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Hard Rock Cafe Baltimore debuts local dishes in 'test kitchen' program

Diners at Baltimore’s Hard Rock Cafe can now order crab cakes as part of a new program in which some of the chain’s restaurants are adding local flavors to their menus.

The Inner Harbor restaurant was among 12 Hard Rock Cafe locations selected for the company’s “test kitchen” program. New items at the Baltimore restaurant became available Tuesday.

Local offerings at the Hard Rock Cafe Baltimore include a crab cake sandwich, crab cake entree, crab dip “Local Legendary Burger” and a fresh catch of the day. On its drink menu, the restaurant also added a black-eyed Susan cocktail made with Sagamore rye whiskey.

John Galloway, Hard Rock International’s chief marketing officer, said the company began looking for potential test kitchen sites in January, searching for restaurants located in areas with strong “culinary energy,” an aptitude for local sourcing, and strong chefs and general managers.

Baltimore was among the locations selected from the chain’s 176 restaurants. Other Hard Rock test kitchens are in Chicago, Denver and Pittsburgh.

Culinary teams at Hard Rock’s Orlando headquarters collaborated with chefs in individual markets to develop the new menu items. While the test kitchen items could ultimately end up on Hard Rock’s universal menu, the primary goal was adding local flavor to Hard Rock’s standard offerings in certain markets.

“The bigger idea is to allow a guest who is visiting Baltimore to have their choice of local cuisine or the global Hard Rock cuisine that they may expect,” Galloway said. “It’s about serving the needs of locals as well as the tourists.”

The test kitchen restaurants spent about three months developing local dishes, and Galloway said he expects the local menu items to evolve over time.

Now that the items are available to the public, his team is taking feedback from customers. Galloway was in Baltimore Tuesday for the launch of the new menu and to hear what diners thought of the new options. When it came to the crab cakes, customers told him not to mess with traditional preparations.

”We stuck to a script,” he said. “There’s not a lot of Hard Rock twist on that.”

smeehan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sarahvmeehan

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