The rising popularity of cruciferous vegetables is one of the more surprising recent menu developments. The cruciferous group, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage and kale, has tended to polarize patrons, many of whom were put off by the vegetables’ strong, earthy flavors. But creative culinary treatments and changing consumer tastes have combined to give the category a new lease on life.
Broccoli appears to be gaining ground as the green veggie of choice on restaurant bills of fare. It’s freshly steamed at Ruby Tuesday, Red Lobster and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, which also offers Broccoli Cheddar Chicken as the Wednesday Dinner Special. T.G.I. Friday’s serves it with a 6-ounce sirloin steak and ginger-lime slaw on the Right Portion/Right Price menu, and it makes an unexpected appearance in Atlanta-based Mellow Mushroom’s Chicken Curry Pops with Sriracha-broccoli slaw. Roasted broccoli is a popular appetizer at Hearth Pizza Tavern, also in Atlanta; sopressata salami and chopped pepperoncini peppers provide an additional flavor punch.
Broccoli’s not just for supper. First Watch, one of the new generation of breakfast-brunch-lunch operations, offered a special Broccoli and Turkey Frittata earlier this year, and No. 7 Sub, a sandwich specialist based in New York, featured a memorable Broccoli Sandwich served on a baguette and topped with fresh mozzarella, Thai basil pesto and fried lemon.
Brussels sprouts are also making a move on menus, where they’ve traditionally been relegated to year-end holiday dinners, alongside the turkey and cranberry sauce. But California Pizza Kitchen broke that mold earlier this year with a head-turning Brussels + Bacon Pizza  that also included herbed goat cheese, caramelized onions and Romano cheese atop a thin-crust pizza. No. 7 Sub took a similarly outside-the-box approach with a Kielbasa and Brussels Sprouts Sandwich finished with red onions and a pungent vindaloo mayonnaise. By contrast, Seasons 52 has taken a more classical approach, offering Brussels sprouts with roasted garlic as a side dish. As part of its current Peak Season Fall into Flavor menu, sister concept LongHorn Steakhouse has upped the ante with Brussels Sprouts Au Gratin, roasted and served with bacon and a four-cheese sauce, and garnished with provolone cheese and Parmesan breadcrumbs. And Mimi’s Cafe plans to offer fresh, seasonal sides like Brussels sprouts with crispy prosciutto as part of a major menu overhaul.
however, appears to be the real winner in the cruciferous sweepstakes, turning up in a wide range of operations and in some surprising treatments. It’s a super side dish at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, where the Caramelized Cauliflower is roasted and served in a cast-iron pan with warm caper vinaigrette, and at The Grocery in Charleston, S.C., where the Cauliflower Casserole is topped with pecorino cheese and breadcrumbs. More unusual is the popularity of cauliflower steak, which is appearing on independent restaurant menus around the country. At Superba Snack Bar in Los Angeles, Cauliflower T-Bone Steak is seared on a skillet and crowned with chopped olive salad. By contrast, Brennan’s of Houston offers Lot 42 Cauliflower Steak , which is dipped in tempura batter and then chicken-fried. Cauliflower Confit is a specialty at trendy Pachamama’s in Lawrence, Kan., where it’s accompanied by yucca-corn dumplings and grilled palm-heart slaw, and Cauliflower Risotto finished with butter, cheese and cream is on the menu at Cedar Restaurant in Washington.
Cauliflower sandwiches have turned up on numerous menus. The Golden West in San Francisco dishes up a Cauliflower-Curry Salad Sandwich, while Marion Street Cheese Market near Chicago features a Cauliflower Melt with curry aïoli. On a related note, New York’s Salvation Taco has put roasted cauliflower in a tortilla with curried crema and fried curry leaves.
Looking ahead, cruciferous vegetables will continue to make inroads in the mass market. Kale has taken menus by storm in the past two years, and cabbage has gotten a bit of a second wind by adding crunch and flavor to street tacos. Promoted in some quarters as “super veggies” because of their nutrient value, they are getting a second look from culinarians and consumers alike.
Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta. As one of LinkedIn’s Top 100 Influencers in the U.S., she blogs regularly on food-related subjects on the LinkedIn website.