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Buy, Sell, Hold: The Dining Trends We Loved, and Hated, This Year 

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Photo by Barney Taxel

Buy: Plant-Based Foods

I still don't fully grasp the distinction between "vegan" and "plant-based," but I'm willing to explore the concept a little deeper if the food tastes at all like the Impossible Burger I enjoyed at B Spot. Unlike the typical dry and disappointing veggie burger, this plant-based patty has the look, feel and taste of real ground beef. The secret ingredient is heme, the iron-containing molecule found in red meat and plants. Had we not ordered the burgers ourselves, we might never even have known that the patties weren't meat, especially when covered in grilled onions, melted cheese and pickles.

Sell: Slushie Everything

I'm prone to sphenolopalatine ganglioneuralgia — aka brain freeze — so I admit that I'm not the most impartial judge when it comes to Slushies. But since when did we have to feed every alcoholic beverage through the Freeze-O-Matic machine? Perhaps it's part of the maddening trend toward infantilism that includes leaving the house in pajamas and slippers, but if you ask most adults, rose tasted perfectly fine in its natural state of matter before it became frose. Nobody ever asked that their Bellini be churned into a drink so thick you could stand up a spoon in it. And if my mint julep comes as ice instead of with ice, I'm liable to set something on fire.

Buy: Hospitality

You know that warm, friendly feeling that comes from a service staff that genuinely puts the diner first? Yeah, neither do we, at least not with the frequency that we once did. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned hospitality, where the customer isn't made to feel like he or she is a burden to service staffers? "They came in 10 minutes before we shut down the kitchen and ordered food!," an incensed waiter announced on social media. The last we checked, that was precisely the function of a public restaurant. If you don't feel like serving people, perhaps you should close and lock the doors ... for good.

Hold: Wood-Fired Pizza

It's official: We now have very respectable wood-fired pizza within a short drive of every diner who wants it. Peak Neapolitan is upon us and we are thankful for its many-splendored delights, but any more and we risk squandering all that woodsy appeal. Whoever said, "There's no such thing as too much of a good thing" has never suffered a five-hour erection. Let's not push this wood-fired pizza thing to hour five.

Buy: The Maître d'Hôtel 

At one point in time, every great dining room was under the careful watch and supervision of a maître d'. This professional was like the conductor of a symphony, managing everything that took place on this side of the swinging kitchen door. The maître d' is the first person to greet an incoming guest and the last to say goodbye. The octopus of the operation, he or she could simultaneously whisk away one's overcoat while jotting down a reservation and directing a server to a table in need with little more than an arched eyebrow. Because of the maître d', special occasions are made more special thanks to earnest gestures, and no customer exits into a rainstorm without an umbrella. Sadly, the maître d' has largely been replaced by a broody host and over-taxed head waiter.

Buy: Mid-Week Dining

Just as New Year's Eve is the biggest Amateur Night of the year, Saturday night is its weekly equivalent. The overall enjoyment of a restaurant meal is directly proportional to its distance from 8 p.m. on Saturday evening. If you want to up your odds for excellent service, perfectly timed meals and peaceful surroundings, dine on any other night of the week. Not only will the parking be easier, the loud and tipsy customers fewer, and the cocktails more on point, you will be appreciated by an owner who has all the business he or she can handle on Saturday but not Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

Hold: Ice Cream Rolls

There's almost no such thing as bad ice cream, but some delivery methods leave much to be desired. We only recently landed our first rolled ice cream shop, but given the product's percolating trendiness, you can bank on new spots opening across town. For the uninitiated, this Thai treat, sometimes called "stir-fried ice cream," is made by pouring a liquid ice cream base onto a zero-degree metal plate. As the slurry is mixed, chopped, massaged and flattened into sheets, it begins to harden. At long last, the frozen concoction is scraped into perfect rolls and deposited in a cup. While the texture and flavor are wonderful, the four-minute process is a patience trier.

Buy: Concise Menus

At first, you experience a sense of glee at the near-limitless possibilities. So. Many. Choices. But soon that bounty becomes debilitating; plus, who needs four separate chicken dishes? Short menus force chefs and diners to make hard choices, which isn't a bad thing. There's less likely to be a dud on a short roster and the diner is more likely to be forced out of a rut. Trim menus translate to fresher ingredients because the kitchen moves through them quicker. Most places that employ terse tomes also vary them more frequently, giving diners reasons to return again and again.

Buy: Incubator Space

Where is the next big thing in food going to come from? It surely isn't going to be the fifth location of that taco chain, or the 13th outpost of that grilled cheese conglomerate, or even from a stall in a food hall dominated by existing players in the local restaurant scene. What we need more of is cheap and available commercial kitchen space for budding food entrepreneurs. Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen has spun out success stories like Randy's Pickles, Cleveland Kraut, Saucisson, Brewnuts and more; just think what we could do with five more spaces and programs like it. We're looking forward to the first class of the Galley Group's food lab to launch next year in Ohio City, but why put all of our eggs in so few baskets?

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