I first encountered Brick Pizzeria at the Orange Coast Magazine’s 10 Best Restaurants event this year. There wasn’t any food to try that evening, so I moved along and didn’t pay much thought to it. Months later, a reader of mine was raving about this restaurant and I thought it was about time to try them out.
Over the course of several months, I have visited Brick a handful of times. It started because I was lunching with a girlfriend who lives in Oceanside and we were looking for a half way point to meet. We were blown away by how good — REALLY GOOD — everything was. Start with some cocktails, they’re pretty good too.
I then returned with a group of friends for lunch a month later and managed to eat through an array of dishes before returning yet again for another round.
There is a wood-fire oven where a lot of things are prepared, including the hand-made pizzas. However, Brick Pizzeria is somewhat of a misnomer. Yes, pizzas are a thing here, such as this Salsiccia ($16) topped with house-made sausage — house made is a word readily used on the menu because pretty much EVERYTHING is — caramelized fennel and fennel pollen among other things.
But please don’t just stop at the pizzas. I know it is natural to automatically expect you’ll order pizza when you come to Brick Pizzeria, but let me just clear that up right now. It is MUCH more than just a pizza joint, SO much more.
If you’re in the mood for a salad to share, the Caesar Salad ($11) is insanely good. So simple and not overly dressed — one of my pet peeves — the leaves are left whole which adds an extra crispness to the mouthfeel. Of course, one of my favorite ingredients — anchovies — are also included.
Right now, the autumnal produce are at its peak which means a lot of fall flavors and colors are showing up on menus across the board. I highly suggest starting with Roasted Acorn Squash Antipasti ($14), a dish I’ve had a few times, but definitely one to share. The squash is roasted until soft, then a dollop of burrata is placed inside. Crunchy roasted hazelnuts, crispy sage and a drizzle of balsamic are all this simple, yet satisfying dish requires.
Ricotta and Farm Egg Raviolo ($12) had me at first bite. When you break into the raviolo, an oozing farm egg rushes out and creates an even richer sauce when combined with the truffle butter, spinach puree and grana spuma. There’s usually crispy pancetta on the plate but I don’t remember why there isn’t any on this one. Once again, so simple, but absolutely to-die-for.
If you’re looking for a vegetarian offering, Crispy Zucchini Blossoms ($11) is incredible. Generally, after the delicate zucchini blossoms have been stuffed with an herb ricotta and fried, I find it a tad too heavy. But not here! The perfect amount of ricotta sits within, while the coating is so light it never overwhelms. Served with a house-made marinara sauce, you’ll find yourself sopping every last bit up with the foccacia they serve.
What puts Brick in a category along with many fine restaurants in OC is that Chef David Pratt will take an entire pig, break it down, and use every bit of it on the menu. But that’s not all, he also hand makes all the pasta so I highly recommend ordering at least one of them.
Orrecchiette ($16/$23) is one of the first I try with house-made sausage, flowering broccoli, a medley of mushrooms and a sprinkling of pecorino cheese. I think this might be one of my favorites on the menu.
But then again, there is the Pappardelle ($18/$26) tossed in a rich veal ragu and topped with grana padano parmesan. It is so satisfying we fight to get a second bite among our group. I love the mouthfeel of this pasta as it moves around my mouth. It is perfectly seasoned — just like everything else — which, most of you know, is of utmost importance to me.
Don’t forget the Spaghetti Carbonara ($15/$22) — not like any carbonara I’ve ever made! The ingredients are few, but pork belly confit is one and that alone should tell you how this extraordinary this humble pasta will taste. There are no words when we are eating this, just ooos and ahhhs.
I am so intrigued by Cocoa Buccatini ($17/$24), so on another visit, I try this. Cocoa is added to the pasta dough when Chef Pratt makes the buccatini and add to that duck ragu, hen of the woods mushrooms, mascarpone and marjoram and this is the best fall dish ever. If you didn’t know there was cocoa in the pasta, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess what it is, except for the fact that it is familiar. (I apologize I don’t have a photo for this).
But there is more! Brick Meatballs ($14/$21) is possibly one of the most popular dishes on the menu and rightfully so. The meatballs are hand-made, then seared in the wood-fire brick oven and then slowly cooked until done. A luscious marinara accompanies these texturally perfect meatballs topped with pecorino. I like them as is served with grilled house-made focaccia, but the kids might probably enjoy it with a side of pasta instead.
David Pratt is not only one of the best chefs Orange County has, but one of the most humble. If you’ve ever visited Brick Pizzeria, you will find him quietly focusing on his craft in the open kitchen. He is a man of few words — until you get to know him — and stays very low key. I found out from one of my visits that he serves the needy a hot meal he personally prepares on Thanksgiving day every year. I volunteered to help.
On Thanksgiving morning, I brought my son to Brick Pizzeria where so many of Chef David’s family, friends, even the staff, showed up to greet, serve, bus and welcome the guests. My son helped serve and I know he was deeply touched and moved by the energy in the room that day. I know I was. We chatted to many of the guests who expressed gratitude towards the acceptance, generosity and kindness Chef David has shown towards them.
San Clemente is a 30-minute drive from Irvine, but I will gladly do it just for the food alone. If you see Chef David in the kitchen, say hi and shake his hand. I don’t always agree with Brad Johnson, but when it comes to Brick, I concur 100%. Chef David is truly deserving of all the accolades bestowed upon him.
216 N El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672