Oatmeal, once derided as dull, is now so trendy that at least one Dallas-based restaurant chain's slapped the name on a dish of uncooked rolled oats, yogurt and fruit.
The sweet breakfast snack is officially muesli, but - after nearly a decade of name-tweaking --Corner Bakery now sells it as "chilled Swiss oatmeal." The latest alias has been a hit with customers: "This name seems to stick," says Madison Craig, a publicist for the 116-outlet chain.
"What is oatmeal, anyhow?," Craig muses.
According to most culinary dictionaries, it's a warm porridge of rolled oats. But industry watchers call oatmeal an item to watch over the coming year, predicting it will nudge its way on to still more menus.
A Washington Post writer sized up the comfort breakfast trend earlier this year, noting the appeal of oatmeal's low price and simple preparation to restaurateurs. Oatmeal variations have lately appeared on menus at high-end eateries and fast-food chains, including Starbucks and McDonald's, which plans to roll out a Fruit & Maple Oatmeal system wide in 2011.
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Much like yogurt, oatmeal is a healthy food that becomes considerably less so after being subjected to sugar-heavy preparations: Au Bon Pain offers an oatmeal bar with brown sugar and chocolate chips. But the perception of oatmeal as nutritious seems to contribute to its popularity: Nation's Restaurant News quotes "food trend expert" Nancy Kruse of The Kruse Group approvingly characterizing the dish as "chick food."