If you Google the word braizito, it will take you directly to the restaurant BraiZe and its unique stuffed sandwich, the BraiZito. The BraiZito is made from a hollowed-out piece of homemade French bread, which is then stuffed with a variety of ingredients. The bottom end of the bread, which is still intact, is buttered and grilled like a piece of garlic bread, resulting in a self-contained scrumptious sandwich.
The unique sandwich is the brainchild of best friends Zack Poleto and Brandon Leach, co-owners of BraiZe, located in the Parke Regency Hotel on GE Road in Bloomington. Executive Chef Poleto graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and has worked for well-known chefs. Leach is general manager and holds degrees in finance and entrepreneurship. The strengths of each work together well in running the restaurant.
The name and concept of the restaurant are similar. In cooking terms, braise is cooking slowly over time to make a product better. BraiZe, which incorporates the first initials of each owner, started slowly and gradually made steps to make the concept better.
The restaurant began as a pop-up in the VFW in south Bloomington. Leach and Poleto thought they would do a catering company and offer dinner specials. They quickly realized that wasn’t the market they really wanted or the concept they preferred to pursue.
“We came to the point of sink or swim,” says Leach. “We had to come up with something we could sustain and a business model.”
Leach thought they really needed to come up with a vehicle to showcase Poleto’s culinary talents in a mainstream fashion with a larger clientele. They wanted a middle of the road price range and figured a sandwich would be the best avenue. They brainstormed ways to make a sandwich more creative and innovative; which led to the BraiZito.
After a lot of planning, the new sandwich, with six varieties, was introduced onto the menu. A local writer did an initial story, which gained traction, and shortly after that The Pantagraph, a local newspaper, also did one. Those articles grabbed the attention of readers and Leach and Poleto found themselves scurrying to find more employees and increase production. However, space was very limited at the VFW and they struggled to keep up.
On April 1, 2017, BraiZe relocated and opened for business in the Parke Regency. “Growing pains are always tough,” Leach explains. “We added a bar, wait staff and extra hours. Then we had to fill the place with tables and get the new staff up to par.” It now has 20 employees and an outdoor patio. They also had to navigate combining the hotel catering service with the restaurant. BraiZe now provides catering for weddings and large events at the hotel, which gives Poleto another avenue for creativity in designing menus.
The BraiZito has been around for four years, and they still love the concept but admit to hating the process. Preparing the bread takes two days to bake enough for 200-400 sandwiches daily and hollowing out each piece. That process has proven to be monotonous and tedious, especially since the bottom must remain uncut. Leach explains they have tried many techniques, but nothing has made the job easier. People love the BraiZito, so they will continue to look for new possibilities to make the job easier.
The BraiZe menu has a variety of 10 BraiZitos, salads, soup, appetizers, desserts and a kid’s menu. There is also a full bar with local beers featured. All menu items have clever names such as Carny Bites, one of its most popular appetizers which are fried sweet corn fritters with cheddar cheese and a side of honey butter. Another popular appetizer is Goonies – wontons filled with lobster, cream cheese and green onions, served with a sweet Thai chili sauce. They are crunchy on the outside with a creamy filling and the sauce is a great complement.
My group enjoyed three different BraiZitos. The Rasta is a Jamaican jerk chicken with bacon, swiss, romaine and reggae sauce, and the Rocky is stuffed with house made Italian beef, mozzarella and your choice of mild, medium or hot freshly made giardiniera, served with au jus. The weekly special was the Greek Lightning filled with chicken, grilled peppers, cheese and tzatziki sauce. All were fresh, hot and full of flavor. The thinly sliced sweet potato chips were crispy and had just the right amount of salt. All entrees come with your choice of the chips, French fries, coleslaw or potato salad. You can also choose any sandwich and make it into either three tacos or a salad.
The price of BraiZitos vary from $9.25 for the Royale, a combination of beef, swiss, cheddar, green pepper, onion and house Thousand Island, to $15.50 for the Maine Squeeze, with a luscious filling of fresh lobster, lobster salad, romaine lettuce and clarified butter. Appetizers range from $4.25 for the BraiZe
Bits to $9.95 for the Fried Pearls, lightly battered fried oysters. Salads vary from $6.75 – $7.95, and the kids can eat for $4.75 to $5.95. Active duty or retired military and senior citizens receive a 15 percent discount on all food and non-alcoholic beverages. Food service is available until 9 p.m. and during the summer it has a late-night menu. BraiZe also hosts live, local music on Friday and Saturday nights, trivia on Tuesday evenings, and half-price appetizers on Sundays.
Leach and Poleto feel strongly about giving back to the community and are involved with many local charities and festivals. They also collaborate with local breweries and others to help promote local business. Just as they promote local businesses, why not support them?