Brano's Italian Grill- Cocoa Beach- 2.2 Stars
The Big Boy has observed a pretty popular formula for success as an Italian restaurant in Cocoa Beach. Entice you like Le Sirenuse with friendly, bubbly, happy servers that make you feel just like your sweet Southern grandma wandered into your house on accident, and then once you've got'em entranced by that lovely Siren song, shove poor-quality ingredients out from the kitchen and turn a profit by making off with the hard-earned money of tourists who don't know what hit them like un borsaiolo napoletano. You see, we've covered plenty of restaurants offering the elite cuisines of France and Italy, and the difference is that unlike French food that requires a virtuoso to master, you don't really need to be an expert to make Italian food. It's simple cooking without too many ingredients and complicated preparations, but with more freshness than the kiss of una bellissima donna after a bath in Armani cologne. Which is why it always maddens me to get duped by an establishment that, whether they cook well or not, uses what Italians would call nothing more than junk food. So go out and vote for Brano's on their campaign to "Make Junk Food Healthy Again!"
As soon as I walked inside, the invitingly rustic Old World clay-green exterior with its octagonal windows changed into an understated orange-clay with brown tables and a wine bar with middle-aged clientele, somewhat like a steakhouse mixed with a pub. It looked classy enough to justify the middling price range, the average entrée floating around $20. But as soon as the food arrived and I approached this beautiful fresco, it started to dawn on me painfully that this is all a Greenhalgh forgery and not a genuine da Vinci ... and thought to myself, "Mannaggia ristorante!"
The server Christina was so pleasant and outgoing that I paid not a passing thought to a satisfaction guarantee with manager's cell phone printed on the bottom right of the menu until I eyed the sorry Caesar salad, one of the simplest of salads and thus one in which every bite screams painfully that the croutons are bagged and the dressing could be straight from a Sysco shelf. Isn't it actually cheaper by several hundred percent to make your own croutons? Especially since day-old bread you might happen to find on clearance is actually better for croutons. You don't need Dave Ramsey to tell you that you're finding the wrong way to turn a profit!
Fortunately the minestrone that comes as an option with entrées is piled high up with vegetables that are actually fresh-tasting - well, relative to what flavor the soup does have. Not so with the Cioppino, which is both soupy and not fresh, clearly frozen stiff enough that if it was freshly made at all in San Francisco style, it would have to have been put on ice and driven 2,947 miles to Cocoa Beach and then thawed out. If you'd feel carsick by then, well, think of these poor mussels, clams, squid, fish and scallops! Speaking of which, branzino comes from the other side of the pond! While I was lucky to have chosen the creamy jalapeño bacon sauce, its myriad notes of actual flavor quite refreshing even if the sauce itself was outsourced, the garlic butter slathered on top of the pepper-coated white fish looks exactly the same as the butter served with the complimentary rolls. How often have you been to one of those chains with free bread and butter baskets and raved all over Instagram about the best butter ever? Exactly. You won't do it here either. Nor with the brown rice on the side, that looks as unappetizing and cheap as it tastes. It looks like Brano's has 75% of the voter support in their campaign, so maybe they will win!
I guess I can ask for a managerial pardon for this offense against Italy, right? There's the manager's number and there's the written guarantee! I am happy to say the manager demonstrated great willingness to change his point of view by coming to my table to brow-beat me for exercising my fundamental right to free speech about the food quality, and exemplified the great American virtue of equality by charging me the same price as everyone else, even being tenacious in the face of my telling him that I didn't eat everything. As they say, you gotta know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. It's been a successful enough policy that the other location of Brano's was voted out of town and closed up shop not too long ago. I guess so far their fleecy Italian restaurant formula is keeping this one in business, but if you're reading this, then Brano's Jedi Mind Tricks won't work on you.
Big Boy would say "Clearly they're not Making Italy Great Again! Get out and vote BraNO!" #iamthebigboy #bigboydiningout