Experts say you can rate the skill of the pit master by two meats, brisket and ribs. By that standard, the new Brick’s Smoked Meats—one of the trendiest pieces of real estate in downtown Sarasota these days—is a success. Before Brick’s was a restaurant, it was a wildly popular stand at the downtown farmers’ market, where customers lined up for Mark Gabrick’s smoked meats. But the restaurant offers more than great barbecue.
Start with Gabrick’s tender-smoky-juicy brisket with a thin black crust, which doesn’t need anything but a fork. There’s a mild house barbecue sauce on the table, but it’s just a security blanket in a squeeze plastic bottle in case you think you have to have put sauce on everything in a place like this. You don’t.
The bacon burnt-end taco ($6.99) is now my favorite taco in town. Besides the chewy bacon chunks in the tortilla, there’s light and tangy slaw, queso and candied jalapeños. The also-delicious brisket taco is made with slaw, crema, feathery-light crispy onion curls and cotija and is $4.99. With some well-chosen sides such as macaroni and cheese, State Street corn (it has a peppery snap) or pit-smoked beans, this could be a meal. Hot sides are $3.99; cold sides start at $2.99 and top out at $4.49 for six little corn muffins with bourbon-maple butter. Yes, you want some for the table.
The kale apple side made with thin slices of house-pickled apples along with pieces of chicken, smoked pecans and sour cream dressing, is excellent at $3.99. A platter, say for a half rack of St. Louis ribs, is $15.99. Those ribs are not fall-off-the-bone; they are meaty and substantial, with a satisfying tug-and-chew factor, full of rich flavor and juice.
Brick’s has a Texas vibe, expressed by a pair of longhorns on the wall, exposed brick and fluted corrugated metal, ceiling fans from recycled windmill parts and Texas limestone everywhere. Seating is at long picnic tables, high tops and booths. Tables are wood (some inlaid with handsome tiles) recycled from tobacco barns. Chairs are metal or wood, some with upholstered backs of pony-skin fabric or a red pattern reminiscent of cowboy movies where the saloon is fancy.
The minute you walk in the door you’re funneled into a cafeteria-style line that ostensibly leads to the chuck wagon. When your turn arrives, you place the order, find a table, and in a little while the entrées, appetizers and sides come to you in either individual black cast-iron skillets or on paper-lined metal trays, as seen in prison movies.
The whole line business is awkward, since you feel pressured to order without knowing all the options because there may be lots of hungry people behind you. I wish Brick’s would offer complete table service and no food line at all except for takeout.
A server does take drink orders and offer desserts at the end of the meal. These desserts are cute and creamy little morsels, like banana pudding in petite jars for $3 each. Water is served in plastic glasses. Anything you order from the bar is poured into glass. Bar drinks are important at Brick’s, with many local and small-production beers as well as wines and a stellar but not vast cocktail list.
You can’t go wrong with the house-crafted margarita made with cold-pressed fresh limes. Frozen or on the rocks, it’s first rate. Salt rim optional (but why wouldn’t you?), and the price is $7.99 for a regular and $2.99 for a mini, which is just a few sips. The top cocktail price of $14.99 goes to the Bonded Boulevardier—Rittenhouse rye, campari and sweet vermouth. This superior bar (a big square at the front of the house) also stocks Basil Hayden bourbon, very much in vogue right now.
But most of the meat platters and tacos, the pulled pork sandwich, smoked turkey breast, poblano brisket melt or Lone Star caviar (black beans and other stuff you want) seem to demand a beer as a proper partner.
Brick’s is the culmination of Mark Gabrick’s cuisine dream. He perfected his meat-smoking skills at farmer’s markets in Texas and Tampa before setting up the last three years in Sarasota. Fans have been waiting a long time for this pit master to find an investing partner and open a restaurant. Now, with Dick Rivera, he has. Their restaurant is bound to be a fixture in a part of downtown Sarasota that’s coming into its own.