Five Food Trends for 2018

Matt Sullivan

Once again, our expert on all things gastronomic presumes to predict the future. Based on his report card for last year, we should all take notice.

Most humans who have ever walked this earth could predict next year’s food trends by looking inside the local grain silo and deciding whether the harvest was trending toward a) eating over the winter or b) not eating over the winter.

But after millennia of relative scarcity, in which mankind lived from growing season to growing season, the global food chain has given us perpetual abundance in the First World, both in calories and in the many, many ways we can devise to consume those calories.

As a result, we are subject to forecasts of our dietary future like this actual Wholes Foods prediction for 2018: “Smoothie fans are raising a glass to powders like spirulina, kale, herbs and roots for an oh-so-green vibrancy that needs no Instagram filter.” (I swear, I am this close to publishing an annual Hater’s Guide to the Whole Foods Market Top Trends Press Release.)

I can assure you that my predictions below are 100 percent spirulina-powder-free and hopefully more relevant to your day-to-day eating. That’s due in part to the fact that, in compiling this year’s list of Top Five Delaware Food Predictions, I checked in with some smart foodies from around the state, including Karen Stauffer at the Delaware Restaurant Association, Dan Sheridan from the sure-to-be-a-hot-trend-in-2018 Stitch House Brewery on Market Street, and others who will remain nameless because, OK, they’re all bartenders.

Also, see below for the report card on last year’s predictions. Spoiler alert: If I were still in fourth grade, my report card would earn me $5 from my grandpa.

Trend: Veggies on Main

Vegetables. They’re what’s for dinner.

That’s the word I’ve heard from friends who have food jobs that require them to travel the country looking at emerging food trends. (And yes, I too am annoyed that this job exists.) While beef certainly isn’t going away, a number of high-profile restaurants opening in New York and Chicago are leading with the greens … and oranges, yellows and purples from the garden.

Think “veg-forward,” not vegetarian. Restaurants like Philly’s Vedge may have elevated vegetarian cuisine, and new spots like Bad Hunter in Chicago’s meatpacking district (great name, great location for that name) are praised for menus that dive heavy into veg without abandoning meat. That’s in line with a trend predicted by both nutritionists and futurists, where dinner plates still have a protein and starch and a veg, but lead with the latter.

But are we really ready for the future? The Impossible Burger, with a patty that cooks, smells and tastes like a burger but is made entirely of plant, is inching closer and closer to Delaware. You can order one today at the Broad Street Tavern in Swarthmore, Pa., just a few miles across the border. Expect it to cross over soon.

Prediction #1: You’ll be eating your vegetables, even when they don’t look like your vegetables, as the Impossible Burger comes to Delaware.

Trend: One-Dish Restaurants

If there’s one thing that Sheridan and Stauffer both agreed on, it was that the hottest new eating spots in Delaware in 2018 probably will have fewer choices on the menu than ever before.

“The days of the eight-page menu, with 30 app options and 20 burgers, is fading away,” Sheridan says. “I love a menu that’s just two-sided.”

And while short menus have long been the norm at fine-dining locations like Domaine Hudson and The House of William & Merry, they’re becoming more common in the fast-casual space.

“The whole food hall thing, where there are a number of stands or stalls that all focus on just one thing, I think that’s going to be huge,” Stauffer says. “And Wilmington is going to get one with that food hall they’re opening on the first floor of the Hotel Du Pont.”

What’s happening at the hotel might be the future of eating, though I’m not privy enough to the plans to know if that’s coming in 2018 or beyond. Still, look for fewer choices everywhere you eat, and all for the better.

Prediction #2: The most exciting restaurant opening of the year will be in the fast-casual space, with a menu that features one item done very well (with maybe some room for customization).

Trend: The Evolution of Grocery Shopping

Headlines from 2017: “Amazon Buys Whole Foods”; “Lidl Opens in Middletown”; “Janssen’s Becomes First Delaware Supermarket to Get a Liquor License.”

What’s going on here? The way we shop for food is evolving rapidly, and the idea of what it means to be a supermarket seems to be up for grabs.

Local markets will look to improve the personal shopping experience wherever possible, especially at service counters, from the butcher to the cheese shop, thus taking a cue from high-end places that focus on that attention to detail.

But what’s up with Amazon? They bought Whole Foods and then promptly announced that AmazonFresh would no longer be delivering in Delaware, nor a host of other East Coast states. That doesn’t make sense … unless they have something up their sleeve for 2018.

Prediction #3: Amazon rolls up its sleeves and reveals the cards it is hiding up in there. Whole Foods Prime pick-up kiosks, maybe?

Trend: Market Street as Dining Destination, Part Deux

Two years ago, I predicted a Market Street boom … and there was a mini-boom for a while there. Most of the new-restaurant action shifted to Main Street in Newark in 2017, but it feels like we’re on the verge of another Wilmo surge as restaurateurs prepare to welcome all the new residents living in the soon-to-be-completed Buccini/Pollin Group apartments at Ninth and Orange. Dan Sheridan’s Stitch House Brewery should lead the way in 2018, and while I try to avoid specific predictions on restaurant opening dates, rumors of dim sum and crepes and even a cidery on or near Market have made it a street to watch.

Prediction #4: Same as 2016, restaurants may come and go, but I see a net positive five new restaurants/eateries on Market in 2018. And keep an eye on Shipley as an emerging entry point to the new Market scene.

Trend: Coffee on Nitro

Cold brewed coffee on nitro.

The best cold brew I tasted all year was a brown sugar vanilla latte on nitro from Cascade Beverage Company in Virginia. No, this is not yet available in Delaware, but the silky smooth taste of nitro cold brew is here, with open taps at the new Starbucks in the Christiana Fashion Center and the Brew HaHa In Trolley Square, but I see the trend only expanding as we move into summer 2018.

Prediction #5: Cold brew on tap. It’s what’s for breakfast.

Last Year’s Scorecard

Here’s how last year’s predictions stacked up:

1. More Eating Out of Bowls: Pokes pop up on appetizer lists around the state and don’t stop there. Watch for authentic Asian flavors in a bowl near you.

The poke craze heated up (as much as raw fish can) as the year went on, moving from appetizer menus to casual lunch spots, including two Poke Bros. restaurants on Kirkwood Highway and in Newark and the singular PoBu (a portmanteau of poke and burritos?) on Main Street in Newark. And I just attended a holiday party where our graciously gourmet host put out tuna, salmon, edamame, tobiko, cucumber and more, with rice and sauces, to create a DIY poke bar. Pokeboom!

2. Third-Wave Coffee: More quality coffee shops, increasingly local coffee production (perhaps another roastery in town?), and potential invasion by Stumptown Coffee.

No Stumptown in sight, but coffee lovers have something even better in homegrown craft coffee shops like Little Goat Coffee Roasting in Newark. (Coffee snobs, don’t sleep on the lattes. Owner Olivia Brinton, formerly a master mixologist at William & Merry, is concocting her own syrups.)

3. Breakfast for All Meals: Diners make a comeback. A new one will open, with a commitment to local, freshly sourced ingredients and breakfast all day.

We did get a new mid-county contender in The Metro Diner near Christiana Hospital, and they do brisk business. But the strongest showing for breakfast nooks comes from the south, where Egg in Rehoboth Beach was one of the hottest new restaurants of 2017.

4. Fast-Casual Takeover. Definitely on Market Street.

Not so definitely on Market Street. Still, fast-casual remains a fast-growing segment overall. See the poke craze, above.

5. Wild Boar Gets Tamed: It won’t be hard to find wild boar, ostrich and venison on menus in 2017.

A bit hard to quantify, but maybe I spoke too soon. Still, Ted’s Montana Grill has kept busy slinging bison at the Christiana Fashion Center. And Arby’s had venison sandwiches for one day in October, so … there’s your deer burger.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.