Bowls take the spotlight at KFC, Ruby Slipper, Honeygrow and Freebirds

Taste Tracker: The Melting Pot celebrates Oktoberfest; Auntie Anne’s sweetens pretzel nuggets; IHOP goes all in on waffles; and Zaxby’s does a chicken Philly.
Photographs courtesy of the brands

The bowl has turned into a favorite format to serve everything from grain-based salads, acai and fruit, noodles and global entrees, to breakfast, shareables and desserts.

KFC extended its line of bowls with a new Smash’d Potato Bowl, now in test in Pittsburgh. It’s a combo of fries and mashed potatoes topped with cheese sauce, bacon and a shredded cheese blend.

Honeygrow, a concept that’s always been bowl-focused, introduced a Miso Garlic Chicken Stir-Fry prepared with egg noodles, roast chicken, miso corn, caramelized onions, shaved Parmesan, chives and miso garlic sauce. The same sauce doubles as a dressing option for Honeygrow’s Create Your Own Salads.

And Freebirds curated a Claims to Fame Collection featuring six builds that are available as bowls or burritos. The online-only lineup includes The Big Steak, Spicy BBQ Chicken, Sizzlin’ Fajita Chicken, Lone Star Pork, The 1990’s Tribute (paying homage to nostalgia with steak, pinto beans, roasted garlic, cheese, guac and Death Sauce) and The Farmhouse-Friendly Filler, a plant-based option.

The popularity of breakfast in a bowl has soared, but New Orleans-inspired breakfast-lunch chain Ruby Slipper takes it a step further this fall. Pumpkin Marshmallow Beignets come in a shallow bowl with pumpkin cheesecake filling, praline sauce and marshmallow crème topped with candied pecans. There’s also Pumpkin Marshmallow Stuffed French Toast, Apple Pie Pancakes and Creole Cochon Tacos, a savory alternative.

It makes sense that a concept with “bowls” in its name would be big on bowls. Chia Seed Pudding launched at Vitality Bowls this month, inspired by a viral TikTok recipe and served in a to-go bowl. The pudding is a blend of almond milk, chia seeds and honey and can be topped with fresh fruit, granola and other garnishes. Guests can also order it up in the Chia Meets Acai Bowl.

Football-themed specials are freshening the menu at Chevy’s Fresh Mex. Pro linebacker Fred Warner worked with the Chevy’s team on an appetizer roundup, which includes Tailgate Spinach Queso garnished with guac or refried bean dip, Touchdown Tots topped with chile con queso and Potato Cheese Ball Bites. Guests can move on to Fred’s Secret Sauce Burger or Green Enchiladas for a main.  

Over at full-service Melting Pot, it’s time to celebrate Oktoberfest. The three-course Oktober FondueFest includes Bavarian Beer Cheese Fondue with assorted dippers, such as grilled bratwurst, braised short rib and pretzels. For dessert, there’s a Black Forest Chocolate Fondue and to drink, seasonal beer and spritzes.

Fans looking for lighter fare can grab Auntie Anne’s Confetti Pretzel Nuggets, the first new nugget to hit the menu in two years. They are baked with a sweet cookie crumble and rainbow sprinkles, then dusted with sugar crystals. Sweet treats are in the minority at Auntie Anne’s; 80% of the pretzel menu is savory.

Chester’s Chicken is also playing up mini sizes. Its latest promotion, “Battle of the Bites” pits its new Sweet Chili Chicken Bites against longer-running Honey Stung Chicken Bites. The sweet chili variation is tossed in Franks’ RedHot Sweet Chili Sauce for that trending sweet-heat flavor profile.

Chicken specialist Zaxby’s is taking a departure into cheesesteak territory with its latest LTO—the Fried Chicken Philly. The sandwich layers boneless grilled or fried chicken, garlic aioli, melted American cheese and grilled onions and peppers on a toasted hoagie roll.

IHOP is also taking a departure of sorts with its fall menu launch. Waffles are the seasonal star instead of pancakes, with both sweet and savory versions. The lineup features Belgian waffles with toppings like Strawberry Cheesecake and Oreo Cookie Crumble, along with Chicken & Waffles and Nashville Hot Chicken & Waffles. Non-waffle entrees include Pot Roast, Country Fried Steak and a Nashville Hot Melt. And there’s a Waffle Sundae for dessert.

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