Trying to impress a potential custom audio/video dealer in the Kansas City area earlier this summer, we agreed on dinner for four of his staff at Bristol Seafood Grill in suburban Leawood, KS (see map). I'd eaten at the Bristol location in St. Louis a number of years ago and I do remember it as being very good. I was sort of surprised to see one in suburban Kansas City and wondered if it were part of the same family as the one in St. Louis.
Yep, it sure is. In fact, there are four Bristol Seafood Grill's these days - the one in the Creve Coeur area of St. Louis, a location in the far western St. Louis suburb of O'Fallon, one in downtown Kansas City in the new Power and Light District near the Sprint Center, and the one we went to located in the Town Center Plaza in Leawood. The original Bristol Seafood Grill location was in the Country Club Plaza of Kansas City, but that closed up in 1995 (more on that later).
The four Bristol locations are owned by the Houlihan's corporation, the Kansas City-based restaurant chain with 97 locations in 20 states that had been in and out of financial trouble in the late 90's and right after the turn of the century. In addition to the Bristol and Houlihan's restaurants under their corporate umbrella, the restaurant company also owns J. Gilberts, a very good Kansas City-area steakhouse that I wrote about here; the Devon Seafood Grill with locations in Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Hershey, PA; the Braxton Seafood Grill in the Oak Brook Center in suburban Chicago; and Chequers Seafood Grill in Atlanta. The Devon, Braxton and Chequers Seafood Grills all have the same concept and theme as the Bristol Seafood restaurants.
Like the others, the Bristol Seafood Grill is more of an upscale casual restaurant. The bar area is usually full of people and can get very loud at times, while the dining area is more subdued with sturdy chairs and heavy tables covered with white linen. The executive chef of the Leawood location is Dan Uche, overseeing a staff that makes a number of delectable items to choose from.
A couple of the people were late for our 6 p.m. meeting - one was having car trouble, the other - the owner - was still on a job site. I sat down with two of the people who I'd known for years and years from working in the audio/video industry, catching up on old times. The person with car trouble showed up about 6:30 and we were still waiting on the owner. We decided to order a couple appetizers - Bristol's tuna sushi rolls and a double order of their famous crab cakes. Our waiter, who was a very agreeable fellow, was already getting high marks for his sense of humor and his attentive nature.
The center piece of the dining room was this wonderful stained glass dome that was situated right over the top of the room. I was told that the glass dome was in the original Bristol restaurant in the Plaza area of Kansas City, but that restaurant shut down in 1995 because of a dispute with the then landlord of the property. When they decided to build a location in Leawood in 2006, they actually pulled the dome off the old building, crated it up and then helicoptered the crate out to the Leawood location where it was put on top of the existing building. The light filtering through the stained glass dome gave the main dining area a nice warm glow.
It fully appeared the owner was knee-deep in his work, but did tell one of the people that he'd be there as soon as he could, even if it were just to drop by for a bit. And the person with car trouble said that he'd probably only be able to stay for a drink and some appetizers as he needed to attend to his automotive problems. The other two guests and I decided to just to go ahead and order up our food and worry about getting something for the owner a little later on.
Our appetizers showed up at the table and the tuna sushi rolls was just excellent. The crab cakes were large and rich - one of my guests said, "I usually order a double order of them for dinner, they're so good."
And they're filling! I ate one and I thought there would be no way I could eat a double order of these!
The guest with the car trouble excused himself to leave, and one of the others made a quick call to see where the boss was. He was still more than an hour away from leaving and it would have still been a 45 minute drive to the Bristol. He told us to go ahead and order something and he'd worry about getting something when he got there.
The menu at Bristol Seafood Grill is very extensive with fresh fish, steaks, pasta and even their rendition of a shrimp enchilada. There were a couple nightly specials, but I was sort of looking at the Big Eye tuna from Hawaii. Usually, the Bristol's seafood selections are cooked over a mesquite flame, but our waiter had a blackened cajun special that evening. I asked him if I could get the Big Eye tuna rare, but blackened and he said, "We can do anything you like with it, sir!"
I said, "Could you take it out back and drag it through the parking lot, then slam it against the building a couple times?"
The waiter feigned indignation. "Our seafood is already handled roughly, sir! That's what makes it so tender!" He was a great guy. I got mashed sweet potatoes and a vegetable medley for my sides.
One of the guests order the seared scallops served with a lemon-asparagus risotto. And the other person ordered the swordfish special along with roasted yellow russet potatoes and asparagus.
The Bristol's wine list is also pretty extensive with a number of very good wines from a number of vineyards from the Pacific Coast, Australia, New Zealand, France and Italy. Since everyone was having seafood, I went with a bottle of the Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc from 2008, a light and dry wine that I particularly love with seafood. I thought it to be a little over priced at $46 bucks, however. But Bristol was an upscale place and the entrees weren't all that cheap either.
After talking a little shop and going over some things about their business for a little bit, our entrees showed up at the table. My blackened Big Eye tuna had a nice sear around the edges, topped with a generous amount of Cajun seasonings. My knife went easily through the fish and from the first bite I was in heaven. The combination of the spicy seasonings and the freshness of the fish set off a party on my taste buds. It was absolutely fabulous. And very surprising, considering the great seafood dishes I had in Hawaii. The fish I had at Bristol that night easily beat one or two where I had seafood in Hawaii.
My one guest said his scallops were very good, as well. "I usually get the double order of crab cakes, but I wanted to try something else tonight. These are great."
My other guest was fully satisfied with her swordfish. "I don't know how they get the fish so fresh here in Kansas City," she said. "But I've never had a bad meal at Bristol."
Toward the end of dinner, one of my guest's cellphone rang. It was the boss, he was on his way and would be there in 20 minutes. We ordered up an order of crab cakes and a salad for him so he'd have it as soon as he walked in.
He did come in about 25 minutes later, apologizing profusely for missing a good portion of the evening. But I fully understood. He had a big job that he needed to complete for a client and even if that meant skipping out on the dinner meeting, so be it. But we talked business as he ate his salad and crab cakes. And that continued well into the evening and up to the time that Bristol was getting ready to close at 10 p.m.
Although nothing was finalized or agreed upon that evening, I think the meeting went about as well as it could have considering the circumstances. But I will say the meal at Bristol Seafood Grill was just excellent. I remember it being good when I first ate at the one in St. Louis over 20 years ago. My blackened Big Eye tuna was just stellar and the service was outstanding. I gave the waiter a little extra tip as we basically rented a table for six for the night with only three people sitting at it most of the evening.
Before we left, the general manager - Phil - came over to see how the evening was. I told him that it was one of the more pleasurable dining experiences in my travels. He told us to come back and see them again.
I'm hoping to land this dealer in the Kansas City area because they're located not far from the Bristol Seafood Grill. And I wouldn't mind going back there again at some point.