Restaurant Business’ staff and colleagues pick their best eats (and drinks) of 2015

Clean Plate Awards

Chefs and industry folks aren’t the only ones who blend pleasure and profession over restaurant meals. At Winsight Media, the parent of Restaurant Business, we are constantly tracking foodservice trends and developments for our magazines, digital platforms and events. That means a lot of eating in restaurants—one of the best parts of our jobs. So here are some of the dishes and drinks that blew us away and evoked happy taste memories over the last year.

zenwich spicy garlic shrimp sandwich

Kelly Killian, Group Editor, Foodservice
Spicy Garlic Shrimp Sandwich
Elmhurst, Ill.

Miraculously, the textures of the crunchy shrimp, crisp arugula and cilantro, soft ciabatta and creamy aioli never lose their integrity.

Peter Romeo, Director of Online Content
Braised Short Ribs
Coda Bar & Grill

“The braised short ribs delivered a flash of sunshine to a drizzly evening in Boston’s Back Bay. The flavor and texture were perfect—toothy, but not tough—and the accompaniment of a runny egg on mashed potatoes was ideal.”

eventide oyster co swordfish belly

Pat Cobe, Senior Editor, Restaurant Business/FoodService Director
Swordfish Belly
Eventide Oyster Co.
Portland, Maine

A handcrafted bowl holds meltingly tender pieces of swordfish belly, sauteed Brussels sprouts leaves, cubes of grilled butternut squash and husk cherries. An umami bomb! And a smart move by a seafood place to jump on the belly trend by creating an intriguing small plate around the belly of a fish.

bar siena burrata wedge salad

Sara Rush, Senior Editor, Restaurant Business
Burrata Wedge Salad with Shrimp
Bar Siena

While I'm normally a burger-and-fries girl, this was one of the best salads I've ever had. It was exceptionally crisp with an Italian-ish dressing that was just strong enough. And the combo of tangy pickled red onions with smooth, creamy burrata was the perfect balance.

Alaina Lancaster, Assistant Editor, Restaurant Business/FoodService Director
Santa Fe Chicken
Broadway Brewhouse & Mojo Grill

[It's] a pulled-chicken sandwich with spicy ranch on a toasted kaiser role and slaw on the side. I know, Santa Fe in Nashville? But sometimes the sandwich chooses you. I could’ve drunk their housemade spicy ranch.

Bruce Ramsay, Creative Director
Victor Neuman Cocktail
Bar Raval

I savored this stirred, sultry and potent cocktail made with Cognac, Amaro Nonino, Amontillado sherry and 12-year rum.

steamed crab oysters shrimp despositos

Sara Stewart, Art Director, Restaurant Business
Steamed Crab Legs, Oysters and Shrimp
Savannah, Ga.

Desposito’s is as low-key as it gets—an unassuming shack near the river in the outskirts of Savannah with tables covered in newspaper. What it lacks in ambiance is more than made up for with fresh seafood cooked to perfection, housemade sides and cheap beer.

Grey Montgomery, Chief Content Officer
Dry-Aged Beef Carpaccio with Truffle Puree and Grissini
Locanda Verde
New York City

I have never had such rich truffles in my entire life—and that includes some great mushroom/truffle-focused restaurants during my time living in Oregon. The key, however, is that the dish was not overwhelmed with truffles or truffle flavor. A light proportion of truffles kept the carpaccio and greens the dominant flavors, but with these staccato spikes of sharp richness. Portion size was perfect to share as an appetizer for two—very light.

Chris Keating, Chief Brand Officer, Foodservice Group
Lobster Roll
The Sacred Cod at Chatham Bars Inn
Cape Cod, Mass.

There are 416 restaurants (unofficial count) on Cape Cod that claim “Best Lobster Roll on the Cape." I didn’t try all of them, but the one(s) I had at The Sacred Cod at Chatham Bars Inn must be a contender. Mini rolls, fresh-caught lobster, on a toasted bun, accompanied by a Harpoon IPA. That plate was cleaned.

Alanna Young, COO
Carnita's Scramble (minus the carnitas because I'm vegetarian)
Lafayette, Calif.

It’s Mexican food for breakfast (plus everything is local and super fresh).

cava grill bowls

Nick Hayman, Executive VP of Events
Breakfast Bowl
Cava Grill
Washington, D.C.

There's a Cava Grill in the Washington, D.C. airport and the build-your-own bowls make a great breakfast to grab for outbound flights. My favorite is a combination of lentils, arugula, chicken meatballs, diced cucumbers, scrambled eggs and Sriracha-yogurt dressing. I shake it up to blend the flavors—spice in the meatballs, vinegar in the cukes, slightly bitter arugula.

Bill Anderson, VP Noncommercial Foodservice and Publisher, FoodService Director
Fish and Chips
Gemini Bistro

The most phenomenal fish and chips I've had. The fish is light and crispy and there was a good balance between what was fish and what was chip and what was breading.

Tara Tesimu, Sr. VP Media Products and Audience Development
Pizza Sub
Ada, Mich.

My favorite dish of the year is the pizza sub at Vitale’s. It’s an Italian sub with ham, pepperoni, several different cheeses and the secret, delicious addition of a homemade pizza sauce. It’s best served with their delicious garlic-buttered breadsticks so you have extra sauce to dip it into. It tastes like home to me.

Andrea Scott McCluskey, EVP, Talent and Culture
Peach Bellini
Brio Tuscan Grill
Lombard, Ill.

The cocktail was yummy—frozen, sparkly and delicious. It was the perfect antidote to Chicago's winter!

Lindsay Holley, Digital Production Manager
Lamb Burger
The Franklin
Traverse City, Mich.

The burger was lean and perfectly cooked and served with bacon and goat cheese on top to complement the lamb flavor. It came on a soft bun with smashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts on the side.

Kelsey Nash, Editor, Online Content
Duck-Fat Poached Swordfish
The Optimist

The iteration I had incorporated pork belly and strawberries—one of the best meals I've ever had!


Bianca Herron, Editor, Online Content
Build-Your-Own Pizza
Washington, D.C.

I really liked this place because you could build your own pizza for $10 and include as many toppings as you wanted (minus the two that were extra, pulled pork was one of them). I had a traditional crust, spicy tomato sauce, house made mozzarella cheese, Italian sausage, pepperoni, smoked bacon, chicken and garlic oil drizzled on top after it came out of the conveyor oven, which took maybe three minutes to cook it. It was really great! The spicy tomato sauce was fantastic, the pizza was cooked perfectly and the garlic oil was light.

crows nest modern benedict

Kim Rasmussen, Web Producer
Modern Benedict
Crow’s Nest
Kalamazoo, Mich.

Tiny and hidden atop a bakery, you wouldn't even know Crow's Nest existed if you were just passing by. The tables were few and it was a hipster crowd; the food is locally sourced, with many vegan and vegetarian options and house-baked breads. I went with the Modern [Eggs] Benedict: pulled pork, red pepper, onion, garlic, two eggs, hollandaise, cilantro and challah bread. I'm a bit of a benedict nut and this is definitely one of the best I've ever had. Thankfully we got there early because the line was literally down the stairs and out the door by the time we finished our breakfast at 9 a.m.

smoked chicken wings memphis bbq company

Chris McCoy, Regional VP of Sales—Northeast
Smoked Chicken Wings
Memphis BBQ Company
Horn Lake, Miss.

Very unique and some of the best wings I've ever had. I was down for an Ole Miss football game and it was the first time I've ever had smoked wings like that.

Mark Weinstein, Regional VP of Sales—West
Grilled Portabella Mushroom Scramble
Mother’s Bistro & Bar
Portland, Ore.

Next time you’re on a West Coast swing, you’ve gotta go to Mother’s Bistro & Bar. It’s a Portland landmark. Great any time of day but a breakfast icon—best comfort food you’ll ever eat.

Kayley Bogdan, Project Manager, Custom Marketing Solutions
Bedroom Escapades Cocktail
Artesian in the Langham Hotel
London, England

Fragrant, balanced, addictive.

Abbie Westra, Deputy Group Editor, CSP Magazine
Condiment Tray
Las Vegas

At this James Beard-nominated Japanese restaurant off the strip in Las Vegas, the condiment tray that sits on every table includes a house-blended soy sauce and a green-tea-infused salt—both of which I could have eaten by the spoonful. I ordered the omakase—which included a standout dish of a small pot filled with mushrooms, fish, seafood and a broth that tasted just like the ocean smells—and I had a hard time not dousing everything with the condiments.

Abbey Lewis, Editor, Convenience Store Products
Brandy Alexander
Cherry Circle Room

There are so many dishes to name from this one meal my husband and I shared here on our 15th wedding anniversary—but it was dessert in the form of this cocktail that was literally the cherry on top. It’s a classic to be sure, but it was served soda-shop style with a red-and-white-striped paper straw. I almost cried at how cute it was—how stylish, and delicious.

wood grilled broccoli girl and goat

Jennifer Bulat, Group Director of Editorial Production, CSP Magazine
Wood-Grilled Broccoli
Girl and the Goat

By far the best vegetable dish I have ever had in a restaurant. For every bite I took, I said, “Oh my god.” The bleu cheese and the crispies are just gravy, so to speak.

pork belly cotton candy carnem

Melissa Vonderhaar Peretz, Senior Editor, CSP Magazine
Pork Belly Cotton Candy
Brooklyn, N.Y.

It sounds weird, but it works oh so well! It's a bite-sized piece of pork belly, fried up perfectly and encased in a puff of blue cotton candy goodness. They're sold by the piece (good since I'm not sure we would have gotten a full appetizer order sight unseen) and served on a spear. The perfect combo of salty and sweet.

saigon sisters classic banh mi

Mary Chapman, Editor, Special Projects
Classic Banh Mi
Saigon Sisters

I love the fresh bread, the crisp veggies, the ham and pork and pate! It’s so delicious!

Mike Marino, Director of Classified Sales
Lasagne al Forno
Scottsdale, Ariz.

This lasagna was unbelievably good, melt-in-your-mouth and impossible to stop eating. It had Bolognese sauce and béchamel and many layers of noodles. I want to fly back to Arizona for more!!

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