The Tasty Trinity: Soups, Sandwiches and Salads Still Reign Supreme on Restaurant Menus


Soup, salad and sandwich trends may have changed over the years — from the chopped salad of the 1970s to today’s Buddha-grain-bowl-with-extra-green-goddess-on-the-side — but that speaks to their longevity as a lunchtime staple.

The great salads, sandwiches and soups of today are uncomplicated, hearty, wholesome and delicious. Investing in good-quality base ingredients while experimenting with different textures and layers of flavour makes all the difference to Canadian consumers who, according to recent Technomic research, are eating these lunchtime favourites as much as ever. The same research indicates, however, they’re choosing to make more of them at home and aren’t as likely to go for the soup-or-salad option on a menu.

With such easy access to great breads, fillings, toppings and condiments, that doesn’t really come as a surprise, but it does necessitate finding new and exciting foodservice approaches to these foods.

Linda MacRae, owner and proprietor of the Herring Choker Deli and Café in Nyanza, N.S., says making soups, salads and sandwiches special takes extra time and attention, but considering the long-running success of her business, the overall results are worthwhile.

“The Herring Choker has been around since the late 1970s,” she explains. “We took over in 1994 and, by then, it was already well-known as the spot to get speciality ingredients — spices, pastas, cheeses and deli meats that would have otherwise been extremely hard to find outside Halifax.”

Considered one of the most iconic eateries on Cape Breton Island, the busy café specializes in behemoth quarter-pound deli-style sandwiches, made to order with fresh bread and local veggies.

“We try to err on the healthy side of things,” MacRae laughs. “Our bread is made here with good ingredients and, even though we can go through up to 20 trays of bacon a day, we still throw as many veggies [into our menu items] as we can.”

The Herring Choker Club ($12.95) is one of the most-popular menu items. Served on fresh, country-style bread, chicken is layered with bacon and good-quality cheddar before grilling the sandwich on a panini press.

“While we do a lot of the same things we’ve been doing since the beginning, I really believe making the most of the great ingredients we have makes our menu items special,” she says.

With other popular options, such as the spicy Mulligatawny soup and crunchy salad — made with fresh cauliflower, broccoli and bacon — MacRae has fine-tuned a menu that has withstood the test of time, as well as every food fad it has encountered. “Yes, maybe panini have been out of style for years,” she says. “But a quality grilled sandwich, oozing with cheese, will never go out of style.”

The Canteen in Dartmouth, N.S. hasn’t been around as long, but has nonetheless made a serious impact on the local food scene. Chef Renée Lavallée, together with her partner, co-owner Doug Townshend, have created a haven of comforting lunch, brunch and dinner favourites with an array of exciting flavour profiles.

“We’re guided by the seasons,” Lavallée explains. “We get inspiration from seasonal produce and seafood and we use the seasons to guide the style of food on our menus — comfort food in the cooler months; chilled foods in the summer months.”

Hearty lunchtime fare such as The Fall Bounty Salad with roasted and raw heirloom carrots, sunflower hummus, pistachio-quinoa granola and crabapple vinaigrette ($12) appeal to adventurous and health-driven diners, while the pan-fried haddock burger ($13) is the perfect take on a truly Nova-Scotian sandwich.

Lavallée enjoys combining ethnic flavour profiles with local ingredients for added flair. “We draw inspiration from ethnic foods throughout the world and culinary traditions in our own backyard,” she says. “I’ve always been drawn to the bold, fresh flavours of the Middle East. I love barberries, tahini, pomegranate molasses and zaatar.”

The Canteen’s pork kefta, for example, is served with herbed tabbouleh salad, pickled vegetables and garlic sauce on a warm pita, offering a hearty sandwich option with layers of Moroccan-inspired pizazz ($12).

Lavallée was recently awarded the prestigious Taste of Nova Scotia Culinary Ambassador of the Year title, which is given out to an individual who exemplifies Nova Scotia as a culinary destination.

Offering unique and flavourful menu items — as well as including soup and salad as a value-added side to a great sandwich — are just a few ways to ramp up soup and salad sales.

In Vancouver, The Meatery (by Windsor Meats) has found a unique role as both butcher and sandwich shop, with two locations in the neighbourhoods of Edgemont and Lonsdale. Boasting a small menu that packs a punch, options may be limited, but no one in the neighbourhood seems to be complaining.

“Of all our business locations, The Meatery locations are around 20 per cent butchery and meat and 80 per cent restaurant,” Marketing director Devon Kirchner says. “We opened our newest location last October and it has just one small meat case — the rest of the space is more geared towards dinner and lunch service.”

Considering the trends in soup, salad and sandwiches — all of which appear on The Meatery’s menu — Kirchner says what sets them apart is the quality of the meat, which is slow cooked and seasoned to perfection. This, along with adventurous flavour combinations — such as the popular porchetta sandwich with crackling, parmesan and pesto ($11) — has made this unique business model effective.

“As far as trends go, meaty dishes are a bit on the downward,” she admits. “But we’ve seen a huge sandwich revival over the past several years. Luckily, our locations are in tightknit communities and we have plenty of local support.”

The Meatery has built a strong brand around its butchery meat, which is locally sourced and contains no hormones or antibiotics, but it still caters to the larger community by providing a vegetarian sandwich option (roasted tomato and Portobello with whipped ricotta, $11) and large, meaty salads for gluten-free guests.

“Vancouverites like the thought of being healthy, but behind closed doors, they really enjoy a big, fat sandwich,” Kirchner continues. “That said, if they’re going to indulge, they want to make sure what they’re indulging in is great quality.”

The Meatery offers soup or salad as a side to each sandwich, which adds plenty of perceived value for its customer base. Kirchner believes what keeps their customers coming back, aside from the high quality of their menu offerings, is their fillings are difficult to replicate.

“We do meats and sandwiches that are more labour intensive — even our vegetarian sandwich requires a lot of prep,” she explains. “So, while Canadian consumers have access to a lot of great ingredients to make sandwiches and salads at home, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to recreate our slow-cooked meats and sandwich fillings.”

Knowing your customer base is always important when it comes to creating menu options, but, for internationally recognized quick-service restaurants, that can sometimes be difficult. To get a better understanding of its world-wide customer base and to help create menus that are locally relevant, Subway has partnered with culinary-media giant Tastemade to create an innovative, market-driven approach to food and consumer trends.

By tapping into Tastemade’s network of hundreds of “tastemakers,” Subway will reach people in every corner of the globe in new and engaging ways and leverage insights on how to create more locally relevant menus to deliver a more contemporary food experience. Andy Dismore, director of Menu Management and Innovation at Subway, believes this is the way forward in terms of managing a global market.

“We’re so excited about the new food innovations coming from our Tastemade collaboration,” he says. “We’re not only exploring data differently with Tastemade, we’re also fuelling the Subway innovation pipeline together and delivering tastes that are unexpected.”

New flavours set to take off this year in Canada include the Montreal Steak Spice sandwich on sesame bread. Dismore maintains that crafting a good-quality sandwich takes a lot of work and each component needs to be considered.

“The perfect sandwich is a symphony for the senses, with each ingredient playing a crucial role in the overall eating experience,” he explains. “Layers of complementary flavours that address the full palate are a critical starting point. The five taste sensations should all be considered and balanced. In addition, contrasting textures are essential when crafting the ultimate sandwich. Airy, freshly baked bread provides a canvas for ingredients that crunch, add moisture or melt in your mouth.”

Written by Janine Kennedy 

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