(By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT – kansascity.com)

Big-box stores and suburban sprawl come to mind every time another strip mall sprouts up.

There might be a stylish indie boutique or a major brand that’s hard to find, but overall, you just don’t think of these shopping centers as hot destinations. Let alone summer musts.

Until Prairiefire, the sexy new development at 135th and Nall in Overland Park. It’s worth the drive. There’s something fresh and spirited about it. We could give credit to the Museum at Prairiefire, because being the little cousin to the American Museum of Natural History in New York is a little more than cool.

But it’s more than the museum that makes Prairiefire the place to be this summer. It’s less about shopping and more about things to do. Cinetopia and Vinotopia, the movie theater and farm-to-table restaurant, open today. You can go to Rock & Brews, owned by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss; try out Pinstripes, the bowling and bocce bistro; or relax at Cocoa Dolce, a chocolate lounge.

There’s also a handful of restaurants including CocoBolos by Michael Smith. And if you’re looking for a taste of Kansas City art, work by both Scribe and Alisa Ross is sprinkled throughout Prairiefire.

A few highlights:


Owner Rudyard Coltman has been dreaming of Cinetopia at Prairiefire for three years, but he says it’s even better than he imagined. He has been running a small chain of theaters in Oregon and Washington, but this is his first venture in the Midwest, where he is committed to bringing the most state-of-the-art movie theater around.

It’s designed for immersion. He wants you to be fully connected to the movie-going experience. Screens are everywhere in this place. Some look like windows; some seem to float on walls. There’s a tunnel on the main floor, just off the concession stand, where the walls are entirely screens. Right now, they play a panoramic snippet of “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

I know AMC Town Center recently upgraded its seating, but it and all of the south Johnson County theaters have some serious competition with Cinetopia and its three distinct viewing experiences.

My favorite is the four “movie parlors.” What makes them so special? The intimacy. There are cuddle couches that allow you to lie down with your date, plus recliners and love seats. And there are ottomans, too, because putting your feet up is encouraged. I like the thoughtful touches: a digital fireplace and a bookshelf to the left of the front row. Page-to-screen favorites “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games,” “Twilight” and others are on display. It’s kind of like a home theater.

Then there are 10 “living room” theaters. The main feature: power recliners — think AMC Ward Parkway — except there are privacy walls to give you a VIP feel. Both the parlors and the living rooms offer in-theater dining.

Plus, there are three GXL theaters. The closest thing in our area like it is Union Station’s Extreme Screen. We’re talking 80-foot screens and 4K projection (that’s four times the pixels of your typical high-def TV) plus coliseum seating — 500 seats. Comfy seats, too. Triple stuffed, navy-blue leather chairs with neon-blue baseball stitching and lots of legroom. And the sound? It’s 128 channels of Dolby Atmos surround sound. When I heard the rain falling on screen, I could make out the drops, not just a swoosh.

And if all of those options weren’t enough, there’s also Vinotopia, the farm-to-table restaurant upstairs. It has a cinematic touch, too. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” scenes play on screens in the bar. By the way, the restaurant includes an outdoor patio, lounge and a wine-tasting room. Swanky. cinetopia.com

Rock & Brews

I can sing “Rock and Roll All Nite” with the best of them, but that’s all I know about Kiss. And that’s OK here, as it turns out. When I walked in, John Mayer’s video for “Waiting on the World to Change” played on the big screen. By the time I made myself comfortable at a picnic table (yes, picnic tables are inside) and had a marvelous mango mojito in hand, Ziggy Marley’s “Love Is My Religion” was up.

Of course, there are nods to rock legends everywhere. The menu includes a “Yellow Submarine” Italian cold-cut sandwich for $10.95 and a Brown Ale Girl cocktail for $7, a mix of brown ale, Frangelico, almond liqueur and fresh nutmeg. There’s also Purple Rain drops — think chocolate-filled beignets, $5.95. Massive artwork of Kiss, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix covers the walls. But Madonna is up there, too.

While the big screen plays music videos, the smaller TVs show baseball and the NBA playoffs. The waitresses are friendly, and the service is fast. My Freebird chicken sandwich ($10.95) was in my hands before I could get three gulps of my mojito down. Did I mention they have garlic fries? Just wow.

My one note: Come with a few friends. The picnic tables, high tops and banquettes in the dining area are made to seat six to eight people. Oh, yeah. The patio is ripe for rockin’ out after dark. rockandbrews.com/ overlandpark

Cocoa Dolce

Imagine a chocolate remix of your favorite coffee shop and you’ve got the Cocoa Dolce Chocolate Lounge. The comfy couches, chairs and tables make it the perfect place to relax or get some work done with a side of sweets.

The menu has dozens of mocha drinks, espressos, lattes and more. And you can get shots of alcohol, too: $3 and you can spike your drink with 1.5 ounces of Bailey’s, Jameson, Frangelico and the like. Bonus: They serve pumpkin-spice lattes, too, all year round. The syrups include everything from Amaretto to pumpkin spice to white peach. The artisan chocolates include ganache, peanut butter cremes, chocolate-covered marshmallows and all that cocoa jazz.

And summer is almost here, so naturally they have gelato. I suggest a scoop of the pineapple passion fruit banana ($3.50). If that isn’t enough to entice your sweet tooth, this is also a great place for last-minute gifts and dog treats, too. They have Bow Wow bites starting at $5. visitprairie fire.com/cocoa-dolce

Tune in next week for my Pinstripes experience. Bowling and bocce ball, anyone?