February 24th, 2015

The Rise of Savory

Posted in Grocery, Healthy, New Foods and Flavors, Retail, Trends

One of the most interesting recent trends in the food industry is the use of savory ingredients in products that we traditionally consider to be sweet.  The reality is that consumers are craving traditional flavors delivered in new and interesting ways. For foodservice establishments, this new direction could drive business to the portion of the population that prefers savory and salty food items over sweet ones. Here are some trending products to fuel your imagination:

Greek Yogurt

One of the breakout stars of recent years, Greek yogurt now dominates the grocery store shelves. With its healthy reputation and convenience, it is easy to see why it is so popular. So let’s check out a few concepts/products that are capitalizing on this trend:

  1. Blue Hill Farms – specializing in a line of high quality savory yogurts for retail made with 100% grass-fed milk and local produce, with the motto “Know Thy Farmer”, they have managed to carve out a special niche on the grocery store shelves (but don’t expect that to last very long). Flavors include parsnip, carrot, sweet potato, and beet, and are sold at Whole Foods and other select gourmet retailers.
  2. Go Greek Yogurt – featuring Greek yogurt that is actually flown in from Greece, this Los Angeles based yogurt features a variety of savory yogurt toppings that are traditional in Greece, but appear novel to the American consumer. Among the more interesting flavors are the Greek Salad Yogurt (with cucumber, tomato, Kalamata olives, olive oil, oregano, sea salt, and crushed black pepper), Diokles (fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil, sea salt, crushed black pepper), and the Kosmas (Kalamata olives, basil, olive oil, sea salt, crushed black pepper). All are served with pita for dipping. In addition, their yogurt to-go is packaged in biodegradable clay pot (yes, you heard that right) also sourced from Greece. They state you can throw it in the compost if you like and it will completely breakdown.
  3. Stonyfield – while this product isn’t yogurt technically, it sits on the shelf next to all of the Greek iterations. Made with milk and cheese cultures instead of the traditional yogurt cultures, the product is a completely new product category. Released during Fashion week in 2014 with the hashtag #CheatOnGreek, the flavor is more similar to fromage blanc. It’s less chalky, creamier, and has a mild and fresh flavor, and is attempting to go after yogurt lovers who do not like the chalky taste of Greek yogurt.

Savory Beverages

Another category to get a recent makeover is the beverage category. Consumers are asking for savory and healthy options, and several companies are catering to that demand:

  1. Numi Organics – their line of savory teas includes broccoli-cilantro, carrot-curry, and beet-cabbage. They just released a new line of superfood savory teas containing turmeric as the primary ingredient. Golden tonic features added lemon verbena and dried lime, while Three Roots features added ginger and sweet licorice. Look for more interesting flavors from Numi in the coming year….I am sure they won’t disappoint.
  2. Rus’mmm – this company’s products are based on a secret family recipe. The South Indian beverage features toor dal (yellow pigeon peas), tapioca, coriander, cumin, and turmeric among its ingredients. In original and tomato, it’s an interesting thickened beverage that is sure to satisfy when soup isn’t handy.
  3. Tio – a newcomer to retail the brand focuses on all natural, preservative-free cold gazpachos. Currently in a limited market in Miami, the 3 flavors (Gazpacho Clasico, Gazpacho Verde, and Gazpacho del Sol) are flying off the shelves. The use of HPP technology is used to extend the products shelf life while maintaining the fresh flavor.
  4. Nuwi – the first of its kind quinoa product, Nuwi quinoa drinkable snack features carrot-ginger, split pea, and tomato flavors under its savory umbrella.

Savory Snack Bars

For those consumers looking for convenient fueling options, snack bars are a no-brainer. With the multitude of sweet versions lost to the masses, it was only a matter of time before savory varieties hit the grocery shelves.

  1. Strong and Kind Bars – a recently launched savory line of nutrition bars, and boasting 10g of protein, these bars are a sweet and savory mash-up of flavors. With hickory smoked, honey smoked BBQ, Thai sweet chili, roasted jalapeno, and honey mustard among the offered flavors, there is one for everyone.
  2. Journey Bar – with flavors like coconut curry, sesame ginger, pizza marinara, and rosemary, these bars appear to be taking the global flavor route, all in a vegan-friendly format with 15 grams of whole grains.
  3. Epic – appealing to the paleo diet crowd, these bars made with 100% grass fed buffalo, uncured bacon, and tart cranberries, they contain 11g of protein.
  4. Slow – featuring Moroccan (Pistachio, Currants, Carrots, Ginger), California (Almond, Kale, Pomegranate, Quinoa), Thai (Peanut, Chili, Brown Rice, Bell Pepper), and Indian (Cashew, Cumin, Cauliflower, Coconut) flavors, these bars not only have interesting flavors, but a kale or cauliflower based bar seems intriguing and sure to appeal to the holistic food consumer.
  5. Tanka – featuring prairie raised buffalo, and based on a traditional Lakota Indian recipe for wasna, they are a powerhouse of nutrition, with 14g of protein per 140g bar.


Keep a lookout for these and other niche products on the grocery store shelves and let them inspire your culinary development.

January 26th, 2015

The Peached Tortilla: Austin Restaurant of the Month

Posted in About Allison, Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends

Eric Silverstein is a man in demand and 2014 was his big year: in September, Plate magazine named him one of 30 chefs to watch. He also recently inked a deal for a book with Penumbra Literary, in which he plans to detail his leap from litigator to food truck entrepreneur. And most importantly (to me), he just opened his brick and mortar here in Austin, TX.

I have eaten at his truck Yume Burger in the past, so I knew what to expect, but for those of you unfamiliar with his cuisine, it is best described as Southern-Asian Fusion. Born in Tokyo, he was exposed to Japanese, Malaysian, and Chinese cuisine at an early age. He was then introduced to traditional Southern cuisine at the age of 10. These divergent cuisines come together to tell his personal food story, and it’s a colorful one.

On Burnet Road in the Allandale residential area, the modest storefront gives way to a modern “picnic” décor featuring white wooden slat benches and retro accents in yellow and orange. Overall the space is cozy and the service was very efficient. We arrived right when the restaurant opened and were greeted promptly by our server, Thuy, who was very friendly and approachable.

We perused the menu and made our selections rather quickly, which you can view here: http://www.thepeachedtortilla.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/peached-dinner-menu.pdf

For our starter, we selected the kimchi arancini. Made with rice and pureed kimchi and coated in panko, they were served with Sriracha and wasabi aiolis with a sprinkle of minced nori. The sauces were spicy but balanced and complemented the arancini very nicely. A rather tasty little morsel, I must say!


Next up were the bacon jam fries with green onions, sharp Cheddar, a fried egg and chili aioli. I am a huge bacon fan, and while I did like the flavor, I craved more bacon flavor. Overall, the dish was well executed with a beautifully cooked fried egg and crispy fries.



For our next course, we decided on the Tres Cauliflower, featuring cauliflower done 3 ways, hence the name. While cauliflower is typically cast in a supporting role, this dish was the absolute shining star of the evening. The nori cauliflower puree was very silky and packed a big hit of umami. Nestled atop the puree, grilled cauliflower was slightly charred and finished with nori butter and caramelized onions. The perfect counterpoint in the peach pickled cauliflower was a surprising sweet addition. Curiosity confirmed that the pickled cauliflower was brined in peach tea and rice wine vinegar. The hands down favorite of the night, this is the dish I would recommend to friends as a must not miss.


Since I had lived in Japan for several years, I had to try the blistered catfish bowl.  I absolutely love unagi (eel) sushi, so the fact that the catfish was prepared in the same style sold me on this dish. Unagi sushi is typically served with a Japanese style BBQ sauce, which is typically made with soy sauce, sugar and mirin, giving it a salty-sweet flavor profile.  Again, the presentation was beautiful. It was served over rice with charred wasabi Napa, Japanese pickles (even the pickle-hater at the table loved them), and a beautiful 45 minute egg, all finished with sesame seeds and crumbled nori. The fish was cooked perfectly, and this dish was as healthy as it was tasty.



Our last dish was Silverstein’s nod to delicious meat synonymous with Texas: smoked brisket. Playfully titled “Brisket Fun”, it is a stir-fried dish with wide rice noodles, bean sprouts and kale. Slightly spicy and well-balanced,  it was the most outright fusion dish of the evening. And yes it was fun.



Chalk up another score for Austin, TX with the creative, delicious, and beautiful food at the Peached Tortilla. And watch closely this year to see what Mr. Silverstein is up to next!



January 15th, 2015

Environmental Sustainability

Posted in Packaging, Restaurants, Trends

One of the top trends for 2015, according to NRA’s Culinary Forecast, is environmental sustainability. With increasing concerns for our food supply in an ever shrinking world, restaurants are employing some rather creative methods for reducing food waste, improving recycling practices, and increasing resource efficiency.


For Larkburger, a fresh burger concept based in Vail, Colorado, the foundation of their business is sustainability. With 100% biodegradable containers and utensils made from potato and corn starch that they compost on-site, unbleached paper packaging, and the reuse of used cooking oil in their vehicles, they have managed a certified green status for all 4 of their Denver locations.

Snappy Salads, a Texas-based chain with 7 Dallas-area locations recently switched from plastic to premium paper straws as part of their goal to become more sustainable. The chain features tables and counters made from recycled or reclaimed materials. All of their containers are sustainable and compostable. A biannual electronics recycling roundup is also hosted by the chain. So why paper straws? For one, while they are slightly more expensive, they are 100% degradable. The average straw is estimated to be used for 30 seconds. A plastic straw that we use for 30 seconds takes anywhere from 75-450 years by various estimates to decompose, so paper straws just seem to make sense.

Boloco, the home of globally inspired burritos, uses corn fiber cups and bamboo bowls in their 22 locations. (They also use low-flow water heads and Paperstone table tops.) While they do this quietly, they are setting a great example with their efforts.

Other Packaging Trends, in addition to restaurants looking for food container and takeout alternatives that promote sustainability efforts, they are also looking back-of-the- house. One big trend that has been growing is the use of #10 pouches vs. #10 cans for sauces. Pouches offer environmentally friendly benefits in many ways – to get an idea, check out this link: http://www.paradisetomato.com/environmental-impact-calculator.html


Building Certifications

Dunkin’ Donuts recently launched a green building certification program with the purpose of assisting their franchisees in building energy-conscious and sustainable restaurants. The goal is to open 100 “DD Green” restaurants before the end of 2016. With two levels of certification including “DD Green” (the restaurants meet the minimum requirements) and “DD Elite” (restaurants exceed the minimum requirements).
Read more: http://www.environmentalleader.com/2014/12/10/dunkin-donuts-launches-green-building-certification-for-restaurants/#ixzz3MktNXuR7

Many chains are taking similar steps.


Other Efforts

For interesting non-profit business models look to Food Recovery Network. Founded in 2011, the company launched a program in April 2014 it deemed “Food Recovery Certified”. The company’s primary desire is to reduce food waste by donation of surplus food to local charities and non-profits. Restaurants that donate at least once a month get a sticker in their window designating them with the certification. Since the program is relatively new, it is just starting to gain traction.


And if you are looking for a green destination, Asheville, NC may just be the place. With 15 restaurants across the city, including one at the Biltmore Estate, the Green Restaurant Association has dubbed Asheville as “America’s First Green Dining Destination”.


December 23rd, 2014

Trends in Bakery Foods: Beyond the Cronut

Posted in About Allison, New Foods and Flavors, Trends

With the phenomenon of the Cronut last year, bakery products are becoming more inventive and just plain more fun. Chefs across the country are looking for ways to set themselves apart from the competition, and hybrid bakery items are the hot ticket item. Some of the best are inspired by the Cronut master, and others are a simple fusion of bakery items from different cultures, resulting in something entirely new and unique. Let’s look at some of the most recent and popular treats according to the internet:

Alfred Coffee – a coffee shop and kitchen in Los Angeles, they have a really interesting item on their secret menu: the edible espresso cup. Most likely inspired by “Chocolate Chip Cookie Shots” of Ansel fame, the cup is a waffle cone, lined with chocolate and served with your choice of espresso or machiatto.  (Twitter: #AlfredCone)

Afters Ice Cream – The brainchild of Scott Nghiem, Afters Ice Cream features a culinary creation said to rival the Cronut, and it’s called the Milky Bun. Essentially it’s ice cream encapsulated by a donut that is made to order. In flavors like jasmine milk tea, churro, and almond cookie, the bun has taken the West Coast by Storm. http://aftersicecream.com/

Creffle Café – Take a crepe and cross it with a Belgian waffle and an eggette (a Cantonese egg-fortified bubble waffle), and you get the Creffle. It is crispy on the outside and has a soft fluffy center and can be served with sweet or savory fillings. One of the house specialties is a coffee marinated meatball that you can tuck up inside your Creffle. http://creffle.com/about.html

The Bruffin Café – essentially the Bruffin is a pastry similar to Brioche that is layered with toppings from around the world, then rolled up and baked in a muffin tin. The flavors lean more to the savory side and include the Indian (Masala Curried Chicken, Chick Peas and Paneer Cheese) and the Spanish (Chorizo, Manchego Cheese and Ancho Chile) among its 12 savory flavors. Sweet versions include blueberry mascarpone and vanilla apple almond. http://www.thebruffin.com

Church’s Chicken – the Oreo biscuit is a thing, and Church’s just rolled them out on December 1st as an LTO through December 28. It is biscuit dough stuffed with Oreos, and once it is baked, it is drizzled with a sweet vanilla icing.

Frangelli’s Bakery – a hybrid cannoli and donut pastry, called appropriately the “Donnoli”. Cut open a fresh made donut and fill it with chocolate chip cannoli filling, and you have one tasty dessert.  You’ll have to fly to Philly for this one though.

Leadbelly’s/Eli’s Cheesecakes – Cheesecake Beignets are a collaboration between Leadbelly’s and Eli’s cheesecakes and consist of Eli’s Cheesecake tucked inside Leadbelly’s burger bun dough. It is fried and then dusted with powdered sugar.

December 3rd, 2014

New Technologies: Coming to a Store Near You

Posted in About Allison, Restaurants, Trends

An aspect of the food industry that cannot be ignored is the pull of technology for consumers. With younger generations becoming more and more technically savvy, adding innovative technologies to the mix in your establishment will draw in those customers that desire convenience, ease of use, and technologies that make their dining experiences more fun and interactive.

National Restaurant News did a recent survey that showed that one third of consumers are paying their bill on a payment app, such as ApplePay, Tabbed Out or Open Table.  Among restaurants in the casual sector, TGIFriday’s was the first to partner with a mobile payment company in 2012 (Tabbed Out). Since then, McDonald’s, Subway, Chipotle and many others have implemented mobile ordering and payment options as time-saving devices for their consumers.

New to the delivery scene, Starbucks will be offering the service starting in 2015, which gives the consumer the ability to place a standing order to be delivered at their convenience. The program is being rolled out with hopes to increase customer loyalty as well as opening up previously neglected revenue channels. They have also made a recent announcement that they are rolling out charging mats in their stores. With the increase in smartphone usage among U.S. consumers, the ability to lay your phone on the table and get an instant charge is an additional draw for techie customers. It seems the company is pulling out all of the stops in the technology area to increase their customer base.

Another interesting technology app, called Venue Vibes, allows the consumer to determine wait times before they ever set foot in the restaurant. The app is integrated with the restaurant POS and tracks the number of open tabs versus the venue capacity to determine the mood, with 4 categories: lively, active, relaxed and quiet. So whether you are looking to hang out in the hippest joint in town or are craving a quiet romantic dinner, the app can find the perfect place for you. It’s available for Android and IOS: http://paywithdash.com/vibes/ .

And while we’re at it, wouldn’t it be cool to order your next pizza with your eyes? Pizza Hut is developing technology to do just that. In a partnership with Tobii Technology, a Swedish firm that specializes in the development of retina-scanning technology, Pizza Hut hopes to be able to simplify the ordering process. By tracking where your eyes linger the longest, the technology hopes to help you build the pizza of your dreams.

If ordering with your eyes isn’t your thing, what about letting a robotic bartender make your next drink? On the new “smart ship” Quantam of The Seas, Royal Caribbean brings you B1-O and N1-C, two robots from Makr Shakr (http://www.makrshakr.com ). The robots are capable of using 30 different alcohols and 21 mixers, with an output of 2 drinks per minute.

The future of foodservice is an exciting frontier and as new technologies emerge, it only promises to become more dynamic. Who knows what innovations will come in the next year, and I cannot wait to find out.

November 19th, 2014

The Food Hall and the Social Club: Trend to Watch?

Posted in About Allison, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trends


Food halls are becoming more and more popular and it’s no wonder. With the convenience of multiple restaurants and specialty shops all in one place, it is easy to see the appeal.  Typically, the food hall is set apart from a typical food court or restaurant by the fact that each stall may serve one or two items and do them very well. The mix of artisan packaged goods and tantalizing smells can lead the consumer on a multi-cultural gastronomic adventure.

The food hall is making a splash, and a big one at that, with the much anticipated opening of Anthony Bourdain’s food hall. At this time it is touting up to 50 restaurant stands. The location and stalls are being kept under wraps with an anticipated opening in 2016. And let’s not forget about the recent opening of the Chicago outpost of Mario Batali’s Eataly, an homage to all products Italian (the cheese section alone is worth the visit).

Here are a few food halls that are worth a mention:

Gotham West Market: Located in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, the market features 8 stalls featuring products from the likes of Jeni’s Ice Cream, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Ivan’s Slurp Shop. Opening last fall, the market takes up 10,000 square feet on the bottom floor of a 554 unit luxury apartment building.

Website: http://gothamwestmarket.com/

Stir Market:  In a slightly different format, Stir Market offers “a modern California take on the classic European food hall experience, offering a variety of culinary choices where you can meet, dine and shop in an intimate setting. The market hall mixes epicurean retail space and a casual restaurant represented by distinctive specialty food stalls” (Website). Located in Los Angeles, it includes an espresso bar, a European rotisserie, and a craft beer and wine bar.

Website: http://stirmarket.com

Gansevoort Market: Just opened on October 14th of this year, the market is in a historic building in New York’s Meatpacker’s District and features a salumeria, sushi, creperie and lobster bar among its offerings.

Website: http://gansmarket.com/

The Hall: Dubbed a “super pop-up” that opened at the end of September in San Francisco, the Hall is equipped with a large prep kitchen and a stall for each vendor. Community picnic tables abound inside and out. Look for vendors “including an Anchor Steam bar, a fish market, a wine shop, and restaurants offering Moroccan-Peruvian fusion, Vietnamese pho, barbecue, cold-brewed coffee and pastries”. The “super pop-up” will be torn down in two years as it was built as a solution to delayed permitting issues which were preventing businesses from moving forward with construction.

Website: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Super-pop-up-food-hall-feeds-into-plans-for-5729488.php


Oxbow Public Market: With over 30 restaurants and specialty shops, the Oxbow Market occupies 40,000 sq. ft. of market space in the Oxbow district of Napa Valley. Expect charcuterie from the Fatted Calf and burgers from iconic road stand Gott’s Roadside.

Website: http://oxbowpublicmarket.com/



Social clubs follow a slightly different format. Instead of focusing on strictly food-related experiences, these venues seek to provide complete entertainment, often including bowling alleys, bocce, swimming pools, and other sports-minded activities intermixed with quality food and cocktail programs.

Pinewood Social: This is a social club in Nashville that includes a coffee bar, dining, an outdoor pool area complete with an airstream bar, bowling alleys, a bocce ball court and living room. The kitchen is helmed by Chef Josh Harbiger, formerly of The Catbird Seat, and features food in the sharing format with whole fried chicken or pot roast to serve 4-6 with accompanying sides.

Punch Bowl Social: With locations in Austin, TX, Portland, OR, and Denver, CO, Punchbowl Social showcases gastro-pub food and an artisan cocktail program. Activities include shuffleboard, bowling, private karaoke and darts among its varied activities.


So, what do you think? Will food and entertainment hybrid concepts be the future of foodservice?


October 30th, 2014

Focus on Fall Flavors: Get Your Pumpkin On!

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Pizza, Restaurants, Trends

It’s that time of year! Time to roll out the pumpkin flavored products. Pumpkin has become so popular that a certain drink at Starbucks goes by the shorthand of PSL. Just search on Twitter for the hashtag #PSL and you will see what I mean. The PSL has even spawned a video parody to the song “Shake It Off”.

So what is the allure of the pumpkin? For some it can be the nostalgia of the fall season, and for others it answers to a deep-seated need for rituals. Pumpkins are associated with the fall season, so it just makes sense that consumers ring in the season with pumpkin-flavored products.

While some people do not understand the allure of pumpkin flavor others live in obsession over this humble squash. According to an article written for CNN, pumpkin’s popularity increased 14% over the past year, and 34% over the past 5 years. This translates to more and more farmland being dedicated to growing pumpkins.  Other articles call for an end to the pumpkin madness, stating that the market is over-saturated by pumpkin products.

Restaurants, including QSRs and Fast Casual alike, have definitely embraced this mega-trend for fall, so let’s take a quick peek at some of the latest products created to rival the ubiquitous PSL and a few other goodies designed to complement these pumpkin offerings.

Tropical Smoothie Café: their ‘Naughty or Nice’ seasonal promotion showcases interesting smoothies in unique flavors (Cranberry Truffle, Peaches N’ Pumpkin Spice, and Very Berry Cranberry) to complement their Pumpkin Pie smoothie. In addition, they are featuring 2 new sandwich combinations just in time for the holidays: the Chipotle Cranberry Turkey Club and the Rustic Turkey Apple Club.

Dunkin Donuts: the new Pumpkin Crème Brulee Latte and the Croissant Donut (which is set to release on Nov. 3) are featured items on the Dunkin Donuts menu. And for Halloween, they featured a pumpkin pie donut in the shape of a jack-o’-lantern as well as the Boston Scream donut filled with vanilla custard.

Quizno’s: New Pumpkin White Chip bars were released just in time for Halloween and are available for a limited time. Basically a pumpkin-flavored blondie, they are sure to be tasty.

Panera: the Turkey Cranberry Flatbread Sandwich and the Butternut Squash Ravioli are newly released items. Finish your meal with the new Caramel Apple Scone. While there are no pumpkin flavored offerings in their new menu items, they feature other traditional fall flavors.

Stevi B’s: by popular demand, they are bringing back their Pumpkin Pie Pizza, a limited-time dessert pizza with pumpkin pie filling and sweet icing.

Pie Five Pizza: also coming back for the fall season is Pie Five’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cake with warm spice notes, pumpkin pie filling, and spiced pumpkin frosting.

Regardless of whether you are firmly seated on the pumpkin bandwagon or you do not care for pumpkin flavors, you cannot deny the consumer draw of including pumpkin on your menu.

September 19th, 2014

The Allure of the Secret Menu

Posted in About Allison

The majority of consumers are oblivious to the phenomenon known as the “Secret Menu”. The most famous of these secret menus is the one at In-N-Out. With animal style fries and the 4×4, In-N-Out has succeeded in drawing in customers that are not satisfied with just any run-of-the-mill regular menu items and crave a “made-for-me” experience. This food trend is sweeping the nation and is a direct response from the QSR industry to compete with fast casual establishments.

So what makes secret menus so appealing to the consumer?

Customization: nothing is more appealing to the average consumer than a menu item that has been customized for them. Many secret menus originated from the desire for a consumer to mix ingredients already existing on a menu in a whole different way. This option to customize their meal serves to make the customer feel special and results in an increased likelihood of return visits.

Insider Knowledge: among Millennials, the desire to be the ‘cool’ kid translates well when it comes to secret menus. There is a badge of honor associated with being the first in a group of friends to try a new item. The sharing of the secret cements the relationship between the consumer and the establishment as well, while still providing the novelty that the customer craves. Among Millennials the use of social media serves as the major vehicle for sharing these experiences.

The secret menu also benefits the chain in several important ways:

Free Publicity: the secret menu allows the chain to add items without increasing their menu footprint, saving money on media and advertising. Social media plays a large role in this phenomenon  with loyal fans posting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Who doesn’t want free publicity of this kind? Letting your loyal followers spread the word for you lends an authenticity to your menu offerings that cannot be cultivated through internal marketing campaigns alone.

Customer Loyalty: secret menus also serve another purpose for the chain, and that is to increase customer loyalty. Among Millennials, for example, there is a strong desire to feel special and unique. By offering these secret menu items to their loyalty program customer base, the chain can gain the allegiance of their most devoted fans.

Now let’s look at some of the more interesting secret menu items on chains around the country:


Considered the pioneer of the secret menu craze (their secret menu has been around since the 1970s when the term “animal-style” was first noted), the chain gives all of the credit to their fan base with this and other items on their (not-so) secret menu.

Animal-Style: burgers or fries topped with cheese, onions and a special sauce

Neapolitan: a shake layered with chocolate, strawberry and vanilla

The Flying Dutchman: a bun-less double burger with cheese

Mustard-Fried: get your burger slathered with mustard before it is grilled


Mc10:35: a breakfast McMuffin that substitutes a burger patty for the breakfast protein. Alludes to the changeover between breakfast and lunch service.

McG***Bang: yes, this one is a little vulgar, but it’s McDonald’s most famous secret menu item, consisting of McChicken sandwich stuffed in the middle of a McDouble.

Burger King

Rodeo Burger: a single cheeseburger topped with onion rings and BBQ sauce.

Originally an LTO, it’s now on the secret menu due to ingredient availability.

Frings: an order of ½ French fries and ½ onion rings for those among us who want it all.


Poutine: French fries with gravy and cheese curds; if you are lucky they will have the cheese curds to make it.

Triple Down: the famous double-down with an extra breaded chicken filet with cheese and bacon.


Quesarito: the most famous item on Chipotle’s secret menu, it consists of burrito wrapped in a cheese quesadilla.

Nachos: order the salad with tortilla chips instead of lettuce for your own customized nachos for an upcharge.


With arguably the largest secret menu that has its own website, the majority of the items are created by fans of the concept. Here are a few of the more interesting ones:

Butter Beer Latte: take a typical latte and add caramel, toffee nut, and cinnamon dolce syrups and you have a great fall latte.

London Fog: originally a seasonal tea latte, it’s made with Earl Grey Tea, vanilla syrup and steamed milk.

Mojito Refresher: take a cool lime refresher and add classic and peppermint syrup¸ garnish with lime slices.

Website: http://starbuckssecretmenu.net/

With a trend that is increasing in popularity, don’t you think it’s time you unlock the secrets to your own secret menu?

August 26th, 2014

Kin and Comfort: The Best of Southern and Thai in Austin

Posted in Restaurants, Trends

Recently opened in March of this year, Kin and Comfort, in the Hana World Food Court on Parmer Lane in Austin is the new concept from Tim Ekrerk, formerly of Spin Modern Thai. Thai by birth, he is the brother in the Austin powerhouse duo behind Titaya’s. He also has collaborated with Paul Qui on several of his food trucks, so while his name may not be familiar to you, his dishes just might be.

At Kin and Comfort, the food is heavily influenced by the Southern Food movement with strong roots in his Thai heritage. Think traditional Asian ingredients and throw in a bit of Southern flair, and you might just be able to categorize Ekrerk’s cuisine.

We started with the Son-In-Law-Eggs. A classic Thai street food, they consist of a breaded and deep-fried egg white filled with creamy egg yolk seasoned with black pepper and pickles. The dish was finished with shaved fennel and a tart yet sweet tamarind sauce.

Our next foray into Thai-inspired Southern cuisine was a coconut and lime infused Tom Kah shrimp and grits. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and were complemented by salty Virginia ham and enoki mushrooms. By far one of my favorite dishes, it showcased a perfect harmony of East meets West and was finished with a flourish of green onions and cilantro.

Then we tried the coconut cabbage slaw. I was honestly expecting a coleslaw but this was different. The subtly sweet coconut base was mixed with cabbage, house-pickled beets, and deep-fried Brussels sprouts. The contrast in flavors and cooking methods was a nice surprise to the palate.

After that, it was the home fried chicken. The chicken was marinated in a soy sauce base prior to being breaded and deep-fried. The chicken was much more flavorful than typical fried chicken. Accompanied by fried green tomatoes and a spicy papaya salad, it was a whole new take on fried chicken.

Out of all of the dishes, the Southern fried rice balls were the most unique. Black rice was breaded and deep-fried, then covered with sausage gravy. Finished with smoky shaved bonito and green onion, it was definitely a dish that had varied reactions. I found the bonito only smoky and not overly fishy. While it wasn’t my favorite dish, it had a unique quality that I would consider a signature for the chef.

The last dish to come out was the potato and taro hushpuppies. It was good timing too, since they were a little on the sweet side with the addition of umeboshi (pickled Japanese plum) sauce and crushed peanuts. Sweet and slightly fruity, they were the perfect way to end the meal.

Overall, I really liked the variations in the menu. I was also impressed with the presentation of the food as many food court restaurants like to serve their dishes in plastic or Styrofoam food containers. Here the focus is on sitting down and enjoying a good Southern……I mean Thai…..meal.

August 4th, 2014

Destination: Peru

Posted in About Allison

Cuisine of Peru: The food of Peru is a symphony of the many cultures found in the country and is considered by some to be a shining example of fusion cuisine. Let’s explore Nikkei, Criollo, and Chifa cuisines, considered the most popular fusion cuisines in Peru.

With the 2nd largest population of Japanese immigrants in South America, Nikkei Cuisine is becoming increasingly popular. Featuring Japanese ingredients and culinary techniques that are used to enhance the foods of Peru, this is a true fusion cuisine. While highly influenced by Japanese sensibility, the cuisine is distinctly unique to Peru.  Chefs that are known for this cuisine include Virgilio Martinez of Centrale and Hajime Kasuga of Ache. Tiradito is one of the best known dishes in this cuisine and consists of fish sliced thin and bathed in a spicy sauce. The onions common to ceviche are noticeably absent in this presentation.

The most popular fusion cuisine in Peru is Criollo (Creole) due to the immense influence of the African population that was originally brought here as slaves. Plantains, sweet potatoes, anticuchos (skewered grilled meats), and tacu tacu (a dish made with mayocoba beans and cooked rice) are among the ingredients/dishes common to this cuisine. Gaston Acurio of Astrid Y Gaston (Chef Gaston is considered the ambassador for the food of Peru) is known for Creole-Mediterranean cuisine.

Chinese immigrants of Cantonese descent have also highly influenced Peruvian cuisine. The fusion cuisine termed Chifa is derived from a Cantonese word that means “to eat rice and have a meal”. The dish arroz chaufa (Peruvian-Cantonese fried rice) and lomo saltado, a stir fry of beef, are two common Peruvian-Chinese dishes. Chifas are very common in Peru and are considered the “everyman’s” restaurant since they appeal to all walks of life. Again, here the distinction is the use of predominantly Peruvian ingredients.

Agricultural Products

The Andean highlands are the birthplace of potatoes. With over 5,000 documented species, Peru and the surrounding countries are a literal smorgasbord of these delicious tubers. Most varieties are only found locally (approximately 100 varieties are sold commercially in the United States for comparison).

Aji Amarillo, also indigenous to Peru, is known for its unique spicy flavor and is showing up on menus across the country, as well as grocery stores as a paste or whole canned peppers.

From the Western coastal desert and high Andeans to the Amazonian river basin, Peru offers a wide range of climates, and thus a wide range of agricultural products. Major export goods include coffee, cuisine asparagus¸ artichokes, and avocadoes, and yet, these ingredients only scratch the surface of the agricultural products grown in Peru. Let’s look at a few that you may not have heard of:

Granadilla: a relative of the passion-fruit, it has a hard orange external skin that surrounds a pithy white middle skin. The inside is comprised of a delicious pulp with numerous black seeds.

Tumbo – also called the banana passion fruit, it has clustered black seeds and pulp in a firm yellow skin, and it is best eaten cooked, as the pulp is very acidic when raw.

Pichuberry: also called aquaymanto, it is a relative of the husk cherry, and like the husk cherry, it has a papery outer husk.

Tamarillo: known as the tree tomato, while related to tomatoes, is not a tomato. Its flavor is said to be a cross between a tomato and a passion fruit.

Capulin: also called rum cherry, it is a dark purple, oblong fruit related to the cherry and is intensely sweet.

Airampu: the seed of a cactus, it imparts an intense red color to food. It is found in drinks and used similarly to hibiscus.

Tarwi: the seed of a species of lupine, it a similar to a bean, and in the same family. Light yellow with a brown dot, it is a beautiful flower that produces a bean, which is 40% protein.

Cocona – related to tomatoes, but resembling the persimmon, it has a taste that is a cross between a tomato and a lemon.

Llulluchas – a spherical colonial cyanobacteria (scientific name Nostoc) that grows in the mountains of Peru during the rainy season.

Lucuma – this fruit is not usually eaten raw and has a flavor that is reminiscent of maple syrup and sweet potatoes. It is an ingredient in ice cream in Peru.

As you sit and ponder just how you can ever sample all the unique flavors that Peru has to offer, consider attending Mistura, the largest food festival in South America, which takes place every September.  Since most of these products are not yet available commercially, the Mistura is the perfect place to taste to your heart’s content.  You never know, you might just knock them off your bucket list.