Metzger’s long-awaited sister restaurant Brenner Pass opened on June 30, 2017, night and I was lucky enough to score an invite to the soft opening. This much anticipated new restaurant in Scott’s addition was named for a mountain path through the Alps and focuses on bringing European food to dear old Richmond, Va.
The Bar at Brenner Pass
The space itself has a modern, industry-meets-reclaimed wood vibe with white exposed pipes above an elegant retro-inspired, vintage glam bar in the center of the restaurant. Speaking of the restaurant, it’s sprawling, seating over a hundred people, not including the patio and coffee/sandwich shop Chairlift. All together, the space establishment can to serve over 200 people at once, which is pretty big compared to many of the Fan restaurants I’m used to dining in.
If you want to go for dinner, I suggest making a reservation on Open Table even with the big space, as this is a much-anticipated Richmond restaurant opening and the experience backs up the hype. When we arrived there was a 45-minute wait, so of course we sauntered over to the beautiful bar to select a libation from the impressive cocktail selection. Bourbon lovers will drool over the No Ticket. A twist on a Boulevardier, the combination of Bulleit Rye, Dolin Rouge, Averna, Barenjager and Jagermeister with an orange twist served over a generous hand-cut ice cube was smooth and boozy. I worried Jagermeister would take me back to college, but apparently when used in proper proportions (and not dropped into a Red Bull, shocker), the spirit can be quite tasty. Who knew? Oh yeah, the bartenders at Brenner Pass.
I also sampled the Chiaroscuro, which was a blend of Citadelle Gin, Cocchi Americano, Cardamaro, Cynar, Genever, and mole bitters also served over a hand-cut ice cube with an orange twist. This took a more fresh and herbaceous note on a boozy cocktail with plenty of amaro. Quite tasty.
Lastly, I loved both the color and flavor of the 24 Carrot Gold, a bright orange shaken number made with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, lemon, Gentian Carrot Syrup and chamomile bitters.
Of course there’s also an extensive wine and beer list featuring a specially made house lager from The Veil Brewing Co.
Dinner at Brenner Pass
The menu starts with seafood spanning several types of caviar, raw oysters and some impressive seafood towers. After seeing a photo of the delicate blinis that are included in the caviar service, this is next on my must-try list.
Next, snacks feature shareable nibbles like a house bread bowl featuring sourdough made with the leftover mash from the Veil house beer alongside more exotic options like oeufs mayonnaise (boiled eggs drizzled with house-made mayonnaise) that can be topped with caviar or other delicacies based what’s available. From there, the menu moves into cheese and charcuterie (yes!) and on my visit I did, in fact, spy a rather eye-catching cheese cart. Dare I say the first cheese cart I’ve seen in RVA? There’s also one fondue, several small plates, pastas and grains, sides, and large plates.
On my visit to Brenner Pass the first standout dish was the small plate tartare la rue de boeuf, or steak tartare. Tender, hand-cut sirloin was accompanied by uniformly chopped shallots, cornichon and capers so you could mix and match to your preferred level of meatiness, then garnish with dollops of mayonnaise or mustard or drizzle with house-made hot sauce or Worcestershire from eye-dropper bottles. This dish also came with some of the house-made sourdough, which was doughy and divine.
Of course we also had to sample the fondue. The melty blend of Gruyere and Emmenthaller was appropriately gooey and delicious, but my table loved the blend of dipping accompaniments. A plate was filled with cubes of baguette, tender fingerling potatoes, cornichon, bits of speck and dollops of mustard made for a rustic and distinctive take on traditional fondue fixings.
Next we savored the Pacherri Bolognese Bianco, which was a base of big loops of perfectly cooked pasta topped with a savory blend of smoked pork, trumpet mushrooms, and sage. This dish was hearty and full of rich, homey flavor but still light and balanced, fitting in with the rest of the menu perfectly.
We also sprang for the $45 veal porterhouse to split across the table. You only live once, right? And, if you’re going to spring for standout meat, bad-ass lady butcher and co-owner Brittany Anderson’s house is the place to do it. This cut was worth the special occasion price. Perfectly cooked and lightly topped with oyster mushroom jus, it was a quality cut of meat prepared perfectly with just the right touch of added flavor. I’m not going to get it every time I go. I promise. Maybe just the next time…
In subsequent visits I’ve tried the fondue burger, which I recommend ordering without the jus and mushrooms (which come with an extra fee) so you can better taste the delicious blend of brisket and short rib. Also delicious is the Omble Chevalier, arctic char topped with caviar cream and served with barley and chanterelles, and the steak au poivre.
Desserts at Brenner Pass
Of course, with pastry chef Olivia Wilson as another co-owner, you know there are going to be some impressive options here. My table went for the pull-out-all-the-stops souffle.
There aren’t many places in town to find this impressive dish that takes about 15 minutes to cook to order. Keep this in mind and order early if you are in a hurry. Wilson’s Dulcey Souffle is a made with dulcey chocolate, which is a blond chocolate that tastes rich and buttery, made even more indulgent by the creme anglaise topper.
While we waited for the souffle, we also induldged in the Gianduja Tart, which was a silky cake with layers of salted caramel, dark chocolate ganache and hazelnut.
Along with the main dining room, the restaurant’s cafe and market called Chairlift also recently opened.
The new space has a full coffee bar, a selection of pastries for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, along with cheeses and charcuterie, to-go items in a case, beer, wine, and another spacious dining area that appropriately resembles a retro ski lodge.
When I stopped in for breakfast, I was blown away by the pastry selection. I couldn’t resist trying the savory brioche filled with speck and gruyere topped with a sunny-side-up egg.
I also took a chocolate-fig cookie to-go. If you like chocolate, go get one of these ASAP. They are rich and filled with the right amount of chocolate flavor and the added flavor from the fig adds a sweetness that isn’t too sugary. This is my favorite cookie in Richmond right now.
I haven’t made it in for lunch yet, but the selection of sandwiches and tartines has Chairlift on my list to visit soon, as does the wine selection both for dining in or when I need to grab a bottle of wine or vermouth on the go!