1 Levee Way
Since moving to Newport my husband and I had never bothered visiting Brio Tuscan Grille because we like to give locally owned and operated restaurants our business instead. Thrift is a strong motivator however, especially in these uncertain economic times, and when we got a book of coupons filled with buy-one-get-one offers for area restaurants and attractions and Brio was among them, we quickly decided that it would be a shame to let the coupon go to waste.
I admit that I was surprised to see discount coupons for Brio since the chain bills itself as a plush, upmarket eatery and you usually don’t see BOGO offers for such restaurants, but who am I to judge? I am my mother’s daughter – I love a good bargain.
All I really knew about Brio before our visit was that they are a spinoff of Columbus-based Bravo! Development Inc. and my dental hygienist told me it is her parents’ favorite restaurant. Apparently they trek from south Dayton to Newport once a month for their fix. I wasn’t sure what to make of this information – especially since there is a Bravo! Cucina Italiana on their doorstep - but based on that recommendation and the possession of a BOGO golden ticket, off we went to the Levee to give it a try.
I’m sure some would refer to the décor as tasteful, but I found it beige and bland, more like someone’s idea of what Tuscany restaurants might look like than what they actually do. All plaster and alabaster, it felt like a staged show-home in a shiny new housing developing sitting on what just last year was farmland. Luckily the food was better than the room it was served in.
The house-made flatbread is a real winner. Prepared in an authentic Italian wood-burning oven and topped with rosemary, sesame seeds and top quality parmesan, this crispy freebie was a delicious and savory introduction to the restaurant.
Because we visited during the lunch/dinner changeover, our waiter was kind enough to bring out both menus and let us order from whichever one we wished. They are similar, with lunch portions smaller and priced accordingly. There are three vegetarian entrées available across both menus. If you are a vegetarian who doesn’t like mushrooms, you’ll be grazing from the salad and appetizer selections because they figure heavily into all three entrées. There’s Penne Mediterranean (mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onion, sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese and pine nuts), Mushroom Ravioli in brown butter sauce, and Mushroom Ravioli Al Forno (mushroom ravioli in alfredo sauce).
I chose Mushroom Ravioli in brown butter sauce from the lunch menu ($10.95). This selection is available only as an appetizer on the dinner menu. The ingredients complimented each other well; the mushrooms, squash and truffle oil lending a nice earthy flavor while the sage-infused brown butter sauce was sinful and delicious. I can hardly wait to try my hand at recreating this recipe when the squash is ready in the garden.
Let’s discuss value a little deeper here. Without the enticement of the BOGO we would have never given Brio a chance, and to be honest we’d still rather frequent a locally owned independent instead. HowEVER, and this is a major point so listen up: Brio has an unadvertised happy hour bar menu which we would never have known about had we not wandered through the bar area on our way out the door. When we learned about the 3-6 p.m. happy hour prices, we made a mental note to stop back and check it out.
This “Tuscan Tasters” menu has us singing like birds because it is cheap-cheap-cheap. There are nine items on it, two of which are vegetarian, and they all run a mere $2.95 each. BARGAIN. These selections are considered small bites, but they are satisfying and similar in size to their appetizer cousins.
The roasted red-pepper & mozzarella bruschetta (on the “regular” menu this is $9.95)
The Margherita flatbread runs $10.95 on the “regular” appetizer menu.
My husband’s Bistecca Burger was a full-sized burger, quartered and topped with house-made chips. In the restaurant this lunch option is $10.95. In the bar during happy hour, it is $2.95.
Brio is our new cheap-eats place to hit before Reds games, although we have noticed that some of the bar staff tend to ignore those of us wearing “fan attire” in favor of those wearing suit and tie. We’ve had attentive and friendly service, and we’ve had indifferent/rude service. We have learned which bartenders are worth tipping well, and we return despite the indifference we occasionally encounter because the food is healthier, tastier and cheaper than that of the ballpark.
Be sure to nurse your glass of Prosecco though, because happy hour at Brio does not equate discounted drinks specials. But from 3-6 p.m. and again from 9 p.m.-close, go ahead and bow down to the chow down on the cheap. It’s worth it.