Well, there is a difference between crêpes suzette and hot dogs, just as there were dozens of crazy cultural differences between Patty Lane and Cathy Lane on the 1960s TV series featuring perky Oscar winner Patty Duke chewing up the scenery as two cousins who looked exactly alike (long before Valley of the Dolls and her bipolar diagnosis). But -- roll the laugh track here -- they were so darn different! Patty was a regular, bubbly, all-American girl-next-door teen queen who really dug Frankie Avalon. And Cathy, who was Scottish, read books and played the bagpipes. What a crazy pair!
Now, thanks to the creativity of the Ohio-based Bravo Development Inc., Kansas City has the culinary version of the Patty Duke Show. It stars two Bravo Cucina Italian Restaurants (which the company describes as "fun, full-service, white-tablecloth casual") and their slightly more sophisticated cousin, Brio ("full-service, high-energy, white-tablecloth Italian"), which opened a month ago on the Country Club Plaza.
Both restaurants have similar menu offerings, service styles and décor. But Brio is, according to one trade magazine, slightly more costly, with "check averages of $24 at dinner and $14.50 at lunch, compared with Bravo's averages of $17 at dinner and $10.50 at lunch."
Nicole Roope, Bravo Development's marketing director, explained the differences to me this way: "They are very much related conceptually. Brio has a slightly higher check average, has more Tuscan influence as it relates to the menu, design and feel. The menu has more meat items, like whole roasted chickens, lamb chops, veal Limone and several steaks. Brio also offers brunch, and Bravo does not. Bravo is more Roman influenced in design and menu."
But Tuscan and Roman "influences" aside, having dined at the bustling Brio twice during the holiday crush on the Plaza, I'd say the restaurants are surprisingly similar. They look alike, sound alike and, at times, even smell alike (thanks to the wood-burning pizza ovens).
With 22 Bravo restaurants around the country and 12 Brios, it makes sense that the clever Doody brothers, Chris and Rick (founders of the BDI chain and sons of legendary marketing guru Alton F. Doody), would locate Kansas City's two "fun and casual" Bravos in the suburbs -- Leawood and the Northland -- and the grander, more theatrical Brio on the more upscale Plaza.
At 17,200 square feet, it's one of the biggest restaurants in the city. There are people around who can remember when the building that now houses the Cinemark Palace and Brio was a Sears store. After that, it was a failed minimall called Seville Square, which boasted a handful of now-forgotten restaurant concepts. Fresh success wipes away the stink of failure, though, and no one today wants to recall the Magic Pan or the Peacock Pavilion.
Brio has been so cleverly designed -- a curving staircase leading up to second-floor private dining rooms, a terrace, two kitchens, arched colonnades, wrought-iron chandeliers -- that it's easy to imagine that this space has been around since the days of the Medici. Seville what? But there's a price to pay for the privilege of eating in those oversized dining rooms, with all of the hard surfaces created by the new cypress flooring, Venetian plaster walls and Italian mosaics: It's probably the noisiest restaurant in town. The clattering of the plates, the hum of all those voices, the occasional wailing of a baby --these things don't create an atmosphere of, say, intimate dining (though I've heard it's less cacophonous on the outdoor terrace, of all places). On my first dinner in the restaurant, I spent so much time leaning across the table to talk to my friends Fred and Lillis in a civilized manner that I woke up the next day with a painful, stiff neck.