ITAL Business Directory: IL BRUTTO
by Amanda Bush 611 Instructor University of Texas at Austin
My experience at Il Brutto was a pleasant and delicious surprise. After being amply spoiled during five years in Italy, between Rome and Florence, with frequent trips to Bologna, Puglia and Sicily (all foodie destinations in their own rights), I have what I believe to be very high standards when it comes to Italian cuisine. Gone are the days of my youth in Ohio, microwaving Totino’s Pizza Rolls… That being said, when I go out to eat I usually opt for Thai or Vietnamese food and don’t go to Italian restaurants for fear of disappointment. The experience at Il Brutto was far from that, instead it served as a reminder to not be held back by my prejudice towards Italian restaurants in the U.S.
From my arrival I was welcomed and treated kindly by the waitstaff. The vibe was trendy and chic, but customers were not dressed up. The clientele was a nice mix of people on dates, a group of businessmen, some college students, and a few people sitting at the horseshoe bar imbibing Il Brutto’s take on traditional Italian cocktails like the Spritz or Negroni. Their huge candlelit patio hosted a few diners, while the dark walls inside provided a striking contrast with the warm glow of the pizza oven. Walking towards the restrooms (which were painted with Italian phrases), I was pointed towards the pasta making room. This ‘back of house’ space was on full display, allowing customers to look through the glass walls and watch the chefs roll out fresh pasta. When they held the pasta up to the light and I could see it was almost transparent, I knew they had rolled it out to the desired thickness.
Back at the table, mouths watering, my partner and I opted for a burrata appetizer. Whenever I see burrata on a menu, I have to try it; it brings back memories of trips to Puglia (the region famous for producing this rich cheese). This particular iteration was served with cherry tomatoes, speck, pistachio, and refreshing sprigs of mint. The taste was fresh and creamy, while the pistachios provided a nice textural contrast. When our waiter, Russell, approached us to see where our taste buds would take us next, we entered into conversation about the restaurant itself.
The executive chef, he told me, was an Albanian native that had grown up in Sicily, while the owner of the restaurant group* is Sicilian. He described the restaurant as the owner’s long-time dream and passion project. With the aim of bringing Sicilian food to an Austin palate, the menu includes Sicilian favorites like a caponata appetizer and fish based entrees.
In an attempt to try multiple menu items, I opted for a margherita pizza with buffalo mozzarella (shipped in from California by a Pugliese cheesemaker) and ‘nduja (a spreadable spicy salame). Matt, instead, ordered the pappardelle with lamb ragù. Having spent three months in Bologna with me last year, he had acquired quite a taste for the meaty sauce that in other parts of the world is simply referred to as “Bolognaise”. Funny side note—before going to Italy he had been vegetarian for 7 years. But why limit yourself when the offerings are so good!
The pizza I ordered had a lovely crust (Neapolitan style) with a nice crunch while maintaining some chewiness. The toppings, particularly the buffalo mozzarella, tasted very fresh, albeit the tomato sauce seemed a little too salty (which was probably amplified by the salame). It wasn’t a deal breaker in any sense though, as evidence by the fact that I ate it all. J Matt’s pasta was perfectly al dente (is there anything better than fresh pasta?) and the sauce was very thick tomato with shredded and tender lamb meat. The sauce also seemed a little too salty for my palate, but I’m also someone who cooks with very little salt at home.
Debating on whether to have dessert, our waiter shared the anecdote that the pastry chef, Amanda Rockman beat Bobby Flay (on the show Beat Bobby Flay) on the Food Network with her Tiramisu’ recipe. Naturally we had to try it. We also got a scoop of house made pistachio gelato for good measure. Some of the best pistachios in the world grow from the volcanic soil of Sicily’s Mount Etna, so I figured a true Sicilian would never allow a bad pistachio product to be served in his restaurant. I was right, it was nutty, sweet, and salty perfection in each smooth and creamy bite.
The tiramisù proved a worthy rival though- it was certainly not traditional- topped with cinnamon graham cracker crumbles and served atop a bed of dark chocolate sauce, but the innovations were welcome. There was none of the sogginess that unfortunately accompanies some restaurants tiramisu.
As far as pricing goes- definitely not an average weeknight- expect spending between 30$-50$ a head for a full meal, more if you want to take advantage of their great bar program! They have a huge selection of digestivi, and at the end of the meal brought us a potent house made limoncello to send us off. Highly recommend!
Il Brutto - 1601 E. 6th Street Austin, Texas 78702
photo credit: Amanda Bush & courtesy of Il Brutto