Restaurant Chains Branch Out With New Menu Items

Several restaurant chains have moved out of their comfort zones with the introduction of atypical menu items and, in some cases, entirely new categories.

Taco John's, traditionally known for its burritos and tacos, introduced boneless chicken wings to its line-up during football season. The TJ Baja Boneless Wings come in three flavors: Honey Habanero, Sweet Chipotle BBQ and Bold Buffalo. Prices vary by location in the 425-unit franchised system, but the suggested price is $3.79 for a small 5-ounce portion, $4.99 for a half-pound portion and $9.49 for a one-pound portion. They have done so well that the company recently announced plans to add them as permanent menu items.

"We talked to fast-food guests and found they wanted [a] convenient wing without sacrificing quality. They also wanted bold flavors," vice president for menu strategy and innovation Bob Karisny said in a press release.

Ruth's Chris Steak House has gone beyond its usual beverage program with the introduction of $12 "vintage" cocktails at its 130 restaurants.

The company said in a release that the new cocktails reflect the chain's New Orleans heritage.

They include:

•The Hemingway, made with rum, Maraschino liqueur, lime and grapefruit juice

• The Moscow Mule, which Ruth's Chris makes with vodka, ginger liqueur, lime juice, ginger ale, candied ginger and a lime twist

• The Derby Peach Tea, with bourbon, peach puree, iced tea, lemon juice and mint leaves

• The Manhattan East Side is inspired by the flavors of two cocktails, the Manhattan and the Whisky Sour. It's made with bourbon, ginger liqueur, housemade sour mix, a preserved cherry and some of its juice.

• The Broad Street Hurricane, a variation on the classic drink, is made with aged rum, pomegranate juice, lemon and lime juices, and passion fruit syrup. It's served with a sugar rim, an orange slice and a preserved cherry.

Firehouse Subs has stepped outside its traditional fare by offering a sandwich on sweet Hawaiian bread in three markets.

The 470-unit fast-casual chain is selling a sandwich of hardwood smoked pulled pork, pepper Jack cheese and cole slaw on a sweet Hawaiian sandwich bun. It's available through March 4 in Firehouse Subs' home city of Jacksonville, Fla., as well as Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C., and Phoenix, Ariz. The sandwich is $5.89 in Jacksonville, $6.09 in Greenville and Spartanburg, and $5.99 in Phoenix.

Carl's Jr. is testing a new version of its turkey burger, an item with fewer than 500 calories that was launched earlier this year.

The new Santa Fe Turkey Burger, which is being tested at most Carl's Jr. locations in California, Colorado, Idaho and Oregon, is flavored with pepper Jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion and sliced green chile and served on a toasted honey wheat bun. It's available for $3.49, or for $5.99 with fries and a drink.

"The initial success of the Carl's Jr. Charbroiled Turkey Burgers was not a big surprise to us," chief marketing officer Brad Harley said, "but the continuing popularity of the line over the better part of the past year has been a very pleasant one."

The original burger was released in collaboration with Men's Health magazine and its "Eat This, Not That!" column.

The 1,292-unit quick-service chain currently offers the original turkey burger along with the Teriyaki Turkey Burger and the Guacamole Turkey Burger.

Sister chain Hardee's offers the original turkey burger along with a Mushroom & Swiss and a BBQ Ranch turkey burger. It is not testing the Santa Fe burger.

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