Italian gem Vescovo puts a friendly face on upscale eating
There are two types of people: those for whom beets are proof of natural evil in the world, and those who don’t mind them so much, as long as there’s no other vegetable laying around. Leave it to Chef Trey Foster, then, to make beets not only bearable but actually desirable. He minces red and golden varieties in a shaped salad that looks like the inside of a geode; served with goat cheese, watercress, and pistachio, “Beets By Trey” is a delightful game changer.
Foster is chef-owner of the Italian restaurant Vescovo Neighborhood Eatery in Brevard, a smartly appointed rustic-luxe room with only a handful of tables, plus a couple rows of bar seating. Tiny Vescovo is a bistro in the original sense: It can be hard to snag a last-
minute reservation, even on a weeknight, so calling ahead is definitely encouraged.
The menu is upscale, and the food is entirely worth the price point, although all the framed posters and signs with cheeky mottos, hanging in the bathroom and around the bar, seem to say, “We’re not pretentious — really!”
That’s because Foster started the whole venture in honor of a charismatic late friend, Brad “The Bishop” Thompson, whom he met while working at the restaurant Yabo in Fort Myers, Florida. (“Vescovo” is Italian for bishop.)
“He was one of the most sincere and creative people on the planet,” says Foster. Thompson was a musician and also ran a marketing firm: “He helped launch my wife’s interior-design business,” notes the chef. “Bishop had a unique talent of always finding the positive in any situation. He would do anything for you if you asked, whether he knew you or not. He was somebody we should all strive to be like.”
Thompson passed away two years ago, and Vescovo, says Foster, “is a way to make sure he always lives on — the red-beard logo, the quotes on the walls, the bishop painting above the door. I’ll never forget him.”
The restaurant’s laidback service, and even the food itself, exudes the kind of approachability suggested by Foster when he reminisces about his friend. This starts with the generous serving of gratis homemade bread with garlicky olive oil for dipping. “I’m so glad someone still serves bread,” one diner was overhead murmuring with delight, an apt observation that deserved a cheer, since this one-time staple of nice dining disappeared in most places around the same time Atkins met Paleo.
Foster does a great job of stuffing all the high points of Italian cuisine into a short, easy-to-absorb menu. The filet meatballs on the appetizer list are rare inside and come with a generous ladling of vodka cream sauce. There’s also Calamari, naturalmente, and clams in white-white sauce; the meatless starter is gnocchi with tomato basil and gorgonzola. The pasta list is likewise four dishes long, though a bunch of extra specials that night included eggplant parmesan, Bolognese, and other stalwarts (Thursday is “Italian Comfort Food” night). The house Sacchettoni — a lesser-known pasta type that individually looks like drawstring purses — was sublime, stuffed with ricotta and tossed in a very simple, very sophisticated truffle and basil oil.
One of the main dishes is a gorgeous, hard-seared scallops array with oversized specimens, served with fried spinach and potatoes. Proportions are hefty for this level of cuisine, perhaps due to Foster’s long history working in touristy places.
He was raised in West Memphis, Arkansas, in the hospitality industry (his father was in the hotel business). “I would hang out in these little kitchens in Memphis,” recalls Foster, who was influenced by local cooks, particularly a woman he remembers as “Pearlie Mae” who made “the most amazing country meals … fried chicken, fried potatoes, beans, peas, collards.”
When he got older, he apprenticed through Harrah’s Casino at Tunica Resorts in Mississippi and went on to chef at high-profile spots in Atlanta, Florida, and locally at Jaime’s Creole Brasserie, among other places. But he seems to be recalling something of his childhood experiences in Deep South kitchens when he says, “Everything we serve at Vescovo, I know where it comes from.” Foster talks about “fresh, seasonal food made with passion” and notes, “We can accommodate allergies and dietary restrictions because nothing is pre-made, except for a few sauces.”
The portions are so generous there was little room for anything that night but a few spoonfuls of light, charming pistachio gelato from Brevard’s own Kiwi Gelato down the road. Desserts worth coming back for include a house Tiramisu and a nightly chef’s special.
Foster mentions Vescovo’s “fantastic cocktails,” and that they are. The salt’s not on the rims so much as in the names, including the liquid analgesic known as the “500 MG Fukitol.” But the tastiest pain eraser is a custom mix of ginger bourbon, muddled lime and basil, kumquat nectar, and soda served over ice. It’s called “I’m Sorry I Called You a Kumquat.” The flavor is divine, and the joke would very likely be Bishop-approved.
Vescovo Neighborhood Eatery, 175 King St., Brevard, open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 4:30-9pm. For more information, call 828-885-7630, see vescovobrevard.com or Vescovo Neighborhood Eatery on Facebook.