Whether it's called a “hidden menu” or a “secret menu,” the off-the-menu offerings at area restaurants have almost a cult following.
David Belliveau, the culinary director for World of Beer Franchising, headquartered in Tampa, said their secret “Duggan's Ultimate Tater Tots” spread by word of mouth.
He said the heaping pile of crispy tater tots covered with Irish Cream Ale Beer cheese, brown sugar bacon bits, sliced jalapenos, sour cream and scallions was created by Duggan Jacobs, a line cook at its location in Brandon.
“This came about when he overheard one of our loyalty members talking about craving cheese fries,” Belliveau said. “Duggan went back to the kitchen and came out with this. The loyalty member was blown away and so 'Duggan's Ultimate Tater Tots' were born. By the end of that night, we sold over 20 orders.”
Belliveau said the secret menu item is available only at World of Beer in Brandon.
While some restaurants are more covert about the culinary concoctions they are willing to whip up, Panera Bread marketed its hidden menu to let everyone know.
Mandy Burns, the marketing and public relations manager for Panera Bread, said the hidden menu was developed by Scott Davis, the company's chief concept officer.
She said that in January of this year, Panera Bread bakery-cafes nationwide began offering the new lineup of “power foods” with lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and veggies as part of its hidden menu.
“The items are not listed on our menu boards, but MyPanera members and fans/followers on Panera's social media channels were the first to get the inside scoop,” she said. “These Power Bowls are an effort to provide customers a variety of dietary options outside of Panera's current menu.”
Crawford Ker, the owner of Ker's WingHouse of Tampa, 8001 W. Hillsborough Ave., said they often have customers create their own flavor combinations using a mixture of different hot sauces.
“Mixing our sauces like the Dallas and hot sauce or the garlic and medium sauce is a secret,” Ker said. “We've never promoted it really, but it's a hit every time someone finds out they can order this and the flavor combinations are so good.”
Some of the most popular concoctions include the Dallas hot, blackened hot or garlic medium, he said.
“They find this out usually from the server or if a person at their table orders it this way,” Ker said.
Brett Gardiner, the executive chef at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel's restaurant Pelagia Trattoria, said this summer they had a special request from an athlete that has become a favorite secret menu item.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy stepped up to the open kitchen to request chefs create a different version of the Saffron Tagliatelle pasta by adding cayenne and crushed red peppers as well as blackened chicken and shrimp with Cajun spices.
“When someone gives us the chance to take a signature dish in a new direction, we do our best to make it every bit as delicious as the original,” Gardiner said.
He said the dish proved so popular during training camp and the season that other team members are now joining McCoy and ordering the “The Real McCoy” whenever they dine at Pelagia.