Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Brontë Bistro: Something So Inconsistent Stays Miraculously Afloat

      Brontë Bistro was originally a café that focused on lunch and lattés at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.  It’s always had an interesting menu and, over a decade ago, it expanded its space, its hours, and its offerings.  It’s always been a pretty space centered on blond woods, charming bar area, and bright annex space.  However, its Achilles heel has been the service.  For a couple of years, there was the Chris Rock look-a-like who possessed neither Rock’s intelligence nor wit.  At various times, there has been a dreary female server – different faces, but same attitude – who acted like she’d rather be anywhere but working – really?  How about quitting so that a smart, enthusiastic unemployed person could work.  Fortunately, this has eventually happened, though the best servers have distinguished themselves quickly and usually moved on – to other restaurants with greater tips, or to positions in their professional discipline, or college/graduate studies?  Right now, the service is good, though I wish the servers (and this is practically true everywhere except top flight restaurants) would clear everyone’s plates at the same time, rather than piece meal, because the diner still eating is made to feel like he or she is somehow slow or inconvenient.  I realize servers are trying to be efficient, but it’s rude.

      The first strange element this past Friday was that there were open tables in both the original space and many in the larger annex, but there was a twenty minute wait.  We didn’t have a problem with the wait, but other potential patrons did and it made no sense that they couldn’t be immediately seated since Joseph-Beth is not the hopping place it was a decade ago on Friday nights, though it improved about three years ago.  The other off-kilter element was the food.

Salmon Burger
      Brontë Bistro has made it a practice to present some specials from a featured cookbook.  It’s created synergy between the restaurant and the bookstore.  For savvy cooks, it’s also been a preview of potential purchases.  There weren’t such specials on our last visit so
I don’t know if they’ve abandoned this or not.  The breakfast menu is strong, though a number of items are about a dollar higher than they’d be at other comparable places like Mokka in Newport or the First Watch chain.  The Black and Bleu (blackened chicken and bleu cheese) salad, the Dué (chicken and tuna salads) salad, and the Pear and Bleu Cheese salad (it’s still good, but it’s been on the menu more than a dozen years and I started making it at home a year before they did) are all good choices.  I’ve also enjoyed the Spinach Sauté, the Salmon Burger, and Neil and others have always liked the Quiche of the day.  Lunch and dinner dishes are pretty much the same, but the dinner ones cost about a buck more.

Skillet Shrimp and Cheesy Grits
Chicken Pot Pie
      Neither of the entrées worked on Friday.  I ordered the Skillet Shrimp and Cheesy Grits and the server warned me that there would be peppers and onions in the dish.  I appreciated the information, but didn’t reckon on this traditionally southern meal being spiced as if it were southwestern.  The cheese was sharp and I think there was chili in it.  The color was a strange orange (perfect for a Tex-Mex selection, but not southern), though there was a generous portion of prawns – somewhere between a dozen and fifteen.  The prawns looked and tasted grilled, rather than sautéed.  They should drop the grits and the southern presumption, substituting rice, adding corn and just go with a barbecued or Mexican shrimp dish instead.  Neil ordered the Chicken Pot Pie and it didn’t work at all.  Basically, it was bland chicken and pea soup with a thin puff pie covering.  It needs a double crust to be a pie and a greater variety of vegetables – carrots, mushrooms, even corn – and a much richer, thicker gravy tempered with cream, white wine, or sherry.  We skipped dessert.
However, the Tiramisu and the Fruits of the Forest Pie can be terrific or drab, depending on whether they’ve been made in-house, or by a variety of different quality suppliers, and whether they’re fresh, semi-defrosted, or properly sauced and garnished.  These have run the gamut over the years.  

      So, what is the miracle behind Brontë Bistro?  That would be the coolest, what was formerly locally owned, store in Cincinnati, i.e. Joseph-Beth Booksellers.  Now that it’s been bought out, the coolest, locally owned store in Cincinnati is High Street furniture and accessories store.

Meow!  I have a feeling I’ll be hearing that the guys gave Brontë Bistro another chance. 

1 comment:

lscottpalmer said...

I worked on the line as a cook from 2010- summer of 2012. The pies are frozen mostly. And I was just glad to get away. While not totally horrid. The place could use a total overhaul. and needs a staff that gives a damned front and back of the house.