As signs of improvement in the U.S. economy emerge, chain restaurants are stepping out of their comfort zones to offer items that are a bit riskier than burgers and pizza.
• Restaurants report strong sales, traffic in December
• Chains eye expansion amid uptick in consumer spending, demand
Legal Sea Foods is promoting a fairly remote archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean with its Taste of Azores campaign.
The 32-unit casual-dining chain, based in Boston, is highlighting the Portuguese islands as a historic stopping point between Europe and North America, with ties to New England that go back more than 300 years.
• Escabeche de Camarão: Shrimp escabeche with sweet and sour peppers and onions, $8.95
• Polvo à Lagareiro: Braised octopus with potatoes, caramelized pearl onion and roasted kale, $9.95
• Pastéis de Bacalhau: Salt cod fritter with chouriço aïoli, $8.95
• Peixo Frito: Crispy fish with tomato rice, Port braised shallots and Azorean pepper tartar sauce, $16.95
• Espadarte Grelhado: Grilled swordfish with shrimp açorda (a paste made of bread, garlic, olive oil and herbs), garlicky green beans and cilantro, $22.95
• Arroz Cremoso de Peixe: Creamy rice with clams, shrimp and white fish, $16.95
• Torremos de Porco Com Aměijoas: Braised pork with clams, olive oil, fried potato and picked vegetable, $18.95
For dessert, the chain is offering Gelado de Figo, or fig ice cream, with traditional Azorean pastry, for $5.95.
The menu will available at Leal Sea Foods restaurants in Massachusetts and Rhode Island from March 14 through April 11.
Another Boston-based chain, 18-unit Boloco, which specializes in globally inspired fast-casual burritos, is thinking even further outside its regular teriyaki, Memphis barbecue and Buffalo burritos with a new line of Indian-inspired offerings.
• The Simple Curry Burrito is filled with curried cauliflower and brown rice.
• The Tikka Masala Burrito is slightly milder, with creamy curried tomato sauce, choice of protein, and brown rice in a burrito or bowl.
The chain also is offering a Mango Lassi Smoothie, made with mango, non-fat milk, non-fat vanilla yogurt and honey.
Baskin-Robbins, the Canton, Mass-based ice cream chain, has picked up the salty dessert trend from independent restaurants with its March Flavor of the Month. Its 3-Point Chocolate ice cream, which ties in to the national college basketball championships that take place next month, is chocolate ice cream with a salty caramel ribbon and orange colored caramel pretzel balls.
The 3-Point Chocolate Sundae — made with the new ice cream flavor, hot fudge, Reese’s Peanut Butter Sauce, crushed Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and whipped cream — also debuts in March.
The 6,700-unit Dunkin’ Brands Inc. subsidiary also revealed the winner of its send annual online Flavor Creation Contest, which will be featured as the flavor of the month in November.
Kelsey Lien of Santa Monica, Calif., created the Nutty Cream Cheese Brownie, which combined chocolate fudge ice cream, a cream cheese ribbon, walnuts and fudge brownie pieces.
Quick-service Mexican chain Taco Time Northwest, based in Renton, Wash., is going beyond the usual French fry offerings for a limited time with sweet potato fries, available through March 31.
The Sweet Potato Mexi-Fries are priced at $2.99–$3.99, or as a substitute for combo meals at a $1 premium for adult meals and a 50-cent premium for kids’ meals at the chain’s 74 restaurants.
RELATED: Sonic debuts sweet potato tots, popcorn chicken
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary