Summer’s heat and humidity continue to linger in parts of the country, and many consumers are still in vacation mode, but restaurant kitchens are already prepping for fall. The move seems to come earlier every year. Consider Starbucks and its iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte: The mega-chain started building PSL buzz on Facebook at the beginning of August, and the drink made its official debut storewide on Aug. 28—its earliest release date ever.
Lucky for those customers who have barely brushed the beach sand from their feet, other operators are taking advantage of late summer days to menu more seasonally appropriate transition items. Here are seven new launches that stretch summer flavors, ingredients and memories into September and get customers thinking about fall.
1. Fresh greens wrap up the season
August’s Fresh Pick of the Month at salad chain Salata is the Dress to Impesto wrap created by one of its employees, Myranda Peterson. The item features a cucumber tortilla filled with chicken tossed with basil pesto sauce, spinach, chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and feta and Parmesan cheeses. Peterson dresses the salad mixture with two vinaigrettes—lemon and fresh herb. “Mixing the two dressings is a great balance of the bold taste of sun-dried tomatoes and pesto with the smooth flavors of mushrooms, chickpeas and feta cheese,” she says.
2. Beach eats come to a burger chain
Lobster rolls are a summer staple in beachside towns along the East Coast, the inspiration for New Jersey-based Zinburger’s three lobster specials. The burger concept is menuing a lobster roll, lobster salad and a lobster-topped burger through the end of September. To keep the items authentic, live Maine lobsters are cooked by Zinburger’s seafood supplier, and the meat is delivered fresh each day, says Corporate Executive Chef David Maini. “We wanted to offer something that was seasonal, high end and a good value,” Maini says. He reports that Zinburger was willing to absorb the higher food cost of fresh lobster for two months to offer something different to its regular customers. The lobster items sell for $16-$17.
3. Summer smoke wafts through the menu
Arby’s continues to capitalize on the allure of smoked flavors, debuting two items featuring slow-smoked beef short rib. The Smokehouse Beef Short Rib Sandwich layers the smoked meat with melted cheddar, crispy onions and barbecue sauce on Texas toast, while the beef is piled on top of potatoes as part of Smokehouse Beef Short Rib Loaded Curly Fries. A third late-summer LTO, Smoke Mountain, is a towering sandwich composed of the smoked short rib, 13-hour smoked brisket and pit-smoked ham.
4. Tapping into regional BBQ
Housemade white barbecue sauce—a regional specialty of Alabama—is differentiating the menu at Newk’s Eatery during the waning summer days. Newk’s founder, Chris Newcomb, grew up on the tangy white sauce and created Newk’s Q sauce from his personal recipe. It’s gracing four dishes for a limited time: The Boss “Q” Sandwich made with flame-grilled pulled chicken, the Dozen Shrimp “Q” Sandwich, the Pulled Pork “Q” Sandwich and the Pulled Chicken “Q” Salad. Newk’s also is pickling watermelon rinds in-house and offering them for free along with other garnishes at its condiment counter.
5. Catching the patio vibe
The Baja Life menu additions at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop are inspired by the sunny beaches, fresh seafood and outdoor patios of that Mexican region. LTOs running through September include the Mango Mahi Taco (grilled mahi mahi topped with mango salsa and citrus habanero sauce) and a Baja Shrimp Bowl (grilled shrimp, roasted corn, black beans and cilantro-lime rice with avocado, tomatoes and red onion). Drinks such as the Trop Everything Rita (a margarita with a shot of tropical syrup) and the Sunshine Mule carry out the vacation theme.
6. Falling for biscuits
Cracker Barrel is getting a jump-start on fall with three new biscuit-centric items. On the savory side is Parmesan Crusted Biscuit Pot Pie, a twist on the comfort-food favorite featuring an oversized biscuit baked with a crispy Parmesan crust. It sits atop a creamy mix of chicken, peas, carrots, celery and onions. For biscuit fans with a sweet tooth, there are Buttermilk Biscuit Beignets served with a butter pecan sauce dip and Biscuit French Toast with blackberry topping. The fall items are part of Cracker Barrel’s “Tried and True Made New” culinary initiative.
7. Catering to the back-to-school crowd
Families in the thick of the back-to-school rush can take advantage of meal solution options from Chick-fil-A. Two healthier new items are available through the chain’s catering menu and online ordering platform—the Grilled Chicken Bundle and a Spicy Chilled Grilled Chicken Sub Sandwich. The former comes with 10 grilled chicken breasts, multigrain buns, honey-roasted barbecue sauce, lettuce, tomato, cheese and bacon, allowing families or groups to assemble their own sandwiches. The sub sandwich is layered with chicken marinated in a spicy seasoning mix to offer customers an option with a kick.