Comfort foods have been popular for ages for good reason. But now, “Southern Comfort” trends are sweeping menus, and it’s easy to see why: Bold flavors such as barbecue pair perfectly with indulgent classics such as mac and cheese, and popular bowl meal formats lend themselves well to Southern-inspired ingredients. Additionally, since many of these trends incorporate items chefs already have on hand, it’s easy to add them to the menu. Here are four trends taking over Southern cuisine right now, why they should be on every menu, and how to do it.
- Bold sandwiches with exciting ingredients
Datassential’s 2022 Report Pro finds that sandwiches are the No. 1 dish on Southern menus, with 91.1% menu penetration. And with recent years bringing on the so-called “chicken sandwich wars,” there’s still big opportunity for operators. Starting with the basics, juicy chicken is a perfect springboard for innovation. For instance, options such as a Smoky ‘n Spicy Ranch Chicken Sandwich feature bold flavors such as zesty umeboshi (pickled plum), smoky, spicy ghost pepper and crisp, tender chicken served on a brioche roll served with a sweet and sour slaw and perfectly fit this trend. Other unique ingredients chefs can add to make sandwiches more Southern include toppings such as pimento cheese and fried green tomatoes, and other bold ingredients such as spicy peppers, pickled or fermented veggies and toppings that add texture, such as slaws or fried pickles. Chef Quy Hoang, co-owner of Blood Bros. BBQ in Bellaire, Texas, understands the need for bold flavors and mouth-watering textures, and relies on Hellmann’s® for doing so. “I use Hellmann’s® as a base to create my own sauces and transform everyday dishes into something magical--like my signature kimchi aioli—which adds bold flavor to any sandwich.”
- Rich and indulgent cheese
It seems almost unfair to call cheese a trend, but with 93.6% menu penetration it’s an undeniable staple on Southern menus. Paired with chicken—which has 98.2% menu penetration—it becomes a powerhouse that diners can’t resist. Whether used as a garnish, as part of a sauce, or even as an ingredient in breading for proteins or veggies, cheese can make a traditional dish all the more enjoyable. Need inspiration? Try Manchego Chicken Tenders for a cheesy update to this crowd-pleaser. Just make sure to bread chicken with Hellmann's® mayonnaise to keep it juicy and tender while adding a boost of flavor.
Cheese is another way to bring excitement to everyone’s favorite side – fries! Think of simple ways to boost sales with great profit margin menu items, like loaded fries. Try something different like this Loaded Cajun Poutine with Andouille Sausage. In this dish, Cajun-seasoned fries are topped with brown gravy, fresh cheese curds and zesty, bold andouille sausage for a Southern twist on the Canadian classic.
- Twists on mac and cheese
Speaking of cheese, mac and cheese isn’t going anywhere, either—but it’s prime time to give it a facelift. Datassential reports that mac and cheese is found on 63.4% of Southern cuisine menus, and pairing it with regional BBQ favorites is a natural match. Try a BBQ Beef Mac Bowl—classic mac and cheese topped with BBQ braised beef, crispy breadcrumbs and a brightly flavored avocado drizzle featuring Hellmann’s®. Other ways to make mac & cheese more interesting include using different, unexpected cheeses. At Chef Hoang’s restaurant, for instance, diners can indulge in Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese, a delicious reimagining of the classic dish.
- Bowl meals with Southern flair
Finally, bowl meals, often made with a base of grains or noodles, are the perfect addition to Southern cuisine menus. Incorporating the above trends, including bold-flavored chicken or regional BBQ and creamy cheese, make bowls the ultimate comfort meal—and they’re showing up more and more on menus. Datassential forecasts that bowls served during lunch and dinner dayparts will see 35% growth over the next four years, so now’s the time to jump on this trend. What’s more, Hellmann’s® makes it easy to create dressings, sauces and condiments for bowl meals and more.
Take it from Chef Shane Thomas, owner of Southern Kitchen in Richmond, Va., who says, “Almost everything in my restaurant is made with mayonnaise. It’s more of a staple than ketchup. I make my own ranch, chipotle aioli and hot sauce using a mayonnaise base.”
Southern cuisine trends are here to stay—and diners will be looking for them when they’re dining out, so restaurants should be ready. With Hellmann’s® in the kitchen, it’s easy to make Southern foods sing.
Hungry for more? Be sure to check out more recipe inspiration from Hellmann’s® here.
This post is sponsored by Unilever Food Solutions