For consumers who don’t eat meat during Lent—and the restaurants that cater to them—seafood has long been the default choice. But with the rise in plant-based eating, menus are showcasing more veg-forward Lenten dishes this year. No question, operators still are launching seasonal fish and shellfish items to attract observant customers. But a number of new meatless items coming out of restaurant kitchens are focusing instead on vegetables and grains. Here’s a roundup of some of the more unique Lenten specials, both plant- and seafood-centric.
1. Bowled over by tofu
Flame Broiler sounds like a destination for meat lovers, but the quick-service chain promotes itself as a healthy fast-food alternative, offering a menu of rice bowls. Since charbroiling is the chain’s specialty, on offer is a special of charbroiled tofu combined with blanched vegetables and chopped scallions served over brown or white rice. To add some kick, customers can drizzle their Organic Tofu Bowl with Flame Broiler’s proprietary hot sauces, including double hot sauce, triple hot sauce and Korean BBQ-inspired Magic Sauce.
2. Going meat-free at a food hall
Several stalls in Chicago’s Revival Food Hall, a lunchtime mecca for nearby office workers, have added plant-forward options for the weeks of Lent. Antique Taco is menuing a Chiquito, a sweet potato and poblano taco topped with chipotle crema, scallions and crispy carrots, as well as an Antique Taco salad, combining spicy peanuts, red pepper, onions, queso fresco, cranberries and more on a bed of kale.
Korean-inspired Urbanbelly has created an Urban Bowl, featuring tofu and pea shoots with steamed jasmine rice, topped with Thai curry, sweet chili lime or a tangy barbecue sauce. And Danke, known for its meaty sandwiches, is offering up The Veg, a layering of portobello mushrooms, cauliflower-eggplant puree, shaved zucchini, arugula and sundried tomatoes on a baguette.
3. Plant-based possibilities
The partnership inked between Moe’s Southwest Grill and Impossible Foods has brought several new plant-based items with Mexican flavors to the seasonal menu. Customers at Moe’s have the option of substituting the faux ground meat in burritos, nachos, tacos and bowls. Plus, the fast casual’s current limited-time offer, the Quinoa Power Bowl, can be ordered with tofu as well as the plant-based meat product. The new bowl features a blend of quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato and zucchini topped with frijoles, shredded romaine, corn pico, guacamole, cilantro and optional queso fresco.
4. Taking it online
Roti Modern Mediterranean, a fast casual specializing in customized bowls and wraps, debuted a seasonal vegan salad available only online. Although guests usually build their own salads at Roti, this new item is composed by the kitchen for ease of digital ordering. It features couscous, falafel, red cabbage slaw, fresh vegetables, pita chips and greens.
5. Shrimp goes bold with big flavors
Wok-Fired Shrimp is the latest LTO launched by Panda Express in March, coinciding with Lent. The dish is part of the chain’s Wok Smart collection—a line of better-for-you menu items with American-Chinese flavors. Here, marinated shrimp are stir-fried with sugar snap peas, red bell peppers and onions, then wok-tossed with a sauce that features sweet, savory and spicy notes. Several types of chiles impart the heat characteristic of Hunan cuisine. Panda Express has also added more veggies to its menu, including its new mixed vegetable side dish, Super Greens.
6. A chicken spot goes fishing
A Southern Fried Catfish Combo is a Lenten special at Golden Chick, a chain with chicken in its name and lots of chicken on the menu. The limited-time offer features two pieces of catfish, fries, coleslaw, a roll and a 20-ounce drink. The catfish combo, back for a second year, has been one of the most successful promotions in recent years, bumping up sales 7% in 2018 during the same time period, according to a company spokesperson.