Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New York City, the new fast-food capital

Once upon a time, New York City set the fine-dining fashions for the rest of the country, if not much of the world. But someone swapped its toque for a baseball cap and replaced the starched linen napkins with paper disposables. Much of the city’s restaurant innovation these days is coming in fast food.

The city has been a hotbed of quick-service innovation, giving rise to such on-the-fringe concepts as Otarian, a health-oriented, all-natural start-up from an Australian billionaire. It may be the first grab-and-go operation in the country to provide the carbon footprint of each item offered.

A start-up in the same vein, 4Food, will begin serving all-natural doughnut-shaped burgers in September from a midtown location. The proprietor, who lists Bill Niman of natural-pork-supplier Niman Ranch as an investor, said the hole in the middle of the burger ring will be filled with mushroom, reducing a sandwich’s caloric content. Hence the signature’s name: The W(hole)burger.

Servers will use iPads to take orders, and customers can place their selections from their home computers and pick up the food. Patrons will be encouraged to invent new variations and tweet the names to friends. If those pals order the item, the inventor can amass points for rewards.

But those are only two in a torrent of new quick-service places sprouting in the Big Apple. As previously reported here, the city is the U.S. port of entry for a new pasta place, Nooi, as well as a European upstart with some American ties, called Hello Pasta!

But not all the innovation is coming in the form of new concepts. Burger King announced yesterday that it’ll try a new product called the NY Pizza Burger at its newest Manhattan outlet, a riff called the Whopper Bar. It’s apparently a bunch of Whoppers served together in the shape of a pizza, which is cut into slices for sharing.

This is pretty heady stuff for a city who’s earlier contributions to fast-food were largely limited to soup concepts, thanks to the Soup Nazi episode on “Seinfeld,” and the Cosi flatbread sandwich chain.

Of course we largely did relay to the world such quick-service staples as pizza, bagels, hot dogs and Chinese food. But how can those compare to a doughnut-shaped burger?

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