Taking the Cake ... Elsewhere

Innovation in flavors and combinations is driving the expansion of dessert menus across the country. When something is spotted in a fine dining restaurant, it naturally migrates through the landscape and is eventually found across menus of other dining types, such as family/midscale and casual dining. 

According to Mintel Menu Insights, Starbucks now serves a chocolate hazelnut coffee cake. This combination of flavors is widely popular due to its time-proven compatibility. Similarly, Nutella, a spread of cocoa and hazelnut, has been widely popular and sheds light on the versatility of hazelnuts in desserts. According to Mintel Menu Insights, Fiore Restaurant in Ventura, Calif., serves a tiramisu with Nutella and Kahlúa to form a unique version of the traditional Venetian “pick-me-up.”

All Wrapped Up

Wraps have become a mainstay on the national menu. Wraps appear on menus from quick-service, fast-casual and on-the-go eating establishments. At times, wraps can be eaten with one hand, still partially wrapped. This is more appealing than the wrap’s cousin, the sandwich, which can lose and spill ingredients, if the consumer is not careful while eating. Wraps can be offered throughout the day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Camille’s Sidewalk Café of Tulsa, Okla., serves a wrap called The Michelangelo. It is made with an herb-garlic tortilla, grilled chicken breast, red onions, roasted red peppers, mozzarella, olives, thyme, rosemary and balsamic glaze.

Massive international chains are also offering wraps. Kentucky Fried Chicken serves the Crispy Twister, which includes extra-crispy white meat chicken strips with shredded iceberg lettuce, fresh tomatoes and pepper mayo sauce, all wrapped together in a soft, warm tortilla. McDonald’s serves a Ranch Snack Wrap with Crispy Chicken—its Chicken Selects premium breast strip or grilled chicken breast strip, flour tortilla, shredded cheddar/Jack cheese, premium ranch sauce and shredded lettuce.

Making a Date!

Many fruits are versatile and flexible, working well in various entrées, beverages, sides and desserts. The date is no exception. The concentrated flavor of dates pairs well with anything from herbs to nuts to cheeses and a variety of meats. Also, dates’ mild and sweet flavor keeps them relevant throughout the seasons. Dates can be found in most markets and grocery stores year-round, and restaurants tend to keep them on the menu in the same way. Upstream in Charlotte, N.C., offers a Dessert Sampler of chocolate truffles, dates and Maytag Bleu Cheese. Café Annie in Houston serves an appetizer of searedfoie graswith medjool dates and shaved fennel, mint leaves and coconut puree. 

Not only do dates accommodate many different flavors on the menu, but their preparation methods also vary. Dates can be filled, wrapped and served hot, cold or with sauces and purees. The oval-cylindrical shape of dates makes them ideal for being wrapped and stuffed. Oyster’s in Corona Del Mar, Calif., offers an appetizer of Roasted Nueske Bacon Wrapped Dates with Laura Chenel cheese and a soy-port glaze. T’afia of Houston serves medjool dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon.

A Slice for All

At its essence, dessert is a social experience. As an evening winds down and a meal draws to an end, it is the last course that can be enjoyed collectively. For this reason, many desserts are shared among diners at the table. For a sharable cake offering both the experience and a portion for many people, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro serves The Great Wall of Chocolate. This impressive cake comprises six layers of rich chocolate cake frosted with semi-sweet chocolate chips and served with raspberry sauce.

Also, according to Mintel Menu Insights, Amerigo, of Brentwood, Tenn., serves a pecan butter crunch cake with vanilla ice cream and a Granny Smith apple cinnamon glaze. This cake is likewise designed to be shared among many diners at a table.  

Pucker Up

Limoncello--a liqueur derived from lemon rind--is gaining prevalence across U.S. menus. Originating in Italy, it is traditionally sipped chilled in a ceramic cup. Limoncello is extremely palatable due to its sweetness, and since no lemon juice is involved in the production, there are no sour notes—only the intrinsic flavors of the lemon are extracted in the process. Chaya in Los Angeles serves a Limoncello Bellini, a sweet and refreshing combination of champagne and Caravella Limoncello Liqueur, garnished with a fresh lemon twist.

Limoncello is not limited to the beverage menu, however. With spring and summer approaching, Mintel Menu Insights expects more dishes and desserts to include the flavoring of limoncello. Chefs in fine dining have used limoncello in desserts, sauces and even tiramisu. For example, Primo Restaurant in Orlando, Fla., serves Lemon “Tiramisu.” This dessert is prepared with lemon chiboust, lavender limoncello syrup, white chocolate and raspberries.


One popular deviation to raspberries standing alone or featuring in desserts is their use in salad dressings. Quiznos Sub serves a Raspberry Chipotle Chicken Salad made with chicken breast, bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, red onion and raspberry-chipotle dressing. Le Bec-Fin of Philadelphia serves a squash and goat cheesebeignetwith arugula salad and raspberry vinaigrette.

Winter’s sub-zero temperatures do not usually make people crave salads and cold drinks, but cocktails seem to get a pass. There is something about a refreshing summer cocktail or a martini that helps fight the winter blues. With the combination of Chambord and an assortment of different raspberry-flavored vodkas, there are endless combinations of raspberry cocktails. Rialto Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., serves a Raspberry Limontini combining Stolichnaya Vodka, Chambord Liqueur and Limoncello with fresh raspberries.

Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

There is often no avoiding cake at social gatherings, and that poses no problem for most Americans. Birthdays, weddings, barbecues and holidays offer numerous opportunities to serve cake, giving people plenty of chances to indulge. Recently, restaurants have been having their way with cake, too. The American dining menu is rich with luscious cake items. According to Mintel Menu Insights, over 50 different cakes were offered across menus in 2007. 

From indulgent chocolate lava cake to daintypetit fours, cake can come in a myriad of shapes, sizes and flavors. Additions of flavors, colors, frostings and pairings are near limitless, leading to a bounty of opportunities for restaurateurs. Among the more than 50 different varieties of cakes found by Mintel Menu Insights, flavors as ingenious as buttermilk, Ricotta cheese, ginger and hazelnut appeared. The San Francisco-based Pasta Pomodoro chain serves a Ricotta and Mascarpone Cheesecake with Amaretto cookie crust, whipped cream, berry puree and pine nuts.

Under such premium circumstances, cake can be paired with food and drink beyond just ice cream or milk. Wine and coffee alike can be coupled with the daring cakes on some restaurant menus. The New York City fine-dining restaurant Esca serves Torta Di Espresso, a chocolate espresso cake with cappuccino gelato. Joining the beverage menu with the dessert menu is not a new concept, but more menus are experimenting. Louis’s at Pawley’s, Pawleys Island, S.C.,  serves a Grand Marnier-infused chocolate layer cake with French chocolate buttercream.
For more information, visit www.menuinsights.com or contact Mintel International at 312-932-0600. Mintel Menu Insights tracks menu trends and innovations from the 350 largest chain restaurants and 150 independent restaurants, also featuring the nation’s top 50 chefs.