Although the start of 2014 is several weeks away, the food trends of the new year are already emerging. Locavorism, gluten-free eating and kale may have been on everyone's minds last year, but in 2014, expect things to get spicier.
In November, food-oriented marketing firms starting releasing their predictions for next year. Some of these trends can already been seen popping up around Fairfield County.
The restaurant consulting group Baum & Whiteman says that Middle Eastern food will be the cuisine of the year. Turkish has always been popular, but also look for Tunisian, Egyptian and Syrian foods to gain momentum. A few months ago, Kibberia Middle Eastern Restaurant & Cafe opened in Westport in the location that formerly housed John's Best. The menu features traditional dishes such as hummus, tabbouleh, shawarma and kibbe. In Fairfield, Safita, Tabouli Grill and Layla's Falafel all offer homemade Middle Eastern cuisine, as well.
Another of Baum & Whiteman's predictions is the growing number of single-item restaurants. On the cutting edge of this trend is Fairfield's Grilled Cheese Eatery, a re-imagining of the former restaurant, Cafe Lola. The owners Ivanina and Henri Donneaux transformed the quaint bistro into a family-friendly spot with a menu that relies heavily on variations of grilled cheese. (A bonus for parents: they have a full bar, as well.)
According to Hospitality and Restaurant Consultants Andrew Freeman & Co., "everything old will be new again," in the guise of pickling and fermenting. Easton's Sherri Brooks Vinton was ahead of the curve with the release of her two books, "Put `Em Up!" and "Put 'Em Up! Fruit" The how-to guides tell you everything you need to know to actually can your own fruits and vegetables.
Not only are pickled foods going to be all the rage, but canning jars will continue to increase in popularity. You'll see them used as drinking glasses, vases condiment holders.And speaking of fermenting, Dash 'N' Drizzle in Fairfield is the place to get funky vinegars to add zip to your recipes. They offer all sorts of flavors including pear, fig and bittersweet chocolate orange.
One of my own predictions is the sudden boom in Southern cooking. In SoNo, this trend is already taking off with two new restaurants. Nola (brought to you by the owners of Southport Brewing Co.), is a New England-meets-New Orleans seafood restaurant. The menu includes things like cornmeal-fried catfish, oyster po'boys and crawfish risotto. Nearby, Mama's Boy has one of the most comfort-foodiest menus around, with goodies like deviled eggs, shrimp & grits, collard greens and mac & cheese.
Going hand-in-hand with the Southern cooking trend is what I believe will be the stand-out dish of 2014: chicken and waffles. This somewhat Southern, somewhat soul food dish is making its way onto menus everywhere. At Mama's Boy, you can get the Little Yard Bird, which is a marinated country-fried game hen with a cornbread waffle and maple syrup. At the Little Goose in Fairfield, their version is fried chicken with a cheddar Tabasco waffle, vanilla butter and maple au jus. Even Fairfield's Bodega is getting in on the trend with chicken and waffle tacos.
Overall, 2013 was the year of clean eating with farm-to-table restaurants. Kale starred as the main attraction, but this year it will be squeezed out of the spotlight by Brussels sprouts and collard greens. In keeping with the Southern trend, greens will be jazzed up with bacon, nuts, maple syrup and other delicacies, showcasing the devilish side of vegetables.
We ate more healthfully in 2013 and celebrated the simplicity of food. Hang onto your hats, though, because 2014 promises to bring a whole lot of sass back to the kitchen.
THE '14 SCOOP
Kibberia: 361 Post Road West, Westport; 203-349-5512; www.kibberia.com
Safita: 2217 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-319-0000; www.safitarestaurant.com
Tabouli Grill: 3381 Post Road, Southport; 203-292-9790; www.tabouligrill.com
Layla's Falafel: 2088 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield; 203-384-0100; www.laylasfalafel.com
Grilled Cheese Eatery: 57 Unquowa Road, Fairfield; 203-292-8014; www.grilledcheeseeatery.com
Dash 'N' Drizzle: 11 Unquowa Road, Fairfield; 203-292-9815; www.dashndrizzle.com
Nola: 68 Washington St., Norwalk; 203-957-3352; www.nolact.com
Mama's Boy: 19 North Water St., Norwalk; 203-956-7171; www.mamasboyct.com
Little Goose: 397 Commerce Drive, Fairfield; 203-296-9789; www.littlegoosefairfield.com
Bodega: 1700 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-292-9590; www.bodegatacobar.com
"Put 'Em Up!" and "Put 'Em Up! Fruit" by Sherri Brooks Vinton, Storey Publishing