Likewise, The Florentine’s team enjoys utilizing fall ingredients to create crisp and unique salads perfect for daytime and nighttime diners. “Ingredients like confit butternut squash, apples, crushed hazelnuts, and burrata present a perfect salad combination to enjoy as the weather begins to cool,” Walrath says.
Despite the trend toward lighter, veg-heavy fare, however, cooler temperatures do signal the beginning of braise season. The Florentine’s menu features such fare as braised pork shoulder, while Firebirds proffers a pork chop with a bacon-bourbon mustard glaze served alongside a chile mac ‘n’ cheese.
Gary Messick, chef at Saint Michael's Alley in Palo Alto, California, likes to choose proteins that are transitional for fall features. He’ll do a honey-roasted duck breast with a szechuan peppercorn sauce or monkfish served with a lobster butter sauce. Both are heartier proteins, but not quite the heavy lamb, venison, and beef that will make more of an appearance in the winter season. “They’re a little bit more substantive, but not heavy winter dishes,” Messick says.
Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar located in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, likes to keep a sense of continuity in its menu by seasonalizing year-round offerings. “For instance, our shrimp and grits is served with a corn and bean succotash with tomato vinaigrette in the summer, but in the fall we’ll make it heartier with bacon, mushrooms, greens, and creole mustard,” says chef and owner Clayton Rollison.
Firebirds does the same. In the fall, the North Carolina–based chain's smoked wings get a revamp with a honey-jalapeño glaze, topped with crushed pistachios and grilled onions.
And it wouldn’t be fall without talking about herbs. The Florentine and Lucky Rooster are big fans of hearty herbs like sage, rosemary, and thyme. “They really accentuate the flavors of fall produce. One of the great things about cooking seasonally is that the flavors are meant to go together,” Rollison says.
In general, Kostyo at Datassential expects to see more food and drink menus trending toward bitter, bold flavors, which can be achieved through herbs like these. “Look for amaros and cocktail bitters to be used in more menu items; dark sweeteners like blackstrap molasses and sorghum to be used across the menu; and the continuation of burnt flavors on menus,” he says.
In terms of toasted notes, s’mores and maple have also gained popularity. The latter has become more common not only in cocktail and dessert menus, but also on the savory side in dishes like maple-roasted vegetables.
Tea, Kostyo predicts, will also grow beyond the mug. Full-service restaurants are experimenting with tea-smoked proteins, Earl Grey–flavored desserts, and the smoked Chinese tea lapsang souchong as a flavoring ingredient.
Walrath at The Florentine cautions chefs to not get too caught up in flavor trends. “Over the years, I have learned that less is more when it comes to cooking and leveraging seasonality,” he says. It’s important to remember that seasonal ingredients at their peak don’t need much manipulation to taste delicious. “It’s all about identifying great seasonal ingredients and developing recipes that let them shine in any dish,” he adds.
And it’s important not to get too far ahead of yourself in anticipating ingredients, as well, warns Messick of Saint Michael’s. “With the weather experiencing unpredictable heat waves and rainy spells the last couple of years, things are just not as consistent,” he says. Celebrate the bounty when it’s available, but don’t count on duck dishes before they hatch.
Seen on Social
The power of social media, especially when sharing limited-time offerings, is a huge asset for full-service restaurants.
“Everything tastes better when it comes with a backstory, and through social media we’re able to spotlight where our seasonal ingredients come from and what produce partners we work with to help create our exciting offerings,” says Zachary Walrath, chef de cuisine at Chicago-based The Florentine.
Even though Firebirds finds great success in its loyalty program and public-relations strategy, Facebook and Instagram are still huge tools for the brand when sharing seasonal items. “There are usually a few days in which a deluge of pictures are going up,” says Steven Loftis, vice president of marketing at Firebirds, regarding the start of a season.
Chef Gary Messick at Saint Michael's Alley says social media is great at promoting new, limited-time dishes, as well as seasonal ones that guests look forward to year after year. Every spring for the last 20 years, the restaurant has offered its signature chicken pot pie, and every winter, its duck confit. “We have guests who have been dining with us for 15 to 20 years. For them, it's a really nice comfort level. No matter what else is new, they can rely on a few of these things to always be there for that season,” Messick says. The sales-driven strategy builds on itself each year, as already-beloved dishes compound their popularity.