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50 Great Ideas 2008: 41-50

41. Whose menu item is it?

The folks at Denver-based VICORP Restaurants, operators of the moderately priced Village Inn and Bakers Square concepts, have gathered recipes from legendary restaurants and inns around the country to expand their menus. The goal is to make upscale dishes more accessible to family-dining patrons and broaden the customer base. First on board is Wild Maine Blueberry Stuffed French Toast from The Maples Inn, a B&B in Bar Harbor, Maine. “The ‘legendary’ promotion has not only excited our customers but our team members as well,” says Josh Kern, VP of marketing. “Our chefs are really enjoying these award-winning recipes. They are more of a challenge to prepare and that has brought needed energy back to our kitchens.”

42. Hopped up ice pops
Dessert is not child’s play at Rustico Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia, which sells six varieties of beer-flavored “BrewPops” for $5 each. The creation occurred to chef Frank Morales as he tasted through Rustico’s list of 350 beers. “The fruit-flavored lambics were so intensely flavored that they’re good even ice cold,” says the chef, recalling his initial thought to create an intermezzo granita. But Belgian ales froze so well, thanks to the alcohol and sugar content, that he turned them into Popsicles. The best-selling flavors are framboise and kriek (raspberry and cherry), although Morales also makes stout pops that taste chocolatey. He’s also working on a retail line to sell online (brewpops.com) and experimenting with ale-oriented sundaes: ice cream topped with cherries in lambic syrup, malt-salted peanuts and fresh-hop brittle candy. 

43. How to turn the tables
West Hollywood’s One Sunset restaurant and lounge boasts a sultry setting and sizzling social scene, tempting patrons to linger at dinner long after the last morsel is devoured. To turn the tables with grace, servers offer a “Champagne Wishes” ticket at meal’s end, good for a complimentary drink at the restaurant’s Champagne Bar—located in a different part of the restaurant. While guests may indeed be aware that this is a device to liberate seats, responses such as, “This is the nicest way I’ve ever been told a restaurant needs the table back,” reveal they don’t seem to mind the ploy. 

44. Purse on a hook
Cathy Wood never liked putting her handbag down on a restaurant’s floor, which inspired her husband, Bob DePew, who’s been in the plastics industry for 23 years. Thus was born the SecureKlip. It’s a plastic hook that can be bolted underneath the table for easy handbag hanging. And thieves don’t stand a chance because of the product’s unique retention tip. “Most furniture purchasers and designers are men, so restaurants weren’t recognizing that this is an amenity they should provide,” says DePew. SecureKlip’s durable plastic material has a flexible memory and can stand up to frequent cleaning. 

45. Your best shot
Garnishes and glassware only go so far when it comes to dressing up a drink. But Bar Nineteen 12, which opened this summer in the Beverly Hills Hotel, has taken the cocktail to a new level of creativity. It’s turned martinis into colorful jewels presented on an illuminated glass box. Bar Nineteen 12 bartenders solidify the liquids with gelatin and shape them with silicon molds. A blueberry martini is presented as a dome of blueberry vodka with a fresh blueberry suspended magically inside. Similarly, a jiggly Rose Champagne envelopes a bit of candied orange. Other “drinks” are cut into diamond shapes or brightly layered, like an orange-and-red tequila sunrise. Next on Bar Nineteen 12’s drawing board—martini Popsicles.

46. Let them eat junk food
Whimsical presentations are the trademark of Steve Chiappetti, chef at Viand Bar & Kitchen in Chicago. Kids’ menu items come to the table in toy dump trucks and a seared tuna entree is plated on a small wooden fishing boat. To stamp his signature on the dessert course, Chiappetti created the Junk Food Cart—a miniature shopping cart overflowing with homemade renditions of Oreos, Twinkies, brownies, marshmallows and a Coke float ($8). It’s been so popular, it’s now sold online as well as at Chiappetti’s bakery.

47. Airborne salad
If New Gardens has its way, your next tomato might come out of thin air. The firm is working with the University of Nevada, Reno, to create the world’s first commercial aeroponically grown produce. Plants are suspended in midair while their roots are periodically sprayed with nutrients. “They grow twice as fast,” says New Gardens’ Bill Sobolewski. Other advantages the technology has over conventional farming or hydroponics are lower operational costs and much-reduced water use. Right now, funding is up in the air, too, but Sobolewski says the first crop will be Sicilian Cherry and Red Gold Italians. Tomatoes will be harvested in early morning and delivered to restaurants for dinner. 

48. More than a trash bag
Joe “Dee” Dussich’s foodservice-size trash bags may look like plain black plastic bags, but they definitely don’t smell like them. Repel-X garbage bags have a minty scent—an aroma that keeps rats and other undesirables away because of the animals’ sensitive sinuses, according to Dussich. “There’s an old-wives tale that people used to plant mint in their gardens to chase out rodents,” Dussich says, adding that he applied that tale to the creation of Repel-X. The bag’s chemicals are actually impregnated in the plastic, as is the fragrance, so neither will rub off on employees’ hands. Repel-X trash bags actually do double duty: not only do they keep rodents from midnight snacking; they also keep trash from smelling like garbage.

49. The ride’s on us
In Australia’s Outback, bad weather doesn’t keep hardy souls inside, but New Yorkers are different. To make sure winter’s chill doesn’t interfere with the guest count at the Sunburnt Cow, proprietor Heathe St. Clair is shuttling customers in a 1984 Dodge Ram from the subway stop 10 blocks away. In step with his concept’s Aussie menu and decor, this “Moo Mobile” is tricked out with a surfboard on the roof and horns on the front end. “Business dropped off last winter, so I decided to try a people carrier,” says St. Clair, who coupled the move with “counter meals” for dinner. The $16 specials—popular at Outback pubs—include appetizer, entree and dessert.

50. This popcorn melts in your mouth
Mini Melts, the cryogenically frozen dessert particles you eat with a spoon, are now being marketed like popcorn. Creator Tom Mosey is producing the popcorn-size ice cream kernels in myriad flavors such as banana split, mango and mint chocolate. “We’re targeting malls, parks, stadiums and catering events,” says Chad Skier of Frozen Vending Services, a New Jersey distributor. Mini Melts are also buttery like popcorn due to more butterfat. 

50 Great Ideas 2008: 1-10   |  11-20   |  21-30   |  31-40   |  41-50

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