Corporate food never really changes. Storefronts come and go; old shopping malls die, replaced by new outdoor streetscapes; in the end, it is all the same — isn't that the whole point of suburbia? Many of the foods, like the buildings, look authentic, but a close examination reveals the fantasy: contrite façades posture like Western movie sets, plastic shrines to the commercialism of nostalgia, serving flabby pizza and greasy burgers, doused with industrial condiments and too many dollar signs. An aspiring restaurant must be careful in this treacherous environment, lest it become just the latest bygone mall craze. Brixx, the newest pizza joint on the block, fits right into this plastic paradise, and in doing so, might be the best thing going in the Belle Hall shopping center.
Like all upscale suburban haunts, the place is impeccably clean. Waiters are clean shaven, with pressed uniforms and nice hair (even if tattoos peek from beneath their shorts). Angular walls burst forth in loud primary colors, flat-screen televisions blare the game from every conceivable angle. A constant parade of beautiful people files past the large plate glass windows overlooking cool fountains in the development's retention ponds.
Contemporary flavors tempt you from the menu: pizzas with portabellas, prosciutto, and pesto, wood-fired in myriad combinations with none breaking nine dollars in price. The crust is not the best in town, but it's acceptable with a soft chew and a crusty exterior owing to its ultra-hot, wood oven pedigree. Toppings do not always live up to expectations, some being generally bland, mass-produced fare, others presenting intriguing combinations of fresh herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and roasted garlic. Overall, the pizza is good; the rest of the menu should be discontinued.
Tired clichés populate the appetizer selection. It reads like a lineup of the last 20 years' bestsellers — three kinds of hummus (puréed so fine that one might mistake it for ice cream) served with pita chips, bruschetta topped with the colors of the Italian flag, "Spinach and Artichoke Dip" ($5.95) — a low point of creative flair. The "Wood-fired Pita Chips and Three Dips" ($5.95) are OK, but for six bucks one could expect the "chips" to be crispy and warm.
Pasta selections fare worse. The shrimp carbonara ($11.95), which bears no resemblance to its namesake, proves a total enigma. Described as "sautéed shrimp, bacon and sun-dried tomatoes tossed with alfredo sauce and penne," it defies even the most liberal definitions of the dish — a risk one might appreciate if not for the food itself. It appears as a deconstruction; small, ghastly white penne, overcooked and left naked on the plate, shivering in a sea of lukewarm "alfredo" more akin to dribbling cheese soup than pasta sauce. The bacon bits and tomatoes are an afterthought — industrial fare that distracts rather than enhances. And then there are the shrimp, smallish foreign beauties, so obviously frozen and flown from afar that one expects to see little passports floating in the bowl.
One thing is for sure, if Matt is your server, you will not die of thirst. The entire waitstaff appears friendly and helpful, but he takes the cake, refilling glasses of soda faster than one can put them down. About the time ice emerges from beneath the liquid's surface, here comes Matt, rounding the last corner like he is taking the stretch at Churchill Downs, sodas in each hand, a big smile on his clean-shaven face, as if he knows how badly you need to wash down that chalky hummus. You will thank him for his promptness; just make sure you visit the facilities before leaving.