THE DISH: Chesapeake Crab Cake, Phillips Harborplace, Baltimore
THE NUMBERS: 719 cakes in an average day
WHY IT WORKS: It’s a long-time signature menued as an appetizer, entrée, sandwich and/or a la carte item; deep-fried, sautéed, broiled or baked, says Dennis Gavagon, corporate executive chef, director of R&D. “Ours are a regional delicacy—hand-made, heavy with mustard, citrus, seasonings and big pearls of jumbo lump crab meat,” he says. Tourist-targeted advertising helps drive sales and a company-owned crab processor helps drive profitability.
THE DISH: Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder “Carnitas,” Roaring Fork, Austin, San Antonio, Scottsdale
THE NUMBERS: 1,000 orders or $16,000 in revenue across four units in an average week
WHY IT WORKS: It’s flavorful, juicy, tender and reasonably priced. “Pork shoulders go into the wood-burning rotisserie in the morning. As they come off, they go under a high-efficiency heat lamp in the open kitchen where guests can see the line chef carving the meat. It’s plated with black beans, steamed green chile rice and salsa verde for great complementary flavors,” says John Carver, executive chef/partner at parent company Eddie V’s Restaurants Inc.
THE DISH: Halibut T-Bone “Black and Blue,” Oceanaire Seafood Room, Indianapolis
THE NUMBERS: 20 to 25 orders nightly for revenue of more than $5,000 a week during Alaska halibut season
WHY IT WORKS: The 16-oz. cut includes a portion of the spine and resembles a T-Bone steak. “People like the play on words. We take the steak concept further by blackening it, grilling it, placing it over caramelized onions and topping it with blue cheese butter and green onions,” says Ryan Nelson, executive chef/partner. “But what really sells it is the fact that the servers love it. They sell out all available portions every night it’s on the menu.”
THE DISH: Tacos Estilo Baja, Mercadito Midtown, Miami
Average 400 orders per month, 12 percent of total taco sales
WHY IT WORKS: Mercadito’s tacos are billed as “life changing.” One of a dozen versions offered, Estilo Baja is a house signature. Fresh-made corn tortillas are filled with crispy beer-battered mahi mahi, Mexican-style coleslaw and chipotle aîoli. “Baja-style tacos are familiar, but the popularity of this item has to do with the lightness of the fish, the crunchy texture and combination of flavors,” says executive chef/partner Patricio Sandoval.
THE DISH: Gouda Tater Tots, Meat Market, Miami Beach
THE NUMBERS: 3,500 orders last year for $21,000 in profit
WHY IT WORKS: Baked potatoes are shredded and blended with smoked cheddar and Gouda, salt and pepper, shaped, dusted with cornstarch and fried until golden brown. “Many people order them out of nostalgia, but others are apprehensive because they think they’re low scale,” notes Sean Brasel, chef/owner. “Thankfully, our servers rave about how good they are and once people try them they love them.” Every $8 side order generates profit of $6.
THE DISH: Lemon Sole in Parmesan Crust, Wildfish Seafood Grille, Newport Beach, Calif.; San Antonio, Texas; Scottsdale, Ariz.
THE NUMBERS: 577 orders, $15,000 across three units in average week
WHY IT WORKS: It’s light, fresh and full of appealing complementary flavors. “The parmesan crust gives it a nice crunch and flavor that doesn’t overwhelm the fish,” says John Carver, executive chef and partner at Wildfish parent Eddie V’s Restaurants. The dish is finished with a light lemon-garlic sauce and a salad of red and gold tomatoes and micro greens.