Dining » Restaurant Reviews

Doody Calls

The assembly-line workers at Bravo! Cucina Italiana put out a high-quality product.

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I think I saw a ghost in a restaurant the other day. It wasn't any ordinary ghost but rather the ghost of an American business mogul. It might have been Henry Ford, who mass-produced his namesake cars. Or maybe it was the spectre of Ray Kroc, who turned a California burger shack called McDonald's into an international empire. Or, hell, maybe it wasn't a ghost at all but the aura of a brilliant business concept at work. Because there is clearly a kind of genius to be seen in the day-to-day operation of Bravo! Cucina Italiana. After all, miracles alone wouldn't have been enough to turn an ugly, poorly positioned location at the back of Leawood's Town Center Plaza into one of the metro's busiest venues.

The Ohio-based company was started thirteen years ago by brothers Chris and Rick Doody, sons of legendary marketing guru Alton F. Doody. Alton Doody taught college before opening several successful retail consulting firms, writing two books (including a best seller about the Ford Motor Company) and investing in his sons' fast-growing restaurant chains. Their portfolio includes the seventeen Bravo! restaurants, ten Brio Tuscan Grilles, two Lindey's restaurants and one Bon Vie French Bistro.

Long before I stepped into Leawood's Bravo! -- in the former site of the ill-fated Bayou State Brewery -- I had heard plenty of chatter about the place. It was inexpensive, I was told, but the food was very good, the service polished, the setting attractive -- and the delay in getting a table outrageous. "The wait can be as long as ninety minutes on the weekend," says manager Larry Plaisance. He adds that the 7,400-square-foot restaurant has served as many as 650 meals on a busy weekend night, 300 on a weeknight.

That isn't a restaurant; it's a mess hall! Still, I wanted to see the venue that was causing such a commotion on restaurant-saturated 119th Street. After only seven months, the place is already such a success that the company plans to open a second Bravo! in the Northland's Zona Rosa Shopping Center and is reportedly eyeing a Plaza location for one of its fancier Brio Tuscan Grilles.

Not wanting to endure a prolonged wait in the bar area (or, worse, be forced to stroll next door and poke through Restoration Hardware), I made both of my forays to Bravo! during the early dinner hours. For the first visit, I brought along hardcore midtowners; more congenial Johnson County residents came along the second time. "But we're not typical suburban diners," cautioned my friend Marie, who lives on a heavily wooded plot in old Overland Park.

But what are typical suburban diners? The Applebee's crowd? The gluttons who pile their plates at Chinese buffets? Or the tastefully dressed sophisticates who dine leisurely (and expensively) at J. Gilbert's, Tatsu's and 40 Sardines? From what I could see, Bravo! lures them all: the good, the bad, the cheap and the ugly.

Happily, there's nothing unattractive about the dining room, where the remodeling job is complete with dramatic broken-plaster columns, "antique Venetian plaster" slathered over brick walls, oversized chandeliers, and an aproned army of pretty waiters and waitresses.

On my first visit, with midtown snobs Marilyn and Judy, we were attended by a Gwyneth Paltrow-issue blonde who whirled over to the table carting a green bottle filled with a blood-red sauce, which she gracefully poured into a white china dish. Then she left without an explanation and without having brought anything to dip in the stuff. Soon enough, though, she returned with a silvery wire basket heaped with thin-sliced focaccia and a list of ingredients. "Our dipping sauce is made with oil, thyme, rosemary, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. And we do offer it for sale," she said with such intensity that I wondered if she was waiting on us or rehearsing her lines.

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