Hard to believe it’s been eight years since the Annapolis Towne Centre (ironically in Parole) opened its many tenant doors, expanding the retail topography of the greater Annapolis landscape. Here, as in Waugh Chapel, developers Greenberg Gibbons have made a success embracing the build-it-and-they-will-come methodology.
There has been a fair amount of evolutionary turnover, but the big boys — anchors Whole Foods, Target, P.F. Chang’s and Brio Tuscan Grill — have remained.
Brio shares the east end of the center with the equally popular chain restaurant P.F. Chang’s, the two separated by a fountain promenade. It’s been a while since I’ve visited Brio, so I gladly accepted an invitation to a showcase dinner highlighting the current seasonal menu of Flavorful Features.
The elevated-casual Italian eatery has a deep menu covering pizza, pasta, seafood and steakhouse-worthy meats (think Tuscany). The large dining room with more than 230 seats is broken into sections with tables and banquets abutting a large, comfortable bar. There is also a private dining room and an outside terrace for mild weather. This family-friendly restaurant accommodates spills and crayons with white paper covers over white tablecloths.
Brio — which means full of life — is part of the Bravo/Brio Restaurant Group (BBRG), a Columbus, Ohio-based company with a portfolio exceeding 100 restaurants.
On the dark and chilly night I visited, Brio was teeming with activity and warmth. My husband and I were welcomed by a cast of professional managers and waitstaff whose interest in making our dining experience pleasant showed confidence and good training.
The current Flavorful Features menu is available only through February, so don’t dally if you want to enjoy barrata & prosciutto bruschetta ($11.95), chicken saltimbocca with butternut squash risotto ($16.95), sea scallops with ratatouille risotto ($21.95), crab-stuffed shrimp and broiled Maine lobster ($25.95) and butterscotch budino (Italian for pudding) with Marcona almonds, caramel and whipped cream ($3.95). Guiding us through the menu were general manager David Doward and assistant manager Monica Nader.
GM Doward also presented us a variety of customer favorites. Spicy shrimp and eggplant appetizer with black pepper cream sauce was a meal in itself; we’d order on every visit as the fried eggplant was delicious and the sauce would make an old shoe taste good. The most popular entrée, grilled salmon fresca ($20.95), is a gluten-free light choice of farm-raised salmon on a bed of roasted sweet potatoes, spinach, red peppers and grilled asparagus with feta, tomatoes and balsamic glaze. This dish eats as good as it looks, and at only 500 calories is a no-guilt indulgence. If your pendulum swings the other way, try the espresso-rubbed ribeye ($32.50) served with a side of fingerling potatoes Brio. The 16-ounce steak was seared to a perfect medium rare and melted in the mouth. The subtle and almost sweet rub helped lock in the juices. The potatoes were draped in a creamy Parmesan sauce with rosemary and chili flakes.
To gild the lily, our table teetered under the weight of our final dish, the dolchino trio ($10.50), three petite desserts including the house-made caramel mascarpone cheesecake, crème brulee and the Flavorful Feature, butterscotch budino.
If I didn’t know better, I would suspect the folks at Brio were trying to kill us with kindness.
Brio Tuscan Grill: 305 Sail Place, Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole; 410-571-5660; www.brioitalian.com.