Auntie Anne's, Hardee's and Cinnabon stir up some menu fun

Taste Tracker: Blaze Pizza adds meatballs; Mendocino Farms and Carvel dig plants; brisket is back at Taco Cabana; and Tropical Smoothie Café brings a taste of the tropics.
Photos courtesy of the brands

Menu activity quieted down a bit this week, after the rush of post-New Year launches. Several chains are tying into seasonal events, like Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, while others are adding new ingredients to the mix and introducing line extensions.

Customers not in the mood for pizza can now opt for a bowl of three Fast Fire’d Meatballs for $6.99 at Blaze Pizza. The meatballs are topped with the fast casual’s house-made red sauce, a dollop of ricotta and banana peppers. Taco Cabana is also beefing up the menu with the return of brisket. The mesquite-smoked meat is available in Brisket Street Tacos with Cilantro and Onions, a regular Brisket Taco and a Brisket & Egg Breakfast Taco for a limited time.

Burgerville goes meaty too, bringing back its Big Sassy Cheeseburger. The slightly spicy burger is topped with locally produced peppers, bacon, local aged white cheddar, garlic aioli, lettuce and red onions. Also on hand on the winter menu are Truffle Parmesan Waffley Fries, Peach Ginger Sweet Tea, Strawberry Jam Shake, Winter Farm Salad and Donut Poppers.

Pro football playoffs are here and the Super Bowl is coming soon. Auntie Anne’s is ready to feed fans with snack-size Pepperoni Nuggets; pretzel dough baked with a three-cheese blend and topped with pepperoni. Meanwhile, Hardee’s is jumping ahead to Valentine’s Day with the return of its heart-shaped biscuits. The chain bakes buttermilk biscuits in the shape of a heart to use as carriers for all its breakfast sandwiches. This year, they’re available from Feb. 1-14—a longer time period than ever before.

Churros are the jam at Cinnabon, where the Churro Chillatta made its debut. The item combines the brand’s signature creamy blended beverage with the cinnamon flavor of churros, and each treat comes garnished with a churro pastry and whipped cream.

Plants are also getting some play on menus. Carvel teamed up with Oatly for its first line of nondairy frozen desserts. On offer at all locations is Oatly Strawberry Soft Serve, with flavors including chocolate, mint and cold brew available at select stores. There’s also Oatly Cookies & Cream and Chocolate Peanut Butter in scooped versions, as well as Oatly Frozen Dessert Cakes.

Mendocino Farms is digging mushrooms for its latest vegetarian-friendly menu items. The fast casual tapped Fable for its mushroom-based meat alternative to create the Philly Shroomsteak Sandwich and Farmer’s Market Pesto Salad. The sandwich is layered with the company’s shiitake “steak,” roasted red peppers and sweet onions, hot or mild giardiniera, plant-based American cheese and green peppercorn aioli on a toasted sesame roll, while the salad combines chopped romaine and mixed greens, mozzarella, marinated peppers, kumato tomatoes, carrots, red onions and honey-roasted almonds with basil pesto vinaigrette. A couple of sides and soups also join the menu: Thai Sweet Potato Soup, Turkey Sausage & Kale Soup, Spicy Dijon Potato Salad and Chopped Italian Chickpea Salad.

And Tropical Smoothie Café sends beachy vibes with four new Tropic Bowls. The lineup includes an Acai Bowl with berries, banana, coconut, chia seeds, granola and honey; Chia Oatmeal Pudding with red quinoa, coconut milk, chia seeds and oats topped with Greek yogurt and fruit; Green Dream Yogurt, a blend of Greek yogurt with avocado, lime, honey, spinach and kale, topped with fruit, granola, coconut, chia seeds and honey; and Mixed Berry Yogurt topped with strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, almonds, granola and honey. “Saturday Night Live” star Chloe Fineman is promoting the Tropic Bowls in a new ad campaign.

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