Comfort foods precipitate feelings of nostalgia and help create a relaxing mood — something that may be connecting more with consumers in this COVID-19 time frame.
Concept Close-Up: Baja Café’s Elevated Comfort Foods
Tucson, Ariz.-based Baja Café’s two breakfast, lunch and brunch locations have successfully morphed many comfort food favorites into signature dishes. “We enjoy offering a more traditional breakfast, brunch and lunch but have so much fun with adding a twist as well,” says owner Kim Scanlan. “We try to incorporate the flavors of our region as much as possible. When changing things up, our lead chef comes up with alternatives based on guest and staff feedback. It’s also determined by how much of the original dish is sold.”
Here are Baja Café’s takes on breakfast and brunch classics:
- French toast: The staff starts with the cafe’s homemade cinnamon rolls, then dips them in batter and cooks them on the griddle.
- Belgian waffles: The cafe’s Liege Waffles with Danish cheese and fresh berries are not typical Belgian waffles. They are made from a dough filled with Belgian pearl sugar, which caramelizes when cooked. The owner describes them as a cross between a beignet and elephant ear — but better.
- Pancakes: Baja Café’s Snickerdoodle Pancake, a house favorite, is a take on the Snickerdoodle cookie. Buttermilk pancake batter is covered and cooked with cinnamon sugar. The cinnamon roll pancake starts with
buttermilk pancake batter that staff load with a cinnamon sugar/butter mix, then top off with a vanilla bean glaze.
- Eggs Benedict: The vegetarian Benedict is called the Black Widow. Baja Café’s version has a feta phyllo pastry base and is topped with grilled sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke hearts and onions followed by poached eggs, basil pesto hollandaise and a balsamic reduction. The Mac Daddy Benedict starts with a house-made tomatillo sauce topped with a deep-fried mac and cheese waffle, slow-roasted machaca, mixed grilled veggies, poached eggs, smoked Gouda sauce, pico de gallo and crispy onion straws.
Comfort Food Menu Trends
The fastest-growing comfort foods on menus include sweet potato, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, creamed corn, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, and green beans. That’s according to a study by Chicago-based Datassential that ranked different comfort foods by four-year growth (2016-2020) in menu penetration across thousands of menus nationwide.
In terms of comfort foods appearing most frequently on menus, fried chicken has the greatest overall menu penetration.
- Fried chicken is a platform for lots of interesting flavors, but Nashville Hot by far takes the cake in menu mentions.
- Fried chicken’s popularity is also shown by the prevalence of chicken and waffles for breakfast and brunch, and adding fried chicken to create a variation on eggs Benedict.
- Macaroni and cheese has grown rapidly as a burger topping.
- The prevalence of the “savory” menu descriptor comes from macaroni and cheese being menued as an upscale appetizer or side, being topped or made with chicken tenders, bacon, French onion, lobster and other higher-end ingredients.