At Serious Eats, we keep a constant finger on the pulse of the food world to try and figure out what's hot. Now that we’re halfway into 2011, we’ve started to spot a handful of trends that are guaranteed to get more customers in the door.
1. Cocktail-minded food
More skilled bartenders are working alongside skilled chefs. While wine bars have been matching small plates with their carefully crafted wine lists for a while and beer gardens are de rigeur in most vibrant neighborhoods, we’ve been noticing more restaurants with both a destination-worthy cocktail list and food that complements it. There’s clearly a degree of thought put into these pairings, not just the separate food and beverage programs.
At many restaurants, courses are now offered that include both a bite of food and a small cocktail to go with it, all for one price. At the recently opened Beagle restaurant in the East Village, they’ve matched lamb neck with rye—that's slow cooked, spice-crusted lamb with a powerful cocktail to cut through flavors—as well as a pork and rum recommendation. At the Nitehawk Cafe in Williamsburg, cocktail and food pairings are changed up once a month or so and pair thematically with the movies being shown in the adjoining cinema.
2. Growler coffee
Growlers aren’t just for lugging beer anymore. At some specialty coffee shops you can now score a growler (64 ounces) of cold-brewed ice coffee. At Birch in Manhattan, the 64-ounce jug costs $20 the first time, though once you own the growler, you can trade in your empty for a filled one at $15. For the consumer, at $15, the cold brewed coffee is about 23 cents an ounce for straight coffee, while a regular iced coffee comes in at around 35 cents an ounce. Because it stays good in the fridge for several days, it saves your regulars from having to make daily trips, not only cutting down on your lines, but saving you money on cups, lids, and trash disposal. For regular iced coffee drinkers and cafe owners alike, it just makes sense.
3. Lamb is the new...bacon?
For the past several years, bacon and pork belly were the hot new menu items. But did you—or your chef—ever consider that everything you can do with pork belly you can do with lamb neck? Customers are always on the lookout for the next new trend, and if there's one trend we're certain is going to be hot, it's lamb everything. We knew that lamb was headed in a special direction when chef Andrew Carmellini was hosting a whole Lambarama dinner ($95 a pop) at Locanda Verde last year. Everything from the crostini (lamb proscuitto bread) to the main course (baby rack of lamb, lamb ribs, braised shanks and shoulder) was made from the animal.
We've been noticing lamb popping up on all sorts of menus. Recently, we ate lamb pastrami at Todd English's new CrossBar restaurant in Chelsea. There was also some lamb neck at the Beagle in East Village, where the beautifully cooked wedge of meat had a crisp outside crust over a tender, fatty interior. Bring on the lamb love, we say!
4. Serve craft ice cream
We’ve been feeling an ice cream revolution for a bit now, with new flavors and an emphasis on natural ingredients ruling the scoop shops. While our cones were once limited to sherbet, vanilla and maybe mint-n-chip if you were feeling experimental, now you have places like Sweet Republic in Arizona offering blue cheese and fig, as well as jalapeno-avocado. People are starting to expect a little sign with the name of the farm where the milk in that ice cream is coming from. Not in the ice cream business? Consider pairing up with a local purveyor to provide your restaurant with their product. At Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint, owner Paul Giannone has teamed up with local artisan ice creamery Van Leeuwen's to supplement his fantastic pizzas. Oftentimes, a dedicated producer will have the means and time to produce an ice cream that's better than what you could make on your own in-house.