Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Flavor & The Menu
September 10, 2019

Romano’s Macaroni Grill is a heritage brand that strives to find balance between pleasing its longstanding customer base while attracting “new families,” a term that Jeffrey Meyer, VP of culinary, uses to describe a coveted demographic. “Our top-selling dishes are Penne Rustica and Chicken Parmesan,” he says. “Our core guest loves classic Italian food, so that still drives most of our R&D.”

But a drive toward regionality is aimed at appealing to that “new family.” “Yes, we are looking for those younger diners, but we are still focusing on the family—it’s simply that the family is changing. The kids can still color on our tables’ butcher paper, but the menu is catering to evolving tastes,” says Meyer.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill

One of Macaroni Grill’s “Chef’s Favorites” in the summer, the Prosciutto-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp stuffed with sun-dried tomato, goat cheese and lemon butter, embraces Italian regionality.

The Prosciutto-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp appetizer, a limited time-offering (LTO) that ran in the summer, was part of Macaroni Grill’s initiative to zero in on its Italian heritage, rather than stay in the broader Mediterranean region.

“We want to concentrate on Italy and its many regions,” he says. “This appetizer features the flavors of the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento. I was confident that this dish would succeed—it’s savory, tart and fragrant.”

On the Lamb

Macaroni Grill’s summer special of Prosciutto-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp was a hit, so VP of culinary Jeffrey Meyer has moved forward with the next phase of a larger menu strategy. “We were testing to see if our guests would like that kind of flavor combination and presentation,” he says. “They did, so we’ve progressed to lamb.”

As a fall “Chef’s Favorite” offering, the Lamb Braciole entrée features lightly pounded Australian lamb loin medallions wrapped around a stuffing of cheeses, mint, spinach, asparagus and pine nuts. The lamb is then wrapped in prosciutto and seared in a wood-fired oven, until the prosciutto is crispy. The braciole is drizzled with Macaroni Grill’s signature lemon-butter sauce, infused with rosemary, and sits on a bed of spinach and fresh trofie pasta.

That lemon-butter sauce acts as an important flavor bridge for guests who know and love this heritage restaurant brand. “Lemon butter has been in the DNA of Macaroni Grill since its inception,” says Meyer. “Our guests know it and love it.” For the braciole, he chose lamb loins for their mild, tender flavor.

“We tested consumer response with lamb chops, and they loved them, so we moved on to braised lamb shanks—those did well, too,” he says. “Now we’re moving lamb into this regionally focused LTO. If it performs like I think it will, we may add it to the permanent menu.”

From the September-October 2019 issue of Flavor & The Menu magazine

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