Cinnamon Twist

The hidden gem of the spice rack, cinnamon is one of the only culinary spices that can be enjoyed in any meal--from breakfast to dinner to dessert. Cinnamon is a staple in sweet menu items and hot, sippable drinks, but cinnamon’s move to savory entrées and artisan cocktails has made it the talk of the town.

Cinnamon can be used in familiar savory dishes to add depth of flavor, and it can also help create new, creative dishes. According to Mintel Menu Insights, restaurant menus are using cinnamon and cinnamon varietals such as korintje cinnamon canela (Mexican cinnamon) and Cassia in savory entrées across the menu.

Bahama Breeze adds a layer of cinnamon flavor in its mashed sweet potatoes that complements its oak-grilled Jamaican Chicken Breast. Cinnamon is also featured in Cafe Annie’s Cinnamon Roasted Pheasant with red chile pecan sauce and creamy polenta.

Artisan cocktails are another area to watch for a cinnamon invasion. Cinnamon gives these drinks a familiar flavor with a bit of intrigue. Beacon Restaurant and Bar mixes its Cranberry Cinnamon Margarita with cranberry relish, cinnamon, Cointreau, Jose Cuervo tequila and orange juice. Dylan Prime creates its Ten-Sation with a unique mixture of Tanqueray 10, pomegranate syrup and fresh lemon juice, served with a hint of cinnamon.

Cinnamon also makes a great addition for glass rims. Fleming’s Steakhouse and Wine Bar created the The Eighth Estate with Bacardi 8 rum, Cointreau orange liqueur and fresh lime topped with Disaronno amaretto. It is garnished with a cinnamon-sugar rim.

Starting with Seafood

As seafood becomes more familiar and enticing to American diners, restaurants are spreading seafood items across their menus, with appetizers, in particular, serving as a seafood showcase. Because it can highlight new preparations and types of seafood, the appetizer menu is a good place for restaurants to experiment.

At first, oysters and fried calamari were appetizer mainstays. Now, however, many restaurants--from fine dining to casual dining to quick service--are featuring seafood appetizers such as crab cakes, seafood dips and seared tuna.

Fine dining still has the largest share of seafood-based appetizers: 68%, according to Mintel Menu Insights. After all, seafood appetizers are expected on fine dining restaurants. However, the freshest upscale ingredients are being used to create both familiar and new seafood starters. Raw preparations of seafood such as tartar, sashimi, carpaccio and ceviche are showing positive growth on the menu.

Janos Restaurant serves an authentic Mexican preparation of ceviche through its Hamachi Jicama Ceviche. With a fragrant garnish of oranges, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeños and lime, sprinkled with fossilized Mexican sea salt, the dish delivers on flavor and texture. Aureole in NYC also goes raw with its Tuna Tartare Arabesque. The dish is served with charred eggplant puree, barberries, preserved lemon and spicy mint oil.

More casual dining restaurants likewise are serving seafood appetizers. Mintel Menu Insights reports that nearly a quarter of restaurant menu seafood appetizers appear on casual dining restaurant menus. In the past year, casual dining has experienced a 6% increase in seafood appetizers. Crab cakes, seafood dips and mussels are the most popular items.

The “Craveable Crab Cake” served at Joe’s Crab Shack, for instance, comes with several shakes of Old Bay seasoning, remoulade sauce and tangy slaw. At the Old Spaghetti Factory, the Shrimp, Spinach and Artichoke Dip contains Bay Shrimp, spinach and artichoke hearts with brandy, cream, fresh herbs and Romano cheese.

Bringin' Home the Bacon

Almost everything tastes better with bacon. Salty and distinct, bacon can easily elevate the flavor of any dish during any mealtime. The leading bacon varieties, according to Mintel Menu Insights, are bacon (unspecified), Canadian bacon and pancetta.

However, leaner meats and meat substitutes are also being used to make “bacon,” as people look for healthier options on the menu. Turkey and tempeh are making their mark as healthier bacon options, with turkey bacon becoming an increasingly popular choice.

On the menu, bacon is no longer just used as a breakfast side, salad topping or BLT sandwich component. Chefs are realizing the great potential of bacon infused with other flavors, leading to spectacular dishes and unique tastes. While mesquite or applewood flavors add depth, the newest flavor complement to salty, smoky bacon involves sweet and spicy flavors.

Viognier serves a Warm Scallop and Prawn Salad with cinnamon bacon accompanied by baby spinach, Fuji apples, pine nuts and apple cider vinaigrette. The dish is a far cry from bacon as a solely savory option. Red Robin also uses a sweeter bacon infusion by including hickory maple-smoked bacon on its California Chicken Burger. The tender, juicy, charbroiled chicken breast is topped with Monterey Jack cheese, zesty guacamole, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles and mayo.

Bacon is even making its way into cocktails, as seen in Uncommon Ground’s Bacon Bloody Mary. The indulgent, savory drink contains a homemade hickory-smoked bacon cordial, a homemade spicy bloody blend and a smoked bacon salt rim. Even in more “basic” bacon dishes, sweeter bacon can take the flavor to another level. Magnolia’s Restaurant serves a Salmon BLT with grilled Atlantic salmon on a goat cheese-crushed toasted baguette with beefsteak tomatoes, apple-smoked bacon, arugula and lemon caper vinaigrette.

Mintel Menu Insights, a part of Mintel International Group, is a key resource for analyzing trends in the U.S. restaurant industry. The database tracks menu trends and innovations from the 350 largest chain restaurants and 150 independent restaurants, also featuring the nation’s top 50 chefs. Trends are reported quarterly, offering insight into pricing, menu items, ingredients, preparations and entirely new menus. For more information, visit www.menuinsights.com or contact Mintel International at 312-932-0600.