The Habit Burger Grill doesn’t change its permanent menu very often, but it freshens it up with limited time offers several times a year.
Currently it’s offering a French Onion Char, which the chain’s executive chef Adam Baird described as tasting like a French onion soup that’s been turned into a burger.
“We use a really high quality French onion soup base and we make a sauce in the back of the house with mayo and Worcestershire sauce and a few other things,” he said in a phone interview. “It seems to resonate with people.”
The Irvine-based chain has offered the French Onion Char before, but not for several years, according to Baird. He said menu items are tested before they are revived, and he tweaked the recipe for this burger by serving it on a brioche bun.
“We wanted to make it a bit more upscale, just a slight bit more. And it makes sense to have a brioche on a French-based burger concept.”
Chargrilling is rapid cooking at high head.
“Our char burger runs pretty high, about 550 (degrees) or so,” Baird said. “It’s the high heat process that creates the flavor. We do our chicken and ahi and tenderloin on the grill. Most everything is chargrilled.”
The French Onion Char will be available until mid-November. The Habit offers seven limited-time entrees a year for about eight weeks each, Baird said, as well as several shakes and two sides a year.
The current shake is a Pumpkin Pie Shake, made with pumpkin puree and a cinnamon toast topping. The side is Roasted Garlic Cauliflower.
“For our sides, one very interesting avenue we’ve taken is non-fried items,” Baird said. “We really started that whole train with Balsamic Brussels Sprouts.”
Future innovations could include shishito peppers, chicken sandwiches and pork belly char, according to Baird.
New menu items are testing in both free-standing and drive-thru restaurants. Food also has to hold up to third-party delivery.
“Anything to-go, we treat a little differently. We might have Sriracha Spicy Green Beans where we actually put the sauce on the side to-go. The consideration is how do things travel. You have to consider different facets when you’re doing R&D innovation.”
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Other things to consider in research and development include seasonality and providing tastes that aren’t already on the menu.
“I’m looking for flavor systems that we don’t really have, like spicy Asian,” Baird said.
If a limited time offer sells well, there’s a good chance that sooner or later it will return.
“In kind of the middle of the pandemic — I don’t know what everyone considers the middle — we did a patty melt on a cornmeal rye. It was pretty basic. It was one of the highest-selling LTOs we’ve done, during the time of the pandemic. That item is actually coming back next year, it was so popular,” he said.
“We look back at a lot of items and say these are awesome items that we’ve come up with. When you go back a few years, a lot of the stores haven’t seen them.”