Reports of the demise of beef on restaurant bills of fare have been greatly exaggerated. Despite ongoing concerns regarding drought conditions and resulting higher costs, the use of beef in foodservice remains strong and steady. Technomic research indicates that 96 percent of operators menued beef last year, which is on par with prior years, and that it represents 31 percent of total protein by volume in the away-from-home market. Underlying this continued demand is a powerful combination of consumer preference, operator innovation and beef’s ready compatibility with prevailing menu trends.
We’re in the midst of a revival of classic dishes with contemporary touches, old-school favorites for a new-age audience. A case in point is surf and turf, an example of “Continental” cuisine that was the rage in the 1950s and ’60s, and that still attracts diners looking for an upscale experience. Outback Steakhouse taps directly into tradition with its Filet and Lobster Tail, but also offers a trendier take with Sirloin and Coconut Shrimp. The Cheesecake Factory’s Steak Diane updates a World War II-era favorite that originated in hotels in New York City and was typically flambéed tableside. In The Cheesecake Factory rendition, which is cooked in the kitchen, medallions of beef are covered with black peppercorns and a mushroom-wine sauce. Steak tartare, another blast from the past, is also being reinvented with creative enhancements, like the addition of dry-aged egg yolk at American Cut in New York City and Atlantic City, N.J., which is temporarily closed, or the use of grass-fed beef, tarragon aïoli and pickled red onion in Republique’s version in Los Angeles.
It’s ethnic. Beef is booming on ethnic menus because it stands up so well to more assertive condiments and sauces. The beef in the Grilled Steak Banh Mi at Banh Shop in Dallas is marinated in garlic and soy and glazed with lemon grass and ginger, while in the Blazing Banh Fire Noodle Bowl, it’s tossed in a spicy red pepper sauce. Sriracha sauce has become nearly as ubiquitous as salsa and ketchup. At Firehouse Subs, the Sriracha Beef Sub is part of the Under 500 Calories menu, and at Denny’s, the Spicy Sriracha Burger consists of a Sriracha-seasoned patty, jalapeños and creamy Sriracha sauce. The appetizer menu at Chicago’s River Roast features Chicago-Style Sashimi made with seared Wagyu beef, dried tomato, roasted onion and pepper and a poppy-seed crisp — a clever mashup of the Japanese specialty and the classic Chicago-style hot dog.
It’s healthful. Smart operators are aggressively leveraging beef’s affinity for lighter dishes, and steak salads have become popular with diners seeking satisfaction without deprivation. Gordon Biersch’s Beef Tenderloin Salad, for example, combines spinach tossed in warm bacon vinaigrette along with grilled beef filet, avocado, tomatoes, Gorgonzola cheese, pancetta and crispy onions. A long-running favorite at LongHorn Steakhouse, 7-Pepper Sirloin Salad, includes grilled-to-order sirloin in a robust blend of seven peppers, while Del Frisco’s Grille’s Steakhouse Salad is served on crunchy cress with lemon-horseradish dressing, along with a deviled egg for good measure. And at Cracker Barrel, diet-conscious customers can dig into the Wholesome Fixin’s Pepper-Grilled Sirloin, an 8-ounce steak served with two side dishes that collectively clock in at fewer than 600 calories.
It’s for breakfast, too. With the recent strong growth of the morning daypart, it’s not surprising that chefs everywhere are turning to beef as an eye opener. At Harry’s on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, diners can dig into Ribeye Steak and Eggs with grits or baked apples. At 312 Chicago they can opt for Short-Rib Hash with eggs and Hollandaise. And at Roost in Portland, Ore., they can start their day with Steak and Eggs with leek-and-Romano cream. Beef works well with grab-and-go items, like Panera Bread’s Steak and Egg on Everything Bagel, with an all-natural egg and Vermont white Cheddar; Dunkin’ Donuts’ Angus Steak and Egg Sandwich; and Taco Bell’s Grande Scrambler Burrito with marinated steak. McDonald’s diners can upgrade to the Steak, Egg & Cheese McMuffin, and farther up the food chain, Denny’s packs grilled prime rib, chorizo and bacon into the Meat Lover’s Omelette.
This story has been revised to reflect the following update:
Update: Aug. 19, 2015 This story has been updated to include that American Cut's location in Atlantic City, N.J., is temporarily closed.
Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta. As one of Linked In’s Top 100 Influencers in the US, she blogs regularly on food-related subjects on the Linked In website.