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Kruse Report: Menu items evoking a smile

Editor’s Note: In The Kruse Report, a feature on, food trend expert Nancy Kruse looks at what’s shaping menus across the country.

These days, diners just want to have fun. They are attracted to menu items that make them smile, and operators have responded with a wide range of innovative treats guaranteed to evoke a grin.

Ice-cream chains have been at the forefront of culinary whimsy as they’ve re-imagined the contents of both cone and cup. Baskin-Robbins is a 66-year-old brand that has ratcheted up its contemporary creativity quotient with smile-inducing flavors like Pink Bubblegum, which is chockablock with candy-coated bubblegum nuggets. Maggie Moo’s and Marble Slab Creamery also are thinking outside the cone; the sibling operations celebrated National Pizza Month in October with free samples of their ice cream pizzas.

It appears that many restaurant research-and-development executives are indulging an inner child — how else to explain the wonderful silliness of Shari’s new Pie-Shake, which combines a patron’s favorite pie flavor with ice cream? And what else could account for the runaway popularity of red velvet? The classic cake is lending flavor and color to pancakes, puddings and even to the yogurt at TCBY, the frozen treat chain.

Not all culinary treats are sweet, however. They can also be salty. Red Robin’s Oktoberfest Bürger featured a toasted pretzel bun, plus Black Forest ham and zesty beer mustard. But the last word in pretzel innovation must go the Chancery Family Pub, a six-unit chain in southern Wisconsin that offers Waiter, There’s a Beer in My Soup. The item is a soup made of three cheeses and Wisconsin beer topped with a huge, salty pretzel in place of a crouton. It’s a savvy mix of ingredients and a killer presentation that combine to provide sheer fun in a bowl.

See the latest menu innovations from restaurant chains

Contact Nancy Kruse at [email protected].

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