When you're ready for a Christmas shopping respite in the Cherry Hill area, drop into Brio Tuscan Grille, the most recent addition on the Haddonfield Road side of the former Garden State Park.
You can sink into a comfortable booth on the faux Italian patio for a leisurely break, or take advantage of speedy, attentive service and resume the retail hunt as quickly as you'd like. This chain restaurant out of Columbus, Ohio, cheerfully caters to either option.
Best of all, the food's tasty and interesting.
Creamy lobster bisque ($5.95) was loaded with chunks of tender lobster. With a side salad, it could easily be a meal in itself.
But then I would have missed the exquisite fish of the day ($13.95), a grilled sea bass the day I visited, served over crispy red-skin potatoes and roasted carrots, onions and squash, all topped with a citrus pesto sauce.
My dining partner tried the Mezza Lasagna Insalata ($12.25), which started with the Bistecca salad, a hefty wedge of lettuce topped with Gorgonzola, bacon, tomatoes and creamy Parmesan dressing. The lasagna bolognese was tasty but undistinguished.
The Mushroom Ravioli & Brown Butter ($9.95), with butternut squash, Gorgonzola and truffle oil - sampled another day - proved the more rewarding pasta option.
The restaurant recommends its bruschetta and flatbread, fresh from its wood-burning oven, which gives the dining room a pleasant warmth on these cold winter days. The Margherita Flatbread ($10.95) was picture-perfect - an attractive round crust covered by tomatoes, mozzarella and strips of basil. Unfortunately, it was barely tepid by the time it came out.
Blessedly reasonable portions left room for the most fun dessert I've tried in a long time: Dolchinos ($9.75), a five-cup sampler platter ideal to share. It's hard to pick a favorite. Apple Crostata topped a mixture of fresh apples, pecans, brown sugar and cinnamon with vanilla bean gelato. Mike's Famous Cheesecake had a delicious caramelized top. Milk chocolate caramel cake layered moist cake, milk chocolate ganache, caramel, chocolate frosting and whipped cream. Crème brulee and tiramisu were conventional but delicious.
Brio Tuscan Grille will likely benefit from spillover traffic from its popular neighbor, The Cheesecake Factory. Though diners will have a very different experience, they're not likely to be disappointed, if Brio Tuscan Grille maintains its initial high quality. Shoppers, give it a try.
901 Haddonfield Rd., Cherry Hill.
11 a.m.-10 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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