Fall and winter often signal an influx of pumpkin- and cinnamon-inspired food options, but a variety of other ingredients are also showing up on this season’s holiday menus. FastCasual.com spoke with a variety of food experts and restaurant operators to find out three of the top-trending menu items.
Pork belly continues to trend as an ingredient, said Daniel Ernce, research and development assistant at FoodIQ.
"This humble cut of pork is being used for more than just bacon, and is being used in dishes from casual to fine dining," he said. "The ingredient is also appearing in varying forms, from crispy pork belly on fries or sandwiches at Pork Belly Grub Shack in Sacramento, to sliced belly in ramen or Asian-style steam buns at Momofuku in NYC, to crispy lardons on salads at Petit Trois in Los Angeles."
Giraffas Brazilian Grill is embracing pork in an innovative way by selling a cut called the "Picanha," which, traditionally, is a cut taken from a beef rump cover. Giraffas, however, takes the same cut from the rump of a pig.
"Up until now the Picanha has only been known in the U.S. as a beef item," said Giraffas President and CEO Rene Prats. "The Picanha has never been seen or tasted in pork in the U.S before," he said. "What we've discovered is exactly what we predicted. Customers love it."
Another chef implementing pork is Michael Symon, who is slated to open a new BBQ concept in Cleveland by the end of the year called Mabel’s BBQ. He’ll be serving a new brand of BBQ, which he calls "Cleveland-style BBQ," unique to the city and region, and pays homage to his upbringing in the area. The rough draft of his menu shows "pig parts," which include smoked tails, crispy ears and crackling, Ernce said.
2. Brussels sprouts
The mention of brussel sprouts on menus has grown over 100 percent from Q2 in 2014 to Q2 in 2015, and data revealed they are being served most commonly in restaurants serving traditional American cuisine, as well as Italian food, with the top three forms of preparation being roasted, fried and sautéed, Ernce said.
Dimitri Moshovitis, co-founder and executive chef at Cava Grill, has added brussels to his roasted veggie offerings in an effort to highlight more vegetables that are rich in nutrients and health benefits. Uchiko, a sushi restaurant inn Austin, serves them deep-fried and dressed with a Thai chile caramel sauce.
Thanks to French fries, potatoes have always been a stable on fast casual menus, but restaurants are starting to add some variety to their potato-based options.
"Entire concepts are now gaining momentum with variations on a loaded potato, whether baked, mashed, or fried," said Don Odiorne, V.P. of Foodservice, Idaho Potato Commission. "Breakfast hashes with reds, yellow and fingerlings are popular for brunch time, too. House-made tots or ethnic meat- and chees- filled croquettes and potato pancakes with interesting fold-ins of fresh herbs, vegetables such as roasted red peppers or corn or kale are trending, too."
Woody’s Bar-B-Q is one chain that is all about the potato this season. It recently introduced three baked potato LTOs, including the spicy spur, a baked potato topped with melted garlic butter, shredded cheddar jack cheese, sour cream, chopped Azar sausage and yellow mustard; the sweet & sloppy, a sweet potato with garlic butter, Woody’s sweet sauce, coleslaw and slow-smoked barbecue pork and the saddle spud, which has garlic butter, shredded cheddar jack cheese, slow-smoked chopped beef brisket, onion straws and Woody’s hot sauce.
Beyond the fact potatoes are a good source of B6, potassium, Vitamin C, niacin and healthy fiber, Woody's recipes all serve to combine protein with complex carbohydrates and dairy, said Tammy Cipriani, director of marketing, Woody's Bar-B-Q Franchise Systems.
"Fall is a time when people tend to look for heartier meals," she said. "Baked potatoes are a great comfort food with broad appeal, and when our one-pound stuffed potatoes are paired with other menu items like our meaty chili or Brunswick stew, it's a safe bet that no one will walk away from the table hungry."
Purple potatoes are also gaining momentum in grocery stores and on restaurant menus, Ernce added.
“Though the flavor is no different from any other potato, the curbside appeal of the purple potato has had it gaining popularity," he said. "Great for roasting, mashing, or boiling, there’s a good chance you’ll run across these striking spuds at a holiday meal this year."
Sweet potatoes are another popular option this season, and Pancheros Mexican Grill is using them in its autumn-inspired Harvest Sweet Potato Mash.
"Using sweet potatoes as an add-on is something that has yet to be explored by other Mexican restaurant chains," said Rodney Anderson, president of Pancheros. “We’re always looking for ways to spice up our menu and we thought this was the perfect time to add something new for our fans to enjoy in celebration of the changing season."
Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.www