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Restaurant chains experiment with flavors

Dunkin’ Donuts, Applebee’s, Panda Express and Taco John’s debut new dishes

Pumpernickel bagels at Dunkin’ Donuts, fried green tomatoes in sandwiches at Applebee’s, and steak at Panda Express are all part of the crop of new menu items chains are rolling out this spring, indicating that they see a growing willingness by consumers to move out of their comfort zones.

Dunkin’ Donuts has introduced both sun-dried tomato and pumpernickel bagels as limited-time offers this spring as part of a new artisanal bagel line. Conventional flavors such as sesame, poppy seed and cinnamon raisin have been added as permanent menu items.

“We’ve developed the new line of artisan bagels to provide an even more authentic bagel taste and texture with more intense and bolder flavors,” said Stan Frankenthaler, executive chef and vice president of product innovation for Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts.

The 10,000-plus-unit quick-service chain has also launched its own version of spinach-artichoke dip: a reduced-fat artichoke spinach cream cheese.

Applebee’s, too, has launched menu items with artisanal touches.

The 2,000-unit casual-dining chain has added three new lunch dishes, starting at $6.99.

The Fried Green Tomato & Turkey Club, served warm on toasted nine-grain bread, features basil pesto mayonnaise and applewood smoked bacon, as well as melted Cheddar cheese, grilled onions and slices of southern-fried green tomatoes.

The Roast Beef, Bacon & Mushroom Melt also features grilled onions and applewood smoked bacon, plus an additional premium touch of sautéed red wine mushrooms, as well as melted Swiss cheese, all served on thick-sliced bread.

The South American herb vinaigrette chimichurri glazes the grilled chicken in Applebee’s Fiesta Chicken Chopped Salad, which also has black bean corn salsa, roasted red peppers and onions, tortilla strips, white Cheddar cheese, and jalapeño dressing.

Quick-service Chinese chain Panda Express has rolled out a premium Shanghai Angus Steak dish, available for about $4.25, depending on the location.

The item features “thick cut slices of Angus top sirloin,” according to press materials from the 1,327-unit chain. The steak is marinated in Asian seasonings and wok-seared with asparagus, grilled mushrooms and onions. It is tossed with an Asian-style steak sauce.

Bruegger’s, too, has added out-of-the-box items, such as its new Mediterranean Mozzarella salad that has toasted almonds, roasted red peppers and Catalonian Romesco dressing — a mixture of tomatoes, red peppers, onion, garlic, almonds and olive oil. It comes in two sizes at the fast-casual chain’s more than 300 units, at recommended prices of $5.19 and $6.99.

Bruegger’s new Thai Peanut Chicken salad, with grilled chicken, cucumbers, chopped peanuts and spicy Thai peanut dressing, sells for the same prices for those sizes.

Both the Romesco and Thai peanut dressings are signature sauces made in house, the company said.

Taco John’s has also beefed up its salad offerings. The 415-unit chain based in Cheyenne, Wyo., already offered a taco salad, but recently introduced two new ones.

The Chipotle BBQ Chicken Salad is made with crunchy chipotle barbecue chicken and jalapeño ranch dressing, and is garnished with corn and black bean salsa. The Cran-Apple Almond Chicken features raspberry chipotle vinaigrette, pico de gallo, apples, cranberries, almonds and grilled chicken. Both salads cost $5.99.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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