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At River Roast in Chicago boring salads are transformed into unique meals for spring
<p>At River Roast in Chicago, boring salads are transformed into unique meals for spring.</p>

Menu Moves: Spring brings fresh LTOs

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Now that we’re finally thawing out, it seems as if the sunshine has brought with it a creative energy you can find buzzing in kitchens across the country. Spring is a great time for you to mix it up—throw some major curve balls into your menu that will catch the attention of diners.

Heading into spring 2015, the National Restaurant Association says restaurant operators are increasingly optimistic about sales growth in the coming months, with 59 percent of operators expecting higher sales in six months. Only 4 percent of operators foresee lower sales volume. That Seasonal Affective Disorder is finally wearing off.

Spring means fresh. Diners are coming out of hibernation, hitting the gym and hoping to get that summer beach body back. A fresh spring menu is the ideal way to capitalize on consumer demand for fresh, seasonal local food.

You can’t go wrong with strawberries in the spring—use them to dress up a salad or add a seasonal touch to your dessert menu. Another no-brainer this time of year? Just-harvested maple syrup. Use it instead of sugar in a variety of dishes to add sweetness and just a hint of spring flavor. Don’t be afraid to bring the syrup over to the bar and introduce some seasonally sweet cocktails.

In Chicago, chef John Hogan of River Roast is in his element. Chef Hogan loves creating hearty salads with seasonal ingredients, and with everyone looking for fresh, healthy options, he’s on top of his game this time of year.

Hogan’s salads go beyond the typical greens. For example, the Roasted Chicken Salad features julienne root vegetables, cabbage, Asian herbs, peanuts and Vietnamese vinaigrette, while the Stead & Rocket features arugula, confit tomato, Dunbarton blue cheddar and mustard horseradish dressing. 

Even in Miami, where it’s warm year round, chefs use this time of year to take a fresh look at their menu. Chef Danny Serfer at Mignonette, an intimate eatery in the Edgewater neighborhood, is adding a slew of new menu items.

Serfer's simple entrees include a selection of fresh fish and chicken prepared with a beurre blanc sauce and choice of vegetable. Fancier menu additions include a Slow Roasted Bone-In Prime Rib served with cheesy scalloped potatoes and green peas, and Skate Cheek Francese with red potatoes and capers, finished with a lemon butter sauce.

Mignonette’s new sea bean and yellow foot chanterelle mushroom risotto reminds us that foraging is back in play now that the ground has thawed.

Chef Chad Myers at the Dubuque Golf & Country Club in Dubuque, IA, recently shared a dish he’s testing for a new spring menu. 

Chain restaurants certainly won’t let the spring LTO opportunities go to waste. Firebirds, with 36 units open in 12 states, has introduced a new spring menu featuring entrees under 580 calories and new lineup of seasonal cocktails.

New dishes at Firebirds spotlight spring ingredients, such as the Strawberry Shortcake and Custard in a Jar, Cocoa Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin and Griddled Corn & Goat Cheese Palenta. Seasonal cocktails incorporate spring herbs, like the Elderflower & Basil Martini and Blood Orange Negroni.

Whether you’re in California or Connecticut, take a day or two to step back and reevaluate your menu. Are you appealing to those calorie-conscious diners who are craving light-but-hearty lunches and dinners this time of year? If not, take a trip down to the local farmer’s market. You’ll find an abundance of fresh ingredients waiting for your creative touch.

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