It’s basically all we can do to keep our mouths from watering any time Starbucks releases a new drink (we’re looking at you, Cherry Blossom Frappucino and Medicine Ball), but our fave coffee chain has got some pretty amazing and unexpected food finds on hand these days too.
Starbucks has plans to double their savory options in the coming years, beginning with the release of an all-new lunch menu dubbed Mercato. Featuring a range of full and side salads, hot and cold sandwiches, bistro boxes, and sides priced at $10 or less, all of the new menu items will be made fresh daily in a local commissary to be delivered to stores each morning. Best of all, not one crumb will go to waste: The company has initiated a partnership with Feeding America to create a FoodShare program that will see 100 percent of eligible donations going to those in need of a meal, an initiative they hope to take company-wide by 2020. Yassssss!
The change comes at the behest of Starbucks customers, who Sara Trilling, the senior vice president of food category and innovation, says have a more discerning palette these days than they once did. “They’re looking for something different that meets [their needs] in a more holistic way. Everybody wants more vegetables in their diet,” she says. They also want more protein, conscious, and vegan options, and the Mercato menu caters to all three — most choices have at least 15 grams of protein, and are either vegetarian, vegan, or antibiotic-free.
As of tomorrow, the menu will be unleashed on 100 stores in downtown Chicago (the second market ever launched outside of Seattle), who will serve as the guinea pigs for the company’s full launch at an undisclosed date.
We sat down for lunch with Trilling, as well as Product Developer and chef Jane Hernandez, who created the new menu, to be among the first to sample the chain’s new offerings, and boy, are you all in for a treat.
For starters, we were presented with the Za’atar Chicken & Lemon Tahini Salad — by FAR our favorite thing on the menu. Consisting of slow-cooked, herbed chicken rubbed in za’atar spice, ancient grains, cucumbers, tzatziki sauce, marinated carrots, and lettuce, topped with a zesty lemon Tahini sauce, this is not your basic B salad. The contrast of sweet and tart tastes make for an explosion of flavor with every bite, while the addition of grains not only adds texture, but leaves you actually feeling (gasp!) full.
Smaller, side salad options are available in the form of the Cauliflower Tabbouleh and a Roasted Carrot & Kale mixtures, but for the upcoming summer months, it’s the former of the two you’ll want to sink your teeth into. The perfect blend of parsley, mint, cucumber, tomato, and riced cauliflower with fresh lemon juice, your palette is left feeling light, fresh, and clean: the perfect base for all those shaken teas! The roasted carrot dish, by contrast, with its red-wine dressed ancient grains and red wine vinaigrette, was a bit acidic for our taste, but definitely a good pick for those seeking a heartier dish.
On the warm sandwich side of things, there was a tasty smoked pork loin (!) and Swiss cheese combo with dijonnaise on flatbread, plus a chicken sammie dressed up with fig jam and whole grain mustard ricotta. These sandwiches were just two of nine choices customers will soon see on the menu. (You have our attention, Steak and Cheddar and Honey BBQ Sriracha Chicken!).
It’s the company’s grown-up PB&J, however — made with almond butter and freshly sliced strawberries over jam — that has both Starbucks employees (officially called “partners”) and us going wild. Though it may be better suited for dessert than an actual meal, it’s come a long way from the amateur lunchbox offerings of our youth. Hernandez suggests pairing it with a bold French Roast, and we couldn’t agree more.
Though we can’t say exactly when the new menu will be dropping for other Starbucks markets, we’ve got a sneaking suspicion our faves won’t be getting nixed from the permanent lineup, and trust us when we say — they’re totally worth the wait.
Or, you could always take a road trip to Chicago — it is baseball season, after all. (*Wink, wink*)
Are you excited to see Starbucks making menu changes? Tell us over @BritandCo.
(Photos via Starbucks)