Chefs look to beans for menu variety
This is a special message from Bush Brothers.
Beans might not be trendy, but they can help chefs stay on trend.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast, restaurant customers are eager to try new flavors and new meals, so restaurateurs are updating their menus to gain an edge over competitors. Nine out of ten full service restaurant operators said they added menu items last year, and they plan to add more this year. Among quick service operators, 83 percent said they plan to add menu items this year.
Before they start experimenting, chefs know they have to keep food costs low, an effort that is top of mind for many foodservice professionals these days. The NRA’s forecast also reported that 23 percent of fine dining operators and 22 percent of casual dining operators said food costs are the biggest challenge they face this year.
Perhaps the most important trend is consumers are still eating out, even if they are not confident about the economy or about their financial situation. Operators have responded with new menu items, many which include red, black, white, pinto, and other beans. From quick service to fine dining, many restaurants have developed dishes that incorporate beans in innovative ways.
Much as consumers love barbecued meat with a side of beans, red beans and rice, and black beans wrapped in a tortilla, chefs are eager to demonstrate there are more ways to enjoy beans.
In February White Castle launched several limited time offers that involved beans. The 400-plus unit chain introduced Angus steak chili, which features Angus beef braised with southwestern seasonings and blended with red beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and mild green chiles. The chili is available in small, medium, and family size, and White Castle also offers chili French fries with cheese. There’s a chili bundle, which serves four to six people and includes family size chili, 10 original sliders, and 10 original wings.
Applebee’s, which has nearly 2,000 locations, recently added the Sizzlin’ Cajun Steak & Shrimp to its Sizzlin lineup. The new item features a 7-ounce sirloin, blackened seasonings, sautéed onions, red peppers, blackened shrimp and Cajun gumbo with okra, served with a side of red beans and rice with andouille sausage. The entrée is positioned as a value priced item at $14.49.
Bahama Breeze, a Darden Restaurant brand, offers black bean roasted corn and fresh tomato salsa on the side of three new “Caribbean-inspired tapas,” or small plates: Chicken Empanadas, Mojo-Marinated Pork and Sweet plantains, and Ham ‘n Cheese Croquettes.
New menu items are not limited to side orders. Chop’t Creative Salads, a 15-unit fast-casual salad chain with locations in New York City and Washington, D.C., introduces new menu items every two months. For January and February, one of the new salads was the Mexicali Cobb, with ancho chile chicken, tortilla chips, pepper Jack cheese, black beans, corn, tomato, and lettuce.
The fast casual UFood Grill, whose motto is “Feel great. Eat smart,” offers seasonal black beans as a side order to go with the natural, hormone-free, antibiotic-free grilled sirloin tips or chicken. UFood has 11 locations, mostly in airports.
The Veggie Grill, which has seven locations in California, offers the Bean Me Up Chili, which has red and white beans, soy cream, and chopped green and red onion.
Another Darden Restaurant brand, Seasons 52 Fresh Grill, offers an appetizer, Piedmontese All-Natural Beef Chili with black beans and cilantro sour cream. Seasons 52 has 17 locations.
In January Chili's Grill & Bar, which has 1,500 units, introduced its Lighter Choices Menu, seven entrees that have fewer than 750 calories, 25 grams fat and 8 grams saturated fat. One of the selections is Grilled Chicken Salad, which features grilled chicken with cheese, tomatoes, black beans, corn relish and honey-lime vinaigrette served atop field greens. That meal contains 420 calories. Also in the Lighter Choices Menu is the Margarita Grilled Chicken, Margarita-flavored grilled chicken with hints of lime and citrus, served with rice, black beans, tortilla strips and house-made pico de gallo, at 550 calories.
Chili’s, a brand of Brinker International, also recently added a new soup to its menu. The Southwest Chicken and Sausage Soup consists of tender white beans, oven-roasted chicken, sausage, vegetable, garlic and chicken broth, and is topped with tortilla strips.
Finally, even the gourmet burger restaurants are offering beans. Veggie burgers are not new, but some of the burger chains are offering version made in-house. Culver City, Calif.-based The Counter, which has more than 30 locations, offers a hand-formed veggie patty made of brown rice, spinach, panko bread crumbs, mushrooms, onions, corn, black beans, zucchini, red bell peppers and carrots.
For more great bean recipes visit: bushbeansfoodservice.com