The Brick Oven Bistro 

Twenty years ago, Michael Jackson's song "Beat It" won a Grammy, Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America, Brigham Young University's football team won the NCAAs, and I was a freshman college student on academic probation. In other words, 1984 might be a good indicator that life doesn't always turn out as expected. For better or worse, life changes. Even the Brick Oven Bistro, which has been serving fine, home-style food since 1984, has changed a bit. It used to be the Brick Oven Beanery, and it used to be on the corner of 5th and Main. What hasn't changed is a commitment to serving big portions of hearty "comfort food," cafeteria style, to eager, hungry patrons.

Four of us--and a three-year-old--met at Brick Oven for dinner. Located just north of the fountain on the Grove, Brick Oven offers a kind of food-driven respite from the hectic scene that this downtown location seems to generate. As furtive conventioneers wandered in name-tagged packs by the Grove Hotel, we slipped inside.

The first thing one notices about this restaurant is the smell. The aromas that drift from behind the serving counter are reminiscent of Sunday trips to Grandma's mixed with the best backyard barbecues: slow-cooked meats, creamy gravies, gloriously steaming vats of baked beans, hand-mashed potatoes.

We found a table for four, studied our menus (make sure you become familiar with the many, many offerings before adding yourself to the chow queue), slid our trays along the serving counter, and collected our heaps of food. Our table was the only real problem in an otherwise great dining experience. While the plates of food are enormous, the tables are not. It took some serious spatial intelligence to get all of us, and our food, situated. Add a precocious three-year-old (one water spill, two potty trips), and we were on the edge of possible dining disaster for the duration of our meal--too many elbows, not enough elbow room. What ultimately saved us was the food.

BOB's menu is a lesson in eating simplicity. No fancy-schmancy über-trendy foodstuffs here. Dinners include Yankee pot roast, breast of turkey, sirloin of beef, sugar cured ham, roasted chicken and wild rice meatloaf. The side dishes that come with the dinners are meals in themselves: skin-on mashed potatoes, big, multi-veggied salads, rum-pot beans and sage nut dressing (the last item was a tad too "dense"). Everything is hand-carved, hand-mashed and homemade. Hot open-faced sandwiches, a vast selection of sandwich and soup platters and old-fashioned fountain drinks make Brick Oven a nostalgic dining experience. The beer and wine choices are varied enough without over-taxing a diner's brain. A generous kid's menu is also available. The three-year-old devoured her ham sandwich, banana and cookie (she also said the bathroom "smelled nice").

All our food was damn good. Standouts included the chilled tomato and tarragon soup ("incredible"), the Yankee Pot Roast ("fabulously tender") and the mashed potatoes ("heavenly"). The apple bread pudding with bourbon walnut sauce capped off our meal fabulously. I would be remiss if I didn't also note that my coffee was some of the best restaurant coffee I've ever had.

And so we four 40-year-olds lingered a bit longer over our old-fashioned meal, contemplating our own life changes over the last 20 years, quietly humming the chorus to Weird Al Yankovic's "Eat It."

--Chuck McHenry's wife still wears leg warmers on occasion.

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