Going from nomadic street food vendor to fully-fledged restaurant is no easy feat.
While your dining club/festival/private party clientele might love your speedy food, pimped up campervan and easy style, it might not necessarily translate well in a restaurant environment.
Service is expected to go up a notch and more consideration needs to go into presentation of food; a paper plate will no longer suffice. The ‘premises’ go from renovated mobile home to a place where people want to sit, eat and stay a while. Street grub is snappy, while a restaurant – unless you’re calling McDonald’s a restaurant – is somewhere to linger.
Birmingham has seen a number of street food vendors take on permanent premises, with varying degrees of success. Gourmet burger purveyors Original Patty Men and Meat Shack, and sub-continent street food vendor Indian Streatery, spring to mind. Most of those continue as street food vendors too, frequenting Digbeth Dining Club (DDC), festivals and the likes.
Baked in Brick, run by Lee DeSanges, is the latest to make the transition from street food purveyor to proper restaurant having taken over premises in Birmingham’s Custard Factory. The city’s ‘creative quarter’ has a spring in its step at the moment following the addition of a few newbies such as zero waste supermarket The Clean Kilo, and when we visited on a Saturday lunchtime the place had a pleasant buzz.
I’d not sampled food from Baked in Brick before, although they’re instantly recognisable at festival or dining clubs since all of Lee’s set-ups are based around classic vehicles; cooking out of a converted Mini Cooper is certainly a bit of a scene stealer.
In 2016 they won Best Street Food and Pop Up in the West Midlands, then Best Dish and Best of the Best at the British & European Street Food Awards and, as a result, our expectations were high.
And while the street food affair features dishes such as barbecue chicken tikka wraps and pulled pork belly alongside Neopolitan-style pizzas, the restaurant operation concentrates on the Italian offerings with which Lee started with three years ago – mainly pizzas with a few salads thrown in.
A graffiti art Mini Cooper explodes from the wall – a nod to the street food set-up. The 60-seater restaurant has a stripped back interior and a relaxed atmosphere, although service was perfectly attentive and we were greeted by a friendly waitress who seated our party of four in a booth beneath the Mini artwork. There’s an open kitchen and vast wood-fire oven so you can see your food being freshly prepped – it was all very enticing.
The menu is divided into light bites and salads, pizzas and desserts. Pizza toppings vary from the classic (and best) Margherita to more adventurous offerings such as goat’s cheese, caramelised red onion, grape chutney, wild rocket and balsamic glaze, or serrano ham, Lincolnshire poacher vintage cheese shavings and rocket. The award-winning calzone stuffed with beef shin ragu and wild mushroom also makes an appearance.
Prices hover around the £9 in line with most other artisan, and high street, pizza joints.
Both traditionalists, the mother-in-law and I opted for the Margherita pizzas; I was totally won over by the promise of mozzarella and D.O.P (translated as Protected Designation of Origin) San Marzano tomato sauce. I knew this was going to be good.
The other half chose to share the pizza topped with pork and fennel meatballs with yellow pepper ketchup with our daughter – such a carnivore she’d put Dr Robert Atkins to shame. It was pretty clear my partner was actually only going to get a pizza with yellow pepper ketchup pizza. And I was right – she sidelined the carbs for ‘more meatballs, daddy’.
To accompany our pizzas, although not really necessary we ordered two salads; a large house, and one featuring oak smoked burrata, heritage tomatoes, olive tapenade and crisped focaccia.
My Margherita pizza was utterly delicious with a perfectly thin base rising to a pleasingly doughy crust. Toppings were fairly generous and of the very best quality; the mozzarella was creamy and stringy while the tomato sauce just piquant enough. If I had one criticism it’s that the very doughy crust made it difficult to finish, even for a pizza piggy like me. The mum-in-law was also delighted with her choice of pizza, simple is often best, after all.
The meatball-topped pizza was artistically drizzled with yellow pepper ketchup and went down very well with my other half and our daughter. Happy customers indeed.
The salads, were generous and delicious. The house salad comprised an unusual array of leaves and some heritage tomatoes – it was simple but delicious. A side order (at mum-in-law’s request) of rosemary-spiked dressing lifted the ingredients to another level.
The burrata salad was also superb even though the ball of cheese wasn’t quite as unctuous as I’d hoped; cutting into it didn’t yield an oozy filling. The rest of the ingredients were lovely though, a symphony of flavour and a sublime – if totally gluttonous accompaniment to the pizza.
We absolutely couldn’t face dessert, tempting as they sounded. Options included chocolate brownie sundae, chocolate and butterscotch sauce with blow torched marshmallow, and vanilla crème brûlée. Maybe next time!
And so we settled the bill – just shy of £45 including a raft of soft drinks – and headed off to the shops, happy that we’d sampled one of the best pizzas in Brum. They’re definitely building the bricks of a bright future.