On the other side of the country, in San Francisco, Eatsa has quinoa as the base for its bowls, but local vegetables “are absolutely critical,” says cofounder Scott Drummond. “Our customer is looking for a lot more flavor forward, so we do play into that.”
Eatsa is a three-unit vegetarian fast casual without employees; customers order through kiosks and pick up their choices in designated drop-off bins. There are 37 veggie ingredients on the menu, from curried parsnip strips and apple-cabbage slaw to roasted corn and seasoned pinto beans.
“Certainly things like crunch—the texture—are obvious and very much a part of the meal,” Drummond says. “It’s nailing the cook times so that you have a product fresh off the grill” that provides great flavor and aroma.
Some veggies are offered in various styles. For instance, portabella mushrooms are presented three ways: grilled in the Burrito Bowl, miso in the Bento Bowl, and barbecued in the Smokehouse Salad. Seasonal vegetables also come into play, as in the Stuffing Bowl, a fall offering with roasted autumn veggies, green beans, onion strings, mushroom gravy, almonds, cranberry chutney, and a quinoa stuffing.
Whole foods are key to the menu at Phoenix-based Grabbagreen, and vegetables are a large part of that—in juices, smoothies, grain bowls, salad bowls, and breakfast.
“When we developed our menu, our focus was to choose nutrient-dense ingredients,” says Keely Newman, president and chief executive of the three-store chain. The vegetables run the gamut, from typical cucumbers, red peppers, red onions, and tomatoes to a bit different, including edamame, beets, and bean sprouts.
The concept is not chef-based but “mom-inspired,” Newman says. “We started as two moms and how we ate at home and how we fed our children,” she says. “The menu is very health-driven. We knew what tasted good because kids are finicky. These are all kid tested.”
There are a number of signature bowls on the menu, as well as create-your-own options that have a base of grains or greens; five super-nutrient toppings of vegetables, fruits, nuts, or other items; a sauce; and a meat or vegetable-based protein. One breakfast item is a wrap with collard greens in place of tortillas. The founders were raised in Mississippi, “so collard greens are indigenous to what we ate when we grew up,” Newman says.
Vegetables popular in other cultures play a role in how they are used by American restaurants featuring various ethnic cuisines.
“They have always been very important to Mexican cooking, especially the Baja style,” says Ralph Rubio, founder and chairman at Rubio’s Coastal Grill, referring to his concept’s signature cuisine.
Since the San Diego–based chain’s early days, cabbage has been a component of the fish tacos. “I discovered that in San Felipe, a lot of Baja taco vendors liked to use cabbage because it didn’t wilt,” he says. “It also gives it a crunch.”
Various other veggies—onions, tomatillos, beans, corn, and hot and mild peppers—are included in dishes and salsas. As part of the chain’s rebranding, zucchini and squash were added to its grilled vegetable mixture of onions and red, green, and yellow peppers.
“When we revisited it, we wanted something hardier, and zucchini and squash accomplish that,” Rubio says. The grilled vegetable option also was added to the menuboard alongside steak and chicken as non-seafood choices for burritos and tacos.
Tin Drum Asiacafé features onions, mushrooms, carrots, and various hot and mild peppers, along with broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, scallions, green beans, and bean sprouts.
“When we look at an entrée, we want vegetables to be every bit as much an element of the dish as the protein,” says Jon Schinelli, director of operations for the Georgia-based company. “They all work together.” Rotating new menu items every three months “allows us to play with even more vegetables and more contemporary vegetables,” he adds.
That’s the case this winter with the Daikon Bacon Fries that use daikon, a mild radish, rather than potatoes. Napa cabbage, a traditional Asian veggie, is part of the slaw on Tin Drum’s street tacos, while a dish like Masaman Curry features potatoes, carrots, cucumber, onions, peanut curry, chicken, and rice. Dishes with sweet potatoes may join the menu this year.
One popular way for consumers to consume vegetables is on pizza. Bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms have long been an element of the American pizza scene, but some pizzerias are looking to add even more.
At Dallas-based Pie Five, vegetables are “a big part in designing signature recipes for our concept,” says Patty Scheibmeir, vice president of R&D and product innovation for parent Rave Restaurant Group. “They bring color to a pizza, flavor, and an important part, which is texture that comes from crisp, fresh vegetables that you can’t get from meat or cheese.”
Ingredients like red, green, and banana peppers; red onions; and jalapeños retain crunch because the pizzas are made with a very hot, quick bake. Other veggies, like sliced mushrooms, tomatoes, and spinach, “bring great flavor,” she adds.
Along with traditional vegetables, Pie Five offers marinated artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, and roasted tomatoes. A specialty pizza in the Chicago market features giardiniera, an Italian-influenced relish of pickled vegetables.
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