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Better Burgers

Have you heard about that great new burger place, Chipotle? Yes, that Chipotle. It turns out the chain applied to trademark the term Better Burger on March 11th, which is more than a little confusing.

Enormous burritos? Sure. Margaritas in plastic cups? Oh yeah. Burgers? Um...what now?

Chipotle and burgers. As I mulled it over I realized how much sense it made. Chipotle already has ShopHouse, the Asian concept based on the Chipotle model, and has hinted the platform could be applied to a wide spectrum of foods. So why not burgers?

In fact, this type of seeming incongruity has been happening fairly aggressively all over the menu for some time. Think of Taco Bell announcing its breakfast launch two years ago ‒ wow, that was big stuff in 2014. And McDonald’s all-day breakfast ‒ come on, you know you thought it would never happen. But it did, and began to set in motion a turnaround for the world’s biggest foodservice operator.

And who saw egg-topped burgers not only becoming a thing, but a very common thing?

And eggs for dinner? Your mother may have surprised you with pancakes for dinner on occasion, but now we have fine dining operators like Bobby Flay serving scrambled egg appetizers at Gato in NYC.

And that doesn’t even count all the salads, pizzas and side dishes being topped with eggs. Who saw that coming?

But it’s all happened, just like it will likely happen that Chipotle will open a better burger place. As you go through the line, picking out your ingredients like you do at Chipotle today, you might want to top it with a nice egg. They’re showing up in all the best places.

2016-05-16 13:25:44
 

Breakfast foods drive us all over the menu

Breakfast foods like eggs and bacon are the driving force behind today’s foodservice growth. Why? On harried weekday mornings they’re convenient and quickly dispensed through drive-thru windows; they make an excellent handheld meal; they’re a relatively cheap high-protein comfort food; and they’re available almost everywhere. What’s not to love?

Coffee and bakery cafés outpace the growth of other segments, attracting diners with high-quality weekday breakfasts. Although quality is a more important driver of traffic on weekends than weekdays, Technomic says 77 percent of diners now say high-quality breakfast items are important during the week, versus only 70 percent in 2013. This follows the overall trend of consumers demanding even QSRs serve higher-quality items with better ingredients.

On the weekend, breakfast foods are a leisurely pleasure, the reason all-you-can-eat buffets magically sprout up in places that don’t normally serve breakfast, and also the excuse to while away an entire morning eating Eggs Benedict while chatting and feeling pampered. Consumers want more of an experience on the weekend, with taste, ambiance and indulgence being paramount. Full-service restaurants are well-positioned to provide that upscale and comfortable feel.

The growth of all-day breakfast is more proof of breakfast foods’ desire. McDonald’s says all-day breakfast had been the #1 request from its guests for years. The National Restaurant Association says 72% of people want restaurants serving breakfast all day. Technomic tells us the number of people who say they enjoy breakfast foods at non-traditional times increased by 12.5 percent between 2013 and 2015, and that 64 percent of consumers are likely to order eggs outside of traditional breakfast hours. That may be why we see egg-topped burgers and salads across segments and dayparts.

The egg is breakfast royalty. There’s a reason it’s called Incredible. 

2016-05-02 14:14:58
 

Reader’s Digest for Eggs

I read everything there is to know about breakfast so you don’t have to. And I’m happy to provide these interesting bits to mull over while you enjoy your eggs and toast.

Interesting Bit #1: American Breakfast Food is a Young Concept

The idea that some food should be eaten at breakfast but some should not, didn’t begin to pick up steam in the U.S until the mid to late 1800s. According to Abigail Carroll, author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, people ate breakfast, but it looked a lot like dinner or a snack. Colonial American breakfast was last night’s leftovers, often bread and cheese or soup. It was only in the mid-1700s that proteins, including eggs, began appearing on city dwellers’ breakfast tables, and another hundred years before there was an actual group of foods thought of as breakfast foods. This led to the invention of the crunchy food we know today as breakfast cereal.

With the trend of restaurant chains making breakfast foods available throughout the day, maybe the term has outlived our need for it.

Interesting Bit #2: The Most Important Meal of the Day?

Is it or isn’t it? There are factions on all sides of this contentious issue. The Ladies Who Lunch feel their meal is the most important, while Dealmakers see the business dinner as indispensable.

I come down on the side of breakfast and the Harvard School of Public Health agrees with me. In a study of 26,902 men, researchers found those who skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of heart attack or death from heart disease versus those who ate it regularly. People who don’t eat breakfast eat more at night, which is likely to lead to metabolic changes and heart disease.

Today’s Last Interesting Bit: Protein and Fiber are Aces in the Morning

Protein and fiber are the most important factors in a healthy breakfast. So says Mayo Clinic, an institution that knows a bit about the human body.

Mayo says the ideal breakfast includes lean proteins (their examples include eggs, lean meat, poultry and fish, and peanut butter), whole grains and fruits and vegetables. High protein and fiber will make you feel full and more energized throughout the day.

Now go and get yourself a nice veggie omelet - I’ll bet you know someplace to get one this very minute.

2016-04-18 13:34:58
 

The most important meal for restaurants

The battle of the breakfast menus continues to serve customers well. In early March, Taco Bell launched a dollar breakfast menu consisting of 10 menu items, including customizable ones like the Mini Skillet Bowl (scrambled eggs, potatoes, pico de gallo and nacho cheese sauce) and Sausage Flatbread Quesadilla (scrambled eggs, sausage and 3-cheese blend).

The program follows on the heels of the McDonald’s all-day breakfast launch last year and its current testing of an expanded all-day breakfast menu in select markets. If Taco Bell is determined to keep the competition amped up, that can only accrue to consumers’ benefit.

Taco Bell’s Chief Marketing Officer Marisa Thalberg said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that Taco Bell has no plans at this point to offer breakfast beyond its current hours of 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. She mentioned that in the two years after its breakfast debut Taco Bell has discovered gaps between what it was offering and what consumers really wanted: value in the a.m. And who wouldn’t want that?

Of course, chains hope that $1 menus will be the starting point of a customer’s visit, with a higher-margin beverage or other items added to the order. However, from this writer’s viewpoint, the beauty of Taco Bell’s plan exists in the Millennial-friendly ability to customize all $1 quesadillas, burritos, tacos and skillet bowl with various toppings and sauces ‒ for an up-charge. Diners get what they want and so does Taco Bell.

2016-04-04 12:45:35
 

Signature ‘Sassy Eggs’

Chicago has great breakfast restaurants—everything from the latest trendsetting brunch bistros to tiny diners known mainly to the neighborhood locals. On a crusade to sample them all, I recently discovered a new favorite. What egg-lover wouldn't be attracted to its name? The Over Easy Café. Expecting the usual Benedicts and scrambles, I still hoped for something interesting to mentally dissect. But I got so much more. 

There’s no short order cook here; instead, a chef whose focus is on quality and culinary creativity. I tried the Sassy Eggs, a signature dish I was told the place was known for, and rightly so.

You’ve had eggs over easy, but you've never had them like this. The execution makes all the difference, as these eggs were served on a magnificent pork chorizo-jalapeño-red pepper-potato hash, then covered with melted Cheddar, artfully drizzled with ancho ketchup and sour cream, and topped with house-made guacamole.

Before I dragged myself away from the last dot of ancho ketchup left on the plate, I asked to see their upcoming weekend brunch menu, which included the Damen Avenue Omelet made with sautéed portobellos, spinach and goat cheese; the Smoked Salmon Scramble with smoked salmon and dill havarti; and Sam Giancana’s Favorite Breakfast Sandwich of eggs scrambled with house-made Italian sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, onion and chives, topped with smoked mozzarella cheese on a toasted roll. All simple, yet elegant and inspired.

Great things can be done with very few, carefully chosen ingredients. The execution makes all the difference.

2016-03-21 13:27:37
 

The Inevitability of ADB

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me the path toward all-day breakfast service was inevitable.

Industry research said people wanted it. Technomic’s 2015 U.S. Breakfast Consumer Trend Report found 54% of consumers – up from 48% in 2013 – enjoy eating breakfast items beyond morning hours. NRA’s 2015 industry forecast showed 72% of adults wanted restaurants to serve breakfast throughout the day.

For Millennials that number climbs to 77%, but as we know, they want things when they want them, which is even more reason to serve it all-day.

But what convinced me (and maybe a few chain headquarters) all-day breakfast was a stellar opportunity specifically for foodservice, were 2014 Datassential findings. Those numbers said that of those folks who eat breakfast foods for lunch, 32% eat that meal away from home vs. only 17% of those who buy foodservice breakfast in the morning. And since we know what a booming business morning-consumed foodservice breakfast is with only 17% of people eating it, it stands to reason that so many people wanting it throughout the day (refer to the paragraph above if you’ve already forgotten the numbers) there would be a significant underserved market just waiting for more places to offer all-day breakfast.

Chains including Dunkin’ Donuts, Sonic, Jack in the Box, Starbuck’s, Denny’s and IHOP have offered all-day breakfast for many years. But now Golden Corral and White Castle have joined the ranks. And then there’s McDonald’s, the real game changer. McDonald’s adds over 14,000 U.S. locations into that underserved space, which, let’s face it, makes it suddenly much better served.

Who will better serve us next?

2016-03-07 15:34:39
 

2015-2020 Nutritional Guidelines

Every five years a joint effort of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) produces an updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Finding recommendations for healthy living increasingly relevant as I age, I tucked into the recently issued Guidelines with anticipation to see what options are recommended for me. But the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines looks at the big picture, considering how we actually live.

It focuses not on individual nutrients or isolated foods, but on the variety of what people eat and drink ‒ healthy eating patterns as a whole. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said: “By focusing on small shifts in what we eat and drink, eating healthy becomes more manageable.” That’s an attitude I can embrace.

The basic message is to focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods and serving size. That still allows me pizza and birthday cake, just not as the mainstays of my diet. And here’s the shocker – I’m going to recommend that you read it. Food for thought or words to live by, so to speak.

One thing of note is that last February’s recommendation by an advisory panel of university and nutrition organization experts on dietary cholesterol was accepted by USDA and HHS and incorporated into this report. This also agrees with 2013 advice from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, so eggs are now treated similar to other nutrient dense proteins. Yay for nutrient density!  

Check out an overview of the 2015-2020 report here.

Or digest the entire report here.

 

2016-02-22 14:54:43
 

Making food sing

Okay, all together now, sing with me: “If you liked it then you shoulda put an egg on it, if you liked it then you shoulda put an egg on it!”

No? Really? No Beyonce fans here? Sure, while she sang about a diamond ring, I wrote my little ditty about eggs but the concept still works. Eggs are culinary gems and operators are putting them on many dishes.

Egg-topped burgers are here to stay. Ratcheting our national sandwich up one more level by crowning it with nature’s most perfect food is a no-brainer.

Cheese, ham, veggie, turkey – is there any sandwich that can’t be made better with a fried egg on top? Years ago I ripped a Thomas Keller recipe out of Food & Wine for a sandwich that was perfection, but I’m embarrassed to say I needed a recipe for a BLT that added cheese and a fried egg. Who needs a recipe for a classic?!

Do your guests’ taste buds a favor – add eggs to pizza. They’ll bake along with the pie, adding gooey goodness as slicing makes the yolk ooze. Soft baked eggs, sharp Italian cheese, prosciutto, olives, mushrooms and onion – perfecto! Or a pizza version of shakshuka or huevos rancheros – yes! 

And speaking of huevos, fillings for tacos and tortillas are only improved with a soft egg. You can go with scrambled or fried, but my personal choice is coddled or poached, using the yolky richness as a sauce.

A soft boiled or poached egg makes a plush salad dressing. Eggs add texture and richness to a bowl of rice, quinoa, couscous or pasta. Soups, potatoes – even waffles – have been known to change personality for the better with the addition of an egg.

And don’t forget – they’re also quite good all by themselves!

2016-02-02 14:31:59
 

Still rolling along

I often cover interesting operations or unique menu items. Sometimes names or items resurface and I follow the threads to see how they’re doing years later.

One such operation is a breakfast food truck in the Maryland/DC area called The Culinary Nomad and I’m happy to report it seems to be doing fine. It gets local press, food writer reviews and blogger coverage, but the most telling thing to say about it is that it’s still in business 3-4 years after launching. Congrats!

The truck’s distinctive menu items blend the owner’s childhood Southern comfort foods with Mexican cuisine, sold from the bright orange truck with a huge egg seemingly frying on the side.

One item that originally intrigued me was The Hot Mess, home fries topped by chorizo, cheese sauce, fried egg, sriracha and a creamy green chili concoction. Other dishes are made from locally-sourced fried eggs and frittatas that include items like Dubliner or feta cheeses, chorizo, sun-dried tomato, and black bean & corn relish. A seasonal item that sounds great is the Turkey Sausage and Sweet Potato Hash with Eggs. I was able to get the recipe, which is shown below. You might try it – I know I’m going to.

The Culinary Nomad’s Turkey Sausage and Sweet Potato Hash with Eggs

  • 1 large onion, medium dice
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, medium dice (No need to remove skin! More fiber!)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. fresh sage, minced
  • 1 large sprig of thyme
  • 1 sweet red pepper, medium dice
  • 1/2 jalapeño, sliced into coins (remove seeds for a milder version)
  • 1 cup kale, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup mustard greens, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 pound turkey sausage, browned and drained
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 large eggs

In a roasting tray, add diced onion, sweet potatoes, olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt. Toss sweet potatoes and onion to coat with oil. Add minced sage and the sprig of thyme, toss to distribute. Place in a 375° F oven for 15 minutes, then add red peppers, jalapeño, kale and mustard greens, and cook for another 10–15 minutes or until sweet potato is tender and vegetables begin to brown. Remove from oven, add cooked sausage crumbles and add salt and pepper to taste. Crown with two fried eggs.

After being in business for nearly 4 years using many of the original recipes, I’d say The Culinary Nomad has a good shot at continuing to keep rolling merrily along.

2016-01-11 14:58:31
 

When simplicity is just right

My best friend’s inability to eat meat on Fridays because of certain beliefs puzzled me. But when invited to stay for dinner on a Friday, I was treated to mac ’n cheese, tuna casserole or grilled cheese and that was just fine with me.

We must have lived in a culinary black hole because the Franzens never served pepper and egg sandwiches, about which I was sadly unaware until I left the nest and fraternized with people from multiple area codes.

A pepper and egg sandwich is a simple and satisfying meal, being nothing fancier than scrambled eggs and griddled bell peppers on a bun. The eggs should be soft and creamy, the peppers nearly caramelized and the bun crusty enough to hold together through the last morsel.

To my mind there are three types of pepper and egg sammies: Orthodox, scrambled eggs with cooked peppers folded in with a little salt and pepper; Reformed, with one addition like onions or cheese; Heretic, wildly adding a jumble of hot peppers, potatoes, cheese, salsa, giardiniera, sauces or meats. There’s no going back from that last one.

According to local pepper and egg purveyors the best ones are kept simple, with just a little salt and pepper to bring out the flavors, wrapped up in crusty French bread. Some operators add them to the menu only at Lent, but many find them to be a good year-round seller. 

All of this is making me nostalgic for those long-ago dinners with the Franzen family. I’d love to go back and tell them about pepper and egg sammies as a Friday evening option. Maybe I’d even get to stay for dinner.

 

2016-01-01 14:34:47