Menu Innovations | May 2011 | By Barney Wolf

Levantize Your Menu

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Mediterranean food items are in high demand from consumers.
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“For a long time, America was the melting pot where people brought culture and food and it was watered down to appeal to more people,” Briwa says.

“Now we’re seeing an America that is a salad bowl, where we honor and keep authentic cultural items in tact.”

In addition to black pepper, popular spices from the Levant and North Africa include cumin, coriander, chili pepper, mint, paprika, turmeric, and allspice.

At Roti, the spices are often those that have “become more mainstream in the American profile,” Post says. The chain’s spicing profile is not necessarily identical to those in Lebanon or other Mediterranean countries, but it retains the basic flavor.

One of the reasons for the wide array of spices in Mediterranean food is because many of the nations in the region were along ancient spice caravan routes, several of which ended in Morocco.

As a result, Moroccan food “puts a polish” on the use of spices in Mediterranean dishes, Briwa says. “They’ve become experts at it.”

Diners can find a variety of spices in the menu items at Tangerine Café, a busy quick-service unit at Disney World’s Epcot Center.

“We use all kinds of fresh ingredients and spices—that’s Moroccan food,” says Samab Benzari, the executive chef.

“We do menu items from all across the Mediterranean, like falafel and hummus. Our shawarma uses a mix of spices, including ginger, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, salt, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper,” similar to a rub.

Meals range from about $9 to $14.

Most Mediterranean restaurants also feature tabouleh, a salad that mixes bulgur (a whole grain) with chopped parsley, mint, tomato, onion, lemon juice, and olive oil. Lebanese tabouleh often uses more parsley than bulgur.

Another popular salad is baba ghanoush, which is mashed or cut eggplants mixed with herbs and seasonings that may include tahini, salt, mint, cumin, chili powder, parsley, garlic, and lemon juice.

With all these options, part of the challenge for limited-service restaurants is to make the menu as streamlined and efficient as possible. At Roti, for instance, leaders have spent the past year refining and simplifying its offerings.

“We want to be the type of concept that recognizes what our customers want,” Post says. “That allows us to enter a growing stage able to cater to a mass customer base.”

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