In years past, we’ve lamented the rise of sheet pan plates, prayed for more Filipino food, and tried to put the brakes on hot dogs, tacos, gas-station hummus, and egg-topped everything. We’ve welcomed delicious trends like bubble tea, poutine, Nashville hot chicken and real-deal barbecue. We still desire more natural wines, additional food halls and creative vegan/vegetarian restaurants. This is what we’re kvetching about this year.
Sell: Brussels Sprouts Appetizers
Remember when Brussels sprouts knew their place in this world? When did this lowly cruciferous vegetable get promoted from dutiful holiday side dish to the appetizer section on restaurant menus, which is normally reserved for exciting (read appetizing) items like, well, anything other than baby cabbages.
Hold: Mini Cast-Iron Skillets
Just a few short years ago we moaned in these very pages about the proliferation of sheet pan plates. These days, we reserve our lamentations for mini cast-iron skillets. Used properly, these ruggedly handsome pans retain heat, keeping our food nice and toasty. When those pans start cold, however, the reverse is true.
It seems that where there are mini cast-iron skillets, there will be meatballs. In a few short years meatballs have strived mercilessly to rise from routine pasta-topper at Italian trattorias to star of the show, landing on restaurant menus as an appetizer or even main course. Surely we can come up with something a little more out-of-the-box.
Buy: Wood-Fired Everything
In capable hands, wood-fired cooking improves the aroma, flavor and texture of everything from vegetables to seafood and meats. It’s a hassle, no doubt, which is why so few restaurants do it, but we can now add Sawyer’s and Alea to the small group of establishments carrying the torch.
Buy: Whole Fish Dishes
The intimidation factor of nose-to-tail fish dishes is far outweighed by moist, flavorful seafood thanks to on-the-bone cooking. Grilled, pan-seared, salt-baked or deep-fried, whole fish make an exciting meal for two despite a little extra work. So bring on the branzino, snapper and mackerel.
Hold: Nashville Hot Chicken
Be careful what you wish for, right? Cleveland has gone from sorely lacking to pleasantly full in terms of this spicy fried chicken dish. We are by no means complaining, we’re just pointing out the fact that now would be a good time to look elsewhere than Nashville for new food ideas.
Hold: Fried Chicken Sandwiches
Ditto with the fried chicken sandwiches. We love them, especially when they’re made with boneless thighs, but there’s more to life than this.
Buy: Real Tapas Bar
As any diner who has been to Spain can tell you, there is no greater joy than plowing through a sampling of punchy small plates. We’re not talking about appetizers or mini-meals here, but singular dishes built around ingredients like olives, potatoes, salt cod, tinned seafood and razor-thin ham. Course after blessed course, all washed down with cold vermouth and bottles of Rioja, until it’s time to move on to the next bar. Matt Spinner’s tapas pop-up at Ushabu was a reminder of what we’re missing on a regular basis.
Buy: Cajun/Creole Food
Boudin, gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, maque choux … . There might not be a more flavorful cuisine than deeply spiced and thoughtfully crafted Cajun and Creole food, but our options in town are slim at best. I can name on two fingers joints that are doing it well, meaning that there’s plenty of room for growth in this department.