When chef Ryan Brazeal's new restaurant opens - tentatively in April - at 815 West 17th Street, it will mark a literary turning point in Kansas City's restaurant history: There will be a restaurant called Story in Prairie Village and Brazeal's Novel in the Crossroads. If only Webster House would change the name of the second-floor bar from the Library to Webster's Dictionary, Kansas City would be the last word in places where diners could become both well-fed and well-read.
But 36-year-old Brazeal points out that his use of the word Novel isn't as a noun but as an adjective. You know, like taking a a novel approach to an old concept - which, in fact, he's doing with the funny old house that was formerly occupied by the eccentric restaurant known as Lill's on 17th. (Lill's may have been better-known to a large contingent of Kansas City diners for its liberal "bring your dogs to our patio" policy than it was for its food.)
Brazeal isn't sure where he stands on dogs at Novel: "Let's just say I won't be as dog-friendly as Lill's had been, but they won't be banned from the patio."
Brazeal, a Kansas City native and a 2003 graduate of the culinary program at Johnson County Community College, recently moved back to Kansas City from New York, where he worked at several high-profile Manhattan dining venues, including two years as sous chef in chef David Chang's award-winning Momofuku restaurant.
"I was in New York for eight years," he tells me, "but my plan was always to come back to Kansas City and open my own restaurant."
He looked at several properties before deciding to lease the Lill's space, though the challenges of the venue nearly sent him running. "It doesn't have anything resembling a real kitchen," Brazeal says. "There was an electric stove in this tiny room - the kind of stove you use at home - and two of the burners didn't work. I'm having to put in a professional kitchen. I just found an exhaust hood that will fit in the space...in Omaha."
Brazeal's first business decision was hiring Bryn Hughes, the personable manager of the former Lill's on 17th for six years, to return to the building as Novel's general manager. Hughes has already started hiring for the new venue (she's still looking for a bartender) and working with Brazeal on the construction end of the project.
"We're putting in a new bar," she says, "and having the patio spaces in the front and back relandscaped. We're also adding an enclosed 12-foot-by-14-foot space at the back of the first floor for extra tables."
The patios are being reworked so that the bricks are level, and the interior walls are being painted a shade of red pepper. When Novel opens, Brazeal expects to be able to seat 35 diners on the first floor, an additional 24 upstairs and, if the weather is balmy, another 35 on the patio. Brazeal's plan is to serve "American contemporary" cuisine at a price point that should average between $18 and $24 per entree.