Southern comfort foods top Clean Plate Awards

jacks bbq

When it came time to round up the winners for this year’s Clean Plate Awards, we found ourselves with the best kind of problem: too many choices. The bat signal we beamed out to the industry resulted in a dozen respondents—CEOs, food editors, trendspotters, chefs and more—all willing to share the latest crop of dishes that made them want to clean their plates. You’ll find picks from 10 of these influencers; the others are showcased separately. Narrowing the selections down proved impossible for most, so we’re spotlighting their additional choices online as well. (Warning: High-resolution screens will just make you all the more hungry.)

This year, the American South is a frontrunner when it comes to must-try dishes. Our panel’s favorites spanned the world from London to Los Angeles. But a number of our judges planted their culinary map pins due South—in Dallas, Austin, New Orleans and Atlanta. As you might expect, the winning dishes from these locales were updates of down-home classics: fried chicken, barbecue shrimp,  po’ boys and brisket. (Excuse me while I take a moment to search for cheap fares to Texas, would you?)

Because our judges aren’t your average foodies, clocking decades of experience running restaurants and understanding what it takes to get butts in seats, their descriptions of the best dishes go beyond delicious. Besides tasting amazing—still the major criteria, of course—our panel doled out recognition for inspiring a one-of-a-kind dining experience, infusing surprising flavors (a latte with blueberry notes?) and interpreting trends, such as spiciness, with a masterful hand.

Per tradition, the staff at Restaurant Business and our parent company Winsight offers up our own selections. Among our in-house focus group, breakfast was a big winner. Chief Operating Officer Alanna Young singled out the Carnitas Scramble (minus the carnitas, because she’s vegetarian) at Chow. “It’s Mexican food for breakfast, plus everything is local and super fresh,” she says of the Northern California restaurant-slash-market that shuns driving directions on its website, instead telling patrons to take public transportation and then “walk two blocks down the hill.” Executive Vice President of Events Nick Hayman lauds the build-your-own breakfast bowl at the Cava Grill outpost in Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport as a healthy grab-and-go. And Web Producer Kim Rasmussen, who calls herself “a bit of an eggs Benedict nut,” heaped kudos on the Modern Benedict made with pulled pork and challah bread at Crow’s Nest in Kalamazoo, Mich., a tiny spot hidden atop a bakery that has lines down the stairs and out the door by 9 a.m.

You can check out the complete list of our staff and judges’ picks here. And don’t forget to tweet @RB_magazine to tell us about the restaurant dishes that made you want to clean your plate this year, too.

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