Would you eat at a restaurant called Saucy Balls?
That was among the top 10 contenders in "America's Next Great Restaurant," whose first episode aired Sunday on NBC. (The reference -- in case you couldn't guess, or didn't want to -- was to meatballs.) At one point Curtis Stone, one of the judges, says (and I paraphrase): Are these really the best ideas out there?
That thought crossed my mind as the parade of idiosyncratic fast-casual restaurant concepts was presented, suggested by an equally eclectic and global crew of 21 eager contestants, who for the most part had little experience and/or knowledge of restaurants.
Their hopeful but impractical concepts, in what was said to be a national search, included restaurants that focused on soup, pot pies, a creative kids' menu, kebab sliders, healthy foods and, not surprisingly, several ideas based on chicken wings. And those were the ones that made the first cut.
The judges -- who are also the investors in this concept -- are Steve Ells, founder of the Chipotle chain; Bobby Flay, TV celebrity chef and restaurateur with many locations; Lorena Garcia, TV celebrity chef and owner of the Lorena Garcia Cocina Restaurant in Miami, and Curtis Stone, an Australian who made his name in British restaurants and later on American TV (including "The Biggest Loser," where he gives cooking tips).
So what made the top 10 contenders list? Restaurants that feature melted cheese sandwiches, Indian food, fusion tacos, meatballs, sports wraps, tapas-style Southern comfort food, healthy wok, two healthy food concepts and wings-and-waffles.
The winner of the competition launches a three-city chain of restaurants in Los Angeles, New York City and (drum roll) ... Minneapolis. No hint of where in the Twin Cities that might mean, but our bets are on the Mall of America (which, of course, is in Bloomington). The show indicates a May 1 opening, but the tiny print on the credits hedges on the date.
The only bad-boy contestant got bumped during the first episode, but it appears from the teasers that in the second episode the knives come out as contestants start competing against each other when put to the test by cooking for 1,000 guests at Universal Citywalk in Hollywood.
Do any of these concepts make you hungry? Let us know at the Taste blog at startribune.com/tabletalk. We'll post updates on the episodes each Monday on the blog, and on Sundays, as the show plays on Channel 11 at 7 p.m., we'll comment on Twitter. You can find us there at StribTaste.
Lee Svitak Dean • 612-673-1749