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Meet the Restaurants!
Get to know all the restaurants competing for the title.
City: Austin, Texas
Cuisine: Authentic Spanish Tapas
Daniel Olivella and Vanessa Jerez opened Barlata in summer 2013 as the only authentic Spanish tapas eatery in Austin. The Spanish cuisine appeals to the eclectic Austin crowd, which enjoys not only the food but also the husband-and-wife owners. With more than 65 different tapas plates on the menu, the cuisine represents a communal experience one might find in Daniel’s home city of Barcelona. Before opening Barlata, Daniel had two very successful restaurants in the Bay Area. After visiting Austin for business, he envisioned opening a restaurant there, and with Vanessa’s insistence, he moved the family to Texas. With Daniel running the kitchen and Vanessa running front of house, business has never been busier.
Buns & Buns
City: South Miami, Florida
Cuisine: Fast Casual/High End
Buns & Buns is reinventing the wheel when it comes to the dining experience. The goal is to use fine-dining techniques and high-end ingredients to serve guests quickly in a warm and casual setting. Believing the traditional concept of “service” in a restaurant can be a burden to a great experience, they have created a hybrid with guests ordering at the register and servers taking over once the diners sit down. With a lot of craft, love, efficiency, and passion in the kitchen, Buns & Buns has discovered the formula to make fine food accessible to everybody. When Chef Reuven Sugarman joined the team, he and the owners set out on a trip around the world, discovering fine food and fine breads in cities such as London, Vienna, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Paris, and Istanbul. At the end of each night, Reuven would sketch, cook, and plan based on whatever they ate that day to create the concept for Buns & Buns. The staff jokingly refers to the restaurant as “gourmet fast food,” but the chefs working in the open kitchen are doing anything but traditional fast food.
City: Miami Beach, Florida
Cuisine: Authentic Italian
Located on the iconic Collins Avenue in the heart of South Beach, LDV Hospitality's Dolce Italian is Miami’s newest dining destination at The Gale Hotel. Dolce is classic and elegant while also having whimsical, communal sensibility in the Italian beach club world. The restaurant’s goal is to serve a truly authentic Italian menu, which starts with Italian chefs Paolo Dorigato and Loris Navone. Dolce’s menu features dishes ranging from homemade pasta to Italian-style steaks and fish dishes. Award-winning pizza chef Renato Viola mans the pizza kitchen with a unique display of pizza-throwing. The dining room, run by veteran Director of Hospitality Dean Tsakanikas, features an elegant and comfortable atmosphere. Guests feel at home whether they are having a business lunch or just need a quick bite after a day at the beach. Dolce caters to any guest by way of food, service, and hospitality, and South Beach tourists and locals alike are loving the Dolce experience.
City: Beverly Hills, California
Cuisine: Italian American
Sonja Perencevic, owner of iconic Dan Tana’s, recruited fourth-generation chef Dustin J Trani to bring a touch of “home” to Beverly Hills with DOMA. Dustin brings a strong tradition of Italian cooking and love of seafood to the restaurant known for homemade pastas including their Mascarpone Agnolotti. Adding to the restaurant’s charm is veteran waiter Igor Nicolas whose theatrical presence always delights patrons. Guests can expect an eclectic array of modern Mediterranean cuisine with lots of surprises from around the world. Pastry chef Marine Lapadjyan prepares a rotating dessert menu and diners enjoy a world class wine list and signature drinks at the mixology-heavy bar. The restaurant’s clientele includes some of the most powerful people in the entertainment business, and major Hollywood deals are closed over Dustin’s masterfully prepared plates.
City: New York, New York
Cuisine: Italian Inspired
L'Apicio, an Italian-inspired restaurant from Executive Chef Gabe Thompson and Beverage Director Joe Campanale, brings modern Italian food to New York City’s East Village. The restaurant, named after a celebrated 18th Century Italian cookbook, offers an extensive cocktail and wine program, as well as impeccable and sophisticated desserts from Executive Pastry Chef Katherine Thompson, who is Gabe’s wife. Although the restaurant serves Italian cuisine, Gabe is originally from Texas so he enjoys being creative with innovative new takes on traditional Italian favorites. Gabe and Joe have successfully opened two other New York City eateries together including L'Apicio's sister restaurants and West Village hot spots dell'anima, L'Artusi, and Anfora. They took their favorite elements from their previous restaurants and incorporated them with this latest project, which they built from the ground up.
City: Santa Ana, California
Cuisine: European Influenced
Despite not having any formal restaurant background, married owners Bruce Marsh and Naseem Aflakian opened Little Sparrow with financial help from Kickstarter. Although the restaurant is located in downtown Santa Ana, guests walking into this French-inspired bistro are immediately taken out of the OC and transported to a café in Paris or New York. Bruce claims the soul of the restaurant comes from their baby Francois, who was almost born in the middle of a busy dinner service shortly after the restaurant opened for business. Chef Eric Samaniego and Pastry Chef Nasera Munshi migrated from the West Hollywood hotspots they had been working in to join Bruce and Naseem at Little Sparrow. Together, they all have helped the restaurant earn accolades that are bringing people from all over Southern California to try their famous cocktails, homemade charcuterie, and award-winning brunch.
Morgan's Brooklyn Barbecue
City: Brooklyn, New York
Cuisine: Texas BBQ
Native New Yorker Joel Bolden and Texas transplant Chris Morgan decided in the Fall of 2013 that Brooklyn was lacking authentic Texas barbecue. The two friends, who had worked together for years at other restaurants and bars, decided they needed to fill that niche in the New York borough. Joel and Chris literally built the restaurant themselves, hand-crafting the bar and even fabricating the tabletops from scratch. Adding to the eatery’s personal feel, Morgan grew up on barbecue, learning how to make it from his grandmother when he was young. Though located on a busy Brooklyn street, diners are transplanted straight to Texas from their first bite. Pitmaster Mark Roper is responsible for the restaurant’s unique meat preparation, which often includes smoking meats for up to 14 hours at a time in order to get that perfect taste. Though the meats are the stars of the show, Morgan’s also offers fan-favorite sides including traditional Frito Pie served right in the bag with Chris’s slow-cooked chili and artisanal macaroni and cheese.
Porter Ale House
City: Austin, Texas
Joe Bixel, Neil Joiner, and Trevor Lane are longtime friends and first-time restaurant owners. Joe and Neil met while working in the kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park before continuing their cooking partnership at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Originally from Texas, Neil convinced Jersey boy Joe to move down to Austin, where the two met Trevor while all three worked at a resort. After more than a year of planning, the three teamed up to open their first restaurant together, Porter Ale House and Gastropub, where they use their refined, fine-dining techniques and services to create high-end yet accessible comfort food in a relaxed environment. Their award-winning Polish pieroghies and oxtail croquettes have been wowing Austin diners. Even though they have incorporated fine-dining technique and flair, they have become masters of the hamburger, earning national recognition for their best-selling signature dish, the Porter Burger.
City: Austin, Texas
Cuisine: Couture Dining
In 2001, Chef Parind Vora opened the original Restaurant Jezebel in New Mexico before moving to Austin to serve a bigger market. In 2010, an electrical fire destroyed the restaurant, and it took almost two years for Parind to re-open. When he did, it was in a new location with a completely new menu concept. Restaurant Jezebel has only eight tables that can seat up to 32 people and there is no traditional menu. Based on the diners’ tastes, Parind whips up a uniquely tailored meal for the table, often using global flavors from his travels in his cooking. An avid hunter and butcher, Parind sources whole animals to be served in the restaurant. For men jackets are required, with the exceptions to the dress code being cowboy boots and cowboy hats as the restaurant is proud to be in Texas.
City: Austin, Texas
Cuisine: Modern American Small Plates
When Swift’s Attic first opened in the spring of 2012, The Austin Chronicle referred to the assembled team behind the restaurant as “the Justice League” because they had so many power players involved in putting the place together. Today, Swift’s Attic is living up to those lofty expectations, having been featured in over 150 different publications, including Food & Wine Magazine and GQ. When CK Chin and Stuart Thomajan decided they wanted to create a quirky, groundbreaking restaurant, CK instantly knew to call longtime friend Chef Mat Clouser. Pastry Chef Callie Speer joins Chef Mat in the kitchen where they don’t ascribe to any particular cooking genre or style, but rather focus on the creative, whimsical, and delicious. The restaurant’s shareable small plates menu has been warmly embraced on local, regional, and national levels.
The Church Key
City: West Hollywood, California
Cuisine: Modern American/Dim Sum
Located in the heart of the Sunset Strip, The Church Key caters to young, hip Hollywood foodies and tourists alike. Pairing modern American cuisine with a unique service concept, The Church Key is a fun and memorable dining experience for all five senses. Guests are able to sit down and immediately start to eat and enjoy the dining experience without waiting for the traditional steps of service. The Church Key uses dim sum carts for food and airline carts with frozen cocktails to make the dining experience start the moment diners sit down. Guests are also able to sample some of the delicious food while they choose from the eclectic menu, keeping them entertained and engaged. Chef Steven Fretz and his operating partner/General Manager, Joseph Sabato, are veterans to the LA hospitality scene and have their own loyal, local following. However, they are confident they can build and expand The Church Key into a national powerhouse.
City: Miami, Florida
Cuisine: High End Comfort Food/Shared Plates
This modern American tavern draws inspiration from the regional Americas, classic Americana preparations, and is a celebration of the country’s integrity, ingenuity, and craftsmanship. Owners Ani Meinhold and Cesar Zapata seek to serve the neighborhood as a meeting point where people can congregate and enjoy their favorite comfort food with a modern twist. Examples of their updated classics include their signature Pig Wing and a homemade duck rillette called Jar O’ Duck. With Ani at the front of the house and Cesar running the kitchen, the small and tight-knit staff treats one another like family. Though located off the beaten path in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, word has spread about The Federal and the crowds have been flocking.
City: Brooklyn, New York
Cuisine: Modern American Shared Plates
Built by owner and Catskills native Carver Farrell, The Pines took its name -- and much of its woodsy, charming decor -- from a late, beloved upstate New York resort, but the food is wholly contemporary. Chef John Poiarkoff marries fine-dining technique with wide-ranging cultural influences, creating with sous chef Joe Shortt and his team dishes that are at once inventive and soul-satisfying. With a focus on house-made and responsibly sourced ingredients, the menu changes daily. The beverage program is imaginative, too, and highlights artisanal producers. Wines from natural and biodynamic vintners, craft brews, and specialty ciders live alongside chef-crafted cocktails that bring together new and familiar tastes that put a seasonal spin on the classics. The Pines has won praise for its food, drink, and exceptional service. Tucked into an unassuming, industrial neighborhood, the restaurant consistently delivers experiences that surprise and delight its guests.
City: Miami, Florida
Located in the up-and-coming Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, R House is where food, art, and music collide to form a unique dining experience. Named for Chef/Owner Rocco Carulli, this establishment is part restaurant, part art gallery featuring local Miami artists, and part dance club. Rocco is the face of R House, having created the menu and hired his team of chefs, and his husband Owen runs the dining room floor. The modern American menu is globally inspired with signature dishes like duck confit spring rolls and Brazilian moqueqa. Rocco made a name for himself as a chef for years in Provincetown, Massachusetts on the shores of Cape Cod, but with his move to Miami, his culinary vision has been resurrected and now perfected. This restaurant is his dream, and now he can share it with the rest of the Miami culinary scene.
Tongue & Cheek
City: Miami Beach, Florida
Cuisine: Contemporary American
Tongue & Cheek is a restaurant that pairs sophistication with whimsical humor. Presenting innovative, honest cuisine in a relaxed and modern surrounding, Tongue & Cheek is a place where locals and tourists alike can enjoy good food, good friends, and good conversation, all in the heart of South Beach. Since opening in April 2013, this contemporary American eatery has served a creative, ingredient-driven menu with artful presentations. Executive Chef/Owner Jamie DeRosa serves up unique food like pig ear lettuce wraps, playful crispy chicken chicharrones, and seasonal carbonated oysters and is garnering National acclaim for his beef cheek burger. Jamie made a career for himself working for numerous celebrity chefs like Geoffrey Zakarian and Wolfgang Puck, but he now has a place he can call his own.
City: South Pasadena, California
Cuisine: Seasonal/Italian American
Chef Bruce Kalman has worked at restaurants across the country, but he was always working for someone else. With Union, Bruce’s first restaurant as a part owner/operator, he is doing everything exactly as he wants which includes cooking seasonal ingredients under a “nose to tail” philosophy to create flavorful dishes. With this approach, he takes the farm-to-table concept to the extreme. The name "Union" refers to the multiple levels of collaboration in the restaurant between the front and back of house, staff and guests, and local farmers and their community. Located in Old Town Pasadena, Union's values and ethos have enriched the culinary scene in this historic suburb of Los Angeles. Word of mouth about Union has spread like wildfire and people from across the city are taking notice, often sitting in rush hour traffic just to see what all the buzz is about.