Spring took its time getting to some parts of the country this year, but despite the lingering chill, restaurants got a jump on the season with fresh new dishes. Seasonal veggies and fruits are topping pizzas, filling bowls and infusing beverages, and sandwiches and desserts are lightening up in step with the warmer weather. Here’s a roundup of items springing onto menus showcasing seasonal ingredients, innovative flavors and inspired cooking techniques.
1. Bare necessities
As the weather warms up and swimsuit season gets into full swing, consumers tend to look for healthier options. That was the impetus behind the new Naked Lunch offerings at David Burke Tavern in New York City. Namesake chef David Burke has slimmed down the menu, serving up simply prepared “naked” proteins such as salmon, steak and chicken sided by whole grains and vegetables. Combos include shrimp with farro, peas, pecorino, mint and pickled onions; steak with toasted coconut rice, cilantro and cashews; and chicken with a barley mix.
2. It’s the berries
Corner Bakery Cafe is picking berries as the focus for its spring menu. For the breakfast crowd, there’s Berries & Cream Pancakes topped with mixed berries, and for those seeking a less indulgent lunch choice, Berry Pecan Salad fits the bill. The latter features grilled chicken, strawberries, blueberries, blue cheese and candied pecans on mixed greens with a strawberry vinaigrette. Available all day is a berry infused coffee: White Chocolate Strawberry Cold Brew. On the vegetable side, Asparagus Pasta Primavera joins the lineup, a mix of cavatappi, asparagus, zucchini, squash, peas, artichoke hearts, baby kale and oven-roasted tomatoes.
3. Flowers bloom in the glass
“Floriculture” is the theme of the spring cocktail menu at Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. One of the featured drinks is the Dandelion, a variation on a gin-based white Negroni that plays up the yellow flower’s natural cleansing properties rather than its reputation as a weed. The drink’s bright green color comes from dandelion greens, which add an additional layer of bitterness when blended into white vermouth.
4. Promoting the plank
Red Lobster is differentiating the menu with a trio of seafood LTOs cooked and served on cedar planks. On offer are Cedar-Plank Lobster and Shrimp, Cedar-Plank Colossal Shrimp and Salmon and Cedar-Plank Surf and Turf. The technique infuses the ingredients with a smoky flavor, and the presentation builds buzz.
5. Playing up pairings
Flower- and herb-inspired cocktails are debuting at Bennigan’s, all designed to pair with items on the food menu. It’s all part of the chain’s Spring Fling promotion, inviting customers to “create a legendary meal experience” with pairings such as a Cucumber Lime Appletini with the menu’s Steakhouse Salad or the Farmhouse Lemonade with a club sandwich. Other cocktails on the roster include a Blackberry Martini made with vodka, fresh blackberries, mint and lime and a Strawberry Basil Breeze, a mix of vodka, pineapple, strawberry puree, fresh strawberries and basil.
6. Inspired by travels
A recent trip to Italy by Bertucci’s executive chef, Rosario Del Nero, inspired some of the new tastes and trends on the chain’s menu. Brick oven pizzas are a signature here, and the latest is a Fig & Prosciutto, incorporating gorgonzola, fig spread, fresh cream, grated pecorino cheese, prosciutto and parsley. Fig flavor also shows up in the Bruschetta & Burrata, made up of grilled bread, fresh mozzarella, marinated tomatoes and pesto, topped with fresh burrata and sweet balsamic fig glaze.
7. Dipping into nostalgia
Culver’s takes a look back at a favorite chip dip as the flavor platform for a springtime sandwich. The quick-service chain is sourcing spinach-artichoke dip, a classic party food, for its Spinach Artichoke BLT. The sandwich build includes a crispy or grilled chicken fillet spread with the dip, then topped with lettuce, tomato and bacon, and layered in a pretzel bun. The seasonal special will be available until June 16.
8. Chickpeas go green
In honor of National Hummus Day on May 13, Sajj Mediterranean is rolling out three items featuring green garbanzos, or chickpeas. These are harvested earlier than regular garbanzos, resulting in chickpeas with a vibrant color, nutty flavor and buttery texture. Green garbanzos are also thought to be a superfood, as they are high in fiber, antioxidants and plant protein. Sajj, which operates food trucks and brick-and-mortar stores, is menuing the ingredient in Green Garbanzo Hummus, Green Garbanzo Falafel Patties and Straight Up Garbanzos, which can be added as a cold topping to any bowl, salad, wrap or pita.
9. Tropical tastes
As consumers’ thoughts turn to beach vacations and poolside relaxation, cravings for tropical flavors increase. Tocaya Organica, a 13-location fast-casual Mexican concept, is satisfying those cravings with coconut-centric items. A new alcohol-free cocktail is the CocoPina, a blend of coconut ginger tea, pineapple, lime and sweetener. For dessert, there are Coconut Churro Bites—waffle-pressed churros tossed in coconut sugar and drizzled with coconut dulce de leche. And a plant-based Guiltless Burrito features cauliflower rice, black beans, tri-color peppers, jalapeno cabbage and vegan chipotle crema on a coconut and cassava flour tortilla.