Charles Ferruzza answers the cattle call.

Mouthing Off 

Charles Ferruzza answers the cattle call.

Even before the addition of Morton's (see review on the previous page), did Kansas City have too many steakhouses? Not according to Rob Crews, the vice president of marketing for Atlanta-based Rare Hospitality International Inc., which operates three restaurant chains: the upscale Capital Grille, the Texas-style LongHorn Steakhouses, and the Australian-inspired Bugaboo Steakhouses.

Two Rare Hospitality properties are scheduled to open in the metro area this year. The casual LongHorn Steakhouse is slated to take over the ill-fated Tony Roma's location at 4500 W. 119th Street in Leawood, duding up the space like a Texas roadhouse -- neon signs, cowboy hats hanging on the walls, and icy coolers filled with longneck beer. And a Capital Grille is moving into the old Bristol space on the Plaza; the Zagat restaurant guides give the chain high ratings, and it'll be an expensive, tastefully mounted steakhouse much in the style of its ritzy neighbors (Plaza III, The Steakhouse and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse), serving dry-aged steaks, veal chops, broiled fresh lobster, and other seafood.

That means Rare Hospitality's CEO and president, Phil Hickey, will go steak-to-steak against Plaza III, the very restaurant where he started his career. Hickey was the general manager nearly two decades ago, back when the Plaza III was one of the Gilbert-Robinson holdings. Crews has his own Kansas City connection: He worked at Muller + Company and Applebee's before moving to Atlanta and taking up with Rare Hospitality. Kansas City may be a meat-and-potatoes town with a lot of steakhouses to choose from, but Crews isn't worried about the competition: "Our restaurants are very different concepts from the restaurants that are already there."

The LongHorn's biggest Johnson County competitors will be literally across the street -- the Hereford House (117th and Roe) and Yahooz (4701 Town Center Drive). Although most people think of Yahooz as a steakhouse, its co-owner doesn't. "It was designed as a restaurant serving regional Midwestern cuisine," says Bill Crooks, who worked with Rare Hospitality's Hickey many years ago, before Crooks and partner Phil Khoury launched their own successful restaurant chain, PB&J Inc.

"Phil was the general manager of Plaza III, Paul was the assistant manager, and I was the line cook," Crooks says. "I can't even tell you how many years ago that was."

To fight the lingering perception that Yahooz, with its Old West decor and huge cowboy paintings, is a traditional steakhouse, Crooks and Khoury toyed with the idea of changing the restaurant's name and concept.

"But instead of changing things, we're focusing on the food right now," Crooks says. "Two weeks ago we moved chef Michael Peterson from Grand Street Café to Yahooz and Eric Barkley, the Yahooz chef, to Grand Street. Michael's playing with the Yahooz menu, focusing more on the fresh seafood and other seasonal dishes."

"Yahooz isn't a steakhouse. Although," he says, adding a dig at his Town Center neighbor, the Hereford House, "we are probably the only restaurant in southern Johnson County serving prime beef."

Get out the steak knives, pilgrims. The steak wars have begun.

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