Although beef prices have moderated somewhat in the second half of 2016, meat-centric restaurants still are hedging their bets by developing more cost-effective meat dishes. And many of these items are landing on the appetizer list.
Steak trim, beef scraps and odds and ends of lamb, pork and other red meats can take on new identities and generate additional profits when repurposed into starters.
Cross-utilizing meat in appetizers helps keep product flowing at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que—essential in a pit-to-plate restaurant where meat is continuously coming off the smoker, says Leland Avellino, corporate executive chef and pit master. To use every bit of the 50 to 100 briskets smoked daily at each restaurant, Avellino developed a taco-quesadilla hybrid that uses the chopped scraps left over after the meat is sliced for entrees and sandwiches. Born out of a quick lunch the chef fixed for himself, the Brisket Taco combines one and a half ounces of chopped brisket, cheddar, avocado-tomato salsa and chipotle crema folded into a tortilla; food costs average 85 cents per serving. The starter goes for $3.95 to $4.95 and has become one of Dinosaur’s top sellers.
Another win is the restaurant’s Dino Poutine. “When an order comes in, we take three ounces of pork shreds off the line, where it’s being hand-pulled for sandwiches and other items,” says Avellino. The shareable appetizer sells for $7.95 to $9.95; food costs average $2.91.
Black Angus Steakhouse sources whole beef loins that staff hand-cut into steaks at each of the 46 locations. “That results in a lot of trim and off-weight pieces,” says David Bolosan, director of product innovation for the casual-dining chain. “I wanted to create a menu item that would use up all the trim.” A starter of Steak Chili Nachos accomplished that and boosted appetizer station efficiency, he says.
The most-ordered appetizer at Black Angus is the sampler, which includes potato skins, crispy zucchini and buffalo tenders—all of which are fried. “So, I needed to swap in an item that wasn’t dependent on the fryer,” says Bolosan. The kitchen builds the nachos, melts the cheese in the oven and tops them in one-fourth the time it takes to put a sampler together, Bolosan says. Plus, they also use ground chuck, improving the nachos’ margins over those of the sampler.
A point of differentiation at Burwell’s Stonefire Grill in Charleston, S.C., is its tabletop lava rock searing stones, an idea hatched by Ken Emery, the steakhouse’s developer and operator. The interactive On the Rocks starters, which guests cook on the 700-degree stones, have become sought-after signatures, says Emery.
On that menu, Rock Candy ($16.90)—made from the deckle, or rib-eye cap—is something Emery developed out of his love for the trimmed section of the rib-eye steak. It’s well marbled and renders fat as it grills, he says, so the beef makes its own sauce and stays juicy as it sizzles on the hot stone.
For Flight of Flavor ($15.90), guests grill the odd-shaped parts left after Burwell’s cuts its whole filets into steaks. “Everyone wants to try this level of beef, even if it’s only two ounces,” he says, and grilling it themselves adds to the experience.
Burwell’s sells nearly 7,000 On the Rocks appetizers a year, averaging 20 or more per night, says Emery. His food costs for beef range from 32% to 42%. “So the more parts we can sell, the more value we can offer guests on these appetizers, as well as our steaks,” he says.