Would you eat at a restaurant called "Saucy Balls"? That was among the top 10 contenders in "America's Next Great Restaurant," which aired its first episode last night 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 idiocyncratic fast-casual restaurant concepts was presented 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? A soup restaurant, a pot pie restaurant, a creative kids' menu restaurant, kebab sliders, healthy foods and, not surprisingly, several ideas based on chicken wings, in what was said to be a national search for restaurant concepts. For the ideas that didn't make the original cut, take a look at this video.
The winner of the competition launches a three-city chain of restaurants in Los Angeles, New York City and (drum roll) ... "Minneapolis" (which likely means Twin Cities). No hint of where that might be locally but our bets are on the Mall of America. The show indicates a May 1 opening, though the tiny print at the bottom of the credits hedges on the date.
The judges -- who are also the investors in this concept -- are, from left, 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, Southern comfort food tapas-style, healthy wok, two healthy food concepts, and wings & waffles.
The only bad boy contestant got bumped during the first episode, but it appears from the teasers that, in the second show, the knives come out as contestants start competing against each other when they are put to the test cooking for 1,000 guests at Universal Citywalk in Hollywood.