Uno Chicago Grill has been evolving its menu since 2005 by cutting out transfats early in the game and offering gluten-free choices. But the 155-unit chain's latest changes seem to be its most ambitious to date.
The new menu, which debuted in late May, features six new tapas-style appetizers ("Small Plates") and a line of artisan thin crust pizzas with gourmet toppings. Also new to the menu are handmade burgers served on an artisan challah roll and peanut butter cup desserts.
"Uno's new menu delivers intensely flavorful food no matter what guests choose to order – delicious and nutritious or indulgent," said Chris Gatto, executive chef and vice president of food and beverage. "It showcases natural, fresh, carefully chosen ingredients."
The new items were tested for two months in 40 New England restaurants, and then rolled out slowly across the system to ensure a smooth transition for Uno's guests, said Kim Boynton, director of marketing at Uno's.
Tapas and snack hours debut
Six new, globally-influenced "Small Plate" appetizers have appeared on Uno's menu. They are smaller than sharing-sized appetizers and are designed to mix and match. They include:
- Steak Masala: A skewer of sirloin marinated in 'Masala' - a mixture of spices found in classic Tandoori cooking. The flavor is similar to a tomato curry.
- Stuffed Mushrooms: With portabello shitake, goat cheese, bread crumbs and Romano cheese.
- Spanakopita Pie: A buttery flaky crust filled with spinach and feta.
- Spicy Queso Dip: Served with nacho chips.
- Farro Salad: With diced tomatoes, cucumber and balsamic vinaigrette; served with chips.
- Sauteed shrimp and white beans: With spinach, tomatoes and white wine sauce.
Half orders of the new thin crust artisan pizzas are also available as Small Plate options.
"Since the new menu is all about choice, our tapas-style 'Small Plate' appetizers give our guests a serving size choice. They are also meant to be shared so they bring people together, which is also why we added snack hours in our lounge area," said Boynton.
Snack hours were launched in 2010 as the chain began focusing more on American craft beer and affordable cocktails. They take place in the bar every Friday from 4-7 p.m. and from 10 p.m. to close (depending on location). During this time, popular appetizers and drinks are served at special prices, from Shrimp & Crab Fun-Doo (A half-sized portion of a creamy blend of shrimp, crab and melted Parmesan served with tortilla chips; $2.99) to Steak on a Stick (one skewer served with either Tamarind Cashew, Chianti 'Jus or Wowza sauce; $2.99).
Uno's has also rolled out a new line of pasta dishes, including tomato vegetable curry, chicken broccoli with lemon pesto, and deep dish mac and cheese. Almost all of the pasta entrees are also available as Small Plates.
Additionally, Uno's has a new weekday lunch menu, the star of which is the "Two for You" lunch. Guests can mix and match salads, soups, sandwiches and pizzas to create a custom lunch that is both value-priced and guaranteed to be served in 10 minutes.
Signature deep dish shares menu with artisan options
Boynton said this new menu symbolizes the major changes that Uno's has undergone since the company's inception in 1943. At that time, the restaurant focused solely on Chicago deep dish pizza.
Now, alongside Uno's signature pizza, guests can also order new artisan thin crust pizzas with unique toppings such as fig, goat cheese and broccoli; wild mushroom and Cabot cheddar; and shrimp, spinach and goat cheese. The new artisan pizzas join the extensive line up of Uno's thin crust pizzas served on either five-grain or traditional crust.
For customers who are celiac or gluten-intolerant, Uno's offers a gluten-free thin crust for pepperoni, cheese & tomato and veggie options.
"Offering dishes with influences from around the globe and giving guests the freedom to choose indulgent or delicious and nutritious options is a major shift in the menu from our early days, though our philosophy remains consistent – deliver it in a warm and heartfelt way that is uniquely Uno's," Boynton said.
For a look at some of Uno's new menu items, click here.
Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.