Despite the fancifying of food of late, some chain operators are focusing efforts on down-home, affordable and operationally efficient meatloaf. While consumer demand for meatloaf is high—with 43% saying they would order it for dinner, according to Technomic’s Center of the Plate: Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report—we haven’t seen much attention given to meatloaf on menus in recent years until now.
So why is the staple such a strong motivator for operators today? Meatloaf’s a popular winter dish at restaurants because it’s hearty, protein-rich comfort food. This season, operators are featuring it as an LTO that stays within the bounds of their menu and concept positionings, so as not to overextend their offerings. Operators sticking to archetypal American favorites are unveiling meatloaf in its classic ground beef loaf format, while those with more eclectic positionings are using meatloaf to trial nontraditional formats and flavors with consumers, including new proteins and ethnic ingredients. Here’s how four chain restaurants are menuing meatloaf.
Bennigan’s dropped meatloaf in 2008 along with nine other entrees in an effort to simplify its menu. This winter, the casual-dining chain returned meatloaf in two versions on its Savor the Season menu: a classic meatloaf sandwich with Vidalia onions, marinara and melted provolone cheese on a toasted roll; and a homestyle meatloaf with Vidalia onions, served with maple-glazed baby carrots, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and Burgundy demi-glace. Both stay within the realm of modern pub food, the chain’s menu positioning.
2. Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque
The fast-casual chain took a barbecue twist with meatloaf in its new Smoked Meatloaf Burger, introduced for a limited time to all but one location in late October. Using meatloaf instead of a traditional burger patty was operationally strategic—according to owner and chef Hugh Mangum—because it can be smoked for an hour and a half in the same pit as the rest of the barbecued meat. The $10 burger features a patty of beef and pork with a mirepoix of garlic and herbs. It is served on a sesame seed bun with bread-and-butter pickled poblano peppers, lettuce and a special sauce, which contains mustard seeds, mayonnaise and the chain’s “Texalina-style” barbecue sauce.
3. Champps Kitchen + Bar
The traditional casual-dining chain, which describes its menu as a “contemporary take on American comfort food,” is offering meatloaf with both ethnic and healthy influences. The seasonal Harissa Turkey Meatloaf features turkey meatloaf seasoned with basil, Tunisian harissa, sun-dried tomatoes and onions, topped with rosemary-mushroom gravy and served with garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. It’s priced at $14.
4. Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar
Lazy Dog’s new meatloaf combines two American classics—barbecue and meatloaf—with a less-traditional element of bison to stay loyal to its menu of “eclectic American dishes,” according to the chain. The BBQ Bison Meatloaf features Wyoming bison seasoned with Worcestershire, herbs, barbecue sauce, garlic and onions; wrapped in bacon; and cooked and served with housemade redskin potato mash, sauteed spinach and crispy haystack onions, at a ticket of $16.95.