Battles between the burger giants have raged for years, with the latest volleys in the continuing skirmish coming from more upscale menus. That said, the fast food hamburger giants are not about to let their share of stomach slip away.

McDonald’s recently introduced its Angus Third Pounders, following a reported two years of testing. Shortly after the debut, Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s issued a direct challenge to the launch, reminding consumers that the company’s Six Dollar Burgers and Thickburgers are, likewise, made with Angus beef and have been around for more than half a decade. “We’re glad being copied is considered the highest form of flattery, since we have been seeing a lot of it lately,” explained Andrew F. Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. Carl’s Jr. offers nine varieties of the charbroiled 100% Black Angus beef Six Dollar Burgers that include premium toppings, such as Portobello mushrooms, with a patty weighing about a half pound.

Taking the battle head-on, a number of Carl’s Jr. locations have launched The Big Carl, promising twice the meat and twice the cheese of McDonald’s signature burger.Burger competitors, however, are discovering bigger may not be the route to the consumer. Sliders have become a pronounced trend, and Farmland is blending it with the McDonald’s/Carl’s concept and introducing Black Angus Sliders, in appetizer or entrée form.   

Authentic Inspiration
Foodservice fare continues to seek inspiration from regional cuisines, and Olive Garden is attempting to cater to consumers seeking authentic Italian flavors. The chain is permanently introducing items “crafted from fresh, simple ingredients and rooted in Italian culinary tradition.”

A Pork Milanese entrée, Lasagna Fritta appetizer and Zeppoli dessert were each inspired by the chain’s annual executive chefs’ trip to Italy. (Though less inspired by authentic ethnic flavors, the company also added Cheese Ravioli to its children’s menu. In addition, it is a Garden Fare option, signifying that less than 30% of the dish’s calories come from fat.)

A rustic dish, Pork Milanese is prepared with the traditional scaloppini technique used in Italy. The pork loin is pounded until fork tender, then dredged in a blend of panko, herbed breadcrumbs, fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese, then pan seared, before being added to Asiago-filled tortelloni and spinach in a garlic cream sauce.

Similar to the beignet, zeppoli are puffs of fried dough, which are prepared differently in regions throughout Italy. For its version, Olive Garden was inspired by the northern Italian method of frying pate a choux yeast dough and tossing it in vanilla-infused sugar and serving it with a milk/dark chocolate dipping sauce.

Likewise stemming from northern Italy, Lasagna Fritta are bite-sized portions of fried lasagna, popular street food in the Veneto region. Olive Garden’s version is Parmesan-crusted and served over Alfredo sauce, topped with marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese. pf