Friday, July 11, 2014
In the hospitality industry, a “soft opening” doesn’t refer to an overture, a Peyton Manning safety-valve pass route or a three-minute egg.
It means a more-or-less private, “friends-and-family” opening prior to a “grand opening” in order to work out all the kinks in a new business before throwing the doors open to the general public. It’s much like opening a stage play in Boston or New Haven before heading to Broadway. With luck, any unanticipated problems can be resolved before the hoped-for throngs of targeted customers begin to arrive.
A “soft opening” is just what the proprietors of the popular Mount Pleasant restaurant Bricco Bracco were looking for prior to the official opening of their new Bricco Bracco Cucina on Chuck Dawley Boulevard on June 26.
On the previous two evenings, invited guests were asked to dine at the new trattoria and render their judgments on whether it was ready for paying guests.
And so, on a Tuesday evening we struck out for the newest Bricco Bracco restaurant, located on the site of the former Puree Café vegetarian eatery and, before that, another once-popular Italian dining spot, the now-defunct Capriccio.
We were greeted by enthusiastic young staffers and directed to a corner table in the sunny dining room. Bricco Bracco Cucina has ample, attractive outdoor seating as well, but with the mercury hovering around 95 degrees, listening to a selection of musical standards – Sinatra, Clooney, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and the like – in air-conditioned comfort seemed preferable to the heat and the hum of the traffic flowing by.
We began with a basket of warm Italian bread accompanied by a dipping plate of lightly seasoned extra virgin olive oil. As bread connoisseurs – also known as “gluten gluttons” – we polished off the serving and pronounced it superb.
Ample and delicious salads followed, and for our entrees, we each chose one item from the restaurant’s principal specialties, steak and seafood. Our selections were the New York Strip, Angus beef available in 12- and 16-ounce portions, and Pescatore Misto, an almost overwhelmingly abundant tureen of two local fish of the day, shrimp, scallops, mussels and clams in a tomato fish broth topped with fried calamari and served over fettucine. Delicious, but just reciting the ingredients is guaranteed to cause a diner to put on five pounds.
We skipped dessert to sit down with co-owner George Sarkis (partner Joe Spiotta was busy overseeing the kitchen at the original store).
The distinguishing difference between Briccos I and II, Sarkis said, is that the team’s first restaurant, on Basketweave Drive off Route 17 North, focuses on sautéing and Northern Italian cuisine whereas the Chuck Dawley restaurant leans toward Southern Italian with its centerpiece being a 1,000-degree grill.
“We’d like to be a family of restaurants,” Sarkis said. “We’re developing restaurants that don’t compete with one another and that have different value-added items that can provide our customers with different dining experiences.”
He added, “Our menu is a work in progress. When you open a restaurant, you have a vision of what you want it to be. Then, after three or four months, you modify that vision to meet the needs of the community and provide what your customers are looking for.”
Why a pair of similarly named eateries with complementary bills of fare only miles apart in the same town? “We love Mount Pleasant. We love the people here. That’s why we are happy to invest heavily in our town,” said Sarkis.
“The Bricco Bracco brand, we believe, means quality and value and that’s what we try to offer our guests. I honestly think that what will happen is that we’ll have our regulars who will go to both restaurants.”
We were pleased to have been among Bricco Bracco’s well-fed guinea pigs. But, what about those glitches we were ostensibly invited to uncover? We were hard-pressed to find any. Then we noticed that the restaurant’s ice-cold beverages caused so much condensation on our glassware that beads of water slithered down their sides to form little tidal pools atop the polished wood tabletop.
We mentioned this trivial cavil to our server and he apologized profusely. They were aware of the situation, he said, and plenty of new, absorbent coasters were on order and expected to arrive shortly to solve the problem. So much for our amateur dining detective investigation.
But, the next time we’re in a mood for some delicious and satisfying Southern Italian fare, we’ll return to Bricco Bracco Cucina. And we shall see!
If George and Joe and their staff are as good as their word, our tabletop will be as arid as the Sahara.
Bill Farley moved to the Charleston, South Carolina, area from Los Angeles after retiring from his position as vice president of Marketing for Playboy Enterprises, Inc. He is a freelance writer living in Mount Pleasant.