Maybe you’ve eaten at this type of restaurant before — the hip, contemporary New American spot with vintage-industrial décor, small plates, and specialty cocktails. Maybe you’ve found them to be long on style and short on substance.
Happily, that isn’t the case with The Brickyard, which turns out to be a New American restaurant of uncommon virtue. It offers, for example, the rare joy of good late-night dining in the suburbs (the kitchen stays open until after midnight on the weekends, and after 10 p.m. on most other days). And instead of presenting a hipsterish, faux vintage façade, The Brickyard delivers the raw charm of the real thing: The dining room is a historic and well-preserved space that dates back to the early 20th century, where it once housed the Chandler Arizonan, a local paper that was eventually consolidated into the East Valley Tribune.
Even if handcrafted cocktails aren’t normally your thing, it’s worth taking a look at The Brickyard’s drink menu. The beverage program is run by Bobby Kramer, formerly of Scottsdale’s Virtú and downtown Phoenix’s Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails, and it is notably creative and appealing. The menu is something like 15 pages long, offering both classic cocktails and clever variations on the classics.
There’s a version of a Mexican Paloma, for example, which is tricked out with chile-infused reposado, and there’s a root-beer flip that’s like a creamy, spicy, whiskey-soaked take on the classic childhood treat. Happy hour, then, feels like it was designed to be spent at a place like The Brickyard.
On the food side, there’s chef Aaron Rickel’s menu, dominated by shareable small plates designed to please every constituency. Normally, crowd-pleasing favorites like tacos and sliders would not be particularly exciting or auspicious. But at The Brickyard, even the most quotidian starter offers the potential for something unexpected and very good.
Maybe you’ll start with tacos — there are two types on the menu. There are the Chandler street tacos, laden with tender slices of skirt steak and dressed up in a lovely avocado puree. More interesting, though, are Vietnamese-inspired pork “bahn mi” tacos. Every nibble erupts with the flavor of juicy, well-seasoned nubs of pork, which are brightened up with pickled carrot and daikon.
The most popular small plate on The Brickyard menu is probably what’s listed as the loaded potato. An order yields a small bowl crammed with delicately cooked and sliced fingerlings, which are dressed in a very good truffle cream sauce. A generous scattering of bacon and parmesan punches up every bite with cream and salt, and the total effect is that of eating an irresistibly good baked potato.
Fried calamari, meanwhile, is upgraded with a very good Asian-inspired, sweet-spicy chili garlic sauce. The squid also comes with a charred lemon on the side, and together with fragrant flakes of pepperoncini and cilantro, the grizzled, fried bits of squid takes on a bright, herbal depth.
There are also pork belly skewers, a house favorite, which feature hunks of soft, savory pork wrapped in a dense honey-soy glaze. They slide right off the wooden skewer, dissolving within seconds in your mouth. And there’s a wonderful plate of charred octopus, with very tender and mildly sweet slices of tentacles skillfully paired with a smoky paprika aioli and citrus-scented herb salad. It’s one of the most refreshing and nicely balanced plates on the menu.
A dish of sweet pea arancini is slightly less successful. The deep-fried, mushroom-stuffed balls are served with a bright, simple romesco sauce and scattering of fresh pea shoots. The arancini lean toward being a little bland by themselves; you’ll need to bathe them generously in romesco sauce to draw out flavor.
Chilled corn soup, though, is unique and subtly delicious. It resembles something like a bowl of melted vanilla ice cream. And, like ice cream, the soup is very creamy and very smooth, slightly sweet and nutty, and altogether refreshing.
There are only a handful of traditional-sized entrees at The Brickyard, and these tend to reflect chef Rickel’s fondness for putting together inventive, well-balanced dishes that are simultaneously feats of culinary engineering. The kitchen has a thing for the art of plating vertically; gorgeously prepared foodstuff is often piled upward into pyramids and towers.
There’s the ahi tuna, which is already becoming the restaurant’s signature entrée. The meaty hunks of fresh, lightly seared fish are neatly stacked with slices of Granny Smith apple, creating a Jenga-like tower of comestibles, the whole thing topped with airy puffs of ginger-tinged foam. It may be one of the most impressive and pretty dishes on the menu – and also pretty good, especially if you’re partial to an extra-peppery crust on your tuna.
If airy foams don’t sound very appealing, the kitchen offers a very simple, wholesome roasted chicken dish. The well-seasoned meat is deliciously brined, succulent, and served in a bath of its own jus. It’s wonderful.
But probably the most uniformly excellent entrée is a simple pan-seared hangar steak. It’s carved into neat, juicy strips, the meat bearing a lovely, slightly crystallized bark. The steak is paired with a bright chimichurri sauce, and a handful of charred, withered scallions add a subtle layer of fragrance and sweetness to the plate.
By the final stretch of a long meal at The Brickyard, dessert may not feel compulsory or even practical. Those small plates can fill you up fast. But it’s worth saving room for the kitchen’s take on churros. The sugary, cleanly fried bundles of dough are served with three dipping sauces — the tangy house-made raspberry sauce turns out to be the perfect foil for a sugary churro.
There is also a wonderful chocolate pot au crème, a sort of thick and luxurious chocolate pudding. The kitchen serves it with a homemade salted caramel chip cookie, which is designed for dipping into the thick but still silky chocolate. It’s another small, delicious surprise at The Brickyard, which turns out to have even more substance than it does style.
85 West Boston Street, Chandler
Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Thursday 3 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.; closed Monday
Loaded potato $8
Charred octopus $12
Pork belly skewers $12
Ahi tuna $24