The quick-service segment saw a lot of activity with menu launches and LTOs in the first months of 2021, but casual dining is picking up the pace. On the Border is upgrading some of its original dishes and drinks from the ‘80s with handcrafted techniques and bolder, premium ingredients. O’Charley’s is celebrating summer with new seasonal items and Red Robin and PT’s Tavern are all about National Hamburger Day on Friday.
Meanwhile, the chicken sandwich wars rage on, with two more chains joining the fray. And a couple of treats make their debut to sweeten up summer. Check out the top menu news of the week.
On the Border
Casual-dining player On the Border is taking guests back to the future with a revamp of some of its Tex-Mex signatures from the 1980s. The new recipes highlight upgraded ingredients, bolder flavors and chef-inspired techniques. Mesquite-Grilled Fajitas, for example, are made with a more tender cut of steak, and the Big Bordurrito and Bolder Border Bowl are handcrafted with fresh, more flavorful ingredients. The chain is also debuting fresh, hand-shaken margaritas in new varieties, including a Smoky Pineapple ’Rita and a Bolder Spicy Pineapple ’Rita.
To keep the innovation going, On the Border is hosting an internal chef competition, inviting culinary team members to cook up dishes with the winners making it to the menu as LTOs.
The seasonal “All Fired Up” menu at O’Charley’s showcases summer grilling season with six new entrees. Included in the lineup are a Bone-In Cowboy Ribeye and Cowboy Sirloin, both topped with onion tanglers; a Tumbleweed Burger with O’Charley’s original BBQ sauce; Smokey Mountain BBQ Chicken topped with ham, bacon, shredded cheese, green onions and diced tomatoes; a Philly Cheese Sausage Sandwich; and a Backyard BBQ Grilled Combo with baby back ribs, BBQ chicken and grilled smoked sausage. Prices range from $11.99 to $26.99 and all come with sides. Two summer cocktails—the Pretty and Pink and Watermelon Cucumber Margarita—are also on the menu, along with key lime pie for dessert.
In honor of National Hamburger Month in May, Red Robin’s loyalty program members received some special perks—but they only have a week left to claim them. The BOGO 50% off offer on the chain’s burgers is the most immediate, with the newest LTO—the Bacon Jammin Burger—rising to the top. This beef patty is served with savory-sweet bacon jam, hardwood-smoked bacon, bacon aioli, Cheddar, red onions, lettuce and tomatoes on a sesame bun. Red Robin’s Veggie Burger has also been a hit. The patty is a blend of ancient grains and quinoa with Swiss cheese, house-made salsa, avocado slices, roasted garlic aioli and lettuce.
National Hamburger Day falls on Friday, and PT’s Taverns is offering its pub classic burger and fries all day for $6. The burger is built with a half-pound beef patty, PT’s signature burger sauce, iceberg lettuce, tomato, pickle and red onion, served on a toasted brioche bun with sea salt fries. The Las Vegas-based concept also offers daily happy hours from 5 to 7 p.m. and midnight to 2 a.m. with discounted drinks.
Rubio’s Coastal Grill
Fast-casual Rubio’s Coastal Grill has teamed up with celeb chef Richard Blais to launch a new line of street tacos. The tacos were created to transport travel-starved customers to culinary destinations through their combinations of ingredients and flavors. There’s the Hawaiian-influenced Hula Hula Carnitas in which the pork is marinated and slow-cooked wrapped in a banana leaf, then topped with mango salsa; Blaised & Glazed Crispy Chicken inspired by Buffalo chicken wings; and Ancho Po-Boy Shrimp with Cajun aioli, a takeoff on New Orleans’ po’ boy sandwich.
Pilot Flying J
Pilot Flying J, the network of eateries at travel centers, launched two crispy chicken sandwiches at participating Pilot and Flying J Travel Centers. The Southern Chicken Sandwich is composed of a crispy chicken breast filet on a brioche bun with dill pickles, while the Spicy Chicken Sandwich is topped with pepper jack cheese and chipotle ranch for an extra kick. The chain also introduced a Greek Chicken Wrap and Smoked Turkey & Bacon Wrap for a limited time. To kick off the start of the summer vacation season and Pilot Flying J’s National Road Trip Day on Friday, guests can save $2 on either sandwich all this week.
Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken
Although Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken is not enlisting a brand-new chicken sandwich in the battle, the casual-dining chain is challenging all the others that have to “make chicken peace, not war.” Lee’s is donating $10,000 to World Central Kitchen and is inviting its competitors to make a donation as well, “to create a positive outcome in the chicken sandwich wars.” The chain claims its hand-breaded chicken breast on brioche, introduced over a year ago, has been the most successful product launch in 20 years. The sandwich comes in a spicy and traditional version.
Noodles & Co.
A trio of new cheese-filled tortelloni dishes launched at Noodles & Co.—the first stuffed pastas for the fast casual. The tortelloni, which are a similar shape but larger in size than tortellini, are menued in three items. There’s 3-Cheese Tortelloni Rosa filled with a blend of ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, onions and garlic in spicy tomato cream sauce with mushrooms, tomato, spinach and Parmesan and 3-Cheese Tortelloni Pesto, stuffed with the same cheese mixture and sauced with basil pesto cream with garlic, mushrooms, tomato and Parmesan. The third in the group is Roasted Garlic Cream Tortelloni, filled with cheese and tossed in a light roasted garlic and onion cream sauce with zucchini, mushrooms and spinach; it’s finished with MontAmore cheese and parsley.
Krispy Kreme is going with a tropical theme for its new Island Time Collection of doughnuts. The limited-time menu additions aim to get customers in an “island state of mind” in step with warmer summer weather. The collection includes a Pina Colada Doughnut filled with cream and dipped in icing, both flavored with pina colada; an Island Time Doughnut dipped in light blue icing and graham cracker crumbs to resemble an island; and the Key Lime Pie Doughnut, filled with key lime cream and dipped in lime green icing. This Friday, customers can also treat themselves to two returning treats: The Key Lime Glazed Doughnut and Key Lime Filled Doughnut.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
Sweets are also in the spotlight at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. The fast casual debuted a Caramel Crunch Brownie made with branded Snickers candy. In honor of its 80th anniversary and to promote the LTO, Dickey’s is offering a special that includes a pulled pork sandwich, a side and the new brownie for $8.80.