Many restaurants have them, whether you know it or not. Burgers the waitstaff dreams up. Drinks that bartenders only mix for regulars. But if you’re only visiting a city for a few days, the probability you’ll miss the best off-menu items increases exponentially. Here, we share a few secret plates that you will want to try — just don’t tell anyone else.
Pinewood Social is Music City’s newest 13,000-square-foot social club complete with bowling alley, bocce ball and private karaoke rooms, dreamed up by brothers Max and Ben Goldberg, who founded Strategic Hospitality. The kitchen serves up fried chicken over light and fluffy waffles, but you wouldn’t know it unless someone let you in on the secret. Though not listed on any menu, chicken and waffles can be ordered for breakfast daily or during Saturday and Sunday brunch. And apparently, the folks at Strategic Hospitality know what it takes to get people whispering in Nashville, because rumor has it that Merchants, another Goldberg creation, offers its own secret dish to die for. Ask your server for the fried green BLT, a sandwich that pairs the popular appetizer with red pepper jam and pimento cheese.
Chef Katie Button has made a name for herself at her lauded Asheville restaurant, Cúrate, thanks to an inventive menu and ever-packed dining room. Reservations at the chef’s vibrant tapas bar are worth the wait, and while you might feel overwhelmed by the lengthy dual-language menu, luckily, there’s an item you can order without having to find it amid the rest of Cúrate’s Spanish delights. The gravity-defying panuelo de chocolate is a whisper-thin “napkin” that looks more like origami than dessert. Often topped with fruit and nuts, this sweet is a show-stopping favorite among locals celebrating special occasions.
One of the most popular dishes on the menu at Davio’s Atlanta is its Philly cheesesteak spring rolls. The handmade appetizer is in such high demand that the restaurant even sells them online, too. But true fans of this Buckhead establishment know that it also provides an off-the-menu Wagyu beef spring roll for those who want an upgrade. At $100 a pop, the rolls are filled with meat infused with 10-herb white truffle butter, 18-month Montgomery cheddar, shaved black truffles and golden onions sautéed in bubbly — that’s right, in champagne. The tasty pastry-wrapped item, which must be ordered 48 hours in advance, comes with culinary director Rodney Murillo’s signature ketchup and aioli, both made with Espelette pepper.
Right down the road from Davio’s is Seven Lamps, a restaurant known for its craft food and seasonal libations. But forgo the tempting plates of squash salad or pumpkin gnocchi and ask your server for the not-on-the-menu 50/50 Burger. Made with 50 percent brisket, 50 percent top round beef, melted cheddar, bacon, caramelized onions, pickles and Thousand Island dressing, the juicy patty on housemade brioche comes with chunky medallion fries or a side salad. And take our word for it: Skip the salad and order the piping-hot paprika- and sea-salt-infused fries.
It’s no secret that Alana’s Food & Wine likes to surprise its guests with creative takes on fresh Ohio ingredients, such as the locally raised goat shank. This restaurant, a small gourmet space with an impressive wine list located on High Street north of Ohio State University, has several “surprises” listed on the menu each night. Only for adventurous diners and those without food allergies, these gifts from the kitchen have ranged from a 14-ounce, bone-in pork chop to grilled asparagus with crab and lobster hollandaise. There’s only one rule — you can’t ask what it is. But don’t expect the plated presents you get to be the same ones someone else at another table receives. Chef Alana Shock crafts each selection with ingredients too rare to offer to the entire restaurant, and what ends up on the plate, ultimately, is up to her.
The “What happens in Vegas…” tagline is usually reserved for Hangover-level hijinks, but if Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star ARIA Resort & Casino keeps up its tight-lipped ways, the sentiment will start applying to dining out, too. Lemongrass, the hotel’s well-received Asian restaurant, has a special dish that has largely stayed under the epicurean radar. For regulars who tire of fish cakes and green curry chicken, try the unadvertised Bangkok shrimp. The spicy selection is made with tiger shrimp, chili paste, onions, garlic, fish sauce, basil, Thai chilies, chili jam and bell peppers.
And keeping with the need-to-know theme surrounding ARIA’s kitchens, Chinese eatery Blossom has an entrée that’s entirely too hot for the menu — and we mean that literally. Water cook beef (fish and tofu versions are offered as well) is a fiery little number consisting of Chinese cabbage, chilies and spicy oil. Because of the intensity level, only brave guests who can handle the heat even know of its existence.