Friday, November 13, 2009

Chickenless Cook of the Week: Chef Mark Dollard

This week's Chickenless Cook makes me do things I wouldn't normally do. For instance, I wouldn't normally eat out. Most restaurants are not worth my hard-earned money... especially when my hard-earned money is barely sustaining me. But at Brick & Fire, a unique pizza parlor that I would never insult with the title of "joint," owner and chef Mark Dollard gives you more than you would expect for an extremely sensible price. All crusts are handmade fresh on the premises; Guinness is three freaking fifty; and the base ingredient for their standard house salad is not iceberg, not Romaine, but a field greens mix that will actually provide you with the nutrients your body would still be starving for at the end of a typical restaurant meal. The barbeque chicken pizza pictured above is one of my husband's and my favorites.

Another thing I don't normally do is put Chickenless Cook of the Week in interview format, but Chef Dollard's answers were so entertaining I couldn't resist. Here's the word on booze, girls, and mouthwatering pizza straight from the horse's mouth.

Q: How did you get started as a chef?

A: Dishwashing. Something to pay for the car that I wanted in high school. I had no idea at the time that start would turn into a career. All I had on my mind at the time was girls. That is the basic summary of all sixteen year old boys, umm yea, girls, girls, girls, a cool car to impress girls, girls, extra money to spend on girls... Regardless, once you get the restaurant business in your blood, it’s hugely difficult to detoxify it out. I had a yearlong restaurant sobriety only to find myself depressed in an industry that lacked action, chaos, drama, beer, girls, food, fun, cooking, bad language, bad behavior, and diversity. I had trouble being surrounded by guys in ties.

Q: How/when was Brick and Fire established?

A: I actually started out on my own with a restaurant called Absinthe Bistro which was located in Church Street Station. The now infamous owner, Lou Pearlman, made off with a lot of money that wasn’t his... He went to jail and I lost my lease. At auction, Church Street Station went to... now defunct previous owner Cameron Kuhn. He insisted that I open a pizza place in my previous Absinthe spot, as “that” concept wasn’t “cool enough” to be there. In a period of 24 hours, I wrote a menu and developed an upscale pizza and wine concept and submitted it, graphics and all, to the Kuhn team. The next day I had a lease in hand. Kuhn and his dysfunctional foreclosure of Church Street Station led me to close the store and move to a free standing building on Orange Ave just a mile away... I just opened the second location in Casselberry three months ago.

Q: I've noticed your prices are very recession-friendly, especially when it comes to alcohol. Do you have a quote/philosophy that sums up your pricing strategy?

A: Quality and Quantity for Price Paid... My markup is fair and my margins are thin, like a good crust should be. The wine and beer, well if you are charged club prices for a beer then you absolutely will not sell any. I would rather sell fifty beers at two bucks, than five at five bucks. If I can pay everyone and manage to do the mortgage thing then I am happy. I do although miss making my French Bistro fare, but I will be getting there again shortly.

Q: What's your favorite item on the Brick and Fire Menu?

A: Unfair question.

Q: Favorite ingredient to work with?

A: I love working with dough. It’s a challenge to make it consistently as it, like a living thing, changes constantly. My favorite aspect of any good dough is the human skin like feel it has, silky and tender along with the historic culinary nostalgia in that bread is the “Staff of Life.” I love tomatoes too, and Ice Cream, and did I mention Girls? Denote the sarcasm as married for sixteen years now.

Q: How do you come up with new recipes?

A: I find inspiration in the strangest of places, but culinary basics are culinary basics. Vinaigrette will always have a similar balance of vinegar and oil, and sautéing will always be done the same. Creating something new is the best part of what I do, and making those changes in operations gets my blood pumping.

From top to bottom: Bruschetta, Shrimp Penne, Duck Pizza. All photos courtesy of Mark Dollard.

Many thanks to Chef Dollard for this interview, and for his awesome food!

Do you have a restaurant near you that has restored your faith in the concept of eating out? Please feel free to share in the comments. If you live in Orlando or will be visiting the area, I encourage you to check out the Brick & Fire website for their menu, address, and other information.

Beat the eggs. Whip the cream. Show no mercy.


Drick said...

gotta love these types of establishment...and gotta support them just the way you did...hopefully someone else will notice them too...thanks for the post...

penny aka jeroxie said...

Sounds like a lovely place to eat out. Good job with the interview.

Tasty Trix said...

He's totally right - thin crust is the best! That is all I need to know about a person - their feelings on pizza crust - to know they are ok.

Jessie said...

great dishes! what an awesome place to eat out at. I don't like my pizza crust to be too thin it has to be crisp and slightly chewy almost like a brick oven pizza.

Tasty Eats At Home said...

Looks like a jem of a place to eat. Yum!

redkathy said...

With any luck, I'll get another mini vacation up there soon. This sounds like my kind of place and I will definitely visit. I can so relate to the "thin is in" attitude on margins. That's how DH and I have been surviving this far. Thanks for sharing the interview!

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic sounding place- I really enjoyed reading this interview. I think that I am looking for this type of restaurant here in Boston- someplace where I feel good about what I put in my mouth and don't feel like writing "seriously, you want me to pay for THAT?" across the top of the bill. There are a couple of places that I like, but nothing that I get tingles thinking about going to. I'll keep searching.

Mae said...

As a Chicagoan, it's heresy to say this, but I love a good thin crust pizza with a non-traditional topping... great post!

MaryMoh said... all the food here. I love thin crust pizza. Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

Listen, I visited The Absinthe Bistro on Church Street in about 2007, the food was AMAZING!!! The drinks, ehhhh, "otherworldly"...the wine cellar w/ more than just your normal "Spirits" was fascinating. I was planning my trip back to The Absinthe Bistro and I am besides myself that it is no longer. I could cry right now...honestly.