« December 2008 Table of Contents
In the Kitchen: Legal goes green
New salads spark life into seafood chain's menu
By Christine Blank
December 01, 2008
Innovative seafood salad offerings, along with a variety of
salad sizes, are sparking new life into the menu at Legal Sea
Foods, the 40-year-old seafood restaurant chain based in
"We have just begun focusing on really diversifying our
salad offerings, and will continue to do so as we go into next
year," says Jeff Tenner, executive director of culinary
operations and corporate chef for the privately-owned company
that has 34 East Coast locations. Legal's restaurants, in
airports and stand-alone units, are located in and around
Boston, Washington, D.C., West Palm Beach, Fla., and Boca
Legal executives noticed in recent years that more guests
were ordering seafood salads as a healthful, low-fat menu
"Seafood is such a great protein alternative on top of
salads that we are looking at different ways to mix and match
seafood items with salads," says Tenner.
Though Legal is still developing seafood salad recipe ideas
for 2009, it has already launched a new Blue Cheese Salad,
which includes red endive lettuce, pears, walnuts and blue
cheese, presented as a chopped salad.
In addition, Legal Sea Foods offers guests the ability to
mix and match with its current salad offerings, which include
Chopped Greek Salad with either chicken, grilled shrimp or
calamari; Classic Caesar Salad with a choice of chicken,
crabmeat, shrimp or lobster; and Tortilla, Apple and Goat
Cheese salad with grilled shrimp or grilled scallops.
New salad sizes are also boosting sales. This fall, Legal
switched from offering just one size - "full" - at a price of
$8 each on average, to offering both the full and "half" sizes.
The half salads retail for about $6 each.
"That was a way of offering more choices. Guests are so much
more likely to commit to having a salad with the smaller size,"
The smaller salad sizes also appeal to guests concerned
about spending money during a recession. That reality has led
Legal Sea Foods to emphasize other cost savings opportunities
for its guests, such as daily lunch
specials priced at $14 or
"We are more mindful of the price points and we give them
more options, so they can choose whether they want to have just
a small salad or splurge on a larger meal that day," says
In addition, Legal Sea Foods has emphasized daily specials
that use seafood in season.
"When we see redfish, for example, coming in at a great
price, we might focus on that for our daily feature, instead of
swordfish," says Tenner.
In addition, when an item is in plentiful supply and is
coming to the docks at a great price, Legal passes the savings
on to its guests.
"Lobster was at a great price this fall, so menu prices went
down. We're not going to use that as an opportunity to rake in
more money," says Tenner. Legal's 1.5-pound lobster was selling
for $26.95 on average this fall.
While Legal Sea Foods focuses on its history and tradition,
it is tempting its guests with new sides and sauces to
accompany traditional seafood.
"A lot of the ways our menu has evolved is by supporting the
fish with the accompaniment in new ways," says Tenner. For
example, when mahimahi is in season, Legal prepares it simply -
blackened in a cast iron pan - but pairs the dish with Creamy
Cheddar Cheese Grits, giving the entrée a Southern flair.
While Tenner and Legal's chefs enjoy experimenting with
seafood accompaniments and salads, the restaurant's core
competency remains its oysters on the halfshell, its signature
clam chowder and lobster served in the shell.
"As we develop menu items, we look to complement those
[traditional dishes], and not overshadow them. Our goal is not
to be the best trendy seafood restaurant," says Tenner.
However, Legal Sea Foods does strive to have the most fresh
and local seafood, produce and other items. "We are paying more
attention to the seasonality of ingredients than we ever did in
the past. For example, we use baby fennel and eggplant that is
local from that region with our striped bass," says Tenner.
The chain's focus on fresh and local seafood that is
available for the season drives its menu. For example, "When
softshell crabs are available, we try to use them when the
season is at its best, whereas a lot of folks freeze them,"
In order to serve fish at its best, Legal brings the fish
directly from the docks into its production facility on Boston
Harbor daily. Fish cutters start working at 2 a.m., then trucks
deliver fresh fish daily to its restaurants.
Legal supports local fishermen and typically buys from small
boats. "As much as we can, we try to buy from day-trip boats,
so we can get the fish back that day," says Tenner.
result, the majority of seafood served is from the colder,
North Atlantic waters, from Canada to Rhode Island. And Legal's
customers appreciate the local, traditional dishes that the
chain offers. Even as the restaurant chain's chefs continue to
innovate with unique salad and entrée offerings, they recognize
that New England traditions, such as clam chowder, will be
their bread and butter in the months to come.
Christine Blank is a business writer and editor from Lake