Those who lived in Austin before 2020 will remember the long reign of pizzeria Brick Oven. Attracting crowds of people for almost 40 years, the pizza spot became an Austin staple for being the only restaurant at the time to offer fresh pizzas made in a real wood-fired brick oven in the 1980s. Since its shutter, the same owners opened a new spot, Baretto Bistro, in the Rosedale neighborhood at 1026B West 38th Street in December 2022, where old and new customers can enjoy French and Italian food with Texas touches.
This new bistro was almost two years in the making. Co-owners and couple Stan and Debbie Adams knew they wanted to open Baretto — the Italian word for “bar” — eventually after they closed their Northwest Austin bar of the same name in 2020. They already operate another longtime restaurant, the more upscale West Austin restaurant Siena Ristorante Toscana, but they were seeking to a new, more casual, everyday spot. The search took a year and a half for them to find the right location.
The Adamses moved to Austin in 1982 from the Northeast coast, where brick oven pizza joints were abundant. But in the Texas city at the time, there were only chain pizza restaurants around. So they decided to build what they claim to be the largest wood-fired brick oven in Texas and opened the original Brick Oven in 1982 on 12th and Red River streets. Its success allowed them to expand with three locations. At Brick Oven’s peak, there were four locations: the first one, then the second on Jollyville Road in 1988, the third in the Lakeline Mall in 1995, and the fourth opening on Brodie Lane in 2002.
At the same time, the Adamses opened a downtown seafood restaurant, Gilligan’s, in 1992. They closed it in 2003 because similar chain restaurants like Truluck’s and Eddie V’s opened in the area. Then there was also the original Baretto in 2015 and Siena in 2000.
After a collective 38-year stint, every single Brick Oven restaurant eventually closed, each for different reasons. The Brick Ovens and the first Baretto “went away not because of COVID or the businesses weren’t doing well,” says Stan, “they went away because the growth of Austin literally swallowed those locations.
The Red River restaurant shuttered in March 2020 because of construction in the area and a new intended hotel project. Lakeline Mall and Brodie closed because those weren’t making as much money. The last standing location on Jollyville closed in 2020 because its supermarket neighbor H-E-B was going to expand into its space. The day that the brick oven wasn’t fired, Debbie tells Eater that she cried.
Although Adamses have closed restaurants, they still see their past businesses as successes since each managed to be open for many years. And now, they’re excited to run something new and smaller.
Enter: Baretto. They envision the restaurant as a place befitting every casual need, from a nice Tuesday dinner, a spot to just grab a quick glass of wine and snack, to a lingering patio hang. And, unlike, the original Baretto which was only a bar, the reborn version offers more food along with cocktails at what the couple considers affordable prices.
Overseeing the menu is head chef Harvey Harris, who holds the same position at Siena. The Adamses met Harris when he was the head chef of the popular now-closed Austin Italian restaurant Mezzaluna. When gearing up for Siena, the couple sent him to spend a year in Italy in 1999. That’s where he attended the International School of Italian Cuisine in Costigliole d’Asti and interned at Tuscany restaurants Il Pino and two-Michelin-starred Arnolfo.
Baretto’s menu offers both Italian (a reflection of Siena) and French dishes. Of the former, there are pastas, calamari, and polpettes, which are meatballs made of veal, pork, and beef served in marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. Of the latter, there are tartines — slices of warm sourdough bread topped with fruits, cheeses, and meats — as well as steak frites, moules frites, and pork chop served with a blackberry juniper gastrique. In tribute to Brick Oven, the couple added a new smaller brick oven so they can eventually make pizza.
The Adamses specifically sought out the 38th Street location because, to them, it had that old Austin neighborhood feel. The restaurant is found in a one-story plaza with a Frost Bank and retail shops; they wanted to stay away from towering buildings while also offering easy parking. Inside the restaurant is a cozy space with booths on the left and the original Baretto wooden bar that wraps around the right side. Outside is a small patio with a fireplace.
The Adamses enjoy that a small space allows them to get to know their customers better. “We see some of the same people three to four times a week,” Stan says. “Some people that used to be students at UT, now own homes near us and have followed us over the years.” He adds that some customers have even claimed the exact same seats from before.
Along with those regular customers, Adamses’s staff is just as loyal. Harris says about 90 percent of the staff that started with him are still working at Siena or Baretto today. Joe Morales, the day-to-day manager of Baretto, has been working with the couple for over 30 years.
Baretto is poised to be its own thing different from Brick Oven and Siena, Debbie says, but with similar values, the friendliness of Brick and the quality of Siena. Their hope is that the new restaurant will become a regular neighborhood spot for Ausinities for years to come.