Fall continues to be a season for menu introductions, with many restaurants debuting new dishes at an accelerated pace. It’s no surprise that pumpkin, maple and apple flavors permeate, but innovative operators are moving beyond these seasonal standbys to tempt customers. The menus that follow highlight inspired combinations of vegetables, flavor-packed soups, hearty bowls and more.
1. Protein and coffee get pumped up
Better-for-you choices are the mission at 19-unit Protein Bar & Kitchen, and the launch of two new food items and two coffees underscores that direction. The dishes—developed by the chain’s chef, Venecia Willis—all contain at least 15 grams of protein, and many are geared to vegetarians, vegans and followers of on-trend diets. The chain’s new Winter Bowl30, composed of a roasted mushroom ragout, white-meat chicken, hard-cooked eggs, kale, almonds and sesame seeds tossed with lemon vinaigrette, conforms to the popular Whole30 diet, which bans sugar, grains and beans.
To attract the morning crowd, Willis created an apple cinnamon oatmeal that incorporates protein-rich walnuts. And to elevate the brand’s coffee selection, she now sources beans from a local Chicago roaster and is adding Salted Caramel Latte and Golden Milk to the beverage roster. No barista is on-site, but the coffees are easy to execute and boast health benefits, with anti-inflammatory turmeric, ghee and almond milk in the mix.
2. Veggies grow at two Asian chains
Panda Express and Pei Wei are competing to promote the quality, freshness and innovation of their respective menus. The latest battle is around vegetables, with both chains focusing on plants this fall.
Panda’s newest side is Super Greens—a mixed vegetable dish that includes broccoli, kale and cabbage stir-fried with garlic. The item is part of the chain’s WokSmart menu and is called out as being “made with super food.” Meanwhile, rival Pei Wei is growing the veggie side of its menu with a test of zucchini noodles and cauliflower rice. Both are made in-house and offer carb-conscious consumers a plant-centric alternative to traditional noodles and rice.
3. Steaks and seafood in sync with the season
New seasonal entrees are the focus at The Palm, and while the fine-dining chain is all about steak and seafood, it is also paying some attention to produce. Roasted veggies with a caramelized finish are featured in a Roasted Beet and Baby Arugula Salad as well as Roasted Cauliflower with capers and pecorino Romano; both of which go for $14. The fall steak special is a bone-in ribeye with creamy polenta, sage brown butter and pomegranate gastrique, while fish is the star in Chilean Sea Bass Brodetto served with shellfish in a tomato-saffron broth.
4. Autumn comes to the salad bowl
At fast casual Lemonade, fall ingredients and global flavors lend inspiration to a new salad lineup. There’s a New Mexican Chili Roasted Butternut Squash with corn, lime corn nuts and scallion ranch dressing; Honey Roasted Carrots with rosemary and pistachio vinaigrette; Israeli Couscous with roasted mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and lemon truffle vinaigrette; and Red Quinoa & Fuji Apples with arugula, sunflower seeds and white miso vinaigrette. The 28-unit California-based chain is also revving up its cold-pressed lemonade lineup with two new varieties: lavender elderflower, and activated charcoal and maple.
5. A twist on tradition
Rather than steering away from pumpkin and maple entirely, Pinstripes, a Chicago-area chain, is taking these flavors in a more subtle direction. The menu’s Fall Farmer’s Market Salad features spinach and arugula tossed in a maple-pecan vinaigrette with roasted butternut squash, goat cheese, pomegranate seeds, avocado and spiced pecans, while its Burrata Salad is made with roasted acorn squash, arugula, burrata cheese and a garnish of pesto oil, salted pumpkin seeds and balsamic. Another addition is Pinstripes’ new Wednesday Soup, a tomato soup flavored with fennel and enriched with three cheeses: cream cheese, mascarpone and shredded mozzarella.
6. Retro meets plant forward
Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar is putting both a plant-forward and nostalgic spin on its fall menu. Spaghetti Squash & Beetballs give vegetarians a chance to enjoy this all-time favorite, with “meatballs” made from beets, and noodles composed of squash ribbons tossed with olive oil, garlic and marinara. Also following this veg-centric path are Roasted Winter Veggies (Brussels sprouts, carrots, sweet potatoes and red onions topped with burrata, candied pumpkin seeds, pomegranate and thyme) and Butternut Squash Soup with coconut cream and those same pumpkin seeds.
However, Lazy Dog is not abandoning its meat fans. Marinated and grilled Bone-in Apple-Sage Pork Chops and a grilled and oven-roasted Cornish game hen with carrots, feta, sausage and sweet corn stuffing celebrate seasonal tastes, too. At the bar, the Meyer Lemon Margarita, Maple Bacon Old Fashioned and Pomegranate Punch add to the celebration.
7. Pizza gets into the seasonal spirit
MOD Pizza is highlighting pumpkin on its new Kevin Pizza, which features pumpkin puree topped with arugula, mozzarella, Canadian bacon and sweet hot peppers. After the pie is baked, it gets a drizzle of balsamic fig glaze. Also in the lineup is MOD’s Roasted Sweet Potato Salad, a combo of house-roasted sweet potatoes, fresh spinach, Canadian bacon, peppers and gorgonzola, tossed in Italian dressing. Two sweets complete the menu launch—a Salted Caramel Milkshake and a pumpkin spice cake with frosted cream center, covered in a white chocolate glaze.
8. Beer and brisket star
The Flavors of Fall menu at Mimi’s Cafe puts beer and brisket in the spotlight. Sam Adams beer is the base for a sauce that flavors the Brisket Ciabatta Sandwich, which also gets a blanket of melted Monterey Jack cheese and a topping of red onions. Brisket is incorporated into the Loaded Brisket Mac & Cheese, too—a combo of penne pasta, bacon and melted cheddar cheese topped with a panko Parmesan crust. And beer shows up in a glaze that coats a bone-in pork chop. Two seasonal beverages are on tap as well—Salted Caramel Mimosa and Cinnamon Apple Sangria.