With the arrival of September, diners have long come to expect an array of seasonal drinks and sweets featuring autumn spices, such as cinnamon, pumpkin and nutmeg. In recent years, these spices have increasingly migrated to the main menu, getting more play in savory appetizers and entrées.
According to the latest research from Datassential MenuTrends, cinnamon, pumpkin and nutmeg are all growing in non-traditional applications, turning up on the menu in pastas, pizzas and meats. Pumpkin appears on 162 percent more appetizer menus than four years ago, on 92 percent more entrée menus, and on 53 percent more menus overall. Similarly, cinnamon appears on 32 percent more appetizer menus than four years ago, 10 percent more entrée menus, and 7 percent more menus overall. While nutmeg isn’t growing on appetizer menus, it appears on 33 percent more entrée menus than four years ago and 37 percent more menus overall.
Lorraine Platman, chef and owner of several Sweet Lorraine’s restaurants in Michigan, has long used autumn spices in savory dishes.
“The first time I added cinnamon to an entrée guests said it tasted sweet,” Platman said. “I told them, ‘It’s your imagination. Cinnamon is savory.’”
Platman’s latest use of cinnamon in savory dishes is on the menu at Sweet Lorraine’s Fabulous Mac n’ Cheez!, her Detroit-based fast-casual chain of five units.
Starting Labor Day, Sweet Lorraine’s, which features 14 different macaroni and cheese options on its regular menu, will offer a special mac and cheese topped with roasted chicken dusted with a house-made chipotle, cinnamon and star anise mixture, and roasted autumn vegetables. In addition, recently added to the menu is a breakfast mac and cheese topped with cinnamon smoked bacon and a drizzle of maple syrup.
At Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis, chef Kevin Nashan plans to add cinnamon and cardamom confit sweetbreads with butternut squash spätzle to his menu in September.
“Autumn spices give the dish an elegant, unique approach and help balance the dish,” Nashan said. “These spices work especially well in meat dishes. It’s a fun touch and plays with people’s palate.”
Come September, Francis Derby, executive chef of Cannibal in New York City, will swap out the ramps and rhubarb preparation of his house-made blood sausage for a fall version made with clove, cinnamon, anise, fennel seed and black pepper served with a salad of spaghetti squash, hazelnut and charred leek.
“Classic boudin noir often calls for these spices,” Derby said. “[It] brings a different dimension to the sausage … makes the flavor of blood sausage approachable in a way.”
Pumpkin is often in play on the fall menu at Amis in Philadelphia. Previously on the menu and likely to return again this fall is Roasted Pumpkin with Mascarpone, a small dish made with roasted pumpkin chunks, brown butter and sage leaves served on a plate spread with mascarpone cheese.
From small bites to larger, shareable plates, autumn spices will permeate the fall menu at Easy Bistro & Bar in Chattanooga, Tenn. Among the many options will be a braised pork belly tagine with pickled pumpkin and baby autumn kale with cinnamon, orange and clove; a winter spiced delicata squash soup with Sambuca cream, charred fennel, espresso bean and touches of cinnamon, nutmeg and smoked paprika; and tempura fried maitake mushroom with smoked paprika aïoli, ember roasted pumpkin, sour leek and pickled radish.
“Farmers in our region do squash and pumpkin very well, so using them in savory dishes in different textures seems natural,” chef de cuisine Peter Barlow said. “We very carefully offer certain dishes as the time seems correct.”