What do you get when dining at a Tuscan-themed chain in a mall off the 75 freeway in Southern Florida? An Italian meal where you’d rather leave the cannoli, take the gun.
I avoid eating in malls only slightly less than I avoid eating road kill. I’m sure there are exceptions but the preponderance of “casual dining restaurants” found there are bland corporate chains with better slogans than food: Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood; Come hungry. Leave happy; When you’re here, you’re Family. So my expectations were set low when dining at BRIO tuscan grille whose slogan incidentally is: To eat well is to live well.
Unfortunately, here you will eat and live only slightly ‘weller‘ than an Olive Garden because like most corporate concept restaurants, BRIO executes its theme better than its food. It’s owned by a corporation called BRAVO | BRIO Restaurant Group publicly traded under the symbol BBRG. Typical of corporate restaurants, BRIO homogenizes the cuisine so it’s not too ethnic to offend any taste but not recognizable as what was originally made in the country of origin. Also par for the course, they have many locations throughout the U.S. in places with names like The Shops at such and such, so and so Mall or fill-in-the-blank Village. I stopped by this one in The Shops at Pembroke Gardens on my way to catch my flight out of Ft. Lauderdale airport.
I would guess they all follow a similar layout. This BRIO is a cavernous 8,400-square feet; filled with enough tables and booths for 260 and a faux-Tuscan-stone stamp on the walls, ceilings and the many hanging lights. It looks nice but has as much soul as The Cheesecake Factory.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, reading down the menu sounds like a Romper Room magic mirror roll call for meat.
Romper, Bomper, Stomper Boo; tell me, tell me, tell me do; magic mirror tell me without defeat is this menu full of meat? I see shrimp is having a special day. I see beef, calamari and I see chicken, chorizo and lobster. Going more omnivorous than vegetarian in a restaurant like this would be like heading to Sizzler for a nice steak. So as I weighed my few veggie options, my server Luis brought my bread and crispy flat bread.
The flat bread looked better than it tasted. The bread however was pretty good. It was warm and I’m a sucker for warm bread. The outside was crispy and the inside light with a hint of sourness but it lacked that made from scratch artisinal complexity that makes even carb counters fall off the wagon. The bread is served with a promising looking dip they called peperonata: tomato, onion, herbs and olive oil cooked together.
Unfortunately it leaked more oil than a BP rig with as much saltiness as the Dead Sea. If this had been a more traditional rustic peperonata with chunks of veggies and included red peppers, it would have been A LOT better. Switching to the other spreads wasn’t any better. The butter had that just-removed-from-the-chiller hardness and as little flavor as the cheap tasting olive oil.
I had higher hopes for the citrus garden salad I ordered. Fresh fettuccine tossed with spinach, peppers, carrots, scallions, basil, cilantro, dried cranberries, sliced almonds, lemon vinaigrette and topped with citrus glaze for $9.95.
Fresh cilantro and scallions made this salad spring to life. The raw red pepper added a sprightly crunch and veggie sweetness; the toasted almonds a nutty roasted dimension and there were just the right amount of dried cranberries so the salad didn’t take on that fruit cake quality you can get from the heavy handed use of dried fruit.
Fresher tasting salad dressing with little to no sweetener and better quality pasta served warm would have improved this salad. Also, at the end of my meal I was unpleasantly surprised to find a few small pieces of chicken at the bottom of my bowl. I would guess it slipped in accidentally at the prep station. When I pointed it out to Luis and the manager, they offered me dessert and when I declined they comped my lunch.
I found BRIO’s customer service to be very good, their decor only good and their food a step down to ok. I would have enjoyed it much more if the roles were reversed with ok decor, good service and very good food. Instead, like fruit in the grocery store, everything at BRIO looks better than it tastes.
BRIO tuscan grille
14576 SW 5th Street
Pembroke Pines, FL 33027
Locations throughout US
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