Summer’s nearing its last hurrah, but new restaurants keep heating up. From an all-meatball spot to a food truck-food hall hybrid to a vegan cheesesteak emporium, here are the just-launched concepts worth your attention.
Chicken nugget “tasting room”
Chicken nuggets, that kid-friendly comfort food, are getting the upscale treatment at The Kitchen, a tasting room-lunch counter in Sebastopol, Calif. The concept was launched by Chez Panisse alum Jennifer Johnson and her wife, Serafina Palandech. The two also run Hip Chick Farms, a company that makes organic chicken fingers that are sold in more than 5,000 stores. The Kitchen’s menu features flights of original, ketchup and maple chicken fingers, as well as a gluten-free variety. There are also handhelds like a fried chicken sandwich and an organic turkey burger, as well as salads, vegetable sides and Concord grape slushees on the beverage menu.
Trailer park trendlet
In what appears to be an extension of both the food truck and food hall trends, operators are bringing their trailers inside. Seventh Street Truck Park in St. Paul, Minn., includes three bars and a rotating assortment of food trucks, all assembled under a retro, '70s decor designed to keep diners warm on even the coldest Minnesota day. “I’ve had this in my brain for some time,” owner Brian Ingram told the Pioneer Press. “The food truck craze took off and I wanted a way to bring the concept indoors. I’ve been thinking of how to make a food hall with food trucks all year-round,” Ingram said. “We set this up like a campground. Our summers are so short in Minnesota, we like to feel like we’re outside as much as possible.” Meanwhile, in San Diego, there’s Trailer Park After Dark, an underground bar that features four vintage trailers (one that’s used as a kitchen and three others for private events). The menu includes comfort foods like Frito pies, hot dogs and sloppy Joes.
Meatballs from around the world
From Moroccan lamb to spicy Korean pork to traditional beef, meatballs take center stage at the Certified Meatball Company in Boston. The full-service concept also serves some unusual meatballs like the turducken (turkey, duck and chicken) and shrimp 'n grits (shrimp balls over cheddar grits with tasso gravy). The kitchen also puts out meatball sandwiches, along with bao balls and, for dessert, “sweetballs”—cake balls in flavors like chocolate truffle, lemon coconut meringue and salted peanut butterscotch. There’s also a full bar.
Vegan cheesesteak outpost
The chef/owners behind Philadelphia’s well-reviewed, plant-focused spots Vedge and V Street have debuted a quick-service concept specializing in vegan cheesesteak. Wiz Kid, which already had a unit in a nearby Whole Foods, features counter and table seating for about 20 people. The restaurant is geared toward lunch service, but also has a full bar. This location has menu items not offered at Whole Foods, including a Korean fried tempeh sandwich and a King Cobb salad with chickpeas, avocado, pickled cauliflower, tofu and harissa, and lemon-sumac dressing.
Caribbean fare; off-premise approach
Rock shrimp fritters, jerk ribs and honey-spiced chicken wings make up much of the menu at River Bistro. The Detroit restaurant has a few dine-in seats, but most of the business is focused on delivery and to-go orders. River Bistro plans to offer a weekend brunch menu, also available for off-premise. The space also features a small private events area.
New entrant in the build-your-own-bowl fast-casual arena
New Dallas fast-casual concept Gather Kitchen caters to a wide range of specialized diets, from vegan to Whole30 to paleo. The build-your-own-bowl format is nothing new, of course, but the breadth of Gather Kitchen’s ingredients sets it apart. Base options include zucchini noodles, quinoa, cauliflower rice, sweet potato noodles and brown rice. There are a dozen vegetable topping options, as well as protein choices like lemon-poached shrimp, falafel and marinated chicken breast. Bowls can be topped with a half-dozen sauces and garnishes such as toasted almonds, dried cranberries and sesame seeds. The concept offers catering in the form of off-site buffet setups and individual lunch boxes.