The Brick Oven boldly puts their own spin on traditional Italian and Eastern European cuisine

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At Jennifer Gentile’s The Brick Oven, the menu is decidedly Italian, but with other culinary influences. Pictured above from front to back: wood-fired vegetable and Margherita pizzas, chicken prosciutto with Romano cream angel hair pasta, spaghetti and meatballs and strawberry salad. (Photography: Benjamin Margalit)

By Laura Briedis

When Jennifer Gentile was studying culinary arts and hospitality management at the University of Akron, the door in her college dorm room was always open and it became the hangout place for students to gather. Now, more than a decade later, she is opening the door to her new restaurant, The Brick Oven in Southland South plaza, with that same personable, welcoming demeanor.

A graduate of Padua High School, Jennifer has always enjoyed cooking for family and friends.

“Growing up I learned to cook from my Italian grandma and my Polish grandma and great grandma,” she says. “They passed down their recipes for authentic Italian favorites such as spaghetti and meatballs, as well as Eastern European classics such as pierogies. I have always felt more comfortable in the kitchen than anywhere else. I love nurturing people and providing delicious food and a place where they can have a nice time and enjoy each other’s company.”

“In college, when I only had a hot plate and microwave, my specialty was a casserole I made by layering bread, mozzarella cheese sticks and Chef Boyardee ravioli,” she laughs. “Now my brick ovens in the restaurant allow for real Italian specialties and gourmet pizzas.”

The restaurant was built around two wood-burning brick ovens, which crank out delicious thin crust, wood-fired pizzas, and are visible from the dining room.

“All of our dough is handmade every morning and hand tossed,” Jennifer says. “Diners often get a glimpse of the chef tossing up and twisting around the pizza dough before it is crimped, topped with savory sauce and cheese and put into the oven.”

“We have a dozen traditional pizza toppings, plus eight gourmet toppings including artichoke hearts and portobello mushrooms,” says the energetic 29-year-old. “Chef Al also creates specialty pizzas on the weekends, such as a cheeseburger pie or Reuben pizza.”

At The Brick Oven, the menu is decidedly Italian, but with other culinary influences. Traditional favorites such as chicken Parmesan, baked ziti Bolognese and lasagna mingle with house specialties including pork chop Milanese and pan-seared salmon. Rotating specials like chicken Paprikash and pierogies add some Eastern European nuances.

Though the restaurant opened in December, the chicken prosciutto has fast become a favorite. It is lightly breaded and topped with Italian ham, tomatoes and light Romano cream sauce over angel hair pasta.

“Our restaurant seats more than 200 diners and is perfect for big family get-togethers or a table for two,” says Jennifer, who was the general manager at the former Bucci’s restaurant previously occupying the space.

“We completely remodeled the restaurant to exude a modern, rustic vibe complete with glass-blown light pendants, plank flooring and fabric upholstered booths mixed with dining tables for a sleek décor.”

There also is a wine bar tucked in the front corner with four bar seats and two pub tables, for a cozy place to order appetizers and enjoy a glass of wine or beer. “We refurbished an old bar we found in Middleburg Heights and gave it new life in our restaurant,” notes Jennifer.

“We wanted to open a restaurant that gives back to the community and offers a fresh, local dining option,” states Jennifer. “In addition to dinner, we also will be open for lunch with a limited menu featuring flatbreads, salads, soups and pasta.”

The Brick Oven is located at 13373 Smith Road in Southland South shopping plaza in Middleburg Heights. Hours are Tuesday-Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 4:00 to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. For reservations or takeout, call 440-545-1274.

Categories: Westside Food & Dining