Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misstated the number of restaurants in the Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Spirits chain.
Caramel is proving to be popular this fall, with numerous chains adding menu items featuring the cooked sugar, and independent restaurants responding to the colder weather with sticky, chewy desserts.
Dunkin’ Donuts is featuring a new caramel apple doughnut for the season. The cake doughnut is coated with cinnamon sugar and available for a suggested price of 89 cents across the mostly franchised system of more the 6,700 domestic units.
Dunkin’s announcement of that new item came shortly after frozen dessert chains TCBY and Dairy Queen launched new caramel items.
TCBY added caramel frozen yogurt as a permanent item, and Dairy Queen reintroduced its Ooey Gooey Caramel Brownie Blizzard as September’s flavor of the month. The Blizzard is made with brownie pieces, caramel fudge topping and chocolate chunks, all blended in vanilla soft-serve ice cream.
On Red Robin’s upcoming drinks and dessert menu, which hits restaurants Sept. 13, the 460-unit casual-dining chain is selling apple pie bites with caramel dipping sauce, as well as a Nestle Toll House Cookie Sundae — a chocolate-chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream and drizzled with caramel and hot fudge.
All of those items come after Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, the nation’s largest casual-dining chain with 1,862 units added in August a $5.99 cinnamon apple turnover with caramel sauce and a side of vanilla ice cream.
Caramel has been growing in popularity for some time now, according to menu research firm Datassential. The number of times it’s mentioned in its database of 4,800 chain and independent restaurant menus has been growing steadily each quarter for the past two years. It’s now mentioned in more than a quarter of all restaurant menus, 26.7 percent, up from 21.5 percent in 2007.
Salted caramel in particular is growing quickly, having more than doubled in frequency since 2007, albeit from just 2.1 percent to 4.9 percent.
Among those is the salted caramel ice cream at Zed451 in Chicago, and, at American Seasons restaurant in Nantucket, Mass., a beer float made with a dark porter and caramel-and-praline ice cream drizzled with local honey and topped with smoked salt-dipped pretzels coated in dark chocolate.
Little Dom’s in Los Feliz, Calif., serves a spiced caramel sundae with vanilla-bean gelato, spiced caramel sauce and candied salted pecans.
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