You don't build a vast culinary empire without being a great storyteller, and when it comes to spinning a yarn, there's no better knitter than Rick Doody, co-founder of the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group. To hear him tell it, the story of Lindey's Lake House is no less than the chronicle of his youth in restaurant form. The orator speaks openly and sincerely about summers spent on Michigan's idyllic Walloon Lake, right down to the fisherman who sold fresh-caught walleye from the stern of his skiff.
Translating that history into a three-dimensional restaurant is no easy feat, but the team managed to do just that thanks to interior designer Wendy Berry, who gets the "coastal cool" look better than anybody. Guests are warmly greeted, first by a host and second by a two-sided fireplace. While you wait (and you likely will, reservation or not), survey the framed family photos that are casually arranged on the open shelving. Stroll into the bar where white-washed shiplap walls foster that carefree beach vibe, when entire days are spent swimming, dock fishing or dangling lazily on a rope swing.
Life is just as posh in the dining room, where low-slung wicker chairs abut butcher block tables beneath an expansive arcade-style skylight. If you enjoy watching the sausage getting made, grab one of the dozen or so stools at the chef's counter that fronts the buzzy open kitchen as cooks feed thin-crust pizzas into the mouth of a wood-burning oven.
Of course, we're in Cleveland, not Lake Wobegon, and it is winter, not endless summer. In place of life jackets, tableside coat trees are draped to overflowing with jet-black Patagonia, Columbia and North Face puffers. A wall of glass garage doors does a yeoman's job of keeping out the cold, but fails at obscuring the flurries and thus preserving the escapist narrative. And on the plate, we are reminded in conspicuous ways that "farm-to-table" is often just another good story to tell.
Who cares if the lobster hailed from 800 miles away when it tastes this good? Large pieces of firm, sweet meat, dressed lightly in a tarragon-scented mayo, topple out of the crease of a split-top hotdog bun. I won't argue with the folks who say that $26 is a lot to spend on a lobster roll this small, but I also don't regret my decision. Swapping East Coast for West lands us an order of avocado toast ($10.90), a peculiar item to serve at dinner. For some reason, this DIY version leaves all of the work to the diner, with large chunks of avocado and even larger ones of tomato simply scattered across thick slices of multi-grain toast.
If the menu is an accurate representation of how the Doodys ate as a family, one can't help but be envious. On the bill of fare at this lake house is an eclectic assortment that includes crab cakes, lamb chops, spaghetti and meatballs, steak tacos, wood-fired pizzas and fried chicken with corn bread.
Early on there was some agitation over the fact that many of the "sharable small plates" weren't all that sharable given the size. Rather than change the food, management simply scrubbed the offending word from the menu. The grilled lamb chop appetizer ($16.90) still comes three to an order, served on a bed of savory succotash, but that doesn't stop us from sharing the succulent lollipops. Other snackable – and shareable – items include a decent burrata ($11.90) that could have, should have wept a little more when dissected. The fresh, milky mozz is paired with roasted tomatoes drizzled with a balsamic glaze and slices of crispy grilled bread.
Lindey's thin, crisp-crusted pizzas are so good that we actually bookended a meal with them one evening. We started out with cocktails, wine and a pepperoni pizza ($13.90), but ended up hanging out with friends for so long that we tossed in an order for margarita pizza ($12.50) hours later. Top tip: If it's winter, skip the margarita, which features pale pink tomatoes.
Larger entrees generally hit the mark. There's a juicy, flavorful (albeit not uber-crunchy) Amish fried chicken dinner ($20.90) that's served with corn bread and slaw. A hearty bucatini and meatballs ($15.90) gets points for perfectly cooked noodles in a summery tomato sauce, but loses points for skipping the sear step, resulting in airy but texture-less balls. The thin-pattied double cheeseburger is having a moment and the "smash" burger ($15.90) prepared here ranks right up there with the best of them.
Rick and brother Chris no longer run Bravo and Brio, with each moving on to new and different ventures. The next-door eatery Cedar Creek Grille belongs to Rick, as does Coastal Taco in the Flats. Next up for Doody is a low-key version of the Lake House called the Lake Bar, due to open this spring in Lakewood. And when it does, I'm sure there will be a great backstory to go along with it.