Bruno Italian Grill has moved in to the space formerly occupied by Rachel’s Mediterranean on the corner of Chippewa and Delaware.
Trusting a similar business model to Rachel’s but a different cuisine, Bruno is hoping its fast-casual, build-your-own Italian concept will hit the ground running in stride with the time-crunched business crowd it’s hoping to entice.
Bruno’s quick-serve model is not unlike that of Chipotle or Blaze Pizza. Its particular rendition is Italian-inspired and divided into a four-step process. Order at the register and begin by building the foundation on your choice of either a spring mix salad, a rustic 12-inch roll or one of five fresh pasta options.
Then move on to your protein selection and that's how the meal is priced (everything additional is baked into the cost). Options include meatballs ($8.95), all-natural sliced chicken ($9.75), Italian pulled pork ($9.25), Italian seasoned organic tofu ($9.25) and Italian sausage ($8.95).
Select from three sauces (or three dressings should you opt for a salad), a variety of fresh and prepared veggies, and a finishing sprinkle of either Parmesan or mozzarella cheese.
A meatball bomber seemed like a natural choice, and considering the sausage variant rang in at the same price ($8.95), I put in a special request and split my sandwich with half sausage, half meatball on a 12-inch rustic white roll (whole wheat is also an option).
I paired the meatball with the “traditional sauce” akin to a chunky pomodoro, and topped it with sautéed mushrooms, spring-mix greens and mozzarella. It proved the better sandwich over the sausage in both meat and sauce selection.
The housemade well-browned meatballs were hot and tender under a hearty ladle of the bright and chunky traditional sauce, but Bruno could have catapulted this one to a “must-try” had the cheese been run under the broiler.
On the Italian sausage half, I had the roll smeared with cold eggplant spread then covered with the slightly spicy Bruno’s red sauce. Paired with hot cherry peppers (surprisingly hot as-advertised), sautéed sweet peppers and onions, and topped with grated Parmesan, the flavors all mingled well, but the sausage that had dried and cooled in the warming bin proved a bit of a letdown.
For a vegetarian option (this could have gone vegan as well), I pieced together a salad ($9.25) with organic spring mix, Italian seasoned tofu, roasted tomatoes, cucumbers, sautéed mushrooms, Italian dressing and Parmesan. It’s filled with bright flavors stemming from fresh ingredients, but the pricing model fails on the salads.
Regardless of protein choice, the spring mix doesn’t hold a parallel value to the fresh pasta or rustic bread at Bruno.
The most anticipated option on the day was the black pepper fettuccine Alfredo that I had topped with sliced natural chicken ($9.75), arugula and broccoli. Any of the fresh pasta options should probably be your first choice foundation at Bruno as they make the most convincing argument in justifying the fast-casual Italian concept.
Fresh pasta boils quickly to a perfect al dente, and the flavor of the black pepper fettuccine was first-rate. All the sauces held up well in warming vessels, and the Alfredo was no exception. It’s rich and creamy and matched nicely to the tender chicken and crunchy broccoli.
Bruno is offering lightning-fast options with quality products that deliver simple and satisfying familiar flavors. When run through the quick-serve model, some of the touches are lost in translation.
Though on the whole they’re more or less worth the sacrifice if you’re running on a tight schedule, the pasta makes it out as the most complete and worthwhile option.
INFO: Bruno Italian Grill, 235 Delaware Ave. (653-0502). Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. Wheel-chair accessible: Yes.
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