At the end of every year, Restaurant Business asks a group of stellar industry professionals to recall their favorite restaurant meals of the prior 12 months. The dishes they cite become our Clean Plate Award winners—the menu items that were so delicious or on-trend that our learned judges cleaned their plates and waxed delightedly to us as to why.
The full list of Clean Plate Award winners will be revealed tomorrow in RestaurantBusinessOnline.com. Be prepared for a double take when you see what’s included. Sure, there were plenty of high-end choices. But, in keeping with the trends, many of the items were simple and familiar, exceptional for their taste and presentation rather than the complexity of the preparations.
Here’s a teaser from the list, the seven items that qualify as finger foods.
Our judges for this year’s Clean Plate Awards: Amanda Cohen, chef-owner, New York City’s Dirt Candy; Fabio Viviani, executive chef, Chicago’s Siena Tavern; Brad Kelly, executive chef, Blaze Pizza; Chazz Palminteri, actor-turned-restaurateur, New York’s Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano; Roz Mallet, CEO, multi-concept franchisee PhaseNext Hospitality; Hugh Acheson, chef-owner, Athen, Ga.’s 5 & 10; Bruce Bromberg, co-owner, Blue Ribbon Restaurants; Chris Newcomb, CEO, Newk’s; and Hattie Hill, CEO, Women’s Foodservice Forum.
Temaki, KazuNori, Los Angeles
The menu here is very simple—about eight options of hand-rolled sushi, says Kent. “This allows them to focus on doing just a few things really well.” Eating on-site is best, to maintain the texture and temperature of the crisp nori, warm rice and ice-cold fillings. “I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more concepts like this, with simple little business models.”
Doughnuts, Twin Peaks Coffee & Donuts, Tannersville, N.Y.
New York City
“It’s a bit of a hole in the wall, in a town that your car will blow through before you’ve even noticed it, but Twin Peaks Coffee & Donuts has a machine that will individually fry your doughnut, made to order, right before your eyes. Needless to say, they’re some of the best doughnuts I’ve ever tasted.”
Maytag Blue Cheese Potato Chips, Jasper's, Plano, Texas
“Even though I try to eat healthy, I can’t resist these chips.” The housemade potato chips, on the appetizer list of this Kent Rathbun restaurant, are sized and priced for sharing ($12).
Brisket Frito Pie, La Barbecue, Austin, Texas
5&10, The National and Empire State South
“Sensationally opulent, rich and just plain great. I feel like eating it every day, but I can’t.” The pie comes with a choice of brisket or pulled pork—a cost-effective way to use odds and ends left over from the restaurant’s meat sold in bulk and on sandwiches.
Famous Ferdi Special, Mother's Restaurant, New Orleans
CEO and Co-Founder
Mother’s is a time-honored New Orleans’ tradition, says Newcomb. “You must know what you want to order when you get in line, and I always get the Famous Ferdi Special.” The po’ boy is layered with ham and roast beef, topped with the original debris and au jus gravy, and dressed with pickles, cabbage, creole and yellow mustard. “The debris is the parts of the roast beef that fall into the gravy while roasting; it’s the best part.”
Original Cheddar Fries, Snuffer's Restaurant & Bar, Dallas
CEO and Co-Founder
Snuffer’s starts with hand-cut fries, and then tops them with mounds of cheddar cheese, bacon and jalapenos. “Nothing better than a big plate of these fries after a long night out.”