As soon as I saw the name of Brix Wine Bar, I knew I had to try it.
Brix — pronounced “bricks,” not the Frenchified “bree” — is a serious techno-wine word, a vineyard term for the level of sugar in wine grapes, a measure of ripeness at harvest. The higher the brix, the riper the grapes, the more sugar, the greater potential alcohol.
Only a real wine geek could come up with an oenophiliac name like that. It’s not like calling your wine bar “Merlot” or something.
As it turns out, Brix Wine Bar is an attractive, worthy addition to the suburbs, a surprisingly cozy shopping-center space with a sizable list of well over 200 wines, a smaller but not-insignificant number of them available by the taste (2 ounces) or the glass (6 ounces). There’s also an appetizing and rather affordable menu — heavy on appetizers and a variety of sandwiches, a bit lighter on the main courses — provided by Ladyfingers Catering, a local firm that also provides the num-nums for revelers at the annual Derbytime Barnstable-Brown gala.
Brix is adjacent to, and shares an internal doorway with, Liquor World, a well-stocked wine, beer and liquor store in the Shops of Forest Springs, a new strip center in a rapidly developing zone just east of the Snyder Freeway on Lagrange Road between Anchorage and Pewee Valley.
I’ll be frank: As a hard-core wine geek, Brix doesn’t bang my gong as loudly as L&N Wine Bar on Mellwood. Only about three dozen of the 200 wines are available by the glass, and there’s no fancy Cruvinet wine-dispensing machine to keep the wines fresh in open bottles; it appears that the bartender simply sticks the cork back in the open bottle (although to their credit, all four wines we tried tasted fresh).
The wine list at Brix contains some interesting wines, but an awful lot of the list is relatively predictable. It took some study to come up with three or four items on the by-the-glass list that I really wanted to try. Nor is the list designed for geeks: No vintages are shown, and many of the wine names are incomplete, although the servers will gladly bring a bottle out so you can study the label. The food is good, but the menu is not really designed for exciting wine-and-food matching with its focus on bar appetizers and sandwiches.
But there’s ample good news. Wine prices are attractive, starting at $2 a taste for the lower-end wines, with most full tasting glasses in the range of $7 to $9, and a high percentage of wines by the bottle in the affordable $20s and $30s. (There’s also a shorter captain’s list of about 20 upscale wines, rising well into the triple digits for sought-after items like Penfolds Grange from Australia, a “cult” wine that really shouldn’t be opened for many years.)
The venue is an exceptionally good adaptation of shopping-center space, improved with exposed brick and butter-color walls with bold modern art; cherrywood chairs and bar stools, a long bar, about a dozen small tables draped in black and, at the front of the room, a small, clubby lounge section with big, soft leather chairs and sofas.
We picked out a couple of wine-friendly sandwiches — a hoagie piled high with fresh white mozzarella, thick-sliced plum tomatoes, savory roasted red peppers and basil leaves: an Italian caprese salad on a bun ($9.95), and a Brix House Special ($11.95), a concoction of tender, thin-sliced prime rib moistened with rich french onion soup, all baked inside a bread-dough wrapper the shape and nearly the size of a rugby ball, topped with a blanket of melted provolone.
We ended up with a flight of four red wines by the glass, all $7 ($2.50 for a taste and $26 to $28 for a bottle): Nomad, a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon blend; Juan Gil, a Monastrell (Mourvedre) from Spain’s Jumilla region; a Menage a Trois red blend from Northern California; and a Merlot-Malbec blend, Vistalba Corte from Argentina. It was fun to taste the wines against each other, comparing notes on the earthy Spanish wine, the fruity California red, the food-friendly tart acidity of the Chilean wine and the relatively soft texture and leathery aroma notes of the Argentine wine.
Only one dessert was available, but it was a goodie: a discreet selection of small chocolate bites and fresh strawberries. I thought about summoning a tawny Port to go along but settled for coffee instead and was rewarded with an excellent cup, clean and fresh, and only grumbled a little that plastic tubs of ersatz whitener were offered in lieu of real cream.
The wines made up nearly half the $61.66 tab, and excellent service earned a $13.34 tip to round it up to $75.
Brix Wine Bar
The Shops of Forest Springs
12418 Lagrange Road
Rating: 79 points
Fill ’er up at Diamante
Eat ’N’ Blog correspondent BARB TEMPLE has been dining on the night shift lately, and she says there’s hardly a better place to do so than Diamante Bar & Grille in the Highlands, one of the best spots around when you’re feeling peckish at midnight. Take it away, Barb!
Diamante’s Chef Mike Driskell grew up near Cherokee Park, the son of a well-known University of Louisville English professor, Leon Driskell, and his wife Sue. Mike says his passion for cooking began by age 6, recalling that he once sneaked away from his babysitter to make peanut-butter cookies in the family kitchen. His parents were upset, he says, but he claims the cookies were pretty good.
His culinary precocity continued as he rose from dishwasher to head chef at the old Myra’s Bar and Grill by the time he was 17. He cooked three years at Jack Fry’s and was head chef at Club Grotto before opening his own place in the old Diamond Service Station on Bardstown Road near Douglass Loop.
Built in 1928, Diamond pumped gas and did auto repairs until the doors closed under gasoline rationing during World War II. It later housed a variety of businesses including a Harley-Davidson motorcycle shop and a popular bar. Mike and the building owner, Randy Hedden, named the restaurant Diamante in memory of the old Diamond Station.
There’s not much of the old gas station left in Diamante’s eclectic decor, but you can still spot a few hints of it: The comfy bar sits in the old auto-repair bay with the large square entrance door pulled up overhead as if it had been left open when the last auto mechanic put away his tools.
Mike stresses that one of his goals is to make guests feel comfortable, and he succeeds. Open until very late, Diamante is one of Bardstown Road’s top spots for night owls, and my son Billy and I have enjoyed many a late dinner here. My favorite dish is probably tarragon chicken and shrimp ($14.25). The chicken and shrimp are cooked to perfection, and the tarragon sauce is so good that I invariably scrape the plate.
Billy pronounced the buffalo chicken sandwich ($8.95) the best he’s had anywhere. I’ve gotten hooked on MD’s Vegetable Invasion ($11.95), a vegetable plate that smothers a mound of smashed potatoes in a variety of veggies that vary depending on what’s fresh and good. I’ve had broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tasty cubed tomatoes, grilled yellow squash, grilled zucchini, snow peapods, whole green beans, carrots and usually black olives. Eggplant and mushrooms are often players, too. If it’s available, ask to have a spoon of the pineapple-black bean salsa added to your veggie plate.
The crème brûlée ($5.50) is truly the best I’ve had. It’s cool custard, as deep as it should be, and topped with a warm, crackly caramelized sugar crust.
Diamante Bar & Grille
2280 Bardstown Road
Robin Garr’s rating: 89 points
Contact Robin Garr at [email protected]