on the tube

March 3rd, 2011 |
By Dean Robbins


'America's Next Great Restaurant' is a tasty treat


"America's Next Great Restaurant" (Sunday, 7 p.m., NBC) is a brilliant concept for a reality series, and it's also brilliantly executed. It searches for entrepreneurs who have a viable scheme for a "fast-casual" restaurant — in other words, the next Chipotle — and takes them through the steps for making their dream a reality. Guiding them through this process are four articulate judges with experience in the field, including Chipotle founder Steve Ells and chef Bobby Flay. In a clever twist, the judges are also the investors who will back the winning restaurant, set to open in May.

That's right — "America's Next Great Restaurant" is not only a TV program, but part of the marketing plan for the new business. Who says U.S. capitalists are running out of ideas?

As in "Project Runway," "Top Chef" and other reality series featuring talented professionals, it's enlightening to hear the judges' expert critiques. In the premiere, however, much of the entertainment value comes from the contestants who don't make the cut, à la "American Idol." We hear from would-be restaurateurs who want to serve "lactation smoothies," combine a gun shop and a café and create a male version of Hooters called Peckers.

Even some of the contestants who make the cut are questionable. Would you patronize a meatball joint called Saucy Balls? Can't wait to see the graphic-design concept for that one. CV