I tried Sweetgreen’s new meals, and the chicken dinners blow the chain’s salads out of the water – DIGIWIZ CENTRAL

I tried Sweetgreen’s new meals, and the chicken dinners blow the chain’s salads out of the water

Sweetgreen is adding two new meals to its protein-forward plates menu.

Nancy Luna/Insider

Sweetgreen is looking to beef up its dinner business. It recently hired a chef from Chipotle.The chain is introducing two protein-packed bowls this week and adding new ingredients.Insider was invited to the chain’s test kitchen in Los Angeles to try the new dishes.

When I reviewed Sweetgreen and Cava last month, I found the most superb thing on the Sweetgreen menu was not a salad.

The item I liked best was the hot honey chicken plate, a hearty meal featuring roasted chicken on a bed of warm quinoa with veggies. Sweetgreen, which generates a majority of its revenue during lunch, first introduced the ‘plates’ category during the pandemic. They’ve tested a few of these protein-packed meals over the years.

But, the hot honey chicken has been the only core item on the plates menu for the past few years. That changes on Tuesday when Sweetgreen expands the menu with two new items to beef up its dinner business. The plates range in price from $14 to $16.

Nicolas Jammet, Sweetgreen cofounder and chief concept officer, said for so many years, the chain has been used frequently for its “amazing lunch.”

Adding heartier meals, he said, gives “our existing customers some exciting options to eat at different parts of their daily lives when they don’t want a salad.”

Jammet and Sweetgreen’s new head of culinary, Chad Brauze, a former Chipotle corporate chef, gave Insider a sneak peek tasting of the new plate meals at their two-year-old Los Angeles test kitchen.

Besides the new meals, we also tried a third grain the chain is adding to the menu and new toppings such as crispy onions.

Here’s a look at the menu updates at Sweetgreen.

Sweetgreen’s new head of culinary Chad Brauze hosted the event along with cofounder Nicolas Jammet.
Sweetgreen’s new head of culinary, Chad Brauze, hosted media in the chain’s Los Angeles test kitchen.

Nancy Luna/Insider

Brauze is a veteran chef with fine dining and fast-food experience. Before coming to Sweetgreen six weeks ago, he worked two years at Burger King and more than five years at Chipotle.

He said he helped develop some of Chipotle’s most popular new menu items including queso blanco and carne asada.

Brauze has also worked at some of New York’s finest restaurants including Daniel Boulud’s Restaurant Daniel and Thomas Keller’s Per Se.

He said landing at Sweetgreen is a dream gig, as he’s admired the chain from afar. The chain offers fine-dining caliber ingredients at “massive scale,” he said, referencing the chain’s growing 223 restaurants in the US.

“When you go to the walk-in, it’s not unlike a fine dining restaurant,” he said. “It’s gorgeous food. Gorgeous colors. The sourcing is impeccable.”

The chain is adding a Southwest chicken fajita plate with a new blend of veggies and a new grain.
Sweetgreen’s new Southwest chicken fajita plate contains basmati rice, a new grain added to the chain’s menu.

Nancy Luna/Insider

The center of the plate protein is an herb-roasted chicken that features a new blend of fajita veggies, shredded cabbage, white rice, and black beans. It is topped with Sweetgreen’s lime cilantro jalapeño vinaigrette and drizzled with a new dresssing – spicy chipotle crema.

The fajita veggies are a new spin on the chain’s corn and roasted peppers. The culinary team cut the bell peppers into strips and added onions to create a fajita side. But the big change here is the addition of basmati rice, a new grain for Sweetgreen.

The plate was delicious because, in part, I enjoyed the larger chunks of roasted chicken thighs. The darker meat is fatty and much tastier than breast meat. The herb-roasted chicken will be available across the menu.

The Southwest fajita plate is a heartier riff on the elote bowl, a summer special now available year-round through digital orders, Sweetgreen said.

The other new plate is miso glazed salmon, or what Sweetgreen calls “a deconstructed sushi roll.”

The Miso Glazed Salmon plate at Sweetgreen showcases new additions to the menu, including roasted salmon (instead of steelhead), seasoned white rice, and crispy onions.

Nancy Luna/Insider

This new plate comes with a large four-ounce piece of miso-glazed Atlantic salmon on a bed of nori-seasoned white rice and served with a side of pickled onions, chunky pieces of cucumbers (a new presentation for the chain), and avocado slices topped with crispy onions. It is served with Sweetgreen’s signature spicy cashew sauce, but customers can choose any dressing topping they want.

I love salmon, but I wasn’t a fan of the miso-glaze on this entree. It also makes the salmon look dry even though it was perfectly cooked.

The salmon in this dish represents a new seafood option at Sweetgreen. Before this, the chain served roasted steelhead, which is now being replaced with the miso-glazed salmon. (Note: Prior to this week, some markets have already been serving salmon. )

While I wasn’t a fan of the dish, any sushi roll connoisseur looking for a filling meal should be happy with this new offering.

The four-ounce salmon is available across the entire menu. Any time a customer orders salmon, they will receive this larger cut of salmon with the new marinade, Sweetgreen said.

It’s hard to believe the chain can improve on the hot honey chicken plate. But, starting this week, Sweetgreen fans will notice a few tweaks to the popular dish.
Fans of the hot honey chicken plate will notice a few indulgent tweaks made to this core dish.

Nancy Luna/Insider

The hot honey chicken plate is a core item that Sweetgreen customers have grown to love. In fact, the meal’s success inspired the chain to expand its protein-forward plates menu.

It seems risky to tweak it. But after tasting the meal in the test kitchen (and later on as leftover), I loved what the culinary team did to revamp this menu darling.

The previous plate contained blackened chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, warm quinoa, kale-cabbage slaw, and roasted almonds.

The new plate includes a larger portion of chicken. I don’t think anyone is going to balk at this change. The culinary team also removed the kale from the kale-cabbage slaw and added some creamy and tangy marinade to make it a more “indulgent” bite.

But the biggest facelift was to the quinoa.

The revamped hot honey chicken includes a double serving of quinoa, which is now properly seasoned so it’s not as bland.
Sweetgreen is adding more seasoning to its quinoa.

Nancy Luna/Insider

The quinoa is prepared with herbs and vinegar to give the grain “a little bit of a punch,” the culinary team told Insider.

I agree. The warm quinoa, on its own, was a bit bland. So adding some zesty seasoning gave it a much-needed flavor boost. I also recommend topping it with crispy onions like they did in this dish.

The crispy onions, by the way, is a new topping choice. Other new and updated ingredients coming to the menu this week include: nori sesame seasoning, umami seasoning, pickled onions, veggie slaw, and roasted corn/fajita veggies.

Toppings removed from the menu: chopped pickles, raw beets, lentils, and sunflower seeds.

Sweetgreen is also changing how it cooks and prepares its food.
Sweetgreen opened its first automation-powered restaurant earlier this year in Naperville, Illinois.

Sweetgreen

Last week, the chain said it would start cooking its proteins, veggies, and grains with extra virgin olive oil.

The cooking change starts today, October 24. Sweetgreen’s EVOO provider, Bari Olive Oil Company, is family-owned and has been operating in the US since 1936.

Sweetgreen is also testing automation-powered restaurants. It opened its first Infinite Kitchen earlier this year in Naperville, Illinois. The next one opens soon in Huntington Beach, California. During an earnings call, Sweetgreen said about half of its labor is involved in assembling food. The Infinite Kitchen automates about 70% of that half, the chain said.

Rival Chipotle is also testing internally a robotics makeline that can crank out between 120 to 180 bowls per hour.

Lastly, Sweetgreen is changing the presentation of its plates by scrapping the rectangular bowls.
Sweetgreen is no longer serving plates in rectangular containers. The new meals will be served in shallow hexagon bowls.

Nancy Luna/Insider

This was the best news yet.

When I previously tried Sweetgreen’s plate, it was served in a deep rectangular bowl that caused all the ingredients to blend together. It didn’t seem like a plate. It came off as a traditional rice bowl.

The chain came to the same conclusion. During our tasting, culinary reps said the rectangular bowl often caused all the ingredients to pile on top of each other.

Sweetgreen is now serving the plates menu meals in a shallow hexagon-shaped bowl. I like this presentation much better. Plus, it sends a message of brand consistency as Sweetgreen uses giant hexagon-shaped containers for its salads and warm bowls.

I’ve got to hand it to Sweetgreen. They seem to be moving in the right direction if they want to compete with fast-casual rivals such as Cava and Chipotle. Currently, 35% of Sweetgreen’s sales after 4 p.m. are generated after dinner. I can see that number climbing with the addition of these new plates.

Nancy Luna has been covering the restaurant industry from her home in Southern California for 18 years. Got insight to share on the industry? Got a tip? Contact her via email at [email protected] or at 714-269-8873.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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