At Barton G in Miami Beach, food is both entertainment and art, and over-the-top decadence is the name of the game. The restaurant spends nearly $160,000 on menu development each year in an effort to create very theatrical dishes. (It helps to know that their side business is designing high-energy events for blue chip brands like BMW, Microsoft, the NFL and the PGA.) Think colorful chopped salads that arrive by wheelbarrow, Wagyu steak tartare served by a Martian, a four – a foot-high upside-down ice cream cone for dessert – or a whole fried hen, served under an electric fence.
“We wanted to offer a fried chicken dish, so the chef came up with the concept of frying the chicken whole rather than in pieces,” Amin Noorzai, vice president of restaurant operations at Barton G, told InsideHook. “The whole chicken was a little big so we went with a Cornish hen. And then we experimented with how we could fry it all the way through so it was cooked through but still crispy on the outside. Once we nailed the dish, we needed to come up with a fun presentation, so we went with the electric fence.”
It feels like nothing is off limits when it comes to Barton G’s custom-designed ambitious decors and, as Noorzai notes, nothing really prepares you for their dining experience either.
“You can’t really explain to people what Barton G is,” he says. “You just have to go see it for yourself. It’s very difficult to put words to what we do.
We decided to ask anyway. Below, he tells us how, exactly, they’re spending that $160,000.
Research and design: $25,000
“Every year we offer new presentations. Some signature dishes like our lobster pop pies and popcorn shrimp will remain on the menu, but we do a big overhaul every year. As soon as we launch a new menu, we launch into the next one. It’s a fun process for us, because it always keeps our minds going, and we’re constantly thinking about the next coolest thing. It starts with me, our Corporate Executive Chef Rod Chikitov and our Corporate Pastry Chef Marta Kantorowicz. Sometimes we offer a dish first, for example, it would be really cool to serve a whole fried chicken. Or sometimes we come up with the presentation first and then we have to come up with an idea of the food that would fit. It’s pretty organic. There is no black and white. We have good chemistry and love exchanging ideas with each other. Our process involves a lot of tequila and a little weed to open our minds a bit.
“Once I started working for Barton, it really changed my thinking. I go to Home Goods, and it’s like going to Disneyland for me. Your mind just changes. You might see a candle holder, but I’m going to think about how I can serve food or drink in it. I can never walk into a store and look at things in the normal way. I get FaceTimes all hours of the day and night from my team, with ideas for new presentations.
Tastings: $6,000 to $10,000
“Once our prototypes are ready, we go into a meeting with Barton and show him the new presentation and the new dish, and he either gives us a thumbs up or a thumbs down. He approves everything before it enters the menu.
“Most of our heartaches are usually with Barton. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into something and as a team we believe this is our next big thing. And less than five minutes ahead of Barton, he hates it and wants to move on. After many years we have learned his likes and dislikes. He doesn’t like anything plastic. No plastic dummies. Ultimately, he wants everything to be as personalized as possible. We have to put our signature on it.
“Part of our challenge with building things is that we make a prototype, and that can take us three months. And if Barton loves it, when you turn around to go buy 50 Buddhas, all of a sudden they’re out. It is very difficult to find the exact size, height, width and weight. So we know we have to tweak it here and there to get it as close to the original prototype as possible. Supply chain issues are absolutely real for us – during COVID it got even worse.
“For example, our new vintage carnival cart has funnel cakes, three dips, and all your fried carnival favorites: fried Oreos, Reese’s Pieces, and Snickers. Everything is served on a red carnival cart with lighting and a tent. It was 100% made from scratch – buying screws, wood, glue and everything was done in house then painted.
“We have a small team, so the workforce includes two artists and a carpenter. That’s it. We are a small but effective team. Our carpenter is so creative, and he’s like the engineering department, figuring out how to build things with our vision. Like gutting that old-fashioned, vintage 1980s boombox for my new favorite cocktail, and sprucing it up with music and lighting. Customers love this drink because it’s a throwback and our artists painted custom Barton G graffiti.
“Shipping goes into packaging things to ship to Los Angeles since we’re building everything in Miami. [Ed. note: After the menu is developed at Barton G’s Miami Beach flagship, it’s deployed at their second location in L.A.] Some items are flimsy or have odd shapes, so you can’t just stack them. A large part of the expense is spent on packaging. We usually do ground shipping as it is much cheaper. Give or take, it could be 150-200 pieces every year. For example, the Buddhalicious is our best-selling cocktail, so LA will get 12 presentations of it.
“My biggest fear when we give presentations is that people see it as just a gimmick. We also put a lot of time and thought into the food.
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