Operators are finding that nostalgia sells, as they bring down-home classics back to the menu—sometimes adding a modern twist. Comfort foods are always a draw in winter, but this season is seeing a run on retro dishes like these five, all appearing on several chain menus.
Meatloaf is the quintessential entree of the 1950s. The hearty, protein-rich comfort food classic is popping up in a number of forms at chain restaurants this winter. Some operators are sticking to the archetypal recipe by serving it as a plated loaf or sandwich with traditional sides or toppings. Others with a more eclectic menu or concept positioning are using meatloaf to trial nontraditional formats and flavors with consumers.
• Bennigan’s: Homestyle Meatloaf (classic meatloaf with Vidalia onions, served with maple-glazed baby carrots, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and Burgundy demi-glace)
• Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque: Smoked Meatloaf Burger (beef-pork blend with mirepoix of garlic and herbs, 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; $10)
2. Tater tots
Originally created in the 1950s, tater tots are a nostalgic, deep-fried, grated potato side offering making a comeback on Top 250 chain restaurant menus. Burger King returned its tots for the first time since 2009 due to high demand on social media. And other chains are taking a similar approach to trending loaded fries by topping tots with a plethora of proteins, cheeses, vegetables and sauces. While tater tots are a common side for eggs in family-style restaurants, Perkins puts a twist on the standard by stuffing its new omelet with tots.
• Burger King: Cheesy Tots (bite-sized rounds of diced potatoes and melted American cheese covered in breading; eight pieces for $1.99)
•Johnny Rockets: Philly Loaded Street Tots (tater tots topped with cheddar cheese, sliced and grilled sirloin steak, caramelized onions and green peppers)
• Perkins Restaurant & Bakery: Bacon Tater Omelet (a three-egg omelet filled with six bacon strips, tater tots, grilled onions and American cheese)
3. Pot roast
This winter warmer may have simmered away on many a mom or grandma’s stove, but the slow braising required to cook a pot roast doesn’t always fit with today’s busier lifestyles. So restaurants are taking up the slack, using different cuts of beef, global ingredients and various meal occasions to attract pot roast-craving customers. Polly’s Pies serves up a pot roast breakfast plate and sandwich, while Twin Peaks braises a rib-eye for its pot roast entree.
• Polly’s Pies Restaurants: Black Bart Pot Roast Sandwich (melted Swiss cheese, coleslaw and horseradish on grilled sourdough bread) and Pot Roast Potatoes and Eggs Breakfast Plate, both limited-time offers
• Twin Peaks: Mom’s Pot Roast (slow-cooked rib-eye with brown gravy, herb-roasted potatoes and carrots, and sauteed green beans)
• First Watch: Pot Roast Hash (breakfast entree consisting of slow-roasted beef roast in demi-glace sauce with roasted shallots and peppers over seasoned potatoes, topped with two cage-free eggs)
4. French dip
This “wet” roast beef sandwich originated in Los Angeles, where two eateries lay claim to its invention. Traditionally, thinly sliced roast beef is layered on the bottom of a French roll and the top of the roll is dipped into a jus made with roasting pan juices; a small cup of jus is served on the side for further dipping. Houston's has turned this version into a menu signature and best seller. Other iconic French dips are now trending on menus, but some chains are layering on more ingredients, turning the sandwich into more of a cheesesteak.
• McAlister’s Deli: French Dip (Black Angus roast beef with melted Swiss on a toasted baguette, served au jus)
• Houston’s: French Dip Au Jus (thinly sliced roasted prime rib piled on a housemade toasted French roll and served with a side of creamy horseradish sauce; $20)
• Quiznos: French Dip (a toasted sub roll filled with sliced prime rib, melted mozzarella, sauteed bell peppers and onions, mild peppercorn sauce and a side of jus)
5. Apple crisp
Nostalgia comes naturally to dessert menus, as evidenced by the resurgence of ice cream sundaes, shortcakes and bread puddings. This season, apple crisp seems to be the old-timey favorite. Operationally easier than a pie or cake to make from scratch, the dessert is often served warm and topped with ice cream.
• Ted’s Montana Grill: Apple Pecan Crisp (layers of sliced Granny Smith apple baked under a buttery cinnamon-sugar, oat and pecan topping and served hot from the oven; $10)
• Cheesecake Factory: Warm Apple Crisp (with nutty topping and vanilla ice cream)
• Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen: Apple Crisp a la Mode (sliced apples baked with cinnamon, covered with golden-crisp topping and drizzled with caramel sauce; $4.99)