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Menu Talk with Pat and Bret

An inside look at the James Beard Awards and creamsicle drinks

Plus, details on McAlister’s Deli menu expansion


This week on Menu Talk, Restaurant Business senior menu editor Pat Cobe and Bret Thorn, senior food and beverage editor of Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality, share their take on some recent hot topics.

The James Beard Foundation announced the finalists in the restaurant and chef categories, naming nominees in 22 categories, including both national and regional honorees. While culinary skill and operational excellence still play into the awards, a positive work culture and community involvement are now key criteria for a nomination. And, since the pandemic, the foundation completely overhauled the program to bring more diversity into the awards selection process, including broader geographic representation.

Pat and Bret weigh in on the revised criteria and discuss the cachet the James Beard Awards hold for the winners.

Mike Freeman, CEO of McAlister’s Deli, joins the podcast to share the brand’s menu evolution. It started with breakfast catering, launched last year when the fast casual was under the former Focus Brands banner.

“There’s been lots of attention placed on our catering innovation, expanding our reach from the beginning of the day to the end of the day.” Snacks, desserts, and beverages also got a refresh, and a new “semi-homemade” category provides takeout options.

Speaking of beverages, new ones keep flowing out of the pipeline. Lately, we noticed orange creamsicle drinks on several menus. The nostalgic flavor taps into childhood summers. With summer fast approaching, we will probably see more of these retro frozen treats showing up on beverage menus.

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