A Feast for the Senses
By Michele D. Baker | Photography courtesy of Michele D. Baker, happycow.net and zagat.com
Stepping inside this Jackson, Mississippi, restaurant is just like coming home for a special Christmas celebration.
The mouth-watering scents of fresh basil, sizzling garlic and onions, and simmering tomato sauce perfume the chilly winter air outside BRAVO! Italian Restaurant & Bar in Jackson, Mississippi. Inside the toasty restaurant, Christmas carols compete with lively conversation and the clink of silverware on china. Starburst light fixtures cast their golden glow over indigo blue banquettes and sparkling glassware. The atmosphere is festive, and rosy-cheeked patrons fresh in from the cold are enjoying mulled wine and the holiday spirit that exudes from comfortable surroundings and cheerful staff.
“Especially during the holidays, BRAVO! has a homecoming feel,” explains co-owner Jeff Good. “We benefit from the 25 years of memories, starting back in our ‘cocktail hour’ days. Now, patrons return with their grown children to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and, of course, the winter holidays. Our menu includes Veal Parmesan and grilled yellowfin tuna, but families can also just come to share a wood-fired pizza.”
The glass-walled restaurant nestles atop a short tunnel connecting the east and west wings of north Jackson’s venerable Highland Village Shopping Center with wide views of the live oaks, pines, and mimosas wrapped in twinkling lights that dot the landscape below. Plush scarlet bows crown huge pine bough wreaths tastefully displayed across the whitewashed brick of the shopping center’s courtyard.
“The view at sunset and twilight is stunning,” says Good. “It’s one of the reasons we chose this location.”
The restaurant has been a holiday fixture for a quarter of a century. “What sets BRAVO! apart is the service and warm atmosphere,” continues Good. “High class, but not stuffy. Relaxed and welcoming, but polished. Not a white tablecloth in sight! Our wait staff dress in pressed blue jeans and long-sleeved black button-down shirts. This is fine dining without the attitude.”
Co-owner and executive chef Dan Blumenthal agrees. “This is a carefully-considered menu of fine Italian cuisine. Year-round, we offer traditional Italian recipes that have been updated for modern times, such as Veal Marsala, Chicken Cacciatore, our double-cut pork chop, and classic Italian gelato.” During the holidays, Jacksonians are also treated to fried turkeys, prime rib, spinach casserole, bourbon-glazed carrots, Brussels sprouts with bacon and duck fat, a luscious couscous salad, and the holiday white chocolate bread pudding. The menu also offers vegetarian, vegan and gluten-sensitive options, including gluten-free pastas. The open kitchen – the first of its kind in Jackson at the time – boasts a wood-burning oven imported from Modena, Italy.
Winter holidays offer the perfect excuse for a party, and limited-seating events, such as “Cheers at BRAVO!, a Holiday Sparkling Wine Tasting,” and the luxurious Moët & Chandon Champagne Dinner are popular events that fill quickly.
“BRAVO! offers wine tastings with leading winemakers from around the world, innovative cocktail tastings by our very own skilled bartenders, and five-course, gourmet dinners with wine flights,” says sommelier Laura Collins.
The BRAVO! team is justifiably proud of its long history of success and has the accolades to prove it. As of 2019, BRAVO! has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 23 years in a row for its more-than-250 wine selections, most of which are classified by Wine Spectator as inexpensive – under $50 per bottle – and inventory of over 1,700 bottles. Wine Spectator’s annual Restaurant Awards recognize restaurants whose wine lists offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine, and deliver sufficient choices to satisfy even discerning wine lovers.
The holiday season is best to experience the special magic that has allowed Good’s and Blumenthal’s ever-expanding vision to endure the test of time. In addition to BRAVO!, the pair also owns and runs two other successful restaurants in Jackson: Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint and Broad Street Baking Company, which supplies all the breads and pastries for the other restaurants. The catering arm, Mangia Bene – Italian for “eat well” – supplies sandwiches, salads, pasta and desserts for corporate retreats, family reunions, Christmas parties, and other events throughout the year. And since the restaurants are all part of the BRAVO! family, “3-in-1” holiday gift cards can be used at any of the three restaurants throughout the year.
“BRAVO! is more than a restaurant. It is an attitude of excellence that begins with our mission,” concludes Good. “We source the finest raw ingredients, prepare them by hand using creative, original recipes and time-honored processes, and serve attractive, flavorful creations to our guests with confidence and grace.
“We uphold a company culture which celebrates and rewards personal excellence and collaborative effort. We are committed to a culture of guest care and service to others. We always strive to do the right thing.”
Buon Natale and mangia bene!