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The Best and Worst Local Dining Trends of 2016 

Buy, Sell, Hold

click to enlarge Boiling Seafood

Photo by Emanuel Wallace

Boiling Seafood

Like every year, 2016 was filled with culinary trends good, bad and indifferent. There are shifts taking place in the local marketplace that we are thankful for, like the waning tendency to "put an egg" on everything and the mounting tide of craft butchers. Other currents, like the unrelenting onslaught of fast-casual concepts built around everything from Indian food to sushi, seem to be sticking around like stubborn storm clouds.

Here, then, are some of this year's trends that we'd love to see stick around, get lost or keep coming.

Buy: Spicy-Ass Seafood in a Bag

One of the best meals I had all year was at a small, dark Asian eatery in Cleveland Heights, where I plucked steamed seafood out of a plastic bag. While new to Cleveland, the "boiling seafood" concept, which is like the love child of Szechuan hot pot and a Cajun crab boil, is hugely popular out West and down South. In addition to our Boiling Crawfish, we'll soon see the Boiler open in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. We could use more unique, celebratory places like them.

Sell: Sheet Pan Plates

The first time I saw an operator do this I thought: Well, this is an affordable, creative alternative to pricy tableware. The next time I saw it, I chalked it up to old-fashioned concept borrowing. But it never stopped happening. Technically a quarter or eighth sheet pan, depending on the application, these stainless steel rimmed trays are fine for barbecue, where they actually are a step up from traditional plastic trays, but let's not get carried away. Too late.

Buy: Real Bagels

For close to three generations, eastside Jews have been reared on the incomparable Bialy's Bagels, which (along with the late Amster Bagels) introduced Clevelanders to real New York-style "water bagels." Real bagels are made from fresh dough, allowed to rise, boiled in water, and then baked. While Einstein Bros and Bruegger's come nowhere close to bagel brilliance, Cleveland Bagel does. Enjoyed by gentiles and Jews alike, this new brand is helping to plug the bagel hole that exists in the market.

Hold: Giant Breweries

Just as fears of a restaurant bubble are percolating through town, industry watchers are training their foamy gaze on the craft beer market. Platform Beer seemingly jumped from taproom darling to mega-brewer overnight. Market Garden just unveiled an equally ambitious production brewery. Fat Head's just announced that it had outgrown its production brewery and plans to build one three times the size. On the horizon brews like Masthead, Saucy Brew Works and Boss Dog will join other large producers like Great Lakes, Buckeye, Goldhorn, Hansa and others, sparking "too much" talk.

Buy: Cideries

What happened to all the cideries we were promised? You can't make a move without stepping in a puddle of craft beer, but good luck finding a local craft hard cider. We are thankful for Richard Read and his English-style creations at Griffin Cider Works, but we haven't even begun to scratch the surface. Platform Beer spinoff Urban Apple was supposed to open last year in the Flats, but production now will be absorbed by Platform. Given the quantity and quality of local fruit, you'd think we'd be drowning our sorrows in local cider by now.

Buy: Food Halls

Over the past few years, food halls have multiplied like tribbles in cities like New York, L.A. and Chicago. These bustling indoor markets combine under one roof a variety of established local restaurant and food truck operators, who run smaller shops with trimmer menus. We'll have to wait until 2018 to see what Jonathon Sawyer cooks up for the Van Aken District food hall, but we're already years behind other cities.

Hold: Adult Gaming Destinations

I'll admit that 16-Bit, which combines classic arcade games and pinball with a full bar, is absolute nirvana for a Gen Xer like me, and Tabletop and Sidequest are absolutely killing it with analog gamers, but I fear we might be reaching "peak pastime." Super Electric is brilliant, but Punch Bowl feels a little contrived. Erie Social, Cleveland's first indoor shuffleboard club, sounds promising as hell, and bowling with mates is fun at places like Mahall's and Corner Alley, but just how many balls, pucks, dice and darts can we keep in motion?

Buy: Restaurant Carts

Order the Bananas Foster at Velvet Tango Room and sit back as host Paulius Nasvytis wheels up his cart to prepare the classic New Orleans-style dessert — eyebrow singeing flambe and all. Order the pressed duck at Edwins and watch as the carcass is placed into a medieval looking device that pulverizes bones, liquefies organs and wrings free every last bit of bloody juice to be made into a sauce. Such fun! Nothing engages a diner more than a cart — be it laden with stinky cheese or Dover sole ­— so let's keep them rolling.

Buy: Small Plates

What, exactly, will it take to get everybody on the small-plate wagon? Salt in Lakewood is proof that in the right hands, small plate dining is social, exciting and creatively refreshing compared to ho-hum steak and potatoes. Cleveland has seen a rise in the funky appetizer or sharable starter, but those are not true small plates, which essentially are mini composed meals unto themselves. The "Mediterranean Diet" made more waves here than does the actual Mediterranean diet.

Buy: Killer Coffee

Given the length and severity of North Coast winters, we should be lousy with excellent coffee cafes by now. Don't get us wrong; we are more than fortunate to have game-changing spots like Rising Star, Pour, duck-rabbit, newcomers like Six Shooter, Passengers and Beviamo, and stalwarts like Phoenix, Civilization, Loop and others. But there is so much room for growth in a market like Cleveland that glorifies great food and drink.


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