Each year, Restaurant Business asks chefs, operators and industry experts to name the best dish they ate in the last 12 months. These Clean Plate Awards reveal some industry trends on the rise as well as classic comfort foods that stand the test of time. This year, we asked members of the well-fed Restaurant Business staff to play along, telling us about the dish that literally made them clean their plates. This mostly savory list is full of sandwiches, seafood, ethnic dishes and more that consumers obviously are willing to shell out some cash for.
Beef tartare, Cherry Circle Room, Chicago
"Topped with gouda, chili, salsa verde and a quail egg cracked tableside, this velvety, melt-in-your-mouth app is a standout at a restaurant where decadence is practically required."
Dana Moran, managing editor, FoodService Director magazine
Cheese curds, 3 Floyds Brewing Co.’s Brewpub, Munster, Ind.
“Let me say, I’m not a fan of fried cheese curds. I was raised by a cheesehead who introduced me to fresh, squeaky curds at a young age. Frying them seems like sabotage. But these guys were little pieces of golden delight. I think the reason I liked these so much is they had great flavor, not just molten cheese and grease, and were dressed with fresh veggies as well.”
Kim Rasmussen, web producer
Grilled octopus, Wagyu beef meatball, bufala mozzarella, Siena Tavern, Chicago
“One evening, with a seat at the bar, I had a full meal from the appetizer menu. I want to thank the first brave soul that pulled an octopus from the ocean and said, ‘Hmm, that might taste good over a fire.’”
Chris Keating, chief brand officer
Burrata, prosciutto and arugula bruschetta, Cooper’s Hawk, multiple locations
"My very, very favorite food of 2016 is an appetizer off the bruschetta menu at Cooper's Hawk. It’s the burrata, prosciutto and arugula bruschetta with whipped ricotta, oven-roasted grape tomatoes and balsamic glaze. It’s creamy, flavorful and so ridiculously delicious I get it EVERY SINGLE time I go in the door—and I’m a wine club member, so I’m there once a month. So amazing!"
Tara Tesimu, SVP, media products and audience development
Golden gazpacho, Friends and Family II Hillside Restaurant, Accord, N.Y.
"A golden gazpacho, made with yellow tomatoes, salt and a dash of turmeric by the masterful chef of the Friends and Family II Hillside Restaurant. It accompanied a sandwich of grilled locally grown chicken, topped with lettuce and fresh red tomato."
Peter Romeo, director of digital content
Bing bread, Parachute, Chicago
“I’m not big on bread, but Parachute’s bing bread is drool-worthy. Fried in a skillet, then oven-baked and served with sour cream butter, this warm bread is filled with the salivation trifecta: potatoes, cheese and bacon.”
Lizzy Freier, managing editor, menu analysis, Technomic
Fried green tomato BLT, Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant, Nashville
“I research my restaurant choices as hard as some people research their March Madness brackets. Unfortunately, this means I sometimes overhype my meals, so the dishes that I do remember are often found at places I didn’t research beforehand. I stopped at Puckett’s while on vacation in Nashville because it was near my hotel, and this BLT sandwich was amazing. I added a fried egg, and the runniness of the yolk combined beautifully with the crispy fried green tomato and the delicious ranch, while the toasted bread remained intact (a huge plus when eating sandwiches!).”
Lauren Hallow, editor, concept analysis, Technomic
Poke tuna panini, Pescaria, Polignano a Mare, Italy
"The sandwich is served on the softest local bread and combines so many of my favorite things: fresh bluefin tuna, burrata and pesto. Bonus points for the fast casual’s outdoor seating just a few feet behind our rental in the old town of this charming Puglia village on the coast."
Sara Stewart, art director
Corned beef and Swiss egg sandwich, Wildflower Bread Company, Phoenix
“As someone who gravitates towards savory breakfast—and firmly believes that there shouldn’t be breakfast-specific foods and other items reserved for lunch and dinner—this LTO sandwich with a cheesy potato cake, corned beef, Swiss cheese, eggs and mustard made my morning. Not only was it filling, it had a great balance of tang, saltiness and familiar flavors.”
Sara Rush Wirth, managing editor
Locally smoked trout Benedict, The Phoenicia Diner, Phoenicia, N.Y.
"The Eggs Benedict-like breakfast item is made with locally caught and smoked trout. The flavor is smoky but not overpowering, and is set off against the rich irony taste and nearly gooey texture of the fresh local eggs."
Peter Romeo, director of digital content
Pollo poblano, Barrio Café, Phoenix
“This upscale Mexican dish was the perfect fusion of flavors, textures and colors on one plate. Pairing it with tableside guacamole and a Barrio Bomba margarita made it an exceptional meal experience.”
Laura McGuire, director, shared content, Technomic
Sichuan pizza, Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, Chicago
“This limited-edition pie—created by Chicago-favorite Chef Stephanie Izard—was topped with tomato sauce, Sichuan pork sausage, chili oil, peppercorns, mushrooms, cheddar, Parmesan, mozzarella and sesame seeds. The pizza’s sweet heat was a worthy opponent to the bitter Chicago winter.”
Jill Failla, editor, consumer insights, Technomic
Meatloaf with Mad Dog Ranch BBQ Sauce, Jimmy's, Aspen, Colo.
“What makes it special is a mixture of ground beef and buffalo, cutting back on fat but keeping moisture and flavor, and a bold mixture of spices. The side of the Mad Dog Ranch BBQ Sauce gives it a real kick. Enough said.”
Nick Hayman, president, Winsight Events
Conchinita pibil, Curra’s Grill, Austin, Texas
“Perfectly seasoned shredded pork leg cooked in a banana leaf served with a not-too-sweet plantain and black beans with cheese. After my first bite, my hair was literally blown back. OK, it was caused by someone walking through the door, but I don’t think I’ll forget that first bite.”
Alaina Lancaster, associate editor
Chow fun, Talde, Miami Beach
“In Chinese restaurants, the chow fun noodles are usually served in a tangled mess, mixed with meat, sauce and a few bean sprouts. Here, Chef Dale Talde winds the noodles into a cylinder and lightly fries them for a slightly crispy exterior. They are surrounded with expertly braised pork shank and pickled mustard greens. It’s up to the diner to unwind the noodles and mix them with the pork, sauce and veggies, making for an interactive experience with much elevated ingredients.”
Patricia Cobe, senior editor
Wood oven roasted pig face, Girl & The Goat, Chicago
"As if the name isn’t intriguing enough, we learned that the meat is rolled and then braised for 12 hours(!) before it’s roasted. You get a forkful of extreme pork flavor, PLUS drippy egg yolk and crispy potato sticks. Mmm! The plates are served as they’re ready, and this one came out last. It’s a good thing we were already stuffed, because we would have fought over this dish."
Mary Chapman, director, special projects
Salted egg bun, Imperial Lamian, Chicago
"I didn't expect to like the steamed, molten egg custard bun. It seemed a bit exotic for my tastes. But the description the manager gave tableside got me over my fear. The chewy bun and cake batter-like texture inside is something I've never experienced before, and I can't wait to go back and encourage others to try it."
Kelly Killian, director, Foodservice Group
ShopHouse bowl, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, multiple locations
"The menu here offers all the customization you’d expect of Chipotle’s Asian-bowl concept. But as a first-timer, I was grateful that the location I visited listed suggestions for signature rice and noodle bowls on the menu board. A description for a signature bowl with jasmine rice, charred corn, papaya slaw and thai curry chicken sold me initially and has been a go-to ever since."
Kelly Killian, group editor, Foodservice Group