Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Brick Alley Pub (35 of 50)

Cuisine: American Seafood
Price: Moderate-expensive (~$20 entrees)
Score: 35
Would I eat there again: Yes

The Brick Alley Pub is one of the most popular spots in Newport, if not all of RI. Located on the upper stretch of Thames Street, it sprawls out through a series of 5-6 rooms (plus an upstairs), and a summer patio. Despite the copious number of seats, we still encountered a 45 minute wait midweek after 8PM. The Brick Alley has been around for over 20 years and won countless local awards and accolades, and still manages to put out decent food to a huge number of people. They don't quite break into my top ten list, but they are a perfect location for a party or group where you can get dependable, friendly service and soak in the chaos of a local landmark. I think the volume they are doing probably precludes them from reaching into the top tier of eateries, but given the challenges of operating a huge staff, and taking care of hundreds of people per seating, the Brick Alley does it quite well.

We thanksfully ended up being seated after only 20 minutes of our supposed 45 minute wait and got to enjoy their outdoor patio. To get there you wind your way through at least 3 rooms, with hallways, kitchens, and more seating areas off to the sides. That and the intense decoration style of the place can be a bit overwhelming. It looks like they started decorating their walls 26 years ago, and have never taken anything down, while continually adding more stuff. One Corona sign is ok, but do you need 4 in a row?

The staff was well trained and took good care of us, obviously used to being slammed just about all the time. The menu is actually three- a drinks menu, a specials and wine menu, and the normal dinner menu. Dishes covered the spectrum of American seafood, and showed little interest in reaching to more exotic fare. Most entrees are pretty expensive, but come with your choice of side and soup/salad bar. It is an interesting business model- it is hard to get a dish for much under $20 (unless you stick to the sandwich section), but it comes with enough food to satiate the most voracious appetite. I would have preferred a de-bundling option, but I suppose that is how they make their money.

The Portuguese clam pasta was bountiful and satisfying. No standout flavors, but well balanced and the Chourico was a nice touch. Their newport cioppino offered up an impressive assortment of squid, fish, scallops, littlenecks and mussels with a less memorable preparation. The sides we sampled (garlic mash and a baked sweet potato) and the salad bar fit the pattern, not offending while not really impressing us much either.

We did enjoy a Newport storm on draft (brewed just a few miles from the restaurant), served in a cheap plastic cup. The sound volume was fairly acceptable considering the masses around us, they thankfully don't pack you in too tight, and the leftovers and check were handled efficiently.

The Brick Alley Pub seems very comfortable and confident doing what they do, which is serving a vast sea of people decently good, satisfying food night after night. Not stellar, but perfect for a fun night with friends and for the experience of a Rhode Island institution.

Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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