The side dish is an often overlooked, yet essential, component of a deli order. It serves as an accent piece to round off the meal and make it just that much more enjoyable.
Although not the focal point, the best side dishes can stand alone. They have a powerful enough flavor profile to be enjoyable on their own, but when paired with a delicious meat are over the top.
Here’s what some of the more inventive chefs, cafes, delis and foodies from around the country are doing to give the phrase “on the side” a whole new meaning.
The Business Case for Side Dishes
Side dishes have gotten their name for a reason. They’re not the cornerstone of a meal. Typically, meat is the main event, and everything else is based around it.
As a result, it’s easy to skimp on sides. But this is a mistake.
There’s a serious demand for high quality sides with meals. Tyler Erickson explains at Shopper Intelligence that innovative side dishes are a big deal for today’s customers. Hitting the mark with something unique can scratch your customers’ collective itch and keep a steady stream of word-of-mouth diners coming your way.
You must also take into consideration the profit margin opportunities. Some deli and cafe owners are reluctant to put a lot of effort into sides because of the lower price point. Although it’s true that they account for less gross revenue than main dishes, the profit margins tend to be favorable.
The FoodTruckr team writes that add-ons such as side dishes are typically the cheapest menu items. However, they often have the highest profit margin because they’re inexpensive to make. A great example is fries. They’re cheap to prepare in bulk and can create a significant profit margin, often selling for a few dollars a piece.
Embracing This Demand
So, what can kitchens do to meet customer demand for great sides? Caitlin M. O’Shaughnessy offers some advice at Culinary Trends.
She suggests making use of locally sourced foods in order to enhance your menu and keep it interesting year-round. Not only does this produce sides that are distinctive of your specific region, but it can be a major selling point among customers who are in support of the buy local movement.
A trip to the local farmers’ market can unearth some interesting ideas that allow you to create unique side dishes that you may not have experimented with.
12 Mouthwatering Examples of Excellent Side Dishes
Chefs, masters of the home kitchen and food writers alike all understand the allure of a great side dish. Below are 12 examples — some from eating establishments, some as recipes — of side dishes that can bring in customers all on their own.
1. Hyde Park Fries
Hyde Park fries are the creation of Bick Brown, owner of Hyde Park Bar and Grill in Austin. At first glance, they seem fairly unassuming — just your typical fries, right?
However, there’s something very different, and that’s the fact that they’re russet potatoes soaked in buttermilk before being rolled in flour and seasoned with salt and pepper. It’s the buttermilk that gives them a very distinct flavor and separates them from the rest of the pack.
Hyde Park fries are served with the restaurant’s made-from-scratch Hyde Park sauce, which offers a bit of heat from jalapenos and cayenne. It’s a unique spin on a classic side dish that totally hits the spot. Food writer Mike Sula makes mention of this side dish in Food Fanatics Magazine and lists Hyde Park fries as one of the most creative fries in 2017.
2. Urban Fries
Jack’s Urban Eats is a small, farm-to-table chain restaurant in California with locations in Santa Rosa, San Francisco and Fresno. Patrons enjoy the laid-back, non-pretentious atmosphere.
One of their more famous sides is their Urban Fries, which are topped with spicy chili oil, bleu cheese and chili flakes. They’re a must for those who like a bit of a kick with their fries, and they pair perfectly with most deli sandwiches.
The fries are a huge hit with customers, and food blogger Bree Hester of Baked Bree even figured out how to recreate the Urban Fries recipe at home.
3. Tricked-Out Potato Salad
You can think of this recipe as potato salad on steroids. It’s a side dish that was concocted by Jose Guerrero, executive chef at Viewhouse Eatery, Bar and Rooftop in Denver. Some of the ingredients include jumbo shrimp, locally grown fingerling potatoes, chopped carrots and cucumbers. Guerrero also throws in a spicy broth and aioli to enhance the flavor even more, which gives this dish its signature taste.
You can tell this salad is jam-packed with flavor just by looking at it. It’s the ultimate summer side dish and was even featured by Layla Khoury-Hanold at the Food Network.
4. Potato Salad with Old Bay and Potato Chips
Bon Appétit Senior Food Editor Andy Baraghani offers another creative take on an old favorite. In his words, it’s some serious “potato on potato action here.”
Besides the obvious potatoes, Old Bay and potato chips, the recipe includes olive oil, red onion, apple cider vinegar, whole grain mustard, chopped parsley and chives. As you might imagine, there’s a lot going on, and it’s an interesting way to make potato salad without using mayo.
5. New Orleans Coleslaw
Journalist, food writer and Nigella Express host Nigella Lawson has her own take on classic coleslaw. It incorporates many of the same ingredients that you’d find in traditional coleslaw but offers an interesting spin by including buttermilk, maple syrup and finely chopped pecans.
Nigella gave this dish its name primarily because of the pecan trees she remembered while visiting New Orleans. It’s an inventive way to round off a meal.
6. Creamy Summer Slaw
Chris Morocco at Bon Appétit is an editor and also works in the test kitchen. His job is to develop new recipes and come up with bold new ideas for their food content. One of his more popular recipes is his Creamy Summer Slaw, which adds to traditional slaw by incorporating a few key ingredients — broccoli, lemon juice, scallions, snap peas and buttermilk.
7. Israeli Salad
Food blogger Tori Avey says that although Israeli salad can be traced back hundreds of years, it’s something that’s really caught on as of late in the US.
The primary ingredient in this dish is Persian cucumbers, which are smaller than English cucumbers and have a smooth, thin skin. It also calls for ripe tomatoes, onion and fresh parsley. It’s then topped with extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice and just a dash of salt. Israeli salad is incredibly fresh and healthy, and it pairs well with a variety of main dishes.
8. Summer Snap Pea Salad with Ginger Lime Dressing
Chef Michael Smith is a FoodTV host, cookbook author and official food ambassador. He also happens to have some of the tastiest side dish recipes, one of which is his summer snap pea salad with ginger lime dressing.
The salad consists of snap peas, bean sprouts, red bell pepper, carrots, red onion, cilantro, and cashews or peanuts. As for the dressing, it contains lime juice and zests, olive oil, honey, grated frozen ginger root and either soy sauce or salt. Hot sauce is optional for those who want to take the heat up a notch.
As you might imagine, it has a lot of bright flavors and a crisp, crunchy texture that’s perfect to enjoy during warmer months.
9. Grilled Asparagus, Pickled Spring Onions, Marcona Almonds and Herbs
Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten of NYC’s ABC Kitchen places an emphasis on sourcing local, organic ingredients. This dish combines ingredients that aren’t typically paired with one another to create a delicious symphony of flavors.
It utilizes jump asparagus that’s blanched and shocked, sautéed almonds, and spring onions drizzled with olive oil. Fresh lime juice is also added to give it just a bit of citrusy flavor. This is no doubt one of the more inventive ways to serve asparagus, and gives it a whole new flavor profile.
10. Greek Yogurt Mashed Potatoes
Chef and restaurateur Richard Blais is credited as being one of the first to combine Greek yogurt with mashed potatoes to create a simple yet delicious side dish. It includes the following ingredients:
- Red bliss potatoes
- Sea salt
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Minced garlic
- Greek nonfat yogurt
- Minced rosemary
- Minced parsley
- Lemon zest and juice
- White pepper
By replacing traditional butter with nonfat yogurt, it’s a healthy side that still packs a punch with its taste. Karen Borsari of Shape Magazine even lists this as one of her favorite picks for a side dish.
11. BLT Avocado Cups
Lindsay Funston at Delish offers one more inventive side dishes, perfect for bacon lovers and for those who are carb-conscious. BLT avocado cups is a straightforward recipe that involves scooping out avocados to leave a thick border and filling them with BLT salad — Greek yogurt, lemon juice, bacon, romaine lettuce and cherry tomatoes. It’s topped off with a dash of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
12. Grilled Pineapple with Cinnamon Honey Drizzle
This last definitely warrants mentioning because of the fact that it’s so unique and delicious. Lisa Longley explains the recipe on her blog, Wine and Glue. It’s so easy that it requires only three ingredients: a pineapple, cinnamon and honey.
The pineapple is cut into slices and grilled over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes. The cinnamon and honey are mixed together and drizzled over the pineapple slices to create a sweet, juicy side dish that’s totally original and completely delicious.
These scratch-made sides prove that there’s no ceiling to the creativity and innovation that can go into making them. For cafes and restaurants looking to experiment and push the envelope a bit, these sides are all viable options. Each can be added to various meats that can make for more robust meals and keep customers coming back for more.