The Best (and Worst) Food Trends of 2014

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The year of the sandwich.
Photo by Jane Bruce

In addition to compiling all manner of “best of this or that” lists, there’s another important element to end-of-the-year food coverage—determining 2014’s most pervasive restaurant trends. You know… crowning the new Cronut, or declaring the successor to kale. And guess what? It was cauliflower! And, well, still kale. So for better or worse, here are the fledgling culinary movements that took the dining industry by storm this year, from rootsy cooking (Delaware and Hudson) to cooking with roots (Semilla). 

Super-Sized Sandwiches: While gluten suffered a profound PR crisis this year, there were still plenty of wheat-loving Brooklynites left to declare their undying allegiance to bread. This was answered with a slew of dedicated sandwich shops, including Boomwich in Boerum Hill, which piles cold fried chicken and Dr. Pepper-roasted pork butt into salt-studded pretzel buns; Endless Summer, the Williamsburg taco truck offshoot, serving fried catfish and BBQ squash on ciabatta; and the po’ boy-focused newcomer, Orleans, which thinks nothing of stuffing French fries into gravy-soaked baguettes.

Bar Bites are the New Small Plates: We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that “small plates,” or “share plates” or “$15 for three tiny bites” plates are officially commonplace on menus, alongside desserts, main dishes and apps. But yet another subset of snacks have been thrown into the mix (and, yes, offered in addition to small plates). We’re talking about equally diminutive—but considerably less fussy—bar bites, an overarching term for things like the saffron arancini at The Finch, smoked almonds and Scotch eggs at Sister, and sambal chicken wings at 2 Duck Goose.

Cauliflower Trumps Kale: Don’t get us wrong, kale caesar (get it? it’s a pun! ha?) is here to stay, along with kale smoothies, kale cupcakes, and all of their brassica-infused brethren. But this year, kale was forced to share menu space in a big way with cauliflower, invariably roasted whole and served with anchovies and breadcrumbs (Franny’s, Colonie), or nuts and raisins (à la Dover, Bergen Hill, and basically every Manhattan establishment).

Very Veggie Tasting Menus: Just as the landscape of restaurant menus is changing, so is the traditional entrée equation of one hulking protein and two throwaway sides. Instead of relying on seared or slow-roasted hunks of pork, poultry or beef, restaurants like Semilla and Take Root are letting veggies do all the talking, ingeniously transforming them into things like scarlet involtini—composed with silky ribbons of raw beet—or lush, bread-thickened cucumber soup, dotted with macadamias.

Cocktails Get Tapped: 2013 may have been the year of the finicky, house-infused, 16-ingredient tipple, but mixologists went another direction entirely in 2014—essentially installing draft lines for their manhattans and negronis. You’ll currently find large-format, ready-to-pour beverages at places like Greenpoint’s Esme, which offers taps full of “Thick as Thieves,” made with Chinese five spice-flavored rum, ginger, lemon oil and lime, and at Williamsburg favorite, Donna, featuring a root beer and absinthe-spiked “Caribbean Punch.”

American Regional Cuisine on the Scene: Parish Hall and Potlikker made a point of examining the largely unappreciated, somewhat ill-defined cuisine of the Northeast, but sadly, both of them shuttered this year. That being said, there’s still plenty of forward momentum when it comes to scrapple and salt potatoes, convincingly endorsed by the “Buffalo to Baltimore” Delaware and Hudson, and hearty Appalachian favorites, embraced by the rustic Montana’s Trail House.

Freaky Food Mashups: Oh, what the Cronut hath wrought. And we’re not just talking Doughssants and Crumbnuts, but a variety of things inexplicably crossbred with other things, including Bruffins, ramen burgers, banana spring rolls, Nutella lasagna and banh mi poutine.

Pop-Ups Go Permanent: For young chefs hoping to strike out on their own without powerful hospitality groups, or the support of deep-pocketed investors, staging pop-ups or manning stands at Smorgasburg are often viewed as potential springboards to success. And the formula paid off in a big way for a number of fantastic establishments this year, including Dosa Royale, Okonomi, Semilla and Arrogant Swine.


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