The name of Ricci Minella’s restaurant, Brick N’ Mortar, alludes to a six-year journey that began with a hot dog cart.
“I could write a book called Hot Dog Chronicles,” he said of his adventures serving the weekend Walnut Street bar crowd from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
He started up the cart in June 2011. His food truck, Burgh Bites, followed in August 2014. The dream, though, was to have a brick-and-mortar location.
“We just kept referring to our restaurant in a future tense as Brick N’ Mortar,” he said. When the opportunity came, he or Head Chef Jon Tryc, neither can remember who, asked, “What if we just use that as the name and tie some things we do here into that?”
Brick N’ Mortar opened this January in Heidelberg. Menu ingredients include brick (mild white) cheese and mortar (marinara) sauce. There’s a Brick n’ Mortar burger as well, made with a half-pound all-beef patty, brick cheese, pickles, greens, tomato, pickled red onion chipotle ketchup, and roasted garlic/horsey aioli on a brioche bun.
The food truck and restaurant offer handhelds, hot dogs, and sides. Brick N’ Mortar also sells burgers, salads, chili, soup, pasta entrées, and pizza. A little Italian, a little Caribbean, a little Mediterranean, Brick N’ Mortar’s menu complements these different regions to create something truly American, a melting pot of dishes.
Take The Rastafarian. This Jamaican jerk chicken wrap is served on a grilled pita. The wrap creates savoriness by balancing corn/mango salsa and jerk seasoning with charred chili pepper aioli. Romaine lettuce, kale, and arugula add heartiness. The marinated and grilled chicken is hand-pulled by natural segments to keep in the juices. It’s the number-one-selling sandwich, and no wonder—it’s delicious and filling. “Torts”—salted flour tortilla chips—come on the side.
Other handhelds include Falafelicious, Kickin Cuban, and Flankenstein. Handhelds range in price from $7.99 to $9.79. The most popular burger is The Heidelberger. The Godfather and the Dude rank highly as well. Burgers are priced between $9.99 and $12.49.
Minella is of Italian descent, and he does his heritage proud on items like the fettuccine chicken parmesan. The menu describes it as “smothered” in brick cheese and mortar sauce, but this is a misnomer. Cheese and sauce cover the fettuccine, but they don’t drown the hints of diced fresh basil skirting the two lightly breaded and crispy sautéed chicken breasts. The sauce, made with a touch of sweetness, may remind other Italian-Americans of Sunday family dinners at Grandma’s. And just like at Grandma’s, you wouldn’t leave hungry.
The kitchen prepares new twists on old appetizers. The Burgh Bites Slaw uses plenty of cabbage, but green bell peppers intersperse it too. A vinegar base gives it a tangy taste with a touch of sweetness. The Dill Potato Salad contains spicy mustard for an extra kick.
For drinks, the restaurant sells sparkling water and pop. Complimentary beer from Insurrection AleWorks is on draft and rotates about every two weeks. The Chardonnay is also complimentary as is the water and lemon-water near the counter.
A Lovely Brick-and-mortar Location
My friend and I visited for lunch. The restaurant was hoppin’, and seating was tight, but a gentleman shared his table with us. The aroma of grilled meats beckoned us to the front counter to order.
Because of the lunch rush, our food took a little extra time to prepare, but it arrived well made and hot. My friend got the fettuccine chicken parm. I got the Rastafarian. We shared the Burgh Bites Slaw and Dill Potato Salad. The server, Shawna, checked on us frequently.
While we ate, we appreciated the decor of varnished wooden tables and countertops as well as the Edison bulbs hung inside glass bottles, which dangled from the ceiling. The words “BRICK N’ MORTAR” were spelled in brick on the front of the main counter. A rock ‘n’ roll cable channel played everything from early Steve Miller Band to “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie.
The Little Cart That Did
In transitioning from food truck to restaurant, Minella needed to discover the right calculus for the expanded menu so that ingredients neither spoiled nor ran out. Inventory isn’t as much a difficulty with Burgh Bites, for “a food truck is limited to what you can bring on a truck,” he said. He added, “It’s all been good problems to have.”
As for why Heidelberg, it’s a neighborhood where many people are moving to, and East Railroad Street has been growing. Insurrection AleWorks, which opened in 2016, is just down the block. Minella, who graduated from Chartiers Valley High School, said it’s been great running a business in an area where he knows people. Old friends are visiting and bringing their families.
Minella hasn’t gone completely, ahem, brick-and-mortar. Burgh Bites is still very much active. Weekdays, the food truck serves lunch in business parks, like in Robinson. It serves private events, such as block parties and weddings, on Fridays and Saturdays. Minella will occasionally break out the ol’ hot dog cart for one of those private events. And for those who don’t wish to dine in, Brick N’ Mortar uses Grubhub for delivery.
Minella is proud of his success, and his pride resounds in the words emblazoned upon the backs of his staff’s T-shirts: “The Little Cart That Did!” Turns out Hot Dog Chronicles has a happy ending after all.
Brick N’ Mortar
1709 East Railroad Street
Heidelberg, PA 15016
Tuesday – Thursday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday – Monday: Closed.
Photos: Rick Handler
Christopher Maggio is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor and enjoys grabbing a bite with friends.