m not able to do sugars, or I might have been tempted to order one. They also have a dessert sampler, which offers 5 different desserts for $10. That would be nice to share.
Overall, we were very impressed with our experience here. Browsing the dinner menu and the rest of the dessert menu, there are other non-pasta options, several of which are seafood options, so that’s good protein. They have a children’s menu, and then they have a “big kids” menu which I LOVED. It went way off the path of the fried chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks with offerings like grilled salmon, grilled chicken, pork chops and build your own pizza. Definitely a menu for kids that will keep them from needing this surgery when they get older!
Brio is a national chain, and I would eat here again without reservation.