The Rise of the Virtual Restaurant

The Rise of the Virtual Restaurant

By Adria Valdes Greenhauff, Editor-at-Large

2016 has had its fair share of challenges for the restaurant industry. While Foodable has seen a spike in restaurant traffic for many emerging brands and some popular chains, several big names like Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings and Cosi have all reported significant declines. Couple that with rising health care premiums, and some analysts are predicting more dwindling numbers in 2017.

Luckily, the forecast isn’t all bleak.

According to NDP, restaurant delivery is growing fast. In fact, over the past four years, the segment has grown nearly 34 percent, which has many restaurants looking for creative ways to satisfy customers who prefer eating in to eating out.

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Pastry Chef at Michael’s Genuine Talks Desserts and Incorporating the Seasons

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Dessert remains a favorite even for grownups. Roughly one third of guests order dessert when dining out. So it’s safe to say that many consumers can’t resist a sweet after dinner treat, especially when it’s in a mini portioned dessert.

Like appetizers and entrees, desserts are (and have always been) often dependent on the seasons. More restaurants are determining their menu solely based on the ingredients in season. Fall favorites like pumpkin and apple have already started to appear all over menus.

A restaurant known for its cuisine that is “homemade, unpretentious, delectable, with an emphasis on great local ingredients” is Michael’s Genuine. This Miami gem is repeatedly on the Foodable Top 25 restaurants.

We decided to get in the kitchen with Maria Jose (MJ) Garcia, the executive pastry chef at Michael’s Genuine to find out what ingredients she enjoys to work with, fan-favorites at MG, and what advice she has for aspiring pastry chefs.  

Foodable: What do you love the most about being a pastry chef?

Chef MJ: There’s a few things. I love working with my team, teaching and grooming. Watching them grow as individuals, I enjoy that the most. Challenging ourselves. Learning how to use our different backgrounds and having fun.

🍎🍎🍎 apple pie with salted caramel gelato 😋😋 #mgfdpastry #mgfddessert #applepie #yummy

A photo posted by Michael's Genuine®Food & Drink (@michaelsgenuine) on

Then also, getting to see people eat something and love it.

Foodable: What are your favorite ingredients to work with?

Chef MJ: I like licorice. I also like to work with things that remind me of my childhood or places I have been. When I am cooking, I like to reminisce the things of my childhood. At the end of the day, when people eat they want to reminisce the things they used to enjoy when they were little.

On a seasonal level, winter would be strawberries, oranges or anything citrus. In the summer, I love to work with stone fruit. In the fall, obviously apple. But, I also love quince (membrillo in Spanish) because the region where I am from, quince is a prominent fruit we see often with cheese platters. In a week or two weeks from now, we will be able to get quince.

Foodable: What are your favorite fall season desserts to prepare? 

Chef MJ: Apple is that versatile ingredient that you can go extremely homey with, like homemade apple pies. But, quince is something I would love to work with more. It’s different for everyone. One of my assistants, loves persimmons and the other one loves pomegranate. 

Foodable: What are the most popular desserts at Michael’s Genuine?

Chef MJ: It varies. Obviously, you have your chocolate-holics that will always go for the chocolate dessert. Chefs Brad’s favorite is the Rosemary Pine Nut Tarte, it’s elegant, mild and very much an adult dessert. Then you have the Apple Fritters, which is my favorite. It’s that fried item that just reminds me of my childhood.

Foodable: If you could only pick five ingredients to make a dessert, what would they be?

Chef MJ: Orange, strawberry, olive oil, almonds and vanilla. Nuts, in particular, always enhance, give flavor and give texture.

Vanilla Pound Cake 🍫🍫🍫 chocolate glaze #thisismgfd #mgfdbrunch

A photo posted by Michael's Genuine®Food & Drink (@michaelsgenuine) on

Foodable: What advice do you have for amateur pastry chefs just starting out?

Chef MJ: You’re going to burn a lot of cake and that’s okay! Keep being persistent. This industry requires a lot of work, work on yourself. Have the strength to be humble and keep working. Just make sure everything that you do is up to your standards and never compromising.

Someone becomes really good at something when they do it a lot of times. I have burnt a hundred cakes in order to make a really good cake. That’s how you make yourself better, if you keep challenging yourself every day.

Foodable: What are some of the dessert trends you are seeing emerge?

Chef MJ: We follow seasonality. American cuisine gives you a big spectrum to work with, you could go Italian, American, French. In terms of trends, I am seeing these California-style bakeries where it is all about method and well-executed desserts, even if it is just a pie. California/ the west coast has set a standard and there are a lot of restaurants that are seasonal now.

It’s interesting to see all these bakeries rising, especially in Florida, like True Loaf with the best bread ever. You see these bakeries that follow that seasonality and that method of doing things perfectly. But, the trend I see the most is sourcing out the best ingredients. 

Comfort, Happiness at the Heart of Hearthstone

Social media has had a drastic impact on the restaurant industry, driving chefs and restaurateurs to find their value in how many Facebook likes they have and how many people are tweeting positive reviews.

That is not the case for Brian Massie, owner and executive chef of Hearthstone Kitchen & Cellar, just 10 miles off the strip in southwestern Las Vegas.

“You want to have positive reviews. You want to be on the top of the list all the time and you feel accomplished by that,” Massie said in this Table 42 vignette. “For me, personally, that’s not my primary focus. My primary focus is what people are supposed to feel when they come in here and when they leave. I want them to be happy, and that’s the true testament to how well you are doing.”

Massie explains that the people in Las Vegas have changed from meat and potatoes to a more elevated palate – one which Hearthstone is attempting to satisfy with a different approach to food, décor, and atmosphere.

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The restaurant concept is open, based on a sushi bar (but swap out the sushi and replace it with rustic American). Guests can watch the chefs preparing the food and interact with them at the same time, which makes for an exciting concept. In addition, there are six or seven menu items that come right out of two huge wood burning stoves which sit in the middle of the dining room.

Massie describes the restaurant and food as “less flashy.” The food is “straightforward” and dishes like the bacon wrapped chorizo stuffed dates in piquillo pepper gravy create an umami flavor that customers crave and keep coming back for.

Comfort is what Hearthstone’s customers feel and it is what keeps them coming back.

“Three or four times a week they will come back, maybe for a drink or to sit in the lounge or play shuffleboard…[customers] feel like it’s the neighborhood spot. That’s what we are trying to make it. They feel happy and that’s important,” Massie explained.

Sneak Peek: Work & Class Keeps It Real in Denver

In a world of hype-driven, “cool factor” restaurants, Work & Class in Denver is refreshingly humble. Its cool factor lies in its approachability and its unique real estate.

“We’re using reclaimed, repurposed materials for our buildout,” says Delores Tronco, co-owner at Work & Class, who voluntarily waits tables on Saturday nights to connect more directly to guests. “It’s very easy to say to someone, ‘Look for the building made of shipping containers; that’s where you’ll find us.’”

Work & Class, which focuses on Latin and American food, includes 12 house rules, and “Be Nice” is No. 1. The restaurant also doesn’t take reservations. “You can leave everything else behind,” says Tronco. “Because we’re gonna take care of it while you’re here. It’s like you’re in a great house party or something.”

Check out the sneak peek above, and stay tuned for our full “Table 42” episode, coming soon!

Sneak Peek: Take a Bite Out of MOD Pizza

MOD Pizza, based in Seattle, is a culture-driven people brand that serves pizza. The 90-unit chain, with locations all throughout the U.S., is driven by its team, also known as the MOD Squad. “It’s about an attitude, it’s about a lifestyle, it’s about a state of mind,” says MOD Pizza Founder & CEO Scott Svenson of the brand.

In the video above, brought to you by the Foodable Network, get a sneak peek at how MOD’s founding duo is putting their people first to dish up some damn good pizza. And, as always, stay tuned for the full “Fast Casual Nation” episode, coming soon!