No matter how gluten-free or low-carb the world goes, there’s always a place for bread. But even the ultimate comfort carrier needs a refresh now and then. Diners today look for flavor innovation at every turn. Although a few globally inspired breads, like naan and piada, are definitely making moves here, doughy inspiration can also be found closer to home. Sourdough seems to be showing up more, maybe in the reliable breakfast staple, the English muffin. And sprouted breads, once relegated to the college town vegan cafe, are taking the baton from whole-grain breads, deepening the health and wellness story and gaining traction on foodservice menus nationwide.
1. Artisan Breads
Beautiful things huddle under this catch-all umbrella. Hand-crafted, hand-kneaded, freshly baked—all build a direct patch to authenticity and premium value. As consumers grow ever more interested in the provenance of their food, featuring a hearth-to-table bread on your sandwich or burger menu offers an honest, delicious connection.
- The Italian Turkey Sandwich: Roast turkey, Italian soppressata, prosciutto, marinated cherry peppers, Fontina, Parmesan with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on grilled artisan roll—The Cheesecake Factory, multiple locations
- Marinated Chickpea, roasted red pepper, preserved lemon, Kalamata olives, local lettuce on nine-grain bread—Night Kitchen Bakehouse & Cafe, Raleigh, N.C.
2. English Muffin
Innovation with the English muffin has been spurred on by new iterations of the brunch-favorite Eggs Benedict. Attention to detail is breathing new life into this breakfast classic, often favored for its slimmer countenance than the bagel or biscuit. At Bill’s Bar & Burger, with locations in New York, Pittsburgh and Atlantic City, the English muffin is offered as an alternative to the bun on its 12-burger menu. At Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach, Calif., homemade English muffins come with rosemary, sea salt and cultured house butter.
- Breakfast Sandwich: Breakfast sausage, scrambled egg, maple cream cheese, house English muffin—Merriment Social, Milwaukee
- Scrambled Egg Sandwich: English muffin, ham, bacon, sausage, turkey or avocado, mayo (regular or spicy)—Summer House, multiple locations
- Ham and Gruyère Melt: English muffin, rosemary ham, Gruyère cheese, baked egg—Proof Bakeshop, Atlanta
The Mexican torta is catching fire on menus, introducing the American consumer to the telera roll. Streaming close by is the cemita, an authentic Pueblan sandwich bread with great menu potential. With a texture similar to brioche, the cemita is most commonly used in the sandwich of the same name. The cemita sandwich is chock full of on-trend flavors—slow-braised meats, fresh avocado, Mexican cheese and chile peppers.
- Cemita: Crispy chicken, chipotle, California avocado, cabbage, pickled onion, Oaxacan cheese on a soft roll—Georges at the Cove, La Jolla, Calif.
- Spicy Portobello Mushrooms Cemita on toasted sesame seed bun with avocado, Oaxacan cheese, black beans, chipotle and cilantro—Dorado Tacos, multiple locations
For those operators looking to bring more regional flavors and forms into their global menus, the telera roll is a perfect fit for Latin-leaning sandwiches. Similar to a French baguette but softer in the middle, the telera roll shows up most frequently in the torta, that Mexican sandwich that houses so much menu potential.
- Carne Asada Torta on freshly baked telera bread with local tomatoes, charred jalapeños, avocado, black bean spread, shredded lettuce, house crema and roasted garlic mayonnaise—Mula Mexican Kitchen & Tequileria, Omaha, Neb.
- Chicken Torta, guacamole, salsa roja, crema, Cotija, jalapeños, lettuce, telera roll—Common Bond Cafe & Bakery, Houston
Unlike roti, another Indian flatbread, paratha seems to be finding legs here through stuffed versions. Maybe it’s because parathas are thicker and doughier and hold up better to fillings. Possibilities are endless, though Indian tradition calls for a stuffing of mashed potatoes and/or lentils.
- Slow-Roasted Pork Belly Paratha Taco, pickled red cabbage, chipotle mayo—Goa Taco, New York
- Chicken Kati Kebab: Paratha and egg rolled together with spicy chicken—Vik’s Chaat & Market, Berkeley, Calif.
6. Brazilian Cheese Bread
Pão de queijo is Brazil’s answer to France’s gougères. Cheesy and doughy, these little puffballs are perfect as bar bites and shareables. Even better? They rely on tapioca flour instead of all-purpose flour, so they’re naturally gluten free.
- Pão de queijo: Warm, soft cheesy bread made with sweet and sour yucca flour and Parmesan cheese—Fogo de Chao, multiple locations
- Pão de queijo: Brazilian chewy, gooey cheesy poofs, butter, spice honey—Abigaile, Hermosa Beach, Calif.
This Parfait Toast with Blood Orange and Walnuts stars Swiss muesli loaf, a sprouted bread.
7. Sprouted Breads
Watch this space carefully as sprouted grains might be the next harbinger of good health. Some concepts are already incorporating them into recipe formulation. At Panera, some of the flatbreads contain a sprouted grain mix, but this feature isn’t marketed. Perhaps it’s a sign that sprouted still has a way to go with mainstream consumers, but it definitely ups the health and wellness message significantly.
- The Florentine Tuscano: Extra-virgin garlic oil, organic baby spinach, all natural mozzarella and provolone, organic local tomatoes, all natural chicken breast, sprouted ancient grain pizza—Sol Pie Pizza, North Canton, Ohio
- Grilled Cheese with grilled tomato, green chile, sprouts, Colby Jack, cheddar on sprouted grain bread—The Greenhaus, Las Cruces, N.M.
8. Rye Breads
Rye breads might be gaining favor because of the Nordic cuisine effect, or perhaps it’s thanks to the modern German trend. It might also be part of the better-for-you focus, as dark rye has a lower glycemic index than white bread. Whatever is bringing it forward, the potential is big—from artisan toast menus, charcuterie plates and premium sandwiches.
- Ham ’n: Buttered rye bread, Duroc ham, Jarlsberg cheese, basil pesto, apricot-tomato jam, garlic aïoli—Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop, Lahaina, Hawaii
- Mussels, smoked plums, cider broth, fennel, candied ginger, rye toast—The Radler, Chicago
This flatbread found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and India is a great passport to global adventure. It is similar enough to the Italian flatbread that it brings with it exoticism without too much adventure. Roti helps tell a flavor story on the menu, perhaps partnered with a dal or curry, or paired with dishes that boast the complex flavors of India and beyond.
- Aloo Paratha: Carrot roti stuffed with spicy potato mash, served with yogurt and housemade jam—Pondicheri, Houston
- Roti Canai: Flipped Indian pancake with spicy vegetarian curry—Pasar Malam, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Sourdough has been around since ancient Egypt, and, in this country, is inherently linked to California bakeries. Two things are pushing it further into the limelight—its ties to artisan baking and its fermented profile. Fermented flavors are definitely on-trend, and sourdough is perhaps the starter flavor in this sometimes-funky pantry.
- Beer-Battered Fish Melt: Beer-battered tilapia filet with green goddess tartar sauce, cheddar cheese, tomato and lettuce on grilled sweet sourdough—Dutch’s, Fort Worth, Texas
- Savory Sourdough Toast with goat cheese, country ham and olive oil—Saltbox Kitchen, Concord, Mass.
This comfort food carrier has broken out of the South, with diners across the country now reveling in its fluffy, flaky goodness. Places like Empire Biscuit in New York and Pine State Biscuits in Portland, Ore., have helped propel the trend, lending the humble biscuit an edgy, on-trend credibility. It’s even moving into the artisan toast category, pushing out whole-grain bread, while embracing the sensibility of “anything goes” atop a split, buttered biscuit.
- Fried chicken with ranch and pickled green tomatoes—Empire Biscuit, New York
- Avocado Biscuit, smashed avocado, pickled Fresno chiles, queso fresco, cilantro, mole spice, biscuit—¡Bang Bang! Pie & Biscuits, Chicago
This thin Italian flatbread hailing from Romagna is exotic enough to capture the imagination but familiar enough to claim comfort-food status. Born as peasant street food, piada (or piadina) is now a staple of the Italian fast-casual trend with great potential in full-service—either served as a shareable flatbread or wrapped around a variety of ingredients that go far beyond the Mediterranean pantry.
- Salsiccia, tomato sauce, mozzarella, sausage in a stuffed piadina—Casa Razdora, Boston
- Maple Bacon Chicken Piadini: Cedar-seasoned chicken, cheddar, maple mustard, bacon, grilled piadini wrap—Applebee’s