As we move deeper into fall, restaurants are highlighting deeper flavors and more seasonal ingredients on menus. Several new items play up bold global flavors this week, taking cues from cuisines including Spanish, Middle Eastern and Mexican. Plant-based meats and pumpkin are moving out of their comfort zones and into more unique applications. And chains are starting to gear up for the holidays.
October is National Seafood Month and casual-dining chain Bonefish Grill is celebrating with menu pairings. Fit for fall is Grilled Swordfish & Pumpkin Ravioli featuring wood-grilled swordfish topped with crispy onions, crumbled feta and a touch of butter. The ravioli, filled with a savory pumpkin puree, gets the same topping treatment. On the drinks side of the menu is a Fresh Apple Martini made with house-infused apple cinnamon vodka, ginger liqueur, honey and apple juice.
Also focusing on pumpkin is Metro Diner, where the orange autumn vegetable shows up in several breakfast items and desserts. Customers can choose from a Pumpkin Style Croissant for breakfast, or Pumpkin Waffles, French Toast or Pancakes drizzled with pumpkin cream cheese icing and topped with cinnamon butter and candied pecans. Warm Pumpkin Bread Pudding is on hand for dessert, drizzled with the same pumpkin-flavored cream cheese icing. The chain is also inviting guests to dine in costume on Halloween.
IHOP is celebrating fall while looking ahead to the winter holidays. On the menu now are Pumpkin Spice Pancakes and Cinn-a-Stack Pancakes—the latter layered with cinnamon roll filling and topped with cream cheese icing. Halloween-themed pancakes called Mr. Mummy are also on offer. These are made with a green pancake base adorned with cream cheese icing “bandages.” New to the holiday lineup are Milk ‘n’ Cookies Pancakes—two buttermilk pancakes filled with Oreo cookie pieces and topped with sweet milk mousse, vanilla sauce drizzle and more cookie pieces.
Juice It Up
For those with pumpkin fatigue, cinnamon is gaining ground as a fall flavor. Juice It Up! launched a new Horchata Smoothie—a blend of almond milk, nonfat yogurt, dates, banana, cinnamon and chia seeds. The chain is offering the limited-time smoothie through the end of the year, positioning it for winter holiday sales as well.
Just Salad is partnering up with tapas concept Boqueria to bring customers a Spanish-inspired salad. The new Catalan salad has a base of kale and red cabbage tossed with broccoli and cauliflower rice that’s topped with grilled chicken, roasted almonds, dried cranberries and Manchego cheese—the last a new ingredient for Just Salad’s kitchen. A maple cider vinaigrette ties the ingredients together. The salad is available until Oct. 23 and 10% of sales will be donated to RAICES, the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.
Mediterranean fast casual Daphne’s is focusing on bowls for fall, introducing two LTOs for customers seeking vegan and high-protein options. The Shawarma Bowl features chicken shawarma, seasoned basmati rice, black beans, roasted vegetables and a chili cream sauce. The Power Bowl is packed with seasoned garbanzo beans, spring mix greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, red cabbage, kalamata olives and tabbouleh, accompanied by Daphne’s signature hummus. Both bowls are served with warm pita and garlic sauce. Like other items on Daphne’s menu, the bowls are rooted in Mediterranean cuisine but accented with California culinary influences.
Impossible Chorizo Dip made its debut at Gott’s Roadside locations in Northern California. The new dip is a blend of creamy cheese sauce and seasoned plant-based sausage topped with tomatoes, onions, jalapeños and cilantro and served with house-made tortilla chips and fresh lime. Gott’s prides itself on sourcing local and the dip starts with sausage patties from Impossible Foods, a California company. In house, the product is blended with spices to impart a chorizo flavor.
Spice continues to heat up menus and Del Taco is riding the heat wave. The chain teamed up with Cholula hot sauce to launch six branded LTOs. Included in the lineup are a Cholula Crispy Chicken Taco, Epic Cholula Crispy Chicken Burrito and Cholula loaded Fries. Prices range from $1 for the taco to $5 for the burrito. Del Taco added crispy chicken as a permanent protein option in August.
Cholula is starring in limited-time menu items at another quick-service Mexican chain, too. Qdoba collaborated with the branded Mexican hot sauce for its new Cholula Hot & Sweet Chicken. The chicken, which is grilled and tossed with the hot sauce and honey, can be added to any entree or ordered in Qdoba’s new Cholula Hot & Sweet Chicken Bowl. The bowl is served with cilantro lime rice, black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream, and cotija cheese.
Bowls are also the platform of choice at Taco John’s. This Mexican QSR is testing Fit For You Bowls—a new lineup of lifestyle bowls geared to support guests’ health and wellness goals. Four choices are available: the Protein Bowl (grilled chicken or sirloin steak with sour cream, pico de gallo, lettuce, salsa, cheese black beans and rice); 350 Bowl (a combo of chicken or steak with roasted veggies, guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa, queso fresco and lettuce); a Vegan Bowl (roasted veggies, guac, pico de gallo, lettuce, salsa, black beans and rice) and the Vegetarian Bowl (same ingredients as the Vegan with the addition of queso fresco.)
While newness can lure diners, Panda Express is taking a fan favorite—Honey Sesame Chicken Breast—and placing it on the core menu. The chicken breast strips are prepared with string beans and yellow bell peppers, then wok-tossed in a sweet sesame sauce made with organic honey. After the dish returned as an LTO seven times, Panda Express is making it a permanent item.
McAlister’s Deli is also banking on comforting guest favorites with its latest LTOs. In anticipation of colder weather ahead, the fast casual is launching a Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwich on a pretzel roll and French Onion Soup with French bread crostini topped with Swiss and Parmesan cheeses. There’s more comfort on the dessert side—a Cinnabon Bakery Inspired Cheesecake with cinnamon-scented cheesecake and vanilla crunch cake topped with cream cheese frosting and caramel.
Southern comfort is on the menu at Krystal. For a limited time, the QSR is offering Country Fried Steak Krystal—a tender steak coated in a blend of spices, fried until golden brown and topped with Southern-style gravy. It’s served on a soft, warm bun but customers can also order it up for breakfast on a flaky biscuit.