April 1, 2016 |

On the Side

By Jeffrey Freehof

Don’t overlook the power of the side dish with your sandwiches

mac and cheese and red potato saladThe pride we take in the quality ingredients we use in our dishes, as well as the variety we offer, is unprecedented. The industry is ever changing and the focus of what our patrons look for is widening. It’s like a great IMAX theater with a big, wide screen and a crisp, sharp focus.

We’ve seen food and diet trends come and go over the years. There will continue to be new ideas making their way to the forefront of the menu spotlights. Some will be great and last for decades, like potato skins with bacon and cheese. And some will be flops and disappear before most even have a chance to try them.

Healthy eating has been a constant focus for a while now. But we have learned that some of the fats we thought we should avoid are now good for us, such as the fat in avocado. In my opinion, it all really boils down to one thing when folks are dining out: they want to eat delicious food! That’s where our responsibility comes in.

The biggest factor is to know exactly who our customer base is. If we are catering to the wrong crowd, we will miss the boat.

Our patrons also want great sides to go with their meal. It’s our job to offer a variety of amazing sides and offer a balance between healthy and comforting (but they should all be delicious). Offering great side dishes can make a huge difference in overall revenue. Just be sure to understand your region as well as your customers. Until I moved to the South, I had never tasted black-eyed peas, collard greens or grits that had any desirability to them. What a difference when you taste all of those items when made properly! The other great thing about being in the South is that mac and cheese is usually listed as a side vegetable!

Let’s focus on some great sides that I think will bring customers back more often.

I make a red bliss (skin) potato salad that is the simplest thing to make and everybody just raves about it like it’s the best thing out there. Although it really is a delicious recipe, I think one of the main reasons people love it so much is because they have become accustomed to eating a lot of store-bought potato salad, which contains preservatives and leaves a poor after taste.

Red Bliss Potato Salad

5 pounds red skin potatoes uniformly diced, boiled in salted water until fork tender, drained and cooled (do not rinse after draining)
2 cups heavy-duty mayonnaise
1½ tablespoon granulated garlic
1½ tablespoon black pepper
1½ tablespoon salt
¼ cup chives

Yes, it’s really that simple.

If you want to “rock star” your potato salad up a bit, then here’s what to add to this Loaded Potato Salad recipe: Replace ½ cup of the mayo with ½ cup of sour cream and add one cup of cooked crumbled bacon bits and 1½ cup shredded cheddar cheese.

This is a side dish that many of your customers will purchase by the quart (if you package it that way so they can bring it to parties).

Here’s one of my simple favorites that will change the minds of most who think they don’t like Brussels sprouts.

Brown Butter Nutmeg Brussels Sprouts

Take 3 pounds of fresh Brussels sprouts and cut them in half if they are large. Drop them in salted, boiling water for just 2 minutes. Drain and cool them.

In a large frying pan or on a hot flat top grill, melt 1½ sticks of butter and let it just start to get brown, which gives a nice and nutty flavor. Toss the sprouts in the butter and add 1½ teaspoon ground nutmeg, ½ teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic. Cook for about 2 minutes and remove from heat. They are now ready to serve.

Kale as a super food brings lots of nutritional value and can be prepared in many different ways. Pan-seared kale with a few drops of olive oil, a pinch of salt, pepper, garlic, a squirt of lemon juice or soy sauce and sesame seeds is a simple and delicious recipe.

You can actually chop the fresh kale finely and make a kale slaw by incorporating some sliced almonds and Craisins, carrots, broccoli florets and a sweet slaw dressing to create a crowd pleaser.

Mac and cheese is something almost everyone loves, so put your own spin on it. Make it gourmet by adding a blend of four unique cheeses or try a lobster mac and cheese if you really want to get extravagant!

I tried an awesome Caribbean Sweet Potato Salad while staying at a Four Seasons Resort on the Island of Nevis that is really fantastic. Here’s the recipe that I created to make it:

3 pounds of sweet potatoes, peeled, diced and boiled until fork tender
¾ cup mayo
1 cup diced roasted red peppers
1/3 cup capers, drained
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ cup chopped scallions
Salt and pepper, to taste

Don’t underestimate the power of great side dishes. If you really hit the mark you may have patrons order some main items to accompany their favorite sides!

Jeffrey Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and International Pizza Expo.