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Relationships that start out on the shaky side can sometimes grow to become the strongest. That’s certainly the case around my ongoing love affair with Bricks & Barrels.

When the swanky wine bistro first opened behind Appalachian Power Park back in May 2015, my initial critique of the restaurant offered plenty of constructive, um, let’s call it “feedback.” As much as I wanted to love the place — and could see its potential — my honest assessment was the restaurant just wasn’t there yet.

It was promising an upscale experience, but sometimes fell short on the food, service and value it was delivering. Guest comments were all over the board.

But a funny thing happened after my less-than-favorable review ran in the newspaper. Owners Matt and Nikki Holbert thanked me for it. Thanked me? For what some would consider a “bad” review? Absolutely.

Saying they were committed to getting better, they took my suggestions to heart, made more changes on their own and began fine-tuning their kitchen and service staff. People took notice, and the restaurant started to gain a positive reputation for the very thing that dogged it at first: consistency.

Fast-forward to the five-year anniversary it just celebrated, and Bricks & Barrels now solidly stands as one of the best, hottest and, yes, most consistent restaurants in the Kanawha Valley.

That’s why we reserved one of the restaurant’s signature wine barrel rooms for a special family dinner to celebrate my 51st trip around the sun this past Friday night.

The evening started with one of the best dusty blue cheese martinis in Charleston, made and served by the city’s best bartender — seriously, Drew Smith has the trophies to prove it. Next, we devoured what I swear is one of the best-tasting dishes I’ve had anywhere, a boat of seemingly simple “truffle tater tots” that I could absolutely eat my weight in.

I think my three boys actually did.

Other incredible appetizers include spicy bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with jalapenos and cheese, seared ginger-encrusted tuna in sesame oil and a signature fried green tomato napoleon. That showstopping appetizer consists of a petit filet mignon atop a tower of sliced green tomatoes, which are fried in local stone-ground cornmeal and layered with pimento cheese, house-made tomato jam and balsamic glaze. Phenomenal.

For dinner, we sampled a variety of plates so we could all trade “bite for bite” — the butter-basted salmon over Parmesan risotto, shrimp and heirloom grits with tasso ham and mega-gravy, garlic and rosemary lamb chops and a super filet with red-skin mashed potatoes.

No birthday dinner is complete without a celebratory dessert, so we had almost all of them — a melt-in-your-mouth tiramisu, a rich house-made peanut butter pie and a chocolate “brick” filled with vanilla bean ice cream.

Everything was top-notch — the service was flawless, social distancing was on point and we couldn’t have had a more enjoyable experience all around.

Like a fine wine, Bricks & Barrels just keeps getting better with time. It may not have been love at first sight, but I sure have been head-over-heels ever since.

Nicely done.

IF YOU GO: Bricks & Barrels, 1214 Smith St. in Charleston, is open from 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 4-9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 681-265-9222 or visit


In other local restaurant news:

n At long last, a second location of King Kabab has finally opened at 6006 MacCorkle Ave. SE in Kanawha City, on the opposite end of the Kanawha Valley from its original location at 4860 MacCorkle Ave. SW in South Charleston. Both locations offer a variety of char-grilled Mediterranean food (including family meals) to go. For more information, call 304-926-0234 or find them on Facebook.

n A new Asian-sushi restaurant has opened next to Main Kwong in the old Umami location downtown at 1401 Washington St. East. Hibachi Express is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. For more information, call 304-343-8338 or find them on Facebook.

n Cali Tacos, the former St. Albans Mexican joint that moved to Nitro last year, has now opened a second location at 4845 MacCorkle Ave. SW in South Charleston. The new spot is open for lunch and dinner daily. For more information, call 681-205-2488 or find the on Facebook.

n The WV Anchor, located along Kanawha Boulevard on the way to Malden, has risen once again. New owners renovated and reopened the beloved on-again, off-again local hangout this past spring. I haven’t been yet, but hear many of the restaurant’s classic dishes, including its famous “Tomato Pie,” taste just like the original served for so many years at its original location in Kanawha City — often called The Anchor, Riverside Anchor or The Admiral by locals. The newest iteration of the restaurant is currently open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday. For more information, call 681-205-8301 or visit