Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Katie Ayoub
June 14, 2019

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How do you make a sandwich stand out? That’s the million dollar question that many chefs strive to answer. We asked four restaurant brands to share their winning ways, and each demonstrates a modern approach to sandwich R&D.

Little Tong Noodle Shop in New York taps the jiabing as a carrier for its aggressively flavored, wonderfully beefy sandwich. Punch Bowl Social relies on a tried and true strategy that links comfort and nostalgia in a creative way, and Publican Quality Meats in Chicago demonstrates how a lunch standby can move to a signature standout with a few deft moves.

Our fourth examples hails from Colada, a fast casual that takes a popular global sandwich and seamlessly moves it into the breakfast space.

Bada Bing

Emmeline Zhao

Little Tong’s Shank JB Melt stars spiced beef shank, cheese curds, spicy mayo and cucumber, rolled into a flaky pancake.

The jianbing, or bing for short, is on the rise here—thanks to operators serving stellar versions of this savory Chinese crêpe. But the jiabing, a more generalized term for a sandwich in China, is where Little Tong Noodle Shop, a contemporary Chinese eatery specializing in Yunnan-inspired rice noodles at its East Village and Midtown East locations, has found success.

On the menu as the Shank JB Melt, this flaky bing is stuffed with beef shank braised with mirepoix, three kinds of fried chiles, spices and Shaoxing rice wine. Along with the beef, griddled cheese curds, fermented chile mayonnaise, cucumber and cilantro make up the filling. Tangy house-marinated cabbage and chicken broth are served on the side. “The sandwich is indulgent, satisfying and well balanced,” says Chef/Owner Simone Tong. “Every component is expertly made with care from fresh, high-quality ingredients, and it shows in the final product.”

Highly customizable, the bing delivers what diners come looking for. “Folks love that the sandwich features the timeless favorite combination of carbs and cheese with creative, Chinese-inspired additions that you can only find at Little Tong,” says Tong. The success of the JB Melt has inspired Little Tong to offer seasonal bings,
with more in the pipeline.

Homage to Childhood

Amber Boutwell

Punch Bowl Social’s The Wolf boasts griddled bologna, Texas toast, lettuce, American cheese, Dijonnaise, sea salt and housemade kettle chips.

People from all different regions of the country reminisce about the wonder of fried bologna sandwiches. Simple, comforting and wildly craveable, the sandwich sets itself up nicely for creative translation. Punch Bowl Social, a modern dining and entertainment chain, offers The Wolf, served on griddled Texas toast and starring griddled beef bologna, American cheese, mustard, lettuce and sea-salt kettle chips.

“The Wolf is an homage to the fried bologna sandwiches a lot of us grew up eating as kids,” says Sheamus Feeley, Chief Culinary & Beverage Officer. “For me, there were always a few key components to a great one: toasted white bread slathered with mustard, creamy, unctuous American cheese, and bologna, slightly caramelized, but not completely dry.”

The Wolf plays an important role in the brand’s sandwich offerings. “It quite often gets the biggest praise—sometimes due to a guest being a little skeptical, and other times it’s genuine excitement for a long-lost taste of home.”

Turkey on Top

Laura Scherb + Page & Plate

Publican Quality Meats’ P.S.T. Club sees smoked turkey, bacon, ranch dressing, Muenster, avocado, iceberg lettuce and giardiniera on sourdough.

The turkey sandwich is a lunch-menu mainstay. Chef de Cuisine Joe Frietze of Publican Quality Meats, an American café that serves charcuterie, pastries and sandwiches, along with an on-site butcher and market, says, “You could serve turkey in between two old tennis shoes and people would still order it.”

Lucky for everyone, he aims higher with the P.S.T. Club, a smoked turkey sandwich on housemade toasted sourdough with bacon, smashed avocado, melted Muenster cheese, giardiniera, iceberg and ranch dressing. “We have a bakery that makes amazing bread and we smoke our own turkey, allowing us to perfect the sandwich’s main elements,” he says.

Inspiration came from the opening of sister restaurant Pacific Standard Time. “We had the Piri Piri Pavo on the menu for about nine months, a super-delicious turkey sandwich in its own right, but we were ready to try something new,” says Frietze. “I suggested putting a rendition of the turkey club on the menu, not entirely seriously. At the time, Pacific Standard Time was set to open. I mentioned that we should create a Cali Club and call it the P.S.T. Club as an homage. When you combine turkey, ranch, bacon and avocado on sourdough bread, people like it. It’s the top-selling sandwich every week.”

Breakfast Hero

Colada’s Havana Hangover features ham, bacon, egg, Swiss cheese, papitas and onions on a Cuban roll.

From independents to national chains, versions of the Cubano sandwich abound. Fast casual Colada cleverly moves its interpretation of this craveable sandwich into the breakfast category, adding its own spin for a standout offering.

“So many coffee shops serve the same, tired breakfast sandwiches, and I knew if I was bored of that, a lot of other people probably were, too,” says Alex Recio, Head Chef/Founder. To switch things up, he decided to give the traditional American breakfast sandwich a Cuban facelift, creating the Havana Hangover. Ham is layered atop crispy bacon strips, along with eggs, melted Swiss cheese, papitas (french fries) and onions on a fresh Cuban roll. Savory and indulgent, this mash-up between a Cubano and a traditional breakfast sandwich has made the Havana Hangover a top seller.

Located next to a cycling studio, the café strategically offers egg white, avocado and turkey sausage substitutions, and will turn this and any sandwich into a bowl for health-conscious consumers, meeting guests’ demand for personalization of experience.

“You can’t name a better combo than a Cuban Colada coffee and the Havana Hangover breakfast sandwich,” says Recio.

About The Author

Katie Ayoub

Katie Ayoub serves as managing editor of Flavor & The Menu and content strategist for the Flavor Experience, an annual conference geared toward chain operators. She is president of Katie Ayoub & Associates, serving up menu trends expertise, content creation and food & beverage consultancy. Based in Chicago, Katie has been working in foodservice publishing for more than 20 years and part of the Flavor team since 2006. [email protected]