In years past, we've lamented the rise of mini cast iron skillets, begged for more Creole, and welcomed wood-fired cooking. Here are the trends we're thinking about as 2021 comes to a close.
Sell: Disposable Everything
Raise your hand if you happen to be appalled by the amount of garbage generated by restaurants over the past two years. Whether you label it compostable, disposable or single use, the truth of the matter is that most of it winds up in a landfill. Obviously, carry-out and delivery requires it, and inexpensive fast-casual restaurants rely on it, but let’s try and draw the line there. If we’re sitting down to eat, and forking over more than $10, maybe we can eat on a real dish, drink out of a proper glass and cut our food with something other than a spork.
Buy: Tinned Fish
Thanks go out to places like Alea, Astoria and Cent’s, who recognize the beauty of tinned fish. We’re not taking about a can of mushy tuna fish here, but rather meticulously packed tins of preserved fish and seafood, much of it hailing from Spain and Portugal. Sure, delicacies like anchovies in vinegar, sardines in olive oil, cockles in brine and mussels in escabeche are great on a picnic, but more and more restaurants are making a meal out of them by adding bread and accompaniments.
Hold: Batched Cocktails
Like most things, there is a time and a place for batched cocktails. Visitors to busy establishments doubtless appreciate the efficiency and consistency that pre-made cocktails provide. But that same consistency also prevents imbibers from getting exactly what they desire. I’ve never met a margarita that wasn’t too sweet or too weak or too tart. What if you love negronis, but only when made with Tanqueray? And where’s the pomp in pouring a cocktail from a gallon jug?
Buy: Restaurant Tech
We’re in for another long, stressful, Covid-filled winter. That means embracing any sort of restaurant technology that makes it safer for staff and diners, allows fewer employees to manage the room, and helps deal with the inevitable product shortages. From QR codes that conjure digital menus that can be edited on the fly to apps that allow diners to control their own order and pay experience, tech is the new normal everywhere but in the finest of fine-dining places.
Buy: Outdoor Dining
If you’ve ever traveled to Toronto or Montreal in the fall, you’ve likely seen people dining outdoors regardless the temperature. They’re bundled up in puffers, legs swaddled in woolen blankets, and warmed by the occasional heat lamp. Here, it’s only the crazy-ass smokers and Browns fans who step outside post Labor Day. Cleveland has made incredible progress when it comes to restaurant patios (you should have seen us in 2000), but there’s much room for improvement. Not only do we need better places to perch, but we also need braver souls to do so.
Sell: Fried Chicken Joints
Stick a fork in it, they’re done. I’d say that we crested the wave and have reached peak crispiness, but unfortunately, I write a restaurant news column so I know better. In addition to admittedly amazing joints like Angie’s, Soho, Chicken Ranch and V’s, not to mention countless restaurants that offer killer chicken sammies, Cleveland is next in line for deep-pocketed (and typically franchised) national chains like Dave’s Hot Chicken and Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken.
Buy: Late-Night Dining
Hats off to Will Hollingsworth, who recently moved heaven and earth to extend the kitchen hours at Prosperity to midnight. It’s always been a challenge to secure late-night eats in this town – unless we’re talking Crunchwrap Supremes – but thanks to Covid it’s practically impossible. Staff already are stretched so thin that maintaining even regular hours is wishful thinking. Here’s hoping that in the near future, we night owls get some love.
Buy: Food Halls
We were supposed to be swimming in food halls by now. In cities like Chicago and New York they seem to be popping up on every block, but here in Cleveland we’ve been staring at the same two for years – and one of them, the Sauce the City Galley, only has a few stalls and zero booze. The other, Van Aken District’s Market Hall, is bustling, proof that when done well, they benefit diner, operator and landlord alike.
Hold: Seafood Boil Joints
A few years back, in a review of Cleveland’s first “boiling seafood” concept, I predicted that the trend would take off. Boy howdy has it ever. Not even donut, barbecue and fried chicken places have managed to keep pace with the number of joints around town that specialize in boiled, sauced and bagged seafood. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a super-fun dining experience and, assuming the fish and seafood are fresh, delicious too. But variety is the real spice of life.
Sell: Brussels Sprouts
Seriously. What is up with all the Brussels sprouts?