By Ellen Koteff, editor-in-chief, FoodChannelPRO
As Baby Boomers age the bold is beautiful mantra has taken up residence in a myriad of places, including restaurant menus across the country. Now that food trend has entered the snack daypart as bold flavors are taking root in countless new, eat on the go, small plate items.
Restaurants from coast to coast and encompassing all segments are embracing boldness in its menu offerings like never before.
â€˜Bold flavors are absolutely gaining ground in the snack food arena. Lots of spicy and unique flavors have become popular,â€™ says Frank Scibelli, owner of FS Food Group in Charlotte, NC, which operates Cantina 1511, Big Daddy’s, Mama Ricotta’s and Paco’s Tacos.
Some of Scibelli’s bold snack items include chorizo and potato croquettes with Cholula crema and garlic wings with peanut soy dressing.
Hot & Spicy trend still growing
â€˜Spicy is getting more and more popular, particularly sweet and hot,â€™ adds Scibelli.
â€˜I think that Latin flavors continue to grow in popularity. Bacon flavored anything is also going to be a flavor that stays strong. One of the burgers that we have at Big Daddy’s Burger Bar is called a bacon cheeseburger on steroids,â€™ Scibelli adds. â€˜It has jalapeno bacon, applewood smoked bacon, bacon mayonnaise and bacon salt. We also have a bacon crusted chicken sandwich. These are both very popular items.â€™
At nearby Mez, also in Charlotte, chicken skewers with a Coriander and cumin rub, sweet chili sauce, and ponzu is a bold menu choice as are the restaurant’s fire roasted mussels, which are served with fresh tomato and saffron broth and a grilled garlic baguette.
Peter Wyss, vice president of operations for Patina Restaurant Group sees bold choices gaining momentum. “Tuna tacos are our best seller in (New York City’s) La Fonda del Sol’s tapas lounge. They are clean, fresh and feature avocado, jalapeno and pickled onions. Other good examples of bite-sized ‘snack’ tapas that are popular there include: Blistered baby green peppers, marinated cherry tomatoes and Marcona almonds and Arbequina olives. La Fonda del Sol is a Spanish inspired eatery specializing in tapas items.
Checkers Drive-In Restaurants has taken the bold snack category and extended it to include the dessert category.
“Huge growth opportunity”
â€˜We’re seeing that the snack business provides a huge growth opportunity,â€™ says Terri Snyder, executive vice president and chief marketing officer. â€˜There are snacks when beverage is the center of the plate, where food is the center of the plate and where ice cream is the center of the plate.â€™
Snyder says the chain is experiencing a â€˜good sales lift,â€™ from its new line of premium sundae offerings. â€˜It’s really about bringing unusual and unique flavors to the forefront. What consumers want are flavors they can’t get anyplace else. â€˜
The chain’s strawberry cheesecake sundae is a big seller and Snyder says it’s like sticking a straw in a cheesecake. â€˜It has wonderful layers of flavor beginning with the crunch of the graham crackers.â€™
At Lemaire, in Richmond Va., bold flavors are utilized in such snack items as southern fried chicken livers with creamy Ashland grits, sautÃ©ed spinach, and maytag blue cheese. Also a pimiento cheese featuring white cheddar, and olives on toasted sourdough is part of the snack mix. Another popular snack item is Dave and Dee’s oyster mushroom toasts featuring goats â€˜râ€™ us goat cheese, and local micro lettuce on billy bread. Dave and Dee are the local growers of the mushrooms and all the ingredients are locally produced.
Chef John Schenk of the Strip House steakhouses in New York and Houston has been making his own high-end beef jerky that sells well, especially at the bar. It’s made with prime strip loin, marinated, dried and quickly fried in goose fat. It’s a highbrow version of a lowbrow favorite and has hit a nostalgia chord with many guests seeking bolder flavors.
As one of its snack offerings, The Four Seasons Hotel/Seasons Restaurant & The CafÃ© in Chicago serves a Swiss-Style Birchermuesli with pecans.
At Jean-Georges’ ABC Kitchen in New York City, farm-to-table snacks made from vegetables culled from the block-away Union Square Greenmarket are in demand. A few favorites include: roasted beets with a boldly flavored homemade yogurt, heirloom tomato toast, and crudities with anchovy dip.
Fusion a factor
David Malthaner, executive chef at Louisville, Ky.-based Napa River Grill, says fusion could be the root cause for much of the bolder flavored items on American menus.
â€˜I recently dined at an Italian chain restaurant and had an Italian spring roll, borrowing from Asian and southwest ideas. Fusion seems to be spreading to mainstream with a lot of bold flavors borrowed and used in more American cuisine restaurants,â€™ he says.
Some of Malthaner’s bold menu items include Napa’s Asian ahi nachos, a baby mozzarella and tomato sandwich offering, as well as a wok seared seafood dish that can be a shared snack.
Even quick serve chain Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is getting into the bold snack category with its loaded chicken wrap.
Positioned as the â€˜everything you love about Popeyes in your handâ€™ wrap, this item folds a golden, crispy all-white meat chicken breast tender and Popeyes’ famous red beans and rice into a warm cheddar tortilla â€“ with a side of Louisiana brand hot sauce.
At Chili’s bold also is in vogue with its newly introduced fire-grilled corn guac or such classics as boneless Buffalo wings or big mouth bites.
At the Lazy Goat in Greenville, SC, bold snack flavors can be found in the toasted garlic shrimp with blistered tomatoes, feta, ouzo and arugula as well as the widely popular lamb ribs with chipotle guava barbecue, Seville slaw and crispy shallots.
The Wine Exchange in Tampa, Fla., offers a Vineyard Pizza topped with pecans, which has proved popular with patrons and often ordered to share.
At Seviche in Louisville, Ky., pecan crusted brie with habanera jelly is a popular snack item along with the tuna taquitos, which feature wasabi mustard, yuzu, local radish sprouts, avocado and sesame-soy powder. Spicy chicken empanadas with chimichurri and crema also are a bolder choice for patrons seeking a little heat.
â€˜I think with the popularity of fusion foods, cooking shows, and more food educated consumers the search for more interesting and less familiar flavors are key to being cutting edge,â€™ concludes chef Malthaner of Napa River Grill.
And who doesn’t want to be cutting edge in this hyperbolic, highly competitive foodservice landscape?