Your 2008 National Restaurant Association Trade Show Roundup

Well, folks, today’s the last day of the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel trade show in Chicago. Seems like it was a lot more fun to attend than to read about, but Let’s look at some highlights anyway:

• John McCain (remember him?) gave a speech that MenuPages Chicago Editor Adam Peltz found just a little politiciany and unspecific.

• “Bite-sized desserts” were rated the no. 1 hot item by a 2007 NRA survey, so vendors clamored over one another to offer what the Onion AV Club described as “food… designed for Homer Simpson:”

• Eli’s offered full slices of cheesecake dipped in a chocolate shell.

• Junior’s Cheesecake topped that in the innovation department with a cake/cheesecake hybrid: a center layer of cheesecake sandwiched between layers of regular, flour-based cakes, all of it encased in frosting.

• Too many varieties of bacon to name or eat without needing one of McCormick Place’s wall-mounted Automated External Difibrillators.

• ConAgra Foods—owners of everything from Pam spray to Manwich to Van Camp’s and more—offered Biscuit & Gravy Sticks, these fried rectangular bars filled with a biscuit-like substance and sausage gravy, which practically guaranteed a 500-point increase in cholesterol. Also available: a similar bar with baked potatoes and fixins inside. All of this was served under a banner for ConAgra sub-brand Gilroy Foods, which proclaimed “health & wellness.”

• ConAgra also offered the Macatini: macaroni and cheese topped with beef brisket soaked in Manwich sauce. Because why the hell not, America? Why the hell not?

Chicagoist explored a bunch of gimmicks on display, including the BevWizard, which softens tannins in wine, Bacon Salt, which makes things taste like bacon (duh), and Alcohol Killer energy drinks, which claim to actually sober you up. [An aside: would you want to eat at a restaurant, other than as a novelty, that had any of these things available?]

• And, jumping on a bandwagon that we definitely support, the NRA announced a program called Conserve, which it says will encourage members to be more eco-friendly. At least one news item about the show indicated that environmentalism is a trend into which the industry is sinking big bucks, so that’s good, we think.

[Photo: What’s a restaurateurs’ convention without an ice sculpture? National Restaurant Association]

Your 2008 National Restaurant Association Trade Show Roundup