Panera Adding Secret Menu Items to Regular Menu in 2014
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The new items include the Power Chicken Hummus Bowl, Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl
The Power Chicken Hummus Bowl contains chicken, cilantro-jalapeño hummus, baby spinach, cucumbers, diced tomatoes, red onions, lemon juice, and cilantro.
It was almost a year ago when Panera Bread, America’s favorite sandwich chain, rolled out a "hidden menu" consisting of six off-menu items that you could still order by name, including a Power Steak Lettuce Wrap, Power Mediterranean Roasted Turkey Salad, and Power Breakfast Egg Bowl with Steak. The company today announced that two of those (formerly) "secret" items will be added to the regular menu as a limited-time offering beginning Jan. 1.
Intended to help customers plan healthy diets, two of the previously secret items — the Power Chicken Hummus Bowl and the Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey — will be joining the regular menu board. The Power Chicken Hummus Bowl contains chicken, cilantro-jalapeño hummus, baby spinach, cucumbers, diced tomatoes, red onions, lemon juice, and cilantro; and the Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey contains sliced roasted turkey, egg whites, warm baby spinach, roasted peppers, and basil pesto.
Both Power Bowls contain less than 400 calories, are made without ingredients that contain gluten, and are made with all-natural ingredients. At the moment, the company can’t say how long the items will be on the regular menu for, and don’t currently have any plans to incorporate more Hidden Menu items onto the regular menu.
The real story behind “secret menus” is the key to hacking them
Executives at Starbucks don’t market to children. The coffee company seems to have plenty of loyal grade-school-aged customers, anyway, at least in the US, because of a few drinks that lend themselves to kid-friendly twists. Ask a barista for a cotton candy Frappuccino, for example, and she’ll create this unofficial favorite by adding raspberry syrup to a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino, which is one of the company’s official offerings, an icy and sweet blended drink topped with whipped cream. Knowing how to ask for these twists, or “secret menu” items, is half the fun.
What a “genius” marketing strategy, Financial Times writer Gillian Tett gaped when her young daughters sought out cotton candy Frapps at a Starbucks in Manhattan this summer. Bloomberg View contributor Mohamed A. El-Erian had the same experience with his 11-year-old daughter in May. He, too, called this “a brilliant marketing move on the part of Starbucks,” albeit one the company didn’t have to spend any resources on. Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz refers to the secret menu phenomenon as a pleasant surprise: “I’m stunned and amazed at the concoctions that people order with our Frappuccino,” he said in June. “I never imagined it and the secret menu that has developed as a result.”
Secret menus exist at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Chipotle, Jamba Juice, and other restaurants, too. They’re hardly secrets, of course, but the word “menu” connotes a curation of sorts, intentionality on behalf of the food establishment—and that’s at odds with the origin stories of most of these items.
Secret menus boost buzz at Panera, Taco Bell, McDonald's
Psst. Wanna know what your favorite fast-food joint will secretly sell you — that's not on the menu?
Of course you do — and so do millions of others who are hungry to be in-the-know. That's why "secret menus" — stuff you can order that's not posted on menu boards — are picking up steam as more restaurants are linked to the trend, including In-N-Out Burger, Taco Bell, McDonald's and, most recently, Panera Bread.
Panera has rather quietly started to sell Power Bowls at breakfast, lunch and dinner filled with things such as chicken, spinach and hummus — never mind that they're not on the menu board. Panera mostly spreads the word via social media.
"Secret menus allow us to speak to one audience without the investment and infrastructure of putting an item on the menu," says Ron Shaich, founder of Panera. In this case, he says, the latest hidden menu is aimed at Panera fans who can't eat or don't want to eat the chain's most basic product: bread. All six of these items are bread-less.
Beyond that, Shaich says of secret menus, "They've very cool."
Ah, yes, the coolness quotient. "It's there to build an elevated level of affinity to a select few," says restaurant PR guru Derek Farley. But, he says, there can be a downside. "You may build buzz about your brand," he says, "but I'd rather sell something that appeals to a lot than a few."
Among other secret menu offerings:
• "Protein Burger" at In-N-Out: First things first: In-N-Out doesn't have a real "secret menu," says Carl Van Fleet, vice president of planning and development. But it does have a not-so-secret menu, he says, that's not posted on store menu boards but is posted on the chain's website.
Protein Burger from In-N-Out Burger. (Photo: In-N-Out Burger)
Among those items: the Protein Burger that is two cheeseburger patties wrapped in lettuce — but no bun. "We never set out to create or pioneer a secret menu," says Van Fleet. "Some of the names for these variations just stuck."
• "Mc10:35" at McDonald's. While McDonald's insists it doesn't have a secret menu, social media insists otherwise. And the best-selling "secret" item can only be purchased when McDonald's is changing grill shifts from breakfast to lunch. That's when some folks like to concoct the Mc10:35 (named after the approximate time of the shift change). The combo is the inside of a McDouble burger, minus the bun (from lunch), plopped inside an Egg McMuffin (from breakfast).
"Customers have come up with their own McDonald's items," says spokeswoman Danya Proud. But will the restaurants sell them that way? "That's decided on a restaurant-by-restaurant basis."
• "Shell Game" at Taco Bell. With the rollout of Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos, some consumers now are asking for the Doritos shells in place of regular taco shells inside the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, says spokesman Rob Poetsch.
3. BurritodillaHannah Bettis
The Burritodilla is one of Chipotle's few hybrid items. What it does is combine a quesadilla and a burrito together. It seems absurd, but quesadillas have cheese in them, and cheese is loved by everyone worldwide.
First comes the quesadilla, then comes the burrito. The main difference between this and the quesarito is that quesaritos are meant to be tiny while the burritodilla is meant to be a ginormous burrito that nearly falls apart at the seams.
Panera Bread Has No Idea How Secret Menus Work, Alerts the Media
It’s hard to deny the singular thrill of leaning close to an In-N-Out employee and firmly stating, “Fries please, well-done, Animal-style” and having him throw back a knowing smirk. But somehow the words “Power Mediterranean Roasted Turkey Salad” don’t sound nearly as exciting.
Recently, Panera Bread pitched us the story of its not-so-new, not-so-secret “Hidden Menu,” which features an assortment of veggie-heavy, lean protein, and low-carb menu items for breakfast, lunch and dinner (you know, as opposed to the regularly heavy offerings expected of a place named “Bread”). And while the news mildly piqued our interest, we couldn’t help but feel there was something vaguely counterproductive about being pitched – (Pitched! Not even “sneakishly tipped off to”!) – a secret menu that is neither particularly secret nor particularly, well, cool.
Here’s Panera’s full Hidden Menu, as copied from the press release:
POWER BREAKFAST EGG WHITE BOWL WITH ROASTED TURKEY
Roasted all-natural, Antibiotic-free turkey, egg whites, warm baby spinach, roasted peppers, and basil Pesto. 180 calories, 7g carbs, 25g protein.
POWER BREAKFAST EGG BOWL WITH STEAK
Two all-natural eggs, seared top sirloin, sliced avocado & tomatoes. 230 calories, 5g carbs, 20g protein.
POWER MEDITERRANEAN CHICKEN SALAD
All-natural, Antibiotic-free chicken, baby spinach, romaine, tomatoes, apple-wood smoked bacon, diced eggs, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. 360 calories, 12g carbs, 35g protein.
POWER MEDITERRANEAN ROASTED TURKEY SALAD
All-natural, Antibiotic-free roasted turkey, baby spinach, romaine, tomatoes, red onions, kalamata olives, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. 320 calories, 12g carbs, 22g protein.
POWER CHICKEN HUMMUS BOWL
All-natural, Antibiotic-free chicken, with cilantro jalapeno hummus, baby spinach, cucumbers, diced tomatoes & red onions finished with fresh squeezed lemon & fresh chopped cilantro. 330 calories, 23g carbs, 33g protein.
POWER STEAK LETTUCE WRAPS
Seared top-sirloin, leaf lettuce, cucumbers, diced tomatoes & red onions, basil pesto and finished with fresh lemon juice. 280 calories, 7g carbs, 28g protein.
As you can see, there are no White Gummies here, no Biscotti Frappuccinos, no Flying Dutchmen – just a bunch of healthy-ish foods with names and ingredients that sound just as legitimate as anything else on Panera Bread’s regular old Visible Menu.
The thing about secret menus is that they usually aren’t so much “menus” as “code words” – shorthand for crazy customer innovations or specific and complicated orders that have steadily grown in popularity over the years. Picture a stoned guy walking into an In-N-Out Burger, asking “Can I get a Double-Double? But instead of two patties and two slices of cheese, we make it four patties, four slices of cheese and you make your head stop growing and shrinking like that?” And thus the 4x4 was born.
Panera’s menu is something else entirely. Yes, it’s great the chain is now offering some desperately needed low-carb options, especially for breakfast, but considering Panera’s usual clientele, wouldn’t something like the Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey do perfectly alongside a Mediterranean Egg White on Ciabatta? As of now, only those who keep up with this sort of thing or follow Panera’s social media channels have been made privy to the news – but it’s difficult to imagine these things not doing well if more people only knew about them.
Sure, there’s something to be said about the role of social media in all this – the logic behind rewarding those customers who actually engage the brand on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram with fancy new menu items that only they know about – but it’s an obvious marketing technique that frankly feels a bit dated. What makes secret menus fun is that they’re typically born out of individual sparks of genius and shared by word of mouth, not manufactured solely to allow brands to sneakily cash into new markets.
So should Panera get rid of its new Hidden Menu? No, but it should absorb it into its regular line-up and preserve the sanctity of the true "secret menu" by only including foods that deserve to be on it. Personally, I’m holding out for a Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bagel or Sriracha Cream Cheese. Now those sound like things worth whispering about.
I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker
For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.
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I never thought dinner rolls were something I could get excited about until I got my hand into the breadbasket at Texas Roadhouse. The rolls are fresh out of the oven and they hit the table when you do, so there’s no waiting to tear into a magnificently gooey sweet roll topped with soft cinnamon butter. The first bite you take will make you think of a fresh cinnamon roll, and then you can’t stop eating it. And when the first roll’s gone, you are powerless to resist grabbing for just one more. But it’s never just one more. It’s two or three more, plus a few extra to take home for tomorrow.
Discovering the secret to making rolls at home that taste as good as the real ones involved making numerous batches of dough, each one sweeter than the last (sweetened with sugar, not honey—I checked), until a very sticky batch, proofed for 2 hours, produced exactly what I was looking for. You can make the dough with a stand mixer or a handheld one, the only difference being that you must knead the dough by hand without a stand mixer. When working with the dough add a little bit of flour at a time to keep it from sticking, and just know that the dough will be less sticky and more workable after the first rise.
Roll the dough out and measure it as specified here, and after a final proofing and a quick bake—plus a generous brushing of butter on the tops—you will produce dinner rolls that look and taste just like the best rolls I’ve had at any famous American dinner chain.
Anyone who loves Olive Garden is probably also a big fan of the bottomless basket of warm, garlicky breadsticks served before each meal at the huge Italian casual chain. My guess is that the breadsticks are proofed, and then sent to each restaurant where they are baked until golden brown, brushed with butter and sprinkled with garlic salt. Getting the bread just right for a good Olive Garden breadstick recipe was tricky—I tried several different amounts of yeast in all-purpose flour, but then settled on bread flour to give these breadsticks the same chewy bite as the originals. The two-stage rising process is also a crucial step in this much requested homemade Olive Garden breadstick recipe. Also check out our Olive Garden Italian salad dressing recipe.
Menu Description: "Made from scratch in our kitchens using fresh Grade A Fancy Russet potatoes, fresh chopped onion, natural Colby cheese and spices. Baked fresh all day long."
In the late sixties Dan Evins was a Shell Oil "jobber" looking for a new way to market gasoline. He wanted to create a special place that would arouse curiosity, and would pull travelers off the highways. In 1969 he opened the first Cracker Barrel just off Interstate 40 in Lebanon, Tennessee, offering gas, country-style food, and a selection of antiques for sale. Today there are over 529 stores in 41 states, with each restaurant still designed as a country rest stop and gift store. In fact, those stores which carry an average of 4,500 different items apiece have made Cracker Barrel the largest retailer of American-made finished crafts in the United States.
Those who know Cracker Barrel love the restaurant for its delicious home-style breakfasts. This casserole, made with hash brown-sliced potatoes, Colby cheese, milk, beef broth, and spices is served with many of the classic breakfast dishes at the restaurant. The recipe here is designed for a skillet that is also safe to put in the oven (so no plastic handles). If you don't have one of those, you can easily transfer the casserole to a baking dish after it is done cooking on the stove.
Love Cracker Barrel? Check out my other clone recipes here.
Crafting a clone of Olive Garden’s signature Lasagna Classico became the perfect opportunity to create a beautiful multi-layered lasagna hack recipe that uses up the whole box of lasagna noodles and fills the baking pan all the way to the top. This Top Secret Recipe makes a lasagna that tips the scale at nearly 10 pounds and will feed hungry mouths for days, with every delicious layer copied directly from the carefully dissected Olive Garden original.
I found a few credible bits of intel in a video of an Olive Garden chef demonstrating what he claims is the real formula on a midday news show, but the recipe was abbreviated for TV and the chef left out some crucial information. One ingredient he conspicuously left out of the recipe is the secret layer of Cheddar cheese located near the middle of the stack. I wasn’t expecting to find Cheddar in lasagna, but when I carefully separated the layers from several servings of the original dish, there was the golden melted cheesy goodness in every slice.
This clone recipe will make enough for 8 big portions, but if you make slightly smaller slices this is easily enough food to fill twelve lasagna-loving bellies. If you like lasagna, you're going to love this version.
Browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.
Since Panera Bread makes all its ingredients known, it's not hard to find out that there’s no chicken broth in the original recipe, yet every copycat recipe I located online calls for chicken broth, as well as other ingredients clearly not found in Panera's version. Unlike those other recipes, this hack uses the same or similar ingredients to those listed on the company’s website.
One of the ingredients in the soup, according to the posted list, is yeast extract. This tasty ingredient adds an MSG-like savoriness to Panera’s soup, and we can duplicate it by using nutritional yeast—often called "nooch"—now found in many stores, including Whole Foods. A little bit of nooch will provide the umami deliciousness that replaces chicken broth or bouillon.
Panera keeps its soup gluten-free by thickening it with a combination of rice flour and cornstarch, rather than wheat flour. I’ve included those ingredients as well so that your clone is similarly gluten-free. Use the steps below and in about an hour you’ll have 8 servings of a soup that is a culinary doppelganger to Panera Bread's all-time favorite soup, and at a mere fraction of the cost.
The talented chefs at Benihana cook food on hibachi grills with flair and charisma, treating the preparation like a tiny stage show. They juggle salt and pepper shakers, trim food with lightning speed, and flip the shrimp and mushrooms perfectly onto serving plates or into their tall chef's hat.
One of the side dishes that everyone seems to love is the fried rice. At Benihana this dish is prepared by chefs with precooked rice on open hibachi grills, and is ordered a la cart to complement any Benihana entree, including Hibachi Steak and Chicken. I like when the rice is thrown onto the hot hibachi grill and seems to come alive as it sizzles and dances around like a bunch of little jumping beans. Okay, so I'm easily amused.
This Benihana Japanese fried rice recipe will go well with just about any Japanese entree and can be partially prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until the rest of the meal is close to done.
Getting a table at the 123-year-old original Rao’s restaurant in New York City is next to impossible. The tables are “owned” by regulars who schedule their meals months in advance, so every table is full every night, and that’s the way it’s been for the last 38 years. The only way an outsider would get to taste the restaurant’s fresh marinara sauce is to be invited by a regular.
If that isn’t in the stars for you, you could buy a bottle of the sauce at your local market (if they even have it). It won't be fresh, and it's likely to be the most expensive sauce in the store, but it still has that great Rao's taste. An even better solution is to copy the sauce for yourself using this new and very easy hack.
The current co-owner of Rao’s, Frank Pellegrino Jr., told Bon Appetit in 2015 that the famous marinara sauce was created by his grandmother many years ago, and the sauce you buy in stores is the same recipe served in his restaurants. The ingredients are common, but correctly choosing the main ingredient—tomatoes—is important. Try to find San Marzano-style whole canned tomatoes, preferably from Italy. They are a little more expensive than typical canned tomatoes, but they will give you some great sauce.
After 30 minutes of cooking, you’ll end up with about the same amount of sauce as in a large jar of the real thing. Your version will likely be just a little bit brighter and better than the bottled stuff, thanks to the fresh ingredients. But now you can eat it anytime you want, with no reservations, at a table you own.
You might also like my #1 recipe of 2019, Texas Roadhouse Rolls.
In early 1985, restaurateur Rich Komen felt there was a specialty niche in convenience-food service just waiting to be filled. His idea was to create an efficient outlet that could serve freshly made cinnamon rolls in shopping malls throughout the country. It took nine months for Komen and his staff to develop a cinnamon roll recipe he knew customers would consider the "freshest, gooiest, and most mouthwatering cinnamon roll ever tasted." The concept was tested for the first time in Seattle's Sea-Tac mall later that year, with workers mixing, proofing, rolling, and baking the rolls in full view of customers. Now, more than 626 outlets later, Cinnabon has become the fastest-growing cinnamon roll bakery in the world.
This 220-unit downscaled version of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro targets the lunch crowd with a smaller menu that features bento boxes, bowls, and small plates. The bestseller on the menu is this orange chicken, which I have to say is pretty damn good orange chicken. Obviously, a clone is needed for this one, stat.
The name “Wei Better Orange Chicken” is a competitive callout to Panda Express's signature orange chicken, which is made with pre-breaded and frozen chicken. Pei Wei claims its orange chicken is prepared each day from scratch with chicken that is never frozen, so we’ll craft our clone the same way. But rather than assemble the dish in a wok over a high-flame fast stove like they do at the restaurant, we’ll prepare the sauce and chicken separately, then toss them with fresh orange wedges just before serving.
By the way, this dish goes very well with white or brown rice, so don’t forget to make some.
The first Auntie Anne's pretzel store opened in 1988 in the heart of pretzel country—a Pennsylvanian Amish farmers' market. Over 500 stores later, Auntie Anne's is one of the most requested secret clone recipes around, especially on the internet. Many of the copycat Auntie Anne's soft pretzel recipes passed around the Web require bread flour, and some use honey as a sweetener. But by studying the Auntie Anne's home pretzel-making kit in the secret underground laboratory, I've discovered a better solution for re-creating the delicious mall treats than any clone recipe out there. For the best quality dough, you just need all-purpose flour. And powdered sugar works great to perfectly sweeten the dough. Now you just have to decide if you want to make the more traditional salted pretzels, or the sweet cinnamon sugar-coated kind. Decisions, decisions.
A recipe for Portuguese sweet bread inspired the soft rolls that became a big hit at Robert Tiara's Bakery & Restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii in the 1950s. It wasn’t long before Robert changed the name of his thriving business to King’s Hawaiian, and in 1977 the company opened its first bakery on the mainland, in Torrance, California, to make the now-famous island sweet rolls sold in stores across the U.S.
King’s Hawaiian Rolls are similar to Texas Roadhouse Rolls in that they are both pillowy, sweet white rolls, so it made sense to dig out my Texas Roadhouse Rolls clone recipe and use it as a starting point. These new rolls had to be slightly softer and sweeter, so I made some adjustments and added a little egg for color. And by baking the dough in a high-rimmed baking pan with 24 dough balls placed snugly together, I ended up with beautiful rolls that rose nicely to the occasion, forming a tear-apart loaf just like the original, but with clean ingredients, and without the dough conditioners found in the packaged rolls.
Use these fluffy sweet rolls for sandwiches, sliders, or simply warmed up and slathered with soft European butter.
This recipe was our #3 most popular in 2020. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes for the year: Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce (#1), Olive Garden Lasagna Classico (#2), Pei Wei Better Orange Chicken (#4), Chipotle Mexican Grill Carnitas (#5).
For two years after the first Olive Garden restaurant opened in 1982, operators were still tweaking the restaurant's physical appearance and the food that was served. Even the tomato sauce was changed as many as 25 times. It's that sort of dedication that creates fabulous dishes like this popular soup. It blends the flavors of potatoes, kale, and Italian sausage in a slightly spicy chicken and cream broth.
You've got the soup recipe, how about creating your own bottomless Olive Garden House Salad and Breadsticks? Find more of my Olive Garden clone recipes here!
Braised and shredded pork shoulder is a staple of Mexican cuisine that Chipotle prepares with a simple blend of flavors, and a surprising ingredient you may not have expected: juniper berries. Once you track those down (they’re easy to find online), the berries are combined with thyme and bay leaves in a braising liquid that will transform your own pork roast into an easily shreddable thing of beauty in under 3 hours. Then you can use your freshly cloned carnitas on tacos, in burritos, or in a bowl over rice and beans just like they do in the restaurant.
When picking your pork roast, try to find one without too much fat. If your roast has a thick cap of fat on it, trim off the excess. You want some fat in your braising liquid, but if the cap of fat is too thick, it may not fully render down and you’ll get chunks of fat in the shred.
It’s often assumed that the pork butt is from the rear end of the pig, even though cuts from the back region already have a name: ham. The pork butt, also known as a Boston butt, is cut from the other end, the upper shoulder of the pig. It’s called a “butt” because in pre-Revolutionary War New England the roasts were stored and transported in barrels called “butts”, and the confusing name stuck.
A popular staple of any Chinese chain is the fried rice so it better be good, and the version served at Panda Express most certainly is. Here's an easy hack when you need a stress-free, low-cost side for your entrées. But I do suggest that you cook the white rice several hours or even a day or two before you plan to make the finished dish. I found that the cooked rice called for in this recipe works best when it's cold.
As for a shortcut, bagged frozen peas and carrots will save you from the hassle of petite-dicing carrots since the carrots in those bags are the perfect size to produce an identical clone. And they're already cooked.
Now, how about some Honey Walnut Shrimp, or Beijing Beef to go with that rice? Find all my Panda Express copycat recipes here.
Order an entree from America's largest seafood restaurant chain and you'll get a basket of some of the planet's tastiest garlic-cheese biscuits served up on the side. For many years this recipe has been the most-searched-for clone recipe on the Internet, according to Red Lobster. As a result, several versions are floating around, including one that was at one time printed right on the box of Bisquick baking mix.
The problem with making biscuits using Bisquick is that if you follow the directions from the box you don't end up with a very fluffy or flakey finished product, since most of the fat in the recipe comes from the shortening that's included in the mix. On its own, room temperature shortening does a poor job creating the light, airy texture you want from good biscuits, and it contributes little in the way of flavor. So, we'll invite some cold butter along on the trip -- with grated Cheddar cheese and a little garlic powder. Now you'll be well on your way to delicious Cheddar Bay. Wherever that is.
This soup happens to be one of Chili's most raved-about items, and the subject of many a recipe search here on the site. Part of the secret in crafting your clone is the addition of masa harina—a corn flour that you'll find in your supermarket near the other flours, or where all the Mexican foodstuffs are stocked.
Menu Description: "Quickly-cooked steak with scallions and garlic."
Beef lovers go crazy over this one at the restaurant. Flank steak is cut into bite-sized chunks against the grain, then it's lightly dusted with potato starch (in our case we'll use cornstarch), flash-fried in oil, and doused with an amazing sweet soy garlic sauce. The beef comes out tender as can be, and the simple sauce sings to your taste buds. I designed this recipe to use a wok, but if you don't have one a saute pan will suffice (you may need to add more oil to the pan to cover the beef in the flash-frying step). P. F. Chang's secret sauce is what makes this dish so good, and it's versatile. If you don't dig beef, you can substitute with chicken. Or you can brush it on grilled salmon.
I've cloned a lot of the best dishes from P.F. Chang's. Click here to see if I coped your favorite.
In the early 90's Boston Chicken was rockin' it. The home meal replacement chain's stock was soaring and the lines were filled with hungry customers waiting to sink their teeth into a serving of the chain's delicious rotisserie chicken. So successful was the chain with chicken, that the company quickly decided it was time to introduce other entree selections, the first of which was a delicious barbecue sauce-covered ground sirloin meatloaf. But offering the other entrees presented the company with a dilemma: what to do about the name. The bigwigs decided it was time to change the name to Boston Market, to reflect a wider menu. That meant replacing signs on hundreds of units and retooling the marketing campaigns. That name change, plus rapid expansion of the chain and growth of other similar home-style meal concepts sent the company into a tailspin. By 1988, Boston Market's goose was cooked, and the company filed for bankruptcy. Soon McDonald's stepped in to purchase the company, with the idea of closing many of the stores for good, and slapping Golden Arches on the rest. But that plan was scrapped when, after selling many of the under-performing Boston Markets, the chain began to fly once again. Within a year of the acquisition Boston Market was profitable, and those meals with the home-cooked taste are still being served at over 700 Boston Market restaurants across the country.
How about some of those famous Boston Market side-dishes to go with your copycat meatloaf recipe? I've cloned all the best ones here.
Menu Description: "Chicken breast tenderloins sauteed with bell peppers, roasted garlic and onions in a garlic cream sauce over angel hair."
This dish is a big favorite of Olive Garden regulars. Chicken tenderloins are lightly breaded and sauteed along with colorful bell peppers and chopped red onion. Angel hair pasta is tossed into the pan along with a healthy dose of fresh scampi sauce. The sauce is really the star, so you might think about doubling the recipe. If you're cooking for two, you can prepare this dish for the table in one large skillet, saving the remaining ingredients for another meal. If you're making all four servings at once, you need two skillets. If you can't find fresh chicken tenderloins (the tender part of the chicken breast), you can usually find bags of them in the freezer section.
Find more delicious recipes for Olive Garden's most famous dishes here.
By sneaking around to the back of a HoneyBaked Ham store I witnessed the glazing process through an open door. The hams are delivered to each of the 300 HoneyBaked outlets already smoked, but without the glaze. It is only when the ham gets to your local HoneyBaked store that a special machine thin-slices the tender meat in a spiral fashion around the bone. Then, one at a time, each ham is then coated with the glaze—a blend that is similar to what might be used to make pumpkin pie. This sweet coating is then caramelized with a blowtorch by hand until the glaze bubbles and melts, turning golden brown. If needed, more of the coating is added, and the blowtorch is fired up until the glaze is just right. It's this careful process that turns the same size ham that costs 20 dollars in a supermarket into one that customers gladly shell out 3 to 4 times as much to share during the holiday season.
For this HoneyBaked Ham glaze copycat recipe, we will re-create the glaze that you can apply to a smoked/cooked bone-in ham of your choice. Look for a ham that is pre-sliced. Otherwise you'll have to slice it yourself with a sharp knife, then the glaze will be applied. To get the coating just right you must use a blowtorch. Get the kind that is used for creme brulee from almost any kitchen supply store. They're usually pretty cheap. And don't worry—I didn't leave out an ingredient. No honey is necessary to re-create this flavorful glaze.
There are many acceptable ways to formulate good queso, but to make this specific queso the ingredients must be correct, and most copycat recipes seem to get it wrong. A few recipes get one of the peppers and two of the cheeses right, but pretty much every recipe out there is a bit of a mess that I will now save you from.
Quesos can be made with a variety of cheeses that include queso fresco, asadero, and Muenster, but this particular queso includes a cheese you probably didn’t expect: Swiss. That cheese is slow to melt, so we’ll shred it first, along with the Jack. And you won't need to gum up the queso with flour or cornstarch by making a roux because the white American cheese in the mix contains sodium citrate or sodium phosphate—additives that help the cheese melt smoothly and stay that way.
Authors of recipes that call for tomatoes in this dish haven’t looked closely. Those are red bell peppers and they are roasted, peeled, and seeded along with the poblano and jalapenos before they are diced and added to the cheese sauce. The sauce cooks on low heat, never bubbling, so that it stays smooth and creamy.
When done, the queso might seem thin in the pan, but it will thicken as it cools to a perfect consistency for dipping tortilla chips, or as a topping for tacos and burrito bowls.
Along with your meal at this huge national steakhouse chain, comes a freshly baked loaf of dark, sweet bread, served on its own cutting board with soft whipped butter. One distinctive feature of the bread is its color. How does the bread get so dark? Even though this recipe includes molasses and cocoa, these ingredients alone will not give the bread its dark chocolate brown color. Commercially produced breads that are this dark—such as pumpernickel or dark bran muffins–often contain caramel color, an ingredient used to darken foods. Since your local supermarket will not likely have this mostly commercial ingredient, we'll create the brown coloring from a mixture of three easy-to-find food colorings—red, yellow and blue. If you decide to leave the color out, just add an additional 1 tablespoon of warm water to the recipe. If you have a bread machine, you can use it for kneading the bread (you'll find the order in which to add the ingredients to your machine in "Tidbits"). Then, to finish the bread, divide and roll the dough in cornmeal, and bake.
Check out more of my copycat Outback Steakhouse recipes here.
Jerrico, Inc., the parent company for Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppes, got its start in 1929 as a six-stool hamburger stand called the White Tavern Shoppe. Jerrico was started by a man named Jerome Lederer, who watched Long John Silver's thirteen units dwindle in the shadow of World War II to just three units. Then, with determination, he began rebuilding. In 1946 Jerome launched a new restaurant called Jerry's and it was a booming success, with growth across the country. Then he took a chance on what would be his most successful venture in 1969, with the opening of the first Long John Silver's Fish 'n' Chips. The name was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In 1991 there were 1,450 Long John Silver Seafood Shoppes in thirty-seven states, Canada, and Singapore, with annual sales of more than $781 million. That means the company holds about 65 percent of the $1.2 billion quick-service seafood business.
The biggest difference I find with this copycat Panera french onion soup formula versus other onion soup recipes is the inclusion of a small, almost undetectable, bit of tomato sauce. But rather than opening up a whole can of tomato sauce to use just 1 tablespoon in this home kitchen copy, I found that a squirt of ketchup works perfectly. Panera Bread also makes their soup with just a bit of heat, so we'll add a little Tabasco pepper sauce to the pot to wake everything up. The croutons on top of the soup appear to be made from the chain's focaccia bread that has been buttered, cubed, and toasted until crispy, but you can use any bread you may have on hand. As for the cheese on top, the menu says it's Asiago-Parmesan, but the cheese I tasted was more Asiago than Parmesan, so you'll need to use only Asiago cheese (that's been shaved using a potato peeler) for a great clone.
Menu Description: “Two lightly fried parmesan-breaded chicken breasts are smothered with Olive Garden’s homemade marinara sauce and melted Italian cheeses. We serve our Chicken Parmigiana with a side of spaghetti for dinner.”
Chicken parmigiana is a forever favorite, and it’s not a difficult dish to whip up at home. But for it to taste like the Olive Garden signature entree, we’ll need to take some very specific steps.
Olive Garden’s chicken is salty and moist all the way through, so we must first start by brining the chicken. Give yourself an extra hour for this important marinating step. The marinara sauce used on the chicken is an Olive Garden specialty and no bottled sauce compares, so we’ll make our own from scratch using canned crushed tomatoes and the formula below.
While the sauce cooks, filling your house with its intoxicating aroma, the chicken is breaded and browned. When the marinara is done, top the chicken with the sauce and mozzarella and stick it under your hot broiler until bubbling.
Hopefully, everyone at your house is hungry, because the Olive Garden dinner portion is two chicken fillets, and this recipe will yield a total of four 2-piece servings. Add a small serving of spaghetti on the side, topped with more of the delicious sauce, and you'll have a perfect match to the restaurant plate.
Can't get enough Olive Garden? Click here for more of my copycat recipes.
In the Bush’s Beans commercials, Duke, the family golden retriever, wants to sell the secret family recipe, but the Bush family always stops him. The dog is based on the Bush family’s real-life golden retriever, and the campaign, which began in 1995, made Bush’s the big dog of the canned baked beans market practically overnight. Their confidential baked beans formula is considered one of the top 10 biggest recipe secrets in the U.S.
Bush Brothers & Company had been canning a variety of fruits and vegetables for over 60 years when, in 1969, the company created canned baked beans using a cherished recipe from a family matriarch. Sales jumped from 10 thousand cases in the first year to over 100 thousand cases in 1970. And just one year later sales hit a million cases. Today Bush’s makes over 80 percent of the canned baked beans sold in the U.S., and the secret family recipe remains a top food secret, despite Duke’s attempts. A replica of the original recipe book—without the original recipe in it (drat!)—is on display at the company's visitor center in Chestnut Hill, Tennessee.
I chose to hack the “Country Style” version of Bush’s Beans because I don’t think the Original flavor has enough, uh, flavor. Country Style is similar to Original, but richer, with more brown sugar. The recipe starts by soaking dry small white beans in a brine overnight. The salt in the water helps to soften the skins, but don’t soak them for more than 14 hours or the skins may begin to fall off.
My first versions tasted great but lacked the deep brown color of the real Bush’s beans, which include caramel coloring—an ingredient that can be hard to find on its own. I eventually discovered that the “browning” sauce, Kitchen Bouquet, will add the dark caramel color needed to our home version of the beans so that they’ll look just like the real thing.
This recipe was our #5 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1) KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4).
Panera Bread's Baked Spinach and Artichoke Egg Souffle reminds me of a breakfast Hot Pocket, if a Hot Pocket tasted really good. With eggs, cheese, spinach, and artichoke hearts baked into a buttery crust, this super-cool presentation will earn you big bonus points from your crew in the a.m. And the best part about this copycat Panera spinach souffle recipe is you won't stress out over making the dough from scratch since you use premade Pillsbury Crescent Dough that comes in a tube. Just be sure when you unroll the dough that you don't separate it into triangles. Instead, pinch the dough together along the diagonal perforations to make four squares. After the dough is rolled out, line four buttered ramekins with each square, fill each ramekin with the secret egg mixture, and bake.
Find more of your favorite recipes from Panera Bread here.
The Southern-themed chain famous for its gift shops filled with made-in-America products and delicious homestyle food is also known to have a particularly good meatloaf. This dish ranks high in popularity, right up there with the Chicken ‘n Dumplins and the Hash Brown Casserole, so a good hack is long overdue.
Making meatloaf is easy. What’s hard is making it taste like the meatloaf at Cracker Barrel which is tender and juicy, and flavored with onion, green pepper, and tomato. I sought to turn out a moist and tender loaf of meat, and one that’s not dry and tough, but my first attempts were much too dense. I wasn’t happy about that, but my dog was thrilled.
After playing around with the eggs-to-breadcrumbs-to-milk ratios and being careful to use gentle hands when combining everything and pressing it into the loaf pan, the final batch was a winner and I get to pass it along to you.
It's best to use a meatloaf pan here which has an insert that lets the fat drip to the bottom, away from the meat. A regular loaf pan will still work, but you’ll want to pour off the fat in the pan before slicing.
Satisfy your Cracker Barrel cravings with more of my copycat recipes here.
Other recipes I’ve seen that claim to duplicate the fabulous flavor of this popular soup do not make good clones, yet the long grain and wild rice mix that many of these recipes call for is a great way to get the exact amount of rice you need in a perfect blend. Just be sure not to use the flavor packet that comes with those rice kits, or you won’t get a good clone of the Panera original. Toss out that blend (or you can use it elsewhere see Tidbits) and use the recipe below to make a better flavoring for the soup.
Thanks to Panera Bread's policy of completely transparent ingredients, I discovered a surprising ingredient or two (wow, cabbage!), and was able to craft the best clone you’ll find for this top secret signature soup.
Click here for more of my Panera Bread copycat recipes.
Menu Description: "A house specialty full of baked potatoes and topped with Cheddar cheese, bacon and green onions."
The thick-and-creamy texture and rich taste of Tony Roma's best-selling soup is duplicated with a little flour, some half-and-half, and most notably, instant mashed potatoes. Give yourself an hour to bake the potatoes and around 30 minutes to prepare the soup. Garnish each serving with shredded cheese, crumbled bacon and green onions, and then humbly await your due praise.
Samuel Bath Thomas immigrated from England to New York City and opened his first bakery there in 1880. That is where Thomas created skillet bread that would one day become the famous muffins known for their craggy texture when split in half. This hack for Thomas’ English Muffins uses a special kneading process to give the muffins the "nooks and crannies" they are famous for, making craters in the finished bread to better hold on to melted butter and jam.
I have seen several recipes that claim to re-create these muffins, but none produce the large air pockets that a proper clone requires, in addition to great flavor and a perfectly cooked interior. To ensure proper nooks and crannies and muffins that are cooked all the way through, I've included some important steps.
The dough you'll make here is like a ciabatta dough in that it is very wet. So rather than kneading the dough, you stretch and fold it over several times on a well-oiled surface. Then, when the portioned-out dough has proofed on baking sheets for another 1½ to 2 hours, you par-bake the muffins.
After baking, the muffins are cooked on a griddle or in a pan until dark brown on both sides, then they must cool. This is the hardest part. The muffins will be too soft to open for at least four hours, and now you have to fight off the temptation to eat one. It’s hard, I know. The muffins smell great and you’ve waited all this time, but resist for now and your patience will be rewarded.
When the muffins have had their rest, split them with a fork and toast them as you would any English muffin.
Check out all my top secret recipes for famous bread here.
Before he became America's sausage king, Jimmy Dean was known for crooning the country hit "Big Bad John." That song came out in 1962 and sold more than 8 million copies. His singing success launched a television career on ABC with The Jimmy Dean Show, where Roy Clark, Patsy Cline, and Roger Miller got their big breaks. The TV exposure led to acting roles for Jimmy, as a regular on Daniel Boone, and in feature films, including his debut in the James Bond flick Diamonds are Forever. Realizing that steady income from an acting and singing career can be undependable, Jimmy invested his show-biz money in a hog farm. In 1968 the Jimmy Dean Meat Company developed the special recipe for sausage that has now become a household name. Today the company is part of the Sara Lee Corporation, and Jimmy retired as company spokesman in 2004.
This clone recipe re-creates three varieties of the famous roll sausage that you form into patties and cook in a skillet. Use ground pork found at the supermarket—make it lean pork if you like—or grind some up yourself if you have a meat grinder.
Check out more of my famous breakfast food clone recipes here.
This delicious crispy chicken in a citrusy sweet-and-sour chicken is the most popular dish at the huge Chinese take-out chain. Panda Express cooks all of its food in woks. If you don't have one of those, you can use a heavy skillet or a large saute pan.
Braised Beef Pasta Menu Description: “Slow-simmered meat sauce with tender braised beef and Italian sausage, tossed with ruffled pappardelle pasta and a touch of alfredo sauce—just like Nonna’s recipe.”
It’s a mistake to assume that a recipe posted to a restaurant chain’s website is the real recipe for the food served there. I’ve found this to be the case with many Olive Garden recipes, and this one is no exception. A widely circulated recipe that claims to duplicate the chain’s classic Bolognese actually originated on Olive Garden’s own website, and if you make that recipe you’ll be disappointed when the final product doesn’t even come close to the real deal. I won’t get into all the specifics of the things wrong with that recipe (too much wine, save some of that for drinking!), but at first glance it’s easy to see that a few important ingredients found in traditional Bolognese sauces are conspicuously missing, including milk, basil, lemon, and nutmeg.
I incorporated all those missing ingredients into this new hack recipe, tweaked a few other things, and then tested several methods of braising the beef so that it comes out perfectly tender: covered, uncovered, and a combo. The technique I settled on was cooking the sauce covered for 2 hours, then uncovered for 1 additional hour so that the sauce reduces and the beef transforms into a fork-flakeable flavor bomb. Yes, it comes from Olive Garden, but this Bolognese is better than any I’ve had at restaurants that charge twice as much, like Rao’s where the meat is ground, not braised, and they hit you up for $30.
As a side note, Olive Garden’s menu says the dish comes with ruffled pappardelle pasta, but it’s actually mafaldine, a narrower noodle with curly edges (shown in the top right corner of the photo). Pappardelle, which is the traditional pasta to serve with Bolognese, is a very wide noodle with straight edges, and it’s more familiar than mafaldine, so perhaps that’s why the menu fudges this fact. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which pasta you choose. Just know that a wide noodle works best. Even fettuccine is good here.
For the little bit of alfredo sauce spooned into the middle of the dish I went with a premade bottled sauce to save time. You can also make this from scratch if you like (I’ve got a great hack for Olive Garden’s Alfredo Sauce), but it’s such a small amount that premade sauce in either a chilled tub from the deli section or in a bottle off the shelf works great here.
This recipe was our #3 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1) KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Pizzeria Uno Chicago Deep Dish Pizza (#4), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).
And browse my other Olive Garden clone recipes here.
A requirement of any visit to Chicago is eating at least one slice of deep dish pizza in the city that perfected it. Deep dish pizza quickly became a Chicago staple after Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo opened the first Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and served a hearty new style of pizza constructed in a high-rimmed cake pan. The yeast crust was tender and flakey, like a pastry, and the cheese was layered under the sauce so that it wouldn’t burn in a hot oven for the long cooking time.
While researching a home hack of this now-iconic recipe, I discovered an unexpected technique that I hadn’t seen in other deep dish recipes. Employees told me the pizza crusts are partially cooked each morning to cut down on the wait time for customers. Before the restaurant opens each day, cooks press the dough into a pan and then sprinkle it with a little shredded cheese. The shells are then partially baked and set aside. Later, when an order comes in, the pizza is built into one of the par-baked crusts and finished off. This way customers get their food faster, and the tables turn over quicker.
Copying that delicious, flakey crust was the task that took me the longest. After two weeks of baking, I finally settled on a formula that was a mash-up of yeast dough and pie crust and made a perfectly tender deep dish crust, with great flavor that exactly mimicked the original. If you like Uno, you will love this.
Regarding the cheese: be sure your cheese is at room temperature, not cold, or it may not melt all the way through. Also, it’s best if you buy cheese by the block and shred it yourself. Pre-shredded cheese is dusted with cornstarch so that the shreds don’t stick together in the bag, and it won’t melt as smoothly as cheese you shred by hand.
This recipe will make enough sauce for two pizzas. I just thought you should know that in case you get the urge to make another deep dish after this one disappears.
This recipe was our #4 most popular in 2019. Check out the other four most unlocked recipes of the year: Texas Roadhouse Rolls (#1) KFC Extra Crispy Fried Chicken (#2), Olive Garden Braised Beef Bolognese (#3), Bush's Country Style Baked Beans (#5).
Your Favorite Restaurants Have Secret Menus — Here Are the Ones You Should Actually Try
It's no longer a secret that chain restaurants may have "secret menus" — there are websites solely dedicated to the cause. More variety on the menu means more choices to make for the hungry consumer but that doesn't necessarily mean they're tasty choices. Which secret menu item should you get? And are secret menu items truly superior to what's on the oh-so-basic menu?
Yes and no. Not all secret menus are created equal — and some aren't really a secret. Some chains will serve unlisted items that are holdovers from another menu iteration, while others are seasonal items that only appear when the weather changes. And some "secret" items are so successful, they've earn their way onto the real menu.
So which delicacies are worthwhile to track down? I trekked to six restaurants in a span of a five hours to investigate the highest-potential secret menu items and whether they're actually worth ordering.
1. McDonald's Monster Mac
How you should order: "I want a Big Mac with 'X' number of burger patties."
Hack the Menu lists the Monster Mac, a variation on the classic, on the Mickey D covert menu, with the option of up to eight patties. I decided against immediate cardiac arrest and ordered a Monster Mac with four patties — still more than the regular two-patty Big Mac.
The response you should expect: "On one Big Mac?" The cashier probably has not received that order often, hence her initial confusion.
Be prepared to receive looks of judgment or disbelief. The most important thing is to be confident with your decision.
Why it's worth it: Surprisingly, the burger with four patties wasn't as big as what I thought it would be. McDonald's burgers are naturally thin, so those four pieces were like a double cheeseburger at other burger joints.
2. Chipotle Quesarito
How you should order: Simply ask for a Quesarito. Pack it with white rice, black beans, steak, mild salsa, lettuce, more cheese (because why not?), sour cream and guacamole.
For the uninitiated, the Quesarito is a burrito, but the outside is a soft wrap sprinkled with cheese and melted to perfection. In other words, it's a burrito wrapped in a quesadilla that's folded and set in the presser for about 20 seconds until the cheese melts.
The response you should expect: Nothing out of the ordinary. The Chipotle employee and I were on the same page, although he might not have been enjoying it.
Why it's worth it: Because cheese. Lots of it. When I cut the Quesarito in half, the delectable aroma of the cheese traveled straight to my nose. I knew then, before even taking a bite, that I made the right decision.
3. Five Guys Patty Melt
How you should order: Ask for a grilled cheese with two burger patties. Add lettuce, tomato, onions, bacon, jalapeños and ketchup.
The patty melt contains five slices of cheese — two on top, one between the patties and two on the bottom.
The response you should expect: Be prepared to explain in detail what you want, as the cashier may not be familiar with the burger/grilled cheese combination. Unlike Chipotle's Quesarito, the Five Guys' Patty Melt isn't as well known.
Why it's worth it: The burger was delicious, but the cheese should have been melted more. The buns are really filling as well. The thinner bread from the patty melt made it easier to get to the burger patties, which I really enjoyed.
4. Panera Bread's Power Chicken Hummus Bowl
How you should order: Simply ask for the power chicken hummus bowl.
Here is an example of a secret menu item success story: In 2013, Panera Bread released a "hidden" but not really "secret" menu. But earlier this year, Panera Bread added two of the hidden menu items, including the power chicken hummus bowl, to their regular menu.
The response you should expect: The bowl has become so embedded in the cafe's menu that they should have no problem preparing it.
Why it's worth it: At only 330 calories, the bowl has spinach, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and jalapeño hummus. The grilled chicken was a bit underseasoned, but everything else was delicious and fresh.
Maybe other chain restaurants might want to consider adapting successful "secret menu" items and implementing those items in the everyday menu.
5. Starbucks Chocolate Cookie Crumble Frappuccino
How you should order: There's some gray area in the Starbucks secret menu. Although there is a website solely dedicated to it, there might not actually be as many varieties of frappuccinos.
After waiting in the inevitable line, I asked for a s'mores frappuccino, because who doesn't like s'mores? Unfortunately that wasn't available. Next option: a Kit Kat frappuccino, but that wasn't available either. So I asked what type of frap to get that wasn't on the menu. She suggested a chocolate cookie crumble frappuccino.
The response you should get: The above type of response might be expected. TIME Magazine recommends people should stop trying to order "secret menu" items altogether, since it apparently irritates the kindly green-smocked baristas to no end.
In this case, the chocolate cookie crumble frap was a summer seasonal drink. I was then told that Starbucks hadn't carried those ingredients for a few months now and that the frap that I drank resembled the java chip frappuccino. So the chocolate cookie crumble frap was either a "secret" unlisted summer item — or the deception was on me.
Why it's worth it: The frap itself was nothing super special — chocolate, crumble, etc. That said, if you like frappuccinos, this is a tasty call.
6. Jamba Juice's Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie
How you should order: Inform the cashier you're ordering a secret menu item and show them the recipe.
When ordering an item from a secret menu, you might need to be transparent because many employees are not trained to memorize them.
The response you should expect: After initial confusion, the smoothie was prepared after I showed them the recipe.
Why it's not worth it: Although the idea of a peanut butter and jelly smoothie seems like it would be delicious, it wasn't. The peanut butter was overwhelming. And while I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it is probably better not to mess with a classic.
Per 1 bowl (1.5 cups): 160 calories, 5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 1,400 mg sodium, 19 g carbs (3 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 14 g protein
If you're feeling like something less filling, swing for soup next time you're ordering at Panera. Even though their chicken noodle option is up there in sodium, it's low-cal and low-fat, not to mention high in protein. You really can't go wrong with a brothy bowl of fresh veggies, chicken breast, and egg noodles.
Welcome to #HackTheMenu, the ultimate and complete Secret Menu resource.
# HackTheMenu is your one-stop resource for all Secret Menu items at all fast food restaurants. Secret Menus at restaurants are comprised of unofficial and unadvertised selections that fast food chains will make when ordered but that do not exist on their regular menus. While some secret menu items were created by the restaurants themselves, most of the secret items were invented by customers and passed on by word-of-mouth. Here at #HackTheMenu we leverage the knowledge of the community and are dedicated to providing you with details, recipes and prices about the most interesting and tasty secret menu items available at all of your favorite fast food restaurants. Customers learn by word of mouth and we're spreading that word just a little bit further.
From "Animal Style Fries" available exclusively at In-N-Out Burger and the "Orange Dream Machine" available only on the secret Jamba Juice menu all the way to the "Quesarito" from Chipotle's secret menu, #HackTheMenu is your best friend. There are hundreds of other items available just for the asking from many other restaurants. As the list of secret menus keeps growing, we will update and report on all new items to keep you in secret menu heaven. So, if you hear of one that we don't have listed, feel free to contact us. In the meantime, we also have the regular menus from each of these restaurants along with their nutrition information.
Don't forget to check out HackTheMenu's List of Healthy Secret Menu Options. You won't want to miss out on some of the healthier secret menu choices from your favorite restaurants!
15 Things You Need To Know Before Eating At Panera Bread
When it comes to seamlessly combining eating well with fast-casual dining, Panera Bread knows how to deliver. The chain famous for serving up to-die-for bread bowls and actually tasty salads also has a number of wholesome factoids hiding up its bakers' sleeves. Whether spearheading the calorie-count movement, or offering affordable (and healthy) eating options to lower-income areas, here are ten tidbits you need to know about the beloved bakery.
1. It Was Originally Called St. Louis Bread
Back in the '80s, Panera Bread was no more than a humble little Missouri-based bread chain named St. Louis Bread Co.. That is, until the same guys who founded Au Bon Pain in 1981 eventually bought up those shops and transformed them into the trusty Panera we know and love today. The 50+ stores in the St. Louis area will always carry the emblem that started it all&mdashthey're still called St. Louis Bread Co. (or just "Bread Co." by regulars).
2. Au Bon Pain and Paradise Bakery & Café are Basically Just Panera in Disguise
If you've ever eaten at these pseudo-bistros, you'll probably enjoy Panera: Ron Shaich and Louis Kane founded Au Bon Pain Co., Inc. in the '80s and both Au Bon Pain and St. Louis Bread Co. lived under the umbrella for nearly two decades. It wasn't until 1999, when Shaich sold off Au Bon Pain to focus on expanding Panera, that the two became separate entities. Panera Bread then bought up Paradise Bakery & Café, which still operates under its original name in several locations.
3. The Word Panera Means Bread Bowl
Well, sort of. The Spanish word literally translates to bread basket or bread box, so it all depends on how you interpret it. But considering the chain is famous for its bread bowls, it seems obvious what the intended meaning is.
4. You Can't Find Panera in Every State
Though it has expanded a lot since its early St. Louis days, Panera still isn't available in a sad few states: If you live in Montana or Wyoming you'll have to travel elsewhere to get your fill of seasonal salads, Chocolate Chippers and Chicken & Rice Soup. Lucky residents of Washington D.C. and parts of Canada can take advantage, however.
5. They Have 2,000 Locations
After the chain shed Au Bon Pain in 1999, it completely blew up. What started out as just 20 shops in the St. Louis area became nearly 2,000 locations in just a decade. In 2009 alone, the store expanded by more than 30 percent, meaning a new location was unveiled almost every five days. Not to mention that the company did this all while maintaining quality and customer commitment. It even went on to be named the #1 most innovative company by Fast Company in 2015 and opened its 2,000th bakery-café in March 2016.
6. Stores Play Classical Music at All Times
If Beethoven isn't your jam, then Panera might not be the place for you. The cafe is notorious for only pumping the classical beats. So if you were hoping for some jazz, you might be better off kicking it at Starbucks.
7. At Some Locations, You Don't Have to Pay
Yes, you read that right: A handful of locations in lower-income areas operate on a "pay-what-you-can" system. At these shops, or Panera Cares Community Cafes as they're called, the menu lists suggested donations, but accepts whatever you can afford. Panera estimates that about 60 percent of customers usually pay that amount or more, and that these stores tend to bring in 70 to 75 percent of the profits of a normal store.
8. It Was The First National Chain to List Calorie Counts
Before McDonald's started shilling kale salad, Panera led the healthy eating revolution by doing something that's now considered commonplace: It was the first to start listing calorie counts on menus. In addition to that, it also removed all artificial trans fats from the menu in 2005 and completely eliminated artificial ingredients from its ingredients in January 2017. Their soup menu is officially free of artificial additives, though it took over 60 tries to make the Broccoli Cheddar Soup 'clean'!
9. Panera Is Dedicated To Providing Safe Meat and Poultry
With outbreaks of salmonella, norovirus and E. coli at chains like Chipotle, customers are more and more particular about where their food comes from and what happens to it before it reaches their plates. Panera was a pioneer when it comes to offering antibiotic-free meat, becoming the first national restaurant company to offer chicken raised without antibiotics at scale (one reason why the Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad was such a hit!). 100% of the restaurant's pork is antibiotic-free, all chicken and roasted turkey is antibiotic-free and vegetarian-fed, and 89% of its beef is free range and grass-fed. All eggs will be cage-free by 2020.
10. All That Delicious Bread is Baked Fresh Daily
Panera employs over 6,000 bakers who make more than 250 million bagels and 50 million baguettes each year. Every night, fresh dough is delivered to all Panera locations from Fresh Dough Facilities across the country. So their bread is about as fresh as it gets.
11. Their Extra Baked Goods Don't Go To Waste
As for the loaves that don't get sold, they're all donated to charity. Items only sit on shelves in-store for a single day, but thanks to the Day-End Dough-Nation program, any remaining breads, bagels, muffins and pastries are boxed up and delivered to community hunger relief organizations.
12. They Offer Free Coffee Refills
Actually they offer free refills on all beverages (with a few exceptions). In fact, there are tons of Panera menu hacks, including extra free ingredients (ahem, avocado), 99 cent pastries, and more.
13. There's a Secret Menu With Tons of Healthy Options
Unlike at Starbucks, where your request for an off-menu item might be met with a confused stare, Panera's hidden menu is something that all staff know about. In addition the advertised healthy menu items, you can order lesser-known items like a Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl or a Power Steak Lettuce Wrap.
14. You Never Have To Wait In Line At Panera Again
Panera 2.0 has introduced lots of high-tech elements to the restaurant experience for customer convenience. Rapid Pick-Up lets you place your order online or on your phone (up to two weeks ahead of time!) and pick up your food from a special shelf without waiting in line. At most locations, you can even place your order via a touch-screen tablet platform. Oh, and delivery is now in the works.
15. You can make your favorite Panera dishes at home
If you've ever been hit with a broccoli cheddar soup craving at midnight when Panera isn't open, then you'll love that the brand is putting out a line of 50 grocery store items called Panera At Home. Which means you can have the bakery's French baguettes, ciabatta bread, macaroni and cheese, and creamy tomato soup on deck in your pantry at all times.
Panera plans major menu changes in 2021 and beyond
The plant-based movement is making major strides in 2020 and while many restaurant chains are starting to offer meat-like substitutes (we're looking at you, Impossible Whopper), Panera Bread is pledging to make 50% of its menu vegan or vegetarian friendly over the next several years.
But you won't be finding Beyond Meat or Impossible pork on the fast-casual chain's menu.
To achieve its goal of offering more items made without meat, Panera is planning to incorporate more plant-based whole foods (i.e. foods that have not been processed or significantly altered from their natural state) including quinoa and edamame. By 2021, the chain says it will have at least one plant-based option in each of its six menu categories.
“To keep up with our guest’s interest in plant-based options, Panera plans to increase its plant-based mix of entrees from the current 25% to at least 50% over the next several years,” Sara Burnett, Panera's vice president of wellness and food policy, told TODAY Food via email.
If you're a fan of the chain's popular broccoli-cheddar soup, don't worry. Burnett says the plan is to add more items, not get rid of mainstays.
She added, "As we add more plants to our menu, we will continue to offer responsibly raised, lean animal proteins on our menu so guests can eat the way they want."
It doesn't have 3 cameras, but it does have 3 whole grains. pic.twitter.com/gzMig4BKFo— Panera Bread (@panerabread) September 10, 2019
"It’s more about better for you, and better for the world, and better for the environment, and better for animals," Panera CEO Niren Chaudhary told Business Insider. "I think consumers are recognizing that — mostly the younger consumers, they feel more accountable for that."
To boost its plant-based offerings year-round, the chain will also be extending some of its limited-edition menu items.
“One example this January is we chose to keep our Autumn Squash Bisque, a customer favorite, on the menu for the winter season. It normally is only offered September through December,” Burnett explained, adding that some locations may test new products before they're rolled out nationwide.
Food People are shocked at how Panera makes its beloved mac and cheese
Panera has been touting its versatile menu swaps geared toward different diets for years. For example, any protein on a salad or sandwich can be swapped with a serving of avocado.
Panera currently operates over 2,300 locations in 43 states.
Aly Walansky is a New York City-based food and lifestyle writer with nearly two decades of writing experience for various digital publications. She's focused on the latest in dining trends and budget meal-planning tips.