GLOBAL APPS: ETHNIC FLAVOURS ADD INTEREST ON CANADIAN APPETIZER MENUS
MARCH 18, 2014 BY CHRISTINE LAFAVE GRACE
Canadian restaurant operators are enlivening their appetizer and starter menus with bold, creative flavours that draw inspiration from popular street foods across the globe.
Around one-third of consumers polled for Technomic’s recent Canadian Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report said they order appetizers on most or all of their restaurant occasions, suggesting there’s room for operators to boost their appetizer buy-in. One way to do so may be through better appetizer variety: More than two in five Canadian consumers (39% of men and 45% of women) said a better variety of appetizers could encourage them to order appetizers more often.
Using data from Technomic’s MenuMonitor online service, let’s consider a couple of appetizer trends on Canadian restaurant menus:
The vibrant tastes of Latin America and Asia are finding new expression in dishes that feature out-of-the-ordinary but approachable flavour combinations served up in easily accessible (and highly shareable) formats, such as tacos or spring rolls. Ingredients such as lime and cilantro that are common to both regions add familiarity for consumers and can serve as a sort of flavour bridge across cuisines.
Notably, from Q4 2012 to Q4 2013, Mexican appetizers outperformed all other appetizer segments (including fries, wings and appetizer samplers) in terms of growth in both menu incidences and the number of Canadian restaurant operators offering them, according to MenuMonitor. Finally, one additional germane statistic from the Starters, Small Plates & Sides report: 31% of Canadian consumers said unique or ethnic flavours play a strong role in their appetizer purchasing decisions.
- Kimchi Quesadilla, Canyon Creek Chophouse: Signature slow-roasted prime rib with authentic kimchi, cheddar and mozzarella in a flour tortilla with toasted sesame seeds and fire salt; served with sambal crema and pico de gallo ($11.95)
- Ahi Tuna Tacos, The Boathouse: Served in crispy wonton tacos with wasabi aioli and mango salsa ($13.99)
- Tandoori Shrimp Tostadas, Beer Bistro (Toronto): With lime-cilantro cabbage, guacamole and crème fraîche ($16.50)
- Tuna Tacos, One Restaurant (Toronto): Albacore tuna, pickled carrot slaw, avocado, yuzu-miso vinaigrette, chili aioli, sesame and cilantro ($24)
Offering incredible flexibility in everything from bread type (traditional Italian pizza dough to Armenian lavash to Indian naan) to toppings, flatbreads can be readily adopted by operators across a wide range of menu segments. If it looks and reads like a lighter version of a pizza, there’s likely an appetite for it. Flatbreads’ pizza-like presentation can mean they’re an especially kid-friendly option, too—making them a worthwhile shareable choice for family-centric restaurants. St. Louis Bar & Grill recently added two signature flatbreads to its appetizer lineup, one featuring a classic bruschetta mix and the other offering bold and spicy Buffalo chicken. Fox & Fiddle, for its part, incorporates assorted global flavours into its flatbreads: The Mediterranean features tzatziki sauce; a butter-chicken variety has rich and savoury Indian butter chicken; and a pulled-pork version features both a chipotle sauce and Korean barbecue sauce. Flatbreads can allow operators to make the most out of ingredients already popular elsewhere on the menu; pulled pork (also offered in flatbreads at Moxie’s Grill + Bar and Crabby Joe’s Tap & Grill) is a prime example.
- Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken Flatbread, Bao Bei: With fresh mozzarella cheese, balsamic onions, roasted red peppers and arugula ($8.95)
- Mediterranean Flat Bread, Sawmill Prime Rib & Steak House: Crumbled feta and vine-ripened roma tomatoes marinated in a garlic balsamic glaze with olive oil and fresh arugula, served on grilled naan ($9.95)
- Pizzetta Gorgonzola, Il Fornello: Mini pizza baked in wood-burning oven with olive oil, Gorgonzola, fresh pear, caramelized onions and arugula ($10)
- Buffalo Chicken Flatbread, St. Louis Bar & Grill: 12-inch flatbread topped with sliced boneless chicken pieces, sautéed onion, a shredded-cheese blend, Buffalo sauce and signature garlic-dill sauce ($10.49)
- Butter Chicken Flatbread, Fox & Fiddle: Stone-baked flatbread with breaded chicken smothered in butter-chicken sauce; topped with melted marble cheese and fresh cilantro ($12.99)
Worth noting: Canadian consumers estimated that on nearly half (48%) of their appetizer-ordering occasions, they enjoy the appetizer by themselves rather than sharing it with other members of their dining party. And around three in 10 said that ordering an appetizer rather than an entrée can help them better control portion sizes (32%) and save money (30%). These findings only further the case that restaurant operators should take a close look at their appetizer selections to ensure that this crucial, introductory area of the menu features sufficient flavour and preparation variety and highlights what the restaurant does best.