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America's Next Great Restaurant Recap: Who's Craving Saucy Balls?

Only 35 days until "America's Next Great Restaurant" opens. That's right, by the end of the televised reality show, three branches of the new chain will actually be open for service. Crazy, right? Especially when you consider how far these contestants still have to go...

Last night's competition involved actually designing the restaurants. Contestants worked with an architect and graphic designer to create a "pod" -- a smaller version of an actual restaurant, which included a counter, tables and chairs, and a mock-up menu of five entrees and three side dishes. Contestants were expected to then serve at least two of the menu items to 300 food savvy guests involved in Dine LA.

The episode showed contestants overhauling entire concepts. Stephanie's Compleat, which had focused on pre-portioned calorie counted entrees, now became Harvest Sol. Not only did she come up with a new name, but also new food -- Harvest Sol offers fast, fresh Mediterranean food. Huh? Well, it looks like it worked because she made the cut. Similarly, we had gotten used to Soul Daddy Jamawn cooking up food everyone loves -- remember the gumbo from weeks ago? This time judges Bobby Flay and Steve Ells found the blackeyed peas and chicken underseasoned. And those were not half of the turnarounds.

Saucy Balls' mainstay was a focused idea of great tasting meatballs, but this time some of the judges weren't blown over. They didn't think what Joey was offering were balanced meals. Judge Curtis Stone, apparently playing the bad cop of the group this week, needled Joey by telling him that it wasn't the kind of food someone could head back to work to after eating. Stone said he would want to go to sleep after eating the food and be worried to speak because of garlicky breath. Garcia and Stone brought up the group of four women at the tasting who claimed they would never want to utter the words, "I'm craving some saucy balls."

Oh, the peculiar hilarity of reality shows.

What else? Sandy from Sinners & Saints advanced as did Greg & Krystal from the Grill 'Billies. The duo finally offered some good tasting Southern food and a concept that both they and the judges could understand. In particular, the judges liked the pickled vegetables salad because it offered a new and interesting flavor.

Sudhir of SpiceCoast -- quick Southern Indian food -- won the challenge by being most popular among the tasters. (Guess he was right when he said that the seasoned Dine LA eaters would respond better to his food than a collection of eaters off the street.) His Madras lamb with naan tasted good to the judges too, though Steve Ells suggested he try serving the Indian food in naan that was handheld, like a taco. When Curtis Stone came around, he vehemently disagreed. Sudhir seemed totally confused. On the one hand, from the beginning, he's said his concept was the Indian Chipotle and there was Curtis Stone telling him not to listen to the actual Chipotle founder's advice.

The three contestants to go to the judges' table were Joey from Saucy Balls, Eric from MeltWorks (grilled cheese concept), and Alex from Revolution Tacos. Judges were concerned that after customers had tried a few of Joey's meatballs, they wouldn't regularly come back and generate sustained business. In Eric they saw someone who came in with one concept, yet had made very few changes and hadn't progressed his concept. They also saw someone whose idea was grilled cheese and who had yet to really give them what they wanted - a great grilled cheese sandwich. In Alex, they saw again someone who didn't bring it with the food (though his grilled fish tacos and side of plantains were an improvement from past offerings). Bobby Flay seemed convinced Alex should run a cool L.A. bar, instead of a fast casual food business.

Ultimately, meticulous Eric advanced, despite misgivings about him not having enough cheese in his grilled cheese and Bobby Flay saying he was basically making paninis. (Ouch!) Alex of Revolution Tacos got sent home. Flay thought he didn't have enough passion for this particular competition and Steve "I'm allergic to plantains" Ells thought Alex's idea of incorporating many different cuisines into his tacos needed focus. Passion prevailed as Joey, who the judges referred to as having more passion than the other two combined, ended up safe.

For those who missed it, here are some Joey moments/morsels of wisdom: "Every ball that you're looking at is my heart, soul, and all my love". "The only shots you miss are the ones you don't take. Remember that." And -- my personal favorite, "I look at it as a martial arts tournament. There are punches, kicks coming from directions that I might not have expected. Today, I got beat up."

Any ideas on how Joey can improve his Saucy Balls concept?

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Roseanne Pereira
Contact: Roseanne Pereira

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