Five Trends, Five Predictions for Food in the New Year

Matt Sullivan

More tacos and craft beer (of course), along with, perhaps, fish offal

There’s an art to trendspotting. There must be. It sure ain’t a science. And the artistic process seems to go something like this:

1. Look around.

2. See what’s happening.

3. Assume more of that will probably keep happening.

4. Decide it’s Miller time. (Unless, of course, you’re trendspotting in the restaurant biz, in which case it’s craft beer time. Local beer is No. 2 on the National Restaurant Association’s list of top alcohol trends for 2015—not a shock, since a recent Wall Street Journal story declared 2014 as the year Americans started drinking more craft brews than Buds.)

So you won’t find many surprises in the Culinary Forecast for 2015 from the NRA other than the fact that kale salads are on the way out and doughnuts are on the way in. (Prediction: We’ll get fatter in 2015.) But local produce? Healthier kids’ meals? Farm-branded items? If you’ve eaten in an area restaurant in the past five years, you’ve probably noticed all of the above.

But what’s really going to change in Delaware restaurants this year? After talking with industry leaders, chefs, cooks, restaurateurs, bartenders and random people sitting at bars, we’ve uncovered five trends, which in turn have compelled us to make five bold predictions. Predictions, we must note, are not trends. They are wild guesses. Hopefully, by the end of the year, you’ll have forgotten how wrong we were.

Trend: sustainable fish

“Langoustine. Uni. Escolar. Halibut. Corvina.” Chef Bill Hoffman pauses, but it’s just to catch his breath. “Bronzino. Cobia. Wolffish.”

These are the fish that Hoffman, chef/owner of The House of William & Merry, in Hockessin, is excited to cook. And they fit two of the NRA’s hottest culinary trends: “non-traditional fish” and “sustainable seafood.”

Much as the nose-to-tail movement inspired chefs to discover new cuts of meat and use the entire animal, a similar movement is coming to seafood, Hoffman says. In part, it’s driven by economics. A pound of fish a restaurant buys and doesn’t serve is money in the trash. Expect to see more chefs using the whole fish: the backbone of tuna roasted for its marrow; langoustine shells used to make sauces, livers and hearts, and roe appearing in appetizers.

“You have to use everything you’re getting these days or you’re not going to be surviving in this business very long,” Hoffman says.

Bold prediction #1: You will eat fish offal sometime in the next year. At least, you will if you’re eating at William & Merry. (“Can you make a salmon head cheese?” Bill asks. “Yes you can.”)

Trend: local chains

Delaware has a good track record when it comes to birthing regional and national chains: Capriotti’s, Jake’s, Iron Hill Brewery.

Will Two Stones Pub, El Diablo Burritos or Arena’s Deli be next?

Frankly, we’re not even sure any of those have national aspirations at this point. But local restaurant concepts and companies will continue to expand in 2015, according to the Delaware Restaurant Association. El Diablo and Arena’s have expanded into Newark, and Two Stones now has three locations. The Big Fish Restaurant Group is creating an Italian concept with Bella Coast on Concord Pike, and the Ashby Management Group is adding Union City Grille to a portfolio that already includes Deer Park Tavern, McGlynn’s Pub and Cantwell’s Tavern.

Bold prediction #2: A local chain will become a tenant in the new Fashion Center complex at the Christiana Mall.

Trend: drinking local

Beer in Delaware can’t be sold directly from a brewer to a restaurant. It has to go through a distributor. And that’s why Twin Lakes beer, brewed in Greenville, takes a 10-mile roundtrip through a warehouse (briefly) before it arrives on tap at Buckley’s Tavern in Greenville.

Still, it’s not a long trip. And it’s very local beer.

“As a restaurant, you want to have a sense of place in your area,” says Chuck Lewis, general manager of Buckley’s.

That carries over to spirits as well, as local distilleries like the Painted Stave in Smyrna have started filling premium shelf space behind local bars. It’s good, as a business owner, to support the local community, and local brews, like produce, are often fresher and better, and sometimes cheaper, Lewis says.

“The whole locavore movement is coming to the bar,” says Xavier Teixido, owner of Harry’s Hospitality Group. He thinks 2015 will be the year cocktail culture takes off in Delaware, with infused alcohol, homemade bitters and artisanal ingredients leading the way.

And while we’re drinking local beer and spirits, let’s not forget the local wine. The newly created Vintage Atlantic Wine Region, made up of more than 50 wineries spread across Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania, will start making some noise in 2015. Laura Stimson, the executive producer of the MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival, says that local wines will not only be featured at the 2015 festival, but several events will take place at local wineries.

Bold prediction #3: “Vintage Atlantic” will become a category on at least one prominent local wine list.

Trend: tacos

Who doesn’t love a taco?

“We’re selling tons of tacos at Kid Shelleen’s,” says Teixido, whose Harry’s Hospitality Group owns the Wilmington bar/restaurant. “Our new menu has seven or eight tacos on it.”

Shrimp tacos. Pork tacos. Chicken tacos. Tuna tacos. If you can fit it into a corn shell, you can make it into a taco, and chefs will continue to experiment with the form across multiple ethnicities and cuisines, Teixido says.

The menu at Del Pez, the new Mexican/seafood restaurant in Newark, has three tacos, including fried calamari taco and blackened swordfish. Every Tuesday is Taco Tuesday at Two Stones Pub. Tacos are not going away.

Bold prediction #4: La Fia taco. (That’s more of a dare than a prediction.)

Trend: food trucks

OK, let’s face it, after three seasons as stars of a reality-TV series hosted by Tyler Florence, food trucks need to have their Next Big Thing title permanently revoked. They’re part of the foodie culture now, and in Wilmington, expect the number of trucks on the street to continue to rise, thanks to a combination of new players in the market and warm receptions by local municipalities.

“People want different things,” says Wit Milburn, owner of Kapow Truck and co-founder of Rolling Revolution, a local food truck association. “People see what we bring to the community, the new dishes and a new food culture that’s starting to build.”

Milburn credits Paul Lauprasert’s KOI on the Go truck as a trailblazer, proving to locals that great food can come out of a truck. (KOI’s fish tacos are considered by many to be the best in the state. And hey, tacos again. Double trendy.) The members of Milburn’s Rolling Revolution are now looking for a permanent truck park where 15-20 trucks can gather in a kind of rotating food court.

Bold prediction #5: That truck park will open this year—with at least five new trucks that don’t yet exist.

So there you go. Five trends. Five predictions. But remember, in the world of foodie trendspotting, it’s not about how often you were right. It’s about how tasty the research was. Now, please excuse us. It’s craft beer time.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.