The Fall Menu Preview: Four trends, a fad and a prediction
Autumn traditionally is a time of heartier appetites, more robust drinks, and an appreciation of root vegetables and rich meat dishes. We’ll see more of that this fall as restaurateurs seek to balance consumers’ desire for new and exciting dishes with their simultaneous need for foods that are comforting and familiar. With most restaurant owners trying to keep their restaurants above the Average restaurant profit margins, new trends could be a breath of fresh air, bringing in new customers and helping them to keep loyal ones.
In the coming season, chefs will be showing off their skills as preservation artists as well as their rapport with local farmers. They’ll also be playing to Millennials’ collective sweet tooth and getting creative with different cuts of meat.
Here’s a look at those four food and beverage trends, as well as one unusual fad and a prediction for a new amenity that could begin showing up at cocktail bars.
Fall trend No. 1: Local sourcing taken to a new level
Many restaurants may already buy fruits and vegetables from local farms or grow herbs on your roof. Maybe they even have their own herd of cattle. But that’s just not enough to get anyone’s attention anymore.
This summer, Boston-based chef and restaurateur Todd English announced he had his own oyster farm – something National Restaurant News (NRN) predicted at the end of last year.
And now, The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa in downtown Denver isn’t just managing a colony of bees on its roof; it has found a variety of ways to integrate the honey into its operations. The operation has commissioned a craft beer, BP Rooftop Honey Saison, in collaboration with Wynkoop Brewing Company, located just a mile away on the other side of Downtown Denver.
The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa has also made a barrel-aged honey-infused bourbon in collaboration with Breckenridge Distillery, located about 80 miles away in Breckenridge, Colo. The bourbon made its debut in July and is being used in various cocktails at the hotel, as is the honey itself.
The honey also is being served at the Brown Palace’s afternoon high tea, both to sweeten beverages and as an ingredient in honey buttermilk scones. It also is used in the spa’s honey-lavender soap and lip balm, and in an array of spa treatments.
Restaurants and hotels are proud of their local sourcing efforts and connections to their community, and this fall, they will find more new and creative ways to prove it.
Fall trend No. 2: Preservation in many forms
Use of local, seasonal ingredients is a way of life for many chefs. But sometimes there’s just too much of a single product at the height of its season to use all at once. So chefs are extending the life of local produce while also displaying their skills in the kitchen by preserving what they don’t use right away.
We’ve seen a lot of pickling lately, of everything from cucumbers to eggs, not to mention the trendiest of pickles this year: kimchi. But we’ll see other forms of preservation this fall, too.
Justin Burdett, chef of Ruka’s Table in Highlands, N.C., plans to store the season’s Muscadine grapes in sweetened whiskey. He scores, blanches and peels the grapes and then packs them in whiskey diluted with simple syrup. He serves them with house-made lardo and cheese plates. “It’s a great little accompaniment to keep around,” he said.
John Critchley, chef of Urbana in Washington, D.C., plans to make escabeche out of razor clams, which are harvested during the low tides of spring and fall. He said he’ll poach them and then store them in a vinegar-based liquid.
Brian Malarkey, executive chef of Enlightened Hospitality Group, which operates Herringbone, Searsucker, Gabardine, Gingham and Burlap restaurants in San Diego, said, “I’m really into dried fruits for this fall.” He plans to rehydrate cherries, cranberries, apricots and plums with red wine, brandy or other liquor.
BONUS Fall trend: Harmony in the kitchen
There’s no point in creating a wonderfully creative new menu if you’ve not got the staff to back it up. You need to ensure the head chef is skilled, the support chefs know what they’re doing, and there is good communication with the front-of-house staff. There are numerous ways to identify where issues may lie if your kitchen has been struggling recently.
For example, if you’re an experienced restaurateur then you will have carefully hand-picked your chefs to ensure they’re qualified enough to craft your menu. However, if you’ve not got a very experienced staff who don’t communicate well then this can lead to miscommunication, long waiting time for customers, and a bad moral amongst your workforce. In this situation, it would be a good idea to go to a restaurant manager head hunter so you can find a manager that can transform the way your restaurant operates.
You need to think carefully about the different ways you can improve the way your kitchen runs — the more harmonious the better. Miscommunication, arguments, and bad attitudes can seriously affect your service.
Fall trend No. 3: Sweet, spiked dessert drinks
Beverage directors and wine merchants alike have noticed young adults’ current penchant for sweet wines – not just slightly off-dry Amarones, but very sweet wines. Moscato dessert wine, for example, is now so popular that Old Chicago has added it to its wine list.
Some restaurants are taking this trend even further by adding alcohol to desserts. The Counter, a 32-unit better burger chain, has started offering wine milkshakes, for example. The most popular of the three flavors, the Pinot Noir, is made with cherries, chocolate, vanilla ice cream and Pinot Noir wine. The Sweet Peach is sweet white wine mixed with peach nectar and vanilla ice cream, and the Mimosa is sparkling white wine, orange juice and vanilla ice cream. The shakes are reportedly a big hit.
So are the beer floats at the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek, Colo. Varieties include raspberry-Champagne sorbet with some New Belgium 1554 Black Ale poured over it; black cherry-Nutella swirl ice cream with Samuel Adams American Kriek; and New Belgium Lips of Faith-Tart Lychee beer paired with lemon-thyme sorbet and vanilla bean ice cream.
There’s no reason to expect an end to this trend as restaurateurs find new ways to indulge their customers’ sweet tooth and their penchant for strong drink.
Fall trend No. 4: Creative cuts of meat
Americans tend not to be very experimental when it comes to the protein they eat, and getting them to go beyond hamburger, beef and pork loin, and chicken breast can be a challenge. But restaurateurs are giving it a try this fall.
Paul Sussman, chef-owner of Back Deck in Boston, said he’s planning to play with turkey tenders. Anatomically the same as chicken tenders, on a turkey this cut weighs about a pound and thus is suitable to serve two people. “I haven’t used it a lot in the past, but it will grill quickly, and you can brine it so it will stay nice and juicy,” he said.
This fall, 301-unit fast-casual chain Noodles & Company for the first time is using a braised pork shoulder. “We’re using a whole-muscle shoulder that’s marinated, seared and slow cooked, that we hand-pull into shreds in-store,” said Tess Stamper, the chain‘s executive chef and director of culinary.
The chain will feature the meat in a pulled pork sandwich on ciabatta and will also mix it with macaroni and cheese that’s drizzled with barbecue sauce and topped with crispy onions.
Sylvia Casares, chef-owner of the two-unit Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen in Houston, has introduced cabrito, or roast goat, to her menu. It’s sold as an entrée at her more upscale location, but she is adding cabrito tacos to both locations this fall.
Fall fad: Drinking vinegars
Portland, Ore.-based Thai restaurant Pok Pok has been selling vinegar to drink since 2005, according to its website, which correlates the practice to the consumption of “shrubs” – sour fruit-based drinks sweetened with sugar – as tonics during colonial times. The restaurant adds its own bottled Pok Pok Som (som is “sour” in Thai) to cocktails and also dilutes it with soda water as a popular beverage in both its Portland and New York City locations.
Phat Thai, with locations in Carbondale, Colo., and Denver, is doing that, too, ever since chef Mark Fischer found vinegar bottled as a “health drink” at an Asian market in Denver. “It was interesting, and it went really well with our food,” said Fischer, who has started making his own infused vinegars and mixing them with soda. Combine that with the 2010 sensation, the Pickleback – a shot of whiskey chased with a shot of pickle juice – and you have a penchant for really sour drinks that isn’t a trend yet, but it’s something to watch in the coming fall season.
Fall prediction: Starter drinks
Handcrafted cocktails can be lovely, but waiting for them is a definite buzz kill. Veteran mixologists and other experts have solved that problem when they go out: They order their fancy cocktail, but precede it with a beer or a shot – something that can be brought to them quickly while they wait for their liquid work of art to be composed.
Mission Chinese, with locations in San Francisco and New York City, has developed a similar tactic to let its customers who are waiting for tables know that they’re appreciated: They get free beer until they’re seated.
Bars that take their cocktails and their customers seriously will soon be doing the same thing: Guests who order a drink that will likely take more than a couple minutes to prepare will be given a little something to whet their whistle. People love free stuff, after all, and if you’re not making a big enough margin from your cocktail program to hand out something gratis, then you’re not doing your job.
Photo credits: NRN, Ohbeautifulbeer.com, Counter Burger, Gabriele Stabile