The Northborough, Massachusetts-based Bertucci’s, founded in 1981, is currently celebrating its 30th birthday with a limited-time menu that revisits comfort food classics. “We polled our most passionate guests in an email survey and 22,000 responded,” says vice president/executive chef, Jeff Tenner. “They generated the idea of commemorating our birthday by bringing back some of our classics.”
Six menu stars—priced right
With the help of a focus group, Tenner gleaned a clearer definition of “comfort food classics” and zeroed in on six Bertucci favorites. “Our customers like the idea of families sharing food Sunday supper-style,” he reports. Brick Oven Cannelloni Bolognese ($9.81), Chicken Domani ($12.81) and Eggplant Napoleone ($7.81) were three that fit the bill, along with pizza, tre dolci cake and a dessert sampler.
To tweak or not to tweak
The Chicken Domani, on the menu in 1992, features sautéed chicken, fresh spinach and gemelli pasta in a white wine sauce; it’s finished with fresh sage and Asiago cheese. Tenner felt the dish was fresh and on-trend for 2011. But Eggplant Napoleone got a makeover.
“Originally, the item was a stacked presentation of roasted eggplant, tomatoes and mozzarella held together by a rosemary branch,” he explains. “Stacking was popular in 2001 when the dish first appeared, but I wanted it to be more shareable. I also wanted to make more use of our signature brick oven.” Tenner dismantled the stack, roasted plum tomatoes in the brick oven for an earthier flavor, layered the components and garnished it with
basil pesto, balsamic glaze and crushed croutons. “We had the croutons on hand for salad applications, and it seemed like a natural pairing, says the chef.
Presentation spurs sales
The handcrafted, rustic feel of the Eggplant Napoleone and other specials is winning over Bertucci fans. “It’s about approachability and mixing and matching items for the table,” Tenner notes. Bertucci’s is selling 50 Chicken Domani entrees daily in some of its 95 locations and the shareable, downsized desserts are increasing ordering frequency. Sales of all the LTO items are exceeding expectations.
Moving into 2012
Tenner, who joined Bertucci’s last summer, intends to make other menu changes in March and next fall.
On the docket: More shareable dishes, more salads and appetizers and more brick oven pizzas and pastas. “But I’m taking a mindful, strategic approach—guiding a cruise ship with gentle turns, rather than driving a speedboat,” he comments.