Folks in Little Rock love their classic eateries, and when Bruno’s Little Italy announced its return, the fanfare was loud and positive. Lines outside the restaurant’s new Main Street location were long, and it appeared as though the old-time magic of the place had come to life again. Given the amount of press around the place at the time, I didn’t make it in to Bruno’s until just recently, and after eating there, I have to say: what’s the big deal?
Now the service at Bruno’s was great, I’ll give them that. Our server was friendly, attentive, and even though he seemed a bit unsure about how to pronounce everything in the evening’s specials, he soldiered on with admirable aplomb to let us know all about them. We were seated at a small table in a very cramped part of the dining room, and in fact I was closer to the people seated at the table next to me than to my dining companion across the table. But hey, it’s an old building, and I understand the need to maximize space.
We ordered the toasted ravioli appetizer and were treated to six flavorless pillows of cracker-hard pasta wrapped around a ricotta and herb filling that didn’t even come to life with a dash of salt. The marinara dipping sauce was a pleasant addition, as it allowed us to coat the ravioli in something we could actually taste. Good toasted ravioli should strike a balance between chewy and crispy, but these were overcooked, under-seasoned, and generally disappointing.
Our main courses didn’t get any better. Our first dish, the lasagna, was pretty good in terms of flavor — again, the sauce is the star here, and the one thing that Bruno’s does really well. The issue with the lasagna was one of temperature, though, as the top and bottom of the wedge of pasta were decently hot while the middle was decidedly cool. Was this a reheat job gone awry? Did the dish sit under a heat lamp for awhile? I’m not sure the answer, but I am sure that a room temperature middle isn’t the way this dish should be served.
Our final dish was the worst, a chicken liver and pasta dish served with a pan sauce. Anyone who has read my contributions to this blog for any length of time will know that I’m extremely fond of chicken livers. I’ve eaten them fried, mashed up into pate, on salads, in sandwiches — I’m not squeamish about livers. At first glance, this dish seemed tailor-made for me: breaded and fried chicken livers in a thick, glossy sauce atop spaghetti. Unfortunately, these livers were burned. Not overcooked; burned. The flavor of charred breading permeated every bite of the dish, ruining the respectable sauce and destroying whatever flavor the livers might have had on their own.
At the end of the meal, we were left with three half-eaten plates and a bill that seemed exorbitant given the quality of the food. I know that Bruno’s is a local favorite, but history doesn’t forgive errors of this magnitude. The Little Rock dining scene has gotten good enough where meals like this just don’t cut it anymore, and here’s hoping Bruno’s steps up their game so that they can compete with the elite.