Is the End of Low-Brow Food Near?
Chain restaurants are known for their all-American calorie bombs—think the infamous Bloomin’ Onion or the new and disturbing invention the Chicken Alfredo Deep Dish Spaghetti pie—but it looks like many of the country’s biggest chains are attempting to keep up with our changing interests in food. Although a chain restaurant isn’t going to feel like a Brooklyn gastropub anytime soon, there have been some hip and high-end additions lately. Now places like Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse are jumping at the chance to include trendy ingredients and farm-to-table fare. Here are five fancy chain restaurant dishes that prove foodie culture is spreading faster than the cooking time of a Neapolitan burrata pie in an 800-degree brick oven.
Super Antioxidant Salad, Cheesecake Factory
This salad certainly checks off a lot of the requisite antioxidant-rich ingredient boxes with spinach, kale, avocado, blueberries, sunflower seeds, grapes, and almonds in the mix. But if you would prefer some other nutrient-rich options to offset an Oreo cheesecake, the mega-chain now has a whole section on the menu dedicated to super foods, including avocado toast and that ubiquitous menu item that will most likely define this decade: the kale-and-quinoa salad.
California Flatbreads, California Pizza Kitchen
CPK launched these not-quite-pizza appetizers a couple years ago and the result is a trio of flatbreads that sound like they belong on the menu of a trendy small plates spot. The Bianco comes layered with whipped truffle cream; the Shaved Mushroom and Spinach flatbread touts a special brand of California extra virgin olive oil; and the Spicy Fennel Sausage and Poblano includes wild Greek oregano and “hand-torn” sausage, which we didn’t even know was a thing.
100% Grass-Fed Sustainably-Raised Beef Burger with Aged Cheddar, Outback Steakhouse
If the Outback gang was trying to wedge in as many Portlandia-worthy hipster food terms into one name, they’ve finally done it. This new menu addition also gets topped with garlic aioli (because ketchup is so fast food) and comes served on a brioche bun, as do most of their burger offerings these days, all of which come with the option to upgrade to the grass-fed patty for two bucks extra.
Wood-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail, Panko-Crusted Red Shrimp with Meyer Lemon Aioli, and Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with Summer Ale BBQ Sauce, Red Lobster
Panko? Meyer lemon? Summer ale? Yep, Red Lobster is no longer just about a heaping bowl of deep-fried popcorn shrimp served with cocktail and tartar sauce. Although the restaurant still loves its hefty trios and combos, it now offers a slew of wild-caught seafood, along with some locally-sourced fresh fish and hand-shucked oysters depending on your location. The above is part of a newly launched Summerfest menu (which, let’s face it, makes everything sound more fun), which also includes stuff like grilled wild-caught red shrimp from off the coast of Argentina. And don’t worry, they still have those addictive cheesy biscuits.
Bone-In Pork Chop with Honey-Apple Chutney and Maple Butter, Applebee’s
Applebee’s has jumped on the handcrafted butchery bandwagon with this grilled chop, just one of several new dishes. The chain recently installed new wood-fire grills at every location in the country and says it’s dedicating 60,000 training hours to teach its kitchen staff serious meat-cutting skills. The results? Cedar-grilled salmon, an array of hand-cut USDA choice top sirloin steak dishes and an excellent wood-burning smell permeating the dining area.