We've got the latest scoop from Ben & Jerry's: The popular ice cream maker again plans to sweetly thank its customers with Free Cone Day on Tuesday. From noon to 8 p.m., fans of all ages can enjoy a free cup or cone at the scoop shop at 3000 Mall View Drive, Suite 1107.

"Free Cone Day is one of the most exciting days at Ben & Jerry's," said Larry Roland, owner of the Bakersfield shop. "Every year we're amazed at the number of people that come out to Free Cone Day and to be able to show our appreciation for the fans in a tangible way is really special."

This is the 34th annual day of thanks for the company. New flavors to choose from include Liz Lemon (lemon Greek frozen yogurt with a blueberry lavender swirl) and Candy Bar Pie (peanut butter ice cream with fudge flakes, chocolate nougat and sweet and salty pretzel swirls).

Along with providing delicious ice cream, Ben & Jerry's also is doing good with its commitment, by the end of the year, to transition all of its ice cream over to Fair Trade Certified, meaning it will abide by more stringent environmental, labor and developmental standards.

Soup isn't a meal, is it?

Kenny Bania on TV's "Seinfeld" insisted that soup isn't a meal, but a reader named Bob recommended the chicken tortilla soup ($4.99) at El Patio Mexican Grill, 13001 Stockdale Highway. "It comes with avocado strips on top, and when you finish, it's a complete feast and such a value," he wrote. "A meal in itself."

-- Contributing columnist Pete Tittl

Spring restaurant trends

The Nation's Restaurant News sees five major trends coming this spring to U.S. restaurants:

"Mediterranean goes mainstream." The consistent publicity tying the cuisine to health benefits is ready to bring Greek, Italian and Turkish food into the spotlight, especially in chain restaurants. Look for more hummus, Greek yogurt and bulgur to pop up in unusual places.

Young or spring garlic. This is a seasonal item, with the smaller bulbs being sweeter and more aromatic; used as an appetizer, grilled, mixed into pestos or in salads.

Wine flights(small tastings of several beverages). As our palates become more sophisticated, we like to sample different varieties of the same distilled spirit or wine. After all, chardonnays can be so different. Eureka and Lengthwise have done this for a while with beers, and in Eureka's case with whiskeys, but now even chains like California Pizza Kitchen are adding wine flights (three 3-ounce glasses for $12). The added bonus is that in today's DUI-conscious world, you can imbibe without risking arrest.

Certified foods. With all the publicity about mislabeled seafood being sold in public markets and the preference for local ingredients, customers are seeking to be reassured that, in fact, that wild salmon indeed comes from Alaska and not a seafood farm. This is going on across all price levels, with the Marine Stewardship Council, for example, certifying that the fish used at McDonald's is sustainable Alaskan Pollack. The Subway chain has been labeling some sandwiches as heart healthy, based on the National Heart Association's standards. Restaurants like Valentien and The Bistro have been at the forefront of this information movement for some time. Look for other restaurants to join in.

Pine. You didn't misread that. Chefs are looking to use the aromatic tree in something other than smoking meat, with a chef in Sedona, Ariz., using pine stems to flavor beef broth and one in New York City pureeing it with apples for a juice. I'll be bold and predict that this one won't hit Bakersfield.

Hot dog! (not the Buck song)

Hot dogs get the high-end treatment in "Man Bites Dog," a new book by Bruce C. Kraig and Patty Carroll. Kraig is a food historian who has specialized in the hot dog, and Carroll is a photographer who has specialized in pop culture. The book details all the regional differences in preparing these American classics (example: What is the key ingredient in an authentic Chicago-style dog?) and goes into some of the versions popular back in Germany. Between the pictures and descriptions, it's not advisable to read this book on an empty stomach. The hardcover came out late last year and is published by AltaMira Press. List price is $40.

-- Tittl

New and different

Could we see a new Sequoia Sandwich Company location soon? They asked fans on Facebook to finish this sentence: "It would make me SO happy if there were a new Sequoia Sandwich Co. Bakersfield location at _____________. (Please be specific)." ... And Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen is expanding its presence in Kern County. With the recent opening of three new locations -- at 2700 Panama Lane, 703 Airport Drive and 9606 Rosedale Highway -- plans are in the works for more stores, starting with one at 1117 Kern St. in Taft. (Local Popeye's locations also include 4360 Gosford Road and 100 Chester Ave. in Bakersfield and 5552 Wheeler Ridge Road in Arvin.) ... If you think you've tried every type of hot wing, sample the salt and vinegar seasoned wings at Buffalo Wild Wings. A distinctive product ... New items at Elephant Bar include five-spice chicken and arugula salad, fish tacos and "Island Tilapia" ...

-- Tittl, Dias