Fall Flavors Hit DC Menus, Jumpstart Seasonal Business

By Rick Zambrano, Foodable Industry Expert

The cool, crisp air has signaled the permanent arrival of fall in the Washington, DC area. The fruit & vegetable stands and farmers markets feature seasonal vegetables and an abundance of roots and winter squash as the leaves on trees start changing color. Seasonal holidays and trendy pumpkin spice flavors at chain restaurants trigger our focus on pumpkin, sweet potatoes and comfort foods. For area restaurateurs looking to give diners a reason to walk back through the door after summer vacations and long trips out of town, fall flavors answer the call. Food Genius, a menu and data analytics firm, indicate that 4 percent of restaurant menus in DC, Maryland and Virginia mention pumpkin. This indicates even more opportunity for restaurants to use such fall foods to bring excitement to menus. Here are some seasonally relevant dishes incorporating roots, squash and pumpkin in Metro D.C.

Grilled Duroc Pork Chop with sweet potato andouille hash, baby spinach & bourbon mustard glace at Victoria Gastro Pub  | Credit: Facebook

Grilled Duroc Pork Chop with sweet potato andouille hash, baby spinach & bourbon mustard glace at Victoria Gastro Pub | Credit: Facebook

Roots and Squash

Roots and squash are some of the stars around the country and the nation’s capital at this time of year. At Poste Brasserie in DC, fall means offering a tasty sous vide Salmon served with barley risotto atop cabbage, butternut squash and beurre rouge. The restaurant announced a new menu just after the fall equinox. In Columbia, MD, about 30 miles from DC’s city center, well-known Victoria Gastro Pub is offering a comfort dish of Pork Chops with Sweet Potato Andouille Hash. Customers can enjoy the pork chops with a craft brew picked from a popular collection of beer that has made the restaurant a north-of-the-city favorite.

Centrolina, an Italian market and restaurant in the heart of DC, has added a pumpkin-based medley with cauliflower, carrot and kabocha squash. Asian in origin and popularity, the kabocha squash is known to be very sweet and sweeter than butternut squash. The Centrolina concept by fast rising chef-restaurateur Amy Brandwein opened earlier this year to much fanfare, and is an eatery and marketplace based on simple ingredients and seasonal fare. Alexandra’s Restaurant in Ellicott City, north of DC and not far from Baltimore-Washington airport, is featuring a vegan dish with butternut squash. The Vegetable Farotto is a dish of roasted pearl onions, with butternut squash and kale.

Vegetable Farotto at Alexandra's Restaurant  | Credit: Facebook

Vegetable Farotto at Alexandra's Restaurant | Credit: Facebook

Pumpkin and Pumpkin Spice

Fall is also a time to entice customers with the nostalgic, seasonal pumpkin flavors they desire. Anticipate pumpkin flavors to increase in mention and build during the middle of October into November. Sette Osteria in DC offers the Ravioli del Nonna dish, house-made ravioli filled with pumpkin, dressed with amaretti and butter sage sauce. The Mussel Bar & Grille in Arlington, VA has featured a Brick Oven Roasted Bones with Spiced Pumpkin Butter topped with oatmeal crumble and country walnut toast. Some restaurants, including the Old Bowie Town Grill in Bowie, MD, are already offering the traditional pumpkin soup—this one, a hearty 15 oz. serving. Expect to see pumpkin to appear in salads, sauces, soups, and sides.

Some restaurants and bars are putting pumpkin in creative and healthy angles. Incorporating fresh pumpkin in its cocktails, the Star & Shamrock in DC has unveiled a Roasted Pumpkin & Toasted Pecan Infused Jameson Whiskey cocktail for the season. PassionFish in Reston, VA has featured a heathy special that flanks caramelized sea scallops with roasted butternut squash, rainbow quinoa and pumpkin sorbet. Also, because of the growing interest in healthful eating and in seeds, led by chia seeds, flaxseed and quinoa, anticipate restaurateurs to lean on pumpkin seeds (or pepitas) for inspiration in 2015.

Pumpkin Spiced Latte season  | Credit: Instagram, @starbucks

Pumpkin Spiced Latte season | Credit: Instagram, @starbucks

Historically, pumpkin spice flavor is all the rage during the fall. In fact, for Starbucks, the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) is its most successful seasonal beverage. While the drink catches the headlines each year, this year is particular noteworthy because the company dropped the caramel flavoring in favor of real pumpkin flavor this season and moving forward. DC was one of two initial testing ground markets for PSL; independent bakeries here in DC are also offering Pumpkin Spice favorites, but without the headlines. Baked & Wired has offered a seasonal Pumpkin Spice Cake topped with cream cheese frosting in the fall. The Pumpkin Spice muffin from Firehook Bakery is topped with a creamy walnut streusel topping.

The fall season offers good reason and opportunity to test new recipes and incorporate many of the traditionally relevant flavors and spices. Aside from sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin, many other vegetables and roots can be popular, including special varieties of potatoes, and also brussels sprouts. 

Trending preparations like fermentation and fire-roasting and grilling can be considered to offer customers something new and exciting. D.C’s fickle and foodie-centric culture will inspire restaurateurs to be creative and experiment in order to stand out and succeed during this critical fall season. Savvy restaurateurs will incorporate the fall flavors and foods that customers love.