August 4th, 2015

Keeping it Fresh: Emerging Restaurants That are Defining the Future of Health Food

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

As the general public continues to demand fresh, healthy, and economically feasible food with an environmentally sustainable outlook, investors are looking heavily into new chain concepts that fit the ever evolving needs of the consumer. As a result, there has been an influx of restaurant concepts that are tailored to the growing consumer desire for healthy food. Even at higher price points than typical fast food restaurants, consumers are willing to fork over the extra cash. In fact a full 88% of consumers, when polled, were willing to pay extra for healthier foods, according to a 2015 Nielsen poll.

So, with this in mind, let’s look at a few of the more interesting emerging and growing concepts you need to keep on your radar:

Wayback Burgers: the chain got its start in Newark, DE and from there has spread across the U.S. and Argentina, with now more than 100 locations. From their premium burgers and house made chips to their signature Cricket Shake, the chain is all about fresh cues and innovative menus. In either Oreo Mud Pie or Jerky flavors, the protein rich shakes boast 24 and 20 grams of protein respectively. The shake was actually voted on by consumers to remain on the menu after a very successful LTO offering. This is the first time we see cricket-inspired items on a mainstream menu, so this is an ingredient we need to start considering. While the chain markets itself more as a premium, hand-crafted concept as opposed to a ‘health food’ concept, per se, the addition of the cricket shake is one that is a sign that healthy protein alternatives are gaining acceptance. Not yet mainstream in the U.S., to be sure, but this is a big step in the niche of alternative proteins.

Sus Hi Eatstation: a rather new entry into the fast casual category, Sus Hi features all kinds of sushi, from the traditional Japanese fare to more approachable sushi preparations made with cooked chicken, bacon and other mainstream ingredients. These more mainstream friendly menu items are designed for the entry level sushi eater to ease the transition to raw fish sushi. The founder, Robert Ly, has dubbed himself Grand Master Fun Ly as a way to accent the chain’s focus on fun.

Roti Mediterranean Grill: a Chicago based Mediterranean concept with outposts in New York and Washington, D.C., the Roti Grill offers healthy, filling options for the consumer on the go. You can choose from a wrap, a salad or a rice plate. From there, you pick your protein (these include a salmon and a vegetarian falafel option), vegetables, sauces and sides. They also offer hummus served with house-baked pita.  A simple loyalty program where you snap your receipt for rewards gives incentive to cost-conscious consumers who appreciate coupon-based rewards. Considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, it is great to see Mediterranean food enter the spotlight.

Native Foods Café: started in 1994 by a vegan chef, the chain features scratch-made, fresh vegan and vegetarian food. Surprisingly, 85% of visitors fall into the omnivore category, further emphasizing the chain’s widespread appeal. Among the signature items that draw in the omnivores are the Reuben sandwich made with thinly sliced, house made seitan and the meatball sub made with seitan meatballs.

SweetGreen: founded in Washington, D.C., the chain is 31 stores strong and growing. Adhering to a strict set of sustainability practices and offering seasonal menus that rotate based on available produce, the chain has found resonance among the young and upcoming urban professionals in the communities it serves. The current late summer menu includes a watermelon and feta salad and a peach and goat cheese salad among its offerings. Signature dishes available year-round include the kale Caesar and a grain bowl made with quinoa and farro, called the Earth Bowl.

Salata: the Houston based salad concepts features 50 premium toppings as well as 10 house-made dressings, all complemented by your choice of protein. They are now 43 locations strong with projected growth for 10 more openings before the end of 2015. They also feature house made soups and signature teas and lemonades in flavors like plum cinnamon tea, tropical green tea and peach lemonade.

Kosofresh: an emerging chain in New York that features customizable bowls with Korean ingredients, including the highly popular Gochujang, Bulgogi, nori, and Korean radish among the ingredients offered. While they only have 1 location so far, the format and dedication to fresh ingredients with a Chipotle-esque ordering format makes this one concept to watch.

Mendocino Farms: based out of the Los Angeles, CA area, Mendocino Farms is a concept that sources local quality ingredients and combines them into imaginative sandwich combinations. One of the summer sandwiches is the K-Town Bulgogi Ribeye Roll. It features house marinated Bulgogi beef, a spicy Gochujang sauce, a rice vinaigrette slaw and chili aioli, all pressed on a Panini grill. They also feature the V7 (a seven vegetable patty made in house) and cashew feta sandwich called Molly’s Greek Vacation to capture the attention of the vegetarian/vegan demographic.

This list is far from complete, but it clearly illustrates the direction that healthy good-for-you concepts are taking. Be sure to pay extra attention over the coming year as these concepts continue to grow and attract a customer base committed to a healthy lifestyle full of flavor.

July 20th, 2015

Austin Food Trailer Of The Month: Thai-Kun

Posted in Celebrity Chefs, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Trailer/Street Foods, Trends

Thai Changthong has worked in some interesting places, among them Uchiko Austin under the tutelage of Paul Qui. After working there he opened a restaurant in North Austin with Ek Timrerk (You may remember him from our piece on Kin and Comfort, a modern Southern-Thai fusion concept in North Austin) called Spin Modern Thai. While the restaurant was short lived, due to issues with the ventilation system, the food there was amazingly well executed and flavorful.

Thai-Kun, Changthong’s next foray into the culinary world, with his partner Paul Qui, opened in April of 2014 and quickly made the top 10 in Bon Appetit Magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America. That’s quite an accomplishment for a humble food trailer that now sits on the back patio at Whisler’s, an ultra-hip, yet unpretentious bar on Austin’s East Side.










Thai-Kun is part of the Qui Empire for sure, but where Qui focuses on predominantly Filipino food, Chef Changthong focuses on what is affectionately referred to as the “O.G. Thai” (Original Gangster Authentic Thai). This is spicy, no sugar added Thai food that will make your mouth water and your lips burn.

Our first taste was waterfall pork, the spiciest dish on the menu. The dish was full of flavor and heat. The grilled pork shoulder was very tender. It was drizzled with Tiger Cry sauce and sprinkled with toasted rice powder. Cilantro and red onions are bright and clean counterpoints to the spice of the pork. It was served with pickled cabbage and sticky rice to cool and temper the heat. This was a truly addicting dish that I just could not stop eating.











Next up were the black noodles, which were rice noodles cooked in soy sauce and garlic oil. They were then mixed with romaine lettuce, croutons, bean sprouts, celery, croutons and green onions. This was the perfect dish to serve with the waterfall pork due to its cooling nature.











The Issan sausage with distinctly fermented notes was  perfectly ground and had a crispy snap. It was served with ginger, fresh herbs and cabbage. While it was tasty, it needed a little more punch besides the fresh herbs and ginger. I can’t help thinking that glazing in a spicy sauce would have done the trick.










After that we sampled the caramelized pork belly served over jasmine rice with cilantro, red onions and cucumber. The pork belly was a little on the sweet side and could have been slightly more tangy with larger pieces of pork belly. Don’t get me wrong, I love pork belly, but going a little easier on the sweetness and cutting the pork belly into larger pieces would have done the trick.










Our last taste at Thai-Kun was the Thai-Kun fried chicken, which was made with soy sauce marinated chicken. From what I can guess, it was a rice flour coating, since the breading was super light and crispy. It was served with chicken fat rice and Boom sauce (a slightly sweet but intensely spicy chili sauce with a touch of fish sauce). This was a very different interpretation of fried chicken compared to what I am used to but I really loved the play among the flavors.











I have to admit, that the food at this trailer was overall some of the best food I have had at a trailer here in Austin in a long time. With the popularity of food trucks here in the ATX, that’s saying something. From the execution of the dishes to the quality of ingredients, it shows in the end product, and I can see why the trailer made Bon Appetit’s list.

And the best part? The trailer is so popular that the owners are currently in the hiring process for the new brick and mortar at the Domain in North Austin. Look for the opening early this fall in addition to a 2nd Thai-Kun trailer slated to open at Steampunk Saloon on West 6th Street next month.

It is only a matter of time before the waterfall pork calls to me again. Try it, you don’t know what you are missing!

June 30th, 2015

The Menus of Summer – How QSRs Beat the Heat

Posted in About Allison

The warm sunny days and long evenings of summer coming up mean more outdoor activities, and less time in the kitchen. Consumers crave grilled foods, light dishes and refreshing drinks at home and in restaurants alike. QSR’s are releasing LTO and new menu items with this in mind. Here are a few off the more notable “new releases”:

Taco Bell – the king of the taco mash-up is at it again with the testing of their latest creation:

Collider Tacos – in test in Southern California, the tacos feature a flour tortilla spread with cheese sauce and shredded cheese, then wrapped around a hard shell taco. There is also a spicy version that features chipotle sauce and shredded cheese.

Starbucks – since they acquired La Boulange Bakery in 2013, Starbucks has been adding new menu items rather regularly. For summer 2015, they have added 8 new items, including 3 savory breakfast fold-overs, a new Panini, and 5 LTO sweet bakery items meant to pair with tea or coffee.

Here are a few of the offerings:

Chicken Artichoke Panini – a Mediterranean inspired sandwich on flatbread with grilled chicken breast, roasted artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomato pesto, and Provolone cheese

Pepperoni and Tomato Foldover – La Boulange croissant dough wrapped around fillings including pepperoni, zesty tomatoes, and cheese

Frappuccino® Cookie – a buttery sugar cookie topped with chocolate and white confectionary icings

Corner Bakery – just in time for summer, Corner Bakery had debuted 4 new salads with healthy cues and inspired flavors.

Kale Caesar  kale and romaine tossed with Caesar dressing and finished with house made spicy croutons, Parmesan and Romano

Southwest Salad – greens mixed with slaw and topped with quinoa, black beans, cucumbers and tomatoes, with tortilla strips and avocado ranch

Southwest Avocado – a creamy avocado half served with roasted corn and tomato salsa, and finished with tortilla strips

4-Grain Tabbouleh – a mix of quinoa, wheat berries, red rice, and farro with tomatoes, cucumber, parsley and a light lemon dressing

Hardee’s – focusing on the backyard grilling season, Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. just released a picnic inspired burger:

The Most American Burger is here just in time for summer. It features a Black Angus patty topped with American cheese, tomato, a split hot dog, and kettle-cooked potato chips for the ultimate picnic mash-up

Taco John’s – the chain is hitting the summer in stride with a couple of new additions to its menu:

Street Tacos Trio  the trio features 3 tacos in chicken or beef with a cooling garlic-lime sauce and Mexican cheese in a soft corn and flour tortilla.

 Summer Drinks – featured for summer: Mango Citrus Rush and Strawberry Citrus Rush made with Sierra Mist, as well as a French Vanilla or Café Mocha Iced coffees

El Pollo Loco – just released new hand carved chicken salads contain 50% more meat than their regular salads. Here are a few of the new salads available for a limited time:

The Southwest Bacon is loaded with hand-carved chicken breast, bacon, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, onions strings, corn, and BBQ Ranch dressing

The Mango Avocado is topped with sweet mango salsa and creamy avocado pair with chicken, crumbled cotija, pepitas, and sweet roasted red peppers, all tossed with a tangy citrus vinaigrette.

What do you crave when the heat is turned up?

May 27th, 2015

Restaurant of the Month: New Orleans Edition – Cochon Butcher

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


On a recent trip to New Orleans, I was lucky enough to take a side trip to Cochon Butcher, a collaboration between James Beard award winning chefs Donald Link and Steven Stryjewski. The partners have won in the past for Best Chef South for Herbsaint as well as Best New Restaurant and Best American cookbook. More recently, in 2014, the Link Restaurant Group won Best New Restaurant for Peche. With such a pedigree, it is easy to see why a trip to one of their restaurants is more than a little special.

Located right behind Cochon on Tchoupitoulas Street, the restaurant follows a casual model that requires no reservations.  It features a butcher counter on one side of the restaurant and a recent expansion that includes seating and a bar.


The business model really makes sense if you think about the business recaptured by offering a more casual walk-up setting with the same great quality charcuterie as the restaurant next door.

You can purchase charcuterie by the pound at the butcher counter:


Selections include venison sausage, duck pastrami, and pork rillon to name a few.

As well, you can purchase branded swag, including this cool bar knife custom made for the establishment:


Cochon Butcher likes to keep its artisan-focused menu simple. Showcasing an array of simple sandwich preparations, with the emphasis on quality along with an assortment of side and a la carte items, the menu covers all the bases when it comes to delicious and well curated meats.

Our first course was the charcuterie plate, featuring coppa, coppa de testa, Genoa, and my personal favorite pork rillon (made with pork belly and herbs, it’s spreadable heaven). Accompaniments include house-made broken crackers, quick pickles, fresh chow chow and a spicy whole grain mustard. The rillon was so good that I actually took some for the road.


The next bites were of braised pork belly with mint and cucumbers sandwiched between toasted soft white bread. It was a little messy, and the flavor contrast between the mint and the salted pork belly was unexpected. While it was my least favorite flavor combination, let’s remember that this is Cochon, so all comparisons should be left at the door.


As a follow up, we ordered the duck pastrami sliders. Now, I have to admit, I love duck pastrami, so I was a little sad that there was not more of it in these sliders. There was a competition between the flavors in the duck pastrami and an exceptionally rich Gruyere cheese sauce. But it’s duck, so really what’s not to like?


The final bite of the night was a Moroccan spiced lamb on flatbread and the unexpected favorite. Notes of cumin, coriander and curry showcased fork-tender pieces of braised lamb. The lamb was tucked into bed with a very chunky Tzatziki by the softest pillowy flatbread. Sweet dreams little lamb!


I have to say that Cochon Butcher is the one restaurant I must visit while in New Orleans, and with all that the Big Easy has to offer, that is saying a lot. Don’t just take my word for it, head on over yourself!


April 22nd, 2015

Food Mash-Up: Ballpark Edition

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Trends

With the recent opener for the baseball season, ball parks around the country are debuting new food items to entice game goers to their stands. Many baseball parks take inspiration from the food at state fairs, often a great source of trending ideas for development chefs. In an anything goes climate, it pays to take note of the food being served in these venues as they appeal to the mainstream flavor-wise with fun and interesting forms.

Miller’s Park: Inside the Park Nachos

Miller’s Park is the home to the Milwaukee Brewers and the Inside the Park Nachos is perfectly named. Not only does it have a catchy tag, it’s an innovative twist on the classic Nachos. Start with a taco meat burger link crusted with Doritos and drizzled with cheese sauce and sour cream. It’s served with a side of salsa. Easy to eat and portable, the dish made its debut this year.











(Photo: Courtesy of Yahoo Sports)


Chase Field: Churro Dog

Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, announced it would start selling this dessert mash-up at the beginning of the 2015 season. For the mere calorie count of 1,117 calories you, too, can enjoy this decadent and over the top dessert. It features a cinnamon churro nestled inside a chocolate glazed Long John. From there, it’s loaded with toppings, including frozen yogurt, caramel and chocolate sauce. It just may be the craziest dessert to show up at a ball park yet.











(Arizona Diamondbacks photo, via Twitter)


 New York’s Citi Field: S’Mores Bacon

The New York Mets are serving a mash-up on a stick, consisting of bacon that is coated in chocolate, graham cracker coating and marshmallows. All my favorite foods in one place, I say let me at it!
















(@AramarkSports, Twitter)


Fifth Third Ball Park: Pretzel-Breaded Italian Sausage

I can’t help but think this one would be perfect on a stick with some whole-grain mustard.  I have to admit, the idea of a pretzel coated sausage excites me. It’s served on a submarine roll and is definitely a new twist on the sausage and hot dog items you typically see at a ballpark.









(Cory Morse |


Houston’s Minute Maid Park: Chicken and Waffle Cone

Houston Astros’ fans can treat themselves to classic chicken and waffles in a convenient cone form. Filled with creamy mashed potatoes and fried chicken, the waffle cone is drizzled with honey mustard.










(Photo Credit:


Tampa Bay Tropicana Field: Mac Bat

Here’s another cone idea, but this time it’s a bread cone.  Portable and comforting, it combines ground beef, bacon, jalapenos, and creamy mac n’ cheese. I just hope I don’t fall asleep after I eat it.










(Photos courtesy Tampa Bay Rays)


Frawley Stadium:  Krispy Kreme Doughnut Hot Dog

At The Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Krispy Kreme Hot Dog is an exclusive. You won’t see it at a Krispy Kreme near you! It’s a Krispy Kreme Bun split, and stuffed with a hot dog, bacon and raspberry jelly.










(Photo courtesy Wilmington Blue Rocks))


Fox Cities Stadium: The Big Mother Funnel Burger

Minor league team, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, has big league taste! Two powdered-sugar dusted funnel cakes sandwich a bacon cheeseburger with all of the fixings. Its dinner and dessert all in one.










(@ChefTimHansen, Twitter)


Well, I think it’s time to get in the kitchen and whip up some crazy mash-up for dinner. I know I am inspired by these over the top but fun dishes. I hope you are too!

April 6th, 2015

Bufalina – Austin Restaurant of the Month

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Pizza, Restaurants









Helmed by Steve Dilley, Bufalina showcases the best Neapolitan Pizza that Austin has to offer. Fondly dubbed “the Aaron Franklin of Pizza”, he is a former financial trader who made the jump to pizza. His background includes a stint at the prestigious Vera Pizza Napoletana in Naples in 2010, as well as a brief stint at Pizzeria D’Atitilio, which opened in 1937.

The two year project to build out Bufalina included bringing in an authentic Stefan Ferrara oven brought all the way from Italy. And it is a sure thing of beauty:












The atmosphere is cozy and lit with candles. The majority of the seating is picnic-style with long communal tables. Overall, the interior, while understated, is comfortable.










The pizzeria prides itself on more than just its pizza offerings though. The hand-pulled Mozzarella is made with curd from local dairies (or is brought from New Jersey when local milk is not available). Our plate featured a tomato relish with capers, fresh basil, and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Overall, the plate was well balanced.












Bufalina also offers a daily pasta special. The featured pasta was actually quite lovely. The tagliatelle was rich with egg yolks and reminded me of the pasta my grandma used to make by hand when I was little. It was topped with pulled pork and braised chard with a ladle of duck jus over the top. I rather enjoyed this dish, as it really took me back to grandma’s homemade noodle soup, where everything came from the farm. Definitely memorable, especially since it is rare to see freshly made pasta on a menu in Austin.











Next on the menu was the Calabrese pizza, which was topped with a light tomato sauce, slightly spicy salami, roasted red peppers and fresh Mozzarella. The dough was well fermented and the pizza had the signature charred crust we come to expect from Napoletana-style pizza. Overall, this was a decent pizza, but the flavors could have been amped up a little (think Calabrian peppers instead and some intense garlic notes).

calabresepizza1 (1024x931)











The Brussels sprout pizza was next up. It featured sliced Brussels sprouts, serrano peppers and chopped ham. This was my favorite dish by far, but I am probably slightly biased since I happen to love Brussels sprouts. There was a nice char on the Brussels, and the touch of heat from the serrano peppers balanced the salty sweetness of the ham quite well.

brusselssproutpizza (1024x913)











For dessert we chose the orange olive oil cake with coffee ice cream. The cake had a nice crumb, somewhere between a pound cake and a scone, with rich olive oil notes and a touch of orange.  The coffee ice cream played unexpectedly well with these flavors.

oliveoilcake (756x800)












And one last thing if you want to try this cozy little pizza place: get there early. They fill up fast, and they do not take reservations for parties under eight people. We dined right when they opened, and I am glad we did! The line to wait got pretty long pretty quick, with waits over two hours, and that was within 45 minutes of arriving.

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:

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:


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:

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.

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.

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.

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.