You know how you “just know” when a new restaurant is going to be good? That’s the feeling you get in the first ten minutes at Brick + Wood, a new restaurant and wine bar in Fairfield’s Brick Walk Plaza on the site of the former Ponte Vecchio restaurant. When you make a great find like this, it’s a double-edged sword: You want to share it with friends, but at the same time keep it your secret a little longer. We decided to share. You’re welcome.
On a recent lunch visit, as we perused the distressed-wood and worn-brick decor, an amuse bouche appeared out of nowhere—two crispy crostini topped with fluffy homemade ricotta, sautéed broccoli rabe and imported prosciutto—as if to say, “Let’s get this party started.”
Eyeballing the chalkboard specials and sampling our way through the menu, it became abundantly clear that owners Paolo and Clara Cavalli fully appreciate that the devil is in the details. It shows in everything from our server’s knowledge of the on-tap wine selections (30 wines from California and Washington to Italy and New Zealand), to the thoughtful sauces that accompany the appetizers, all the way to the finishing touch—Clara’s ambrosial white chocolate-cranberry bread pudding, arriving warm and fragrant from the oven, dripping with vanilla sauce and studded with pistachios. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Brick + Wood is right on time. When Pizzeria Molto burst onto the Fairfield scene about five years ago, it was the town’s hotspot du jour—a loud and bustling pizzeria and wine bar with just enough sex appeal and hauteur to earn cult status. About five years later, Brick + Wood is today’s version—a casual venue that underscores how people eat and drink now. Lively but not deafening, hip but not overtly “hipster,” Brick + Wood wows with the traditional and novel—from heavenly homemade mozzarellas, to an array of Italian Street Food, to crispy pizzas, to light and fresh salads. While there’s a cozy barroom that seats 25 and heats up when the sun goes down, as well as counter seating in front of the massive open kitchen and mozzarella bar, the restaurant is also a place to bring the whole family. Who’s not going to find something appealing about the relaxed setting, the homemade menu touches, the gentle prices, and the no-attitude wait staff?
The focal point of the action pivots around the dining room’s beehive-style mosaic-tiled wood-burning oven and the butcher block- and marble-topped mozzarella bar. Brick + Wood is also home to the area’s first all-tap wine bar, accentuated by a steel backdrop and wooden taps, pouring uber-fresh wines. In warm weather, the bar’s garage-style door opens onto the patio, lit by outdoor lamps strung across the open archways and exterior spaces, reminiscent of a Naples street scene.
As first timers, we asked our server to point out a few favorites, and she deftly guided us through the highlights. In short order, we sampled a roundup of Neapolitan Street Foods (starters), all plentiful, and priced to encourage sampling.
Typically, I’m not a fan of arancini, which are often softball-sized, dry and tasteless, or cold in the middle. But our server suggested them, so we gave them a whirl. These golf-ball-sized beauties ($8 for two) won us over. These babies are golden brown on the outside and stuffed with creamy, piping hot risotto studded with bacon and a medley of cheeses and served with a side of warm and spicy jalapeno dipping sauce. For variety, you can also sample arancini stuffed with pear and gorgonzola (with sage brown sauce) or four cheeses (with creamy vodka sauce).
Before we go further, an aside: The menu promotes tasting a little of this and that. In the same spirit, the wine-on-tap system allows you to order wine by the flight, the glass, the half carafe, or the full carafe…whatever suits your mood. I sampled the Nobilo Sauvignon from New Zealand, and, as promised, it was crisp and fresh, served chilled at between 42-46 degrees.
Next up, our waitress brought out a piping hot Panzerotti ($4.50!), the house’s fried dough, stuffed with salamino, fresh mozzarella, basil, served with marinara sauce. Again, crisply turned out and served with a side of the piquant and light San Marzano marina, one of the better sauces I’ve had in a good while. As with most of the Neapolitan Street Food, the Panzerotti goes well with a robust Sangiovese, and any of the fresh salads, like the Irving, mixed greens with dried cherries, glazed pecans and goat cheese with balsamic vinaigrette or the B+W Salad, simple mixed greens, pine nuts and shaved parmigiano with balsamic vinaigrette, topped with prosciutto di parma.
Our next choice was the fresh truffle burrata ($15). While it seems that you can’t find a menu that doesn’t feature burrata these days (and who’s complaining?), this one is worlds above so many others. Handmade fresh at the mozzarella bar just steps from your table, this burrata doesn’t have time to get rubbery or lose flavor sitting in a refrigerator or in transit. The consistency of the room-temp B+W burrata is pillowy perfection, with a smooth, creamy center and a super-fresh milky flavor. Taking it up a notch is a very light drizzle of truffle oil, which I normally find overpowering. In this case, the truffle essence inside the oozing center wakes up the burrata with a light perfume. A great appetizer for sharing, the ample burrata ball is shaped by hand, and set on a bed of peppery arugula with prosciutto di parma.
Finally, we order up a pizza ($10-$17), seeing as it would be a sin to cry "Uncle" before sampling the main attraction, especially considering the restaurant is certified by the Association of Neapolitan Pizza Makers, the elite Italian governing body that teaches the 150-year-old art of Neapolitan pizza making, and certifies adherence to authentic procedures. The 900-degree oven turns out a mean pie: crispy, thin and well done. Order yours topped any way you like, from the classic Margherita with San Marzano tomato sauce, basil, fresh mozzarella and Extra Virgin olive oil to the Diavola (Texas Heat), a nod to the owner’s Texas roots (see below), including spicy soppressata, garlic, jalapenos and oregano. We went old-school with the simple Napoli, topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh oregano, anchovies, and Extra Virgin Olive (no cheese). Good stuff.
As mentioned earlier, when it comes time for dessert, you will be full and you may be tempted to pass, but we recommend staying the course. Live a little and order a dessert for the table. You will not be sorry. Two days after Clara’s over-the-top white chocolate-cranberry bread pudding, we’re still talking about it, and hoping it’s still on the menu when we return (hint, hint).
It wouldn’t be right to wrap up a piece about Brick + Wood without a nod to the restaurant’s all-in-the-family back-story. After spending his childhood on a farm with an olive grove and vineyard on the outskirts of Rome, Paolo eventually returned to the states and dove into the family’s Fairfield restaurants (Luigi’s and Ponte Vecchio). Upon graduating college with an engineering degree, Paolo took a 10-year hiatus from the restaurant world, working at GE Capital in Irving, TX. Wife Clara, who also grew up in an Italian household, comes from a line of six generations of bread makers.
In 2008, the pizza oven began calling their names, so Paolo and Clara created Cavalli Pizzeria Napoletana in Irving, TX, bringing a taste of home to the Lone Star State.
Upon the success of their first restaurant, they opened a sister location in McKinney, TX. Today, with both restaurants thriving under the watchful eye of a seasoned management team, the Cavallis felt the pull of their families in Connecticut and decided it was time to create a pizza restaurant and wine bar back on their home turf. So they returned to Fairfield and set to work gutting the Ponte Vecchio space and transforming it into a restaurant for a new generation, an inviting neighborhood eatery that feels right at home. Even Mama Cavalli approves.
Brick + Wood
1275 Post Rd. No. 7, Fairfield, CT