Restaurant Review: Bravo!

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

These days, three puny bucks doesn't buy much in a nice restaurant - unless you know about Bravo's "Bar Bites." If you are onto Bravo's happy hour snacks (served Monday through Friday, 3-7 p.m. and again 9 p.m. to close), though, then you know those three pitiable dollars can purchase, say, a whole mess of actually good-quality shrimp with a memorably rich and bright tomato sauce; a nice little pizza; or a plate of upscale sliders and fries.

I recently knocked back all of those fine $3 noshes (and more) at the newest Bravo, i.e. the one that just opened in the Lennox Town Center. Replacing a succession of underperforming pseudo-Mexican joints, this Bravo is a massive improvement and a real upgrade for Lennox in general.

So 86'ed are the kitsch, salsa and chips, and in are dramatic (and skylighted in the main dining room), Tuscan-esque, ochre-painted spaces plus really solid, hugely portioned Italianate food. Since I'm focusing on those nice-price bar bites, this report will be limited to the bar area where they're sold.

That bar space is hardly limited itself. Even though it was overflowing with imbibers the other night, it's huge. It includes a handsome, swooping, almost room-length "belly up" counter that curves around a stone pizza oven shaped like an igloo. There's also lots of high-tops plus a slew of comfy lounge chairs and kinda snazzy couches equipped with bend-over-and-munch coffee tables.

Overall, this Bravo reminds me of a Brio, Bravo's somewhat fancier brother. In keeping with the family tradition that began with the mother restaurant to both chains - the lovely Lindey's - this newbie did not screw up, even though it was jam-packed and had only been open a couple of days (though food and drinks, excusably, were not rapidly arriving).

Libationwise, there's a few passable wines, and -with one exception -passe cocktails like Cosmos and Flirtinis. The notable exception is a decent margarita made with real lime juice, served up, and discounted on Thursdays from $9 to $7 (as are all "martinis").

OK, those Bar Bites. My favorite, and likely the best happy hour deal here, had to be the Crispy Shrimp Napoli. Eight big boys came wearing flaky, thickish, golden-brown calamari-style batter jackets. The swell shellfish were very clean tasting (no iodine-y aftertaste) and were served with a terrific and addictive "lemon butter, charred tomato" sauce.

I'd give second-place Bar Bite honors (though none were losers) to the Cheese Ravioli Al Forno. Three extra-large homemade pasta pockets were packed with a ricotta cheese mix, swamped in an alfredo cream sauce, and striped by vibrant pesto and tomato sauces. Providing crunch to the garlicky appetizer were toasted bread crumbs.

A duo of meatball sliders were likewise high performers. The tender, juicy and sausagey cue-ball-sized orbs were daubed with blue cheese and placed on puffy and toasty, tomato sauced mini buns. On the side were thin and crispy, flour-dusted fries.

I was also a fan of the paper-thin flatbreads reportedly cooked at 700 degrees. Ungreasy and with a nice crackery snap, four biggish pieces came per $3 order. The oregano-flecked pepperoni was full-flavored and I also enjoyed the Chicken, Bacon and Spinach, which favorably recalled a wafery club sandwich.

My serving of Artichoke and Spinach Formaggio - presented with big cheese-sprinkled and herby "flatbread" crackers - was smallish and tasted only of spinach and cheese. Compared with the others, it was a tad underwhelming. But was it worth $3? Absolutely.

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Bravo! Cucina Italiana

1803 Olentangy River Rd., Campus