Palm Beach, Florida--Sandwiches are the number one new menu item at the nation's top 200 restaurant chains, according to Food Beat Inc., which tracks chains with revenues of $70 million or more. Specialty breads such as peso focaccia, wheat berry, Grecian or grilled honey dill are helping to drive sandwich sales, along with signature spreads such as chipotle mayonnaise and creamy cucumber.

Food and restaurant experts agree the sandwich is popular because of its convenience and portability that can be packed with ingredients for a one-dish meal. "Sandwich consumption is up 28 percent over last year, both at home and in restaurants," said Elisabeth Sloan, president of Sloan Trends & Solutions in Escondido, California. "Americans ate an average of 4.1 sandwiches per week last year."

North Palm Beach-based restaurant consultant Richard Lackey, said interesting and varied kinds of breads for subs and sandwiches have been popularized by rapidly growing "fast casual" chains such as Atlanta Bread and Panera Bread, Subway and Quizno's. The fast-food restaurants are hopping on the trend, too. Burger King recently launched three new chicken baguette sandwiches pushing their low-fat content. -The Palm Beach Post