Why some popular restaurants only have 1 item on the menu
From grilled cheese to peanut butter, find out why these eateries focusing on variations of a single theme have become a hit worldwide.
Single-issue restaurants – those that fix their attention on one particular dish or ingredient – are often touted as a new phenomenon, a novel byproduct of an overcrowded restaurant scene. But the reality is niche restaurants have been among us for decades. Pizzerias, burger bars and ice cream parlors are all single-issue restaurants. What’s different with this new wave of eateries is not their narrow focus, but the wider scope of foods on which that focus is directed. Nowadays, porridge, peanut butter, potatoes, meatballs, meatloaf and polenta are among the many foodstuffs that are being given their chance to shine.
Admittedly, single-item restaurants run the risk of coming across as gimmicky, but with their focus on doing one thing and doing it well, they are also well-placed to achieve greatness. But what of the lack of choice? For diners, a minimal menu can be a big relief.
Fewer dishes also helps eliminate superfluous produce. As Douglas McMaster, the founder and chef at zero-waste restaurant Silo in the U.K., explained, “The places with more choice create more waste and have lower standards … You get a restaurant that has 40 choices on the menu then they need to prepare 40 of everything so they don’t run out of everything."
Here are a few of the single-issue restaurants around the world that are winning fans with their limited offerings.
When Empire Biscuit first opened in 2013, it was immediately obvious that this concept had legs. Lines of hungry New Yorkers eager to get their mitts on a buttery, flaky Southern-style biscuit formed around the block. The excess levels of demand even forced the owners to close their doors to regroup before opening again for 24/7 service. Food and Wine Magazine named them among America’s Best Biscuits, and consumer reviews have been positive. "This place is a little slice of heaven for biscuit lovers," wrote one reviewer on Yelp.
The crew behind this popular biscuit emporium made a smart choice when choosing their concept. These hot baked treats make a perfect platform for all manner of spreads and fillings. Which means that despite the specialist nature of the outfit, there are still plenty of variations to try.
Knaffe is a much-loved pastry dish usually comprising shredded phyllo pastry, melted cheese and a sweet syrup. It’s showing its face on international menus, such as Balaboosta in Manhattan and Honey & Co in London. In Israel, it is the sole focus of Noga Knaffe, a café-cum-bar in Tel Aviv. The restaurant is run by London native Danny Phillips, who – according to knaffe enthusiasts – has brought the traditional pastry to new heights with his imaginative sweet and savory permutations.
When Phillips first tasted knaffe in Israel, he was immediately “hooked on the texture.” After traveling to many towns and sampling all kinds of interesting recipe variations and tweaks, he began working on his own recipes. “The process of making knaffe is very meditative,” said Phillips. “I started with the basic recipe with sweet syrup and pistachio and very quickly moved to adding halva, cinnamon ... I developed my own vegan cheese from cream of coconut and made the first vegan knaffe.” Phillips continued tinkering, and he now produces savory renditions too, such as a spinach, feta, sumac, garlic and cashew version and vegan-friendly sweet potato baked with fennel seed and chili on a green tahini base.
For Andrey Datsenko, the founder of London’s Melt Room, his desire to create a new restaurant was driven by a grilled cheese obsession. “I quickly became addicted to grilled cheese sandwiches when I was studying in New York,” Datsenko told From the Grapevine. "It's such a staple on the American food scene, and less so in London, that on my move I actually didn't know where to get my grilled cheese fix from!”
Datsenko’s grilled cheese concept also taps into another of-the-moment restaurant trend: elevated fast food. “Melt Room is certainly part of this wider movement where ‘fast food’ has been modernized with chefs now taking a gourmet, ingredient-led approach,” Datsenko said. “Whilst we've seen a lot of foods receive a ‘makeover,’ namely the unabated burger craze, we're now turning our attention to and rediscovering simple classics that bring about an air of nostalgia.”
So far, Datsenko and his team have come up with 30 different melts, though new combinations are always being added. Among them are riffs on the classic (a special cheese blend on sourdough), sweet variations (peanut butter and blueberry jelly on milk bread) as well as seasonal specials, including an autumnal pumpkin melt (roast pumpkin, Wookey Hole cheese, pine nuts and sage) and a turkey dinner melt for the Thanksgiving season.
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Related Topics: Chefs & Restaurants