Dexter-Ann Arbor Road still drops from 50 to 25 mph in the space of a couple stoplights at the eastern edge of the village, but Dexter’s sleepy feeling has been relegated to a time gone by. As of July, the first floor of the monolithic Monument Building across from the downtown bandstand has a vast multiroom Aubree’s pizza parlor and sports bar (first franchise for the Ypsi Depot Town-based restaurant). Dexter streets don’t seem empty anymore, and the one-year-old Red Brick Kitchen & Bar has found a hybrid formula to attract a mix of available diners: middle-aged local professionals spreading out papers for meetings at the big round tables, young couples date-nighting, seniors watching prices, singletons at the bar to watch a game, families, you name it. The fair-sized mainly American menu with some Mexican and even more Italian options provides something for just about all of them. Picky diners will find fodder for complaints, yet some admirable choices play out well.

To begin with a big success story, here’s a shoutout to portabella mushroom fans in particular and veggie types in general. Red Brick herds some of the biggest portobello caps around and marinates them in an intense vinaigrette to centerpiece at least three different menu items. A well-composed eggplant parmesan features a portabella cap matched in size to two fried eggplant slices, top and bottom. Picture a Big Mac-like stack but lightly sauced with a mild marinara and a lacy topping of nicely bronzed mozzarella. With a side of angel hair pasta, it looked right-sized at first glance but turned out to be more than enough for a dinner, with plenty for leftovers at lunch the next day. Perhaps my appetizer, two dense and moist house-made crab cakes, was partly to blame (it comes with two sauces, and the first-rate pesto lets you ignore bland mayolike aioli). Along with a glass of pleasant house Australian shiraz, this hefty meal was crowned by a fudgy cake more decadent than exquisite (the limoncello cake from another visit was more memorable). But the shareable wedge of chocolate cake was a fitting way to end a feast that turned out to be a heck of a deal at just over $50 for two. My companion’s roast Amish chicken breast on a hearty multigrain and wild rice pilaf, topped with a lively al dente mix of summer and zucchini squash, was attractive, satisfying, and value-priced at $13. Steak is the most expensive menu item, with bleu cheese crumbles, caramelized onions, and mashed redskins for $17.99.

Another day’s visit focused on more casual fare, and again a vegetarian item stood out. A huge “burger” of crushed black beans with south-of-the-border trappings was more than its pretzel bun could handle but still purty set off by green avocado slices. Lightly spiced and fork friendly, it was not the sort of vegetarian entree that leaves you hungry. Caesar salad had overly wet romaine but came with yummy house made croutons in a fun off-kilter bowl. House-made onion rings were massive enough for a table to share. The BBQ chicken and tomato basil 12-inch pizzas had fresh toppings, but they need to extend farther to the edges of the prefab crusts, which I found disappointingly pedestrian. I understand the complexities of running a small restaurant, but cardboardish crust that makes Little Caesars seem gourmet is the wrong place to take a shortcut.

On the other hand, the fresh-scrubbed staff, including at least some recent Dexter High grads, seemed plenty happy digging into their pizzas to share when they gathered post-shift at 9 p.m. one evening around a big circular table in the front window. A friend brought in a smiling baby for everyone to coo over, and they took turns checking on us as we lingered over our meal–and the extra-innings Tigers game on the lone TV screen high above the elegantly lighted little bar. A friendly, family-like vibe transmitted even to strangers passing through. All that red brick on the walls warmed up rather than hardened the atmosphere of this modest eatery. I’ll remember it when passing back through Dexter from autumn colors drives and winter cross-country skiing trips in the months to come.

Red Brick Kitchen & Bar

8093 Main, Dexter


Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (kitchen closes at 9). Closed Sun.

Appetizers, soup, and salads, $3.99-$10.99, sandwiches, burgers, and pizzas $7.99-$12, entrees $10.99-$17.99, desserts, $6.

Wheelchair friendly.