U.S. regions find a home on menus
U.S. restaurant chains are highlighting more regional seafood cuisines on their menus than they have in the past.
In its “2011 Foodservice Trends” report, Chicago-based market research firm Mintel found that many restaurant chains are offering several menu items from various U.S. regions.
“American [geographic] regions are becoming more well known and are becoming more like the global cuisine. It started with New Orleans — the food culture was one of the first things to bounce back after Hurricane Katrina, and that brought attention to its cuisine,” said Kathy Hayden, foodservice analyst for Mintel.
As a result, Cajun-inspired dishes and menus seem to be popping up everywhere.
“Shrimp and grits are coming up in places like Cracker Barrel, and shrimp is also being used more in po’ boys,” said Hayden. The increasing use of shrimp in po’ boys is probably linked to the availability of shrimp versus oysters, she added.
The Joe’s Crab Shack location in Hoover, Ala., highlights Cajun/New Orleans cuisine with its “The Ragin’ Cajun” and “The Orleans” steam pots. The chain also highlights New England-area seafood with its “Bean Town Bake” and “Old Bay” steam pots.
Darden Restaurants-owned Red Lobster is also focusing on regional cuisine with the recent addition of New England lobster rolls, in addition to its traditional offerings, which include live Maine lobster and North Pacific king crab legs.
McCormick & Schmick’s also announced in March that it would be using more local foods in general. As a result, seafood that has been featured on the menu recently includes Alaska halibut, Oregon sole, Pacific Northwest Dungeness crab and a variety of oysters from the United States and Canada.
Smaller restaurant chains in the Pacific Northwest are also promoting Pacific Northwest seafood more, according to Hayden. Seattle-based Ivar’s of features several seafood items from the region including Dungeness crab, Pacific ahi tuna, Alaska halibut, Alaska Copper River salmon and Penn Cove mussels. And Ram Restaurant & Brewery in Lakewood, Wash., runs an Alaska seafood celebration every summer.