To someone driving by, Brodo might look quiet and dull, perched on a raised position overlooking the Snyder Fire Department. That's why I didn't think of reservations, not expecting the place to be so crowded on a weeknight.
Led through a mostly packed house to a small table, I sat on a chair that made me envy the people lounging comfortably in booths. The room is stylish, with the kitchen tucked behind a wavy wall. The TV over the bar was tuned to the Food Network. Brown paper covered the mildly tippy table, which was set with cloth napkins.
We tore into slices of fresh baguette and good olive oil, and pored over our menus.
Brodo takes pride in its soups, so we ordered a sampler trio ($5.95) featuring the house brodo, a spicy sausage soup, black bean soup and horseradish beef soup with braised cabbage. The other choice was tomato with roasted garlic.
The appetizer selection featured familiar old friends, like duck quesadilla ($9.95) and poached pear salad with Maytag blue cheese ($8.95), and mussels in a fennel Brie cream sauce as a special. But we wanted beets, and chose the beet and spinach salad, with green beans, almonds and shaved Romano ($8.95).
The foccacias have lots of fans, especially portobello-asparagus, chicken and goat cheese, but we asked for the one with applewood smoked bacon, apple, caramelized onions and New York cheddar ($8.75).
As far as fish goes, sea bass is rather a blank canvas, so I chose Chilean sea bass with chive butter and lobster crab risotto ($25.95). Cat went for the almond-crusted chicken cutlets with apple butter and wild rice ($16.75).
The brodo at Brodo is a memorably satisfying melange of Italian sausage in spicy broth with tomato, farfalle pasta and greens. The black bean was not fully pureed, retaining welcome texture from crushed beans, and plenty of flavor from carrots, celery, garlic and cumin. Hearty yet light, somehow, Cat said.
The horseradish beef reminded me of white (beet-less) borscht, with a thicket of tender sliced cabbage and vinegary horseradish tang.
The beet and spinach salad was split for us. We each got three quarter-inch slices of beet with lightly dressed baby spinach. I liked the blanched green beans and almonds when I found them, but after eating the tender, undressed beets, I found the salad fresh but plain. Others might have found the salad admirably restrained, but I at least wanted more shaved Romano and another splash of dressing.
Beats me why Brodo calls these flatbread pizzas "foccacia," with a thin, crackerlike crust. But ours was darn tasty, explaining their popularity. The cheddar had been well blistered in the oven, the bacon was crispy and the matchsticked apple softened by the heat. I warned Cat to save room for other things. Then we finished it.
Our entrees were pretty plates, crowned with julienned red bell pepper. Cat's chicken was tender inside and while not exactly crunchy, had additional texture, but not flavor, from almonds in the crust. The accompanying cream sauce with small cubes of diced apples was pleasant but subtly flavored.
My little ingot of sea bass was seared with salt and pepper, moist enough but meek. I had hoped it would get a somewhat grander stage. The buttery risotto it came perched upon had noticeable morsels of crab or lobster, but it was slightly gummy. Not enough to stop me from eating it, though. I finished the plate wishing for some crunchy or sour counterpoint to all the mild richness.
Is Italian lemon cream cake the new tiramisu? Brodo's offered pleasantly light cake, creamy filling adorned with raspberry sauce and powdered sugar ($6).
Our server was attentive and personable, offering to fetch Cat a taste of wine she was pondering. Between the warm service and the hot soup, Brodo is a fine place to come in out of the cold.
DESCRIPTION: Busy adult casual Williamsville room with excellent soup and friendly service.
WHERE: 4548 Main St., Williamsville (635-1117)
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and foccacias, $5.95-$11.75. Entrees $16.75-$30.
PARKING: In the lot. WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Lift by front door.
Editor's note: The News is changing to a numerical scale to weigh restaurants. Instead of one to four stars, restaurants will be rated from 1 ("stay home") to 10 ("among the best"), with 5 being "worth a try." The number grade reflects the quality of food, service, ambiance and value, with the food given most emphasis.