If you were to separate 2015 into four distinct, food trend-driven seasons, you’d likely come up with lobster thermidor winter, okonomiyaki spring, chicken sandwich summer and baked potato fall. But save for those fluffy, invariably fleeting obsessions, many of the year’s major culinary shifts will likely have bearing on how we eat in the long term, from sustainable seaweed and locally sourced grains to increased implementation of a game-changing no tipping policy.
Fried Chicken Sandwich Frenzy: Incongruously enough (considering an otherwise anti-gluten atmosphere), sandwiches topped our trends list back in 2014. But this year, BLTs and cheesesteaks seemed largely besides the point, in the face of no-frills, fast food-style fried chicken. David Chang’s Fuku kicked Manhattan’s poultry obsession into high gear, and a horde of Brooklyn eateries readily took the bait, from The Heyward and its hot chicken po’boys and El Cortez and its skewered chicken buddies to Batata’s chicken schnitzel pitas—not to mention the ChickenShack at Shake Shack, served exclusively in the borough, and spartanly dressed with shredded lettuce, pickle chips, and drizzles of buttermilk mayo.
Restrooms with a View: DIY Brooklyn may be intrinsically associated with the bare-bones, reclaimed wood and dangling lightbulb look, but an increasing number of cash-blessed restaurants have begun turning to dedicated design firms for their build-outs. And in 2015, those hired-gun artists seemed inordinately inspired by bathrooms; think Hecho Inc’s lighthouse-styled loos (complete with beach chairs, seagull soundtracks and arched, mirrored ceilings) at the refurbished Red Hook Lobster Pound, and Chilo’s in Bed Stuy — overseen by the American Construction League — where the WC is basically a pint-sized planetarium, with a dazzling, vacillating solar system projected on the walls.
One Potato, Two Potato, a Heck of a Lot of Potato: We’re alarmed at how many calories we exhausted on potatoes alone last year, but hell if it wasn’t entirely, spectacularly worth it. Its ascension as 2015’s top starch was cemented by Mekelburg’s, of course, which became a city-wide destination for smoked sable and slab bacon slathered-spuds; but equally compelling cases were made at Kimoto Rooftop Beer Garden (brisket-gobbed disco fries), Baba’s Pierogies (cheesy Polish dumplings), and MP Taverna (Brooklyn’s best new steak frites).
The No Tip Debate: Less of a trend than a massive sea change—set to irrevocably alter the very fabric of NYC’s restaurant industry—Danny Meyer, Andrew Tarlow, and other influential owners became early adopters of a no-tipping policy this year (long practiced in Europe) as a way to contend with minimum wage increases, and equitably divide gratuities amongst the front and back of house. Since then, Gabriel Stulman, Tom Colicchio, and Manhattan restaurants like Huertas, Bruno, and Eleven Madison Park have all followed suit, but it remains to be seen how pervasive the policy will become throughout mom-and-pop Brooklyn in 2016 (don’t count on any further shakeups at Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok).
Say it With Me; O-ko-no-mi-yaki: Piggybacking on the burgeoning izakaya trend (which we originally fingered in July of last year), okonomiyaki has elbowed out grilled meat skewers and soy-slathered chicken wings, to emerge as Brooklyn’s favorite Japanese bar snack. It’s actually the raison d’être in Okiway in Bushwick, served in a wide range of quirky permutations, from classic (a pork belly pancake with barbecue sauce and kewpie), to Mexican (piled with chorizo, chipotle crema and avocado), and the seldom-seen Hiroshima style; formed over a base of crispy noodles. And while its hardly surprising to find okonomiyaki on the menu at Ganso Yaki in Boerum Hill, it’s even showing up at spots like Cozinha Latina in Greenpoint, where it’s given a Brazilian spin with pork trotter, ancho pepper barbecue sauce, and sweet papaya kimchee.
Kale, Meet Kelp: Every so often, an unsuspecting veggie gets inevitably thrust forward as the second coming of kale. Brussels sprouts. Kale sprouts. Cauliflower. Collard greens. But slippery seaweed seems poised to overtake them all as fish and shellfish becomes less and less sustainable—in addition to having a negative footprint, the quickly-proliferating crop is highly nutritious and deliciously diverse, from meaty dulse (whipped into butter and paired with smoked sardines at French Louie), to chewy kelp, fashioned into noodles for Greenpoint Fish & Lobster’s gluten-free pad thai.
The French Connection: It seems odd to speak of French food as a trend, considering how fundamentally its informed a seemingly endless range of cuisines—from Japanese to Haitian to farm-to-table American. And yet, in the last year, its presence has been far more deeply felt than in the occasional cassoulet or silky quenelle of sorbet; witness the triumphant return of the (largely unmodernized) brasserie and bistro, from L’Antagoniste in Bed Stuy, offering faithful renditions of lobster thermidor and duck a l’orange, to Cassette in Greenpoint, plumbing the Catalonian countryside for rustic peasant dishes such as duck confit and lentil soup, and Le Garage in Bushwick, fronted by Normandy-born chef, Catherine Allswang, and featuring petit plats such as foie gras, leeks vinaigrette, and charlotte potatoes (again with the potatoes!) with snails.
Going With the Grain: As hard evidence on non-celiac gluten sensitivity continues to wane, expect a renewed respect for grain and other good-for-you forms of gluten in 2015 and beyond. In fact, multiple Brooklyn businesses are at the forefront of revitalizing the grain industry in New York (once one of the top producers in the country) including Kings County Distillery, Bien Cuit, and Sfoglini Pasta; and Bushwick’s fast becoming a hub for the pro-wheat movement as well. There’s Faro, its menu mostly focused on locally-sourced strains of emmer, corn and rye, along with Brooklyn Bread Lab, which, in addition to testing recipes and acting as commissary for the upcoming the Williamsburg Hotel, serves as retail bakery and workshop, focusing on breads, pizzas and pastas made with responsibly sourced, nutrient-rich, and house-milled whole grains.