December might just be the most wonderful time of the year, not only for the holiday season, but for the exciting predictions of restaurant food trends in the upcoming year.
Unique proteins and preparations broaden the horizons of the culinary palate, while creative takes on veggies, sweets, and drinks round out dining experiences and should bring restaurants to a new level in the new year. As foodies are looking forward to seeing these trending tastes on their plates, here are the restaurant food trends we’re most excited about for 2017.
Meet the New Meats
Though the economy is always a concern for those in the restaurant industry, one key indicator is the dropping prices of proteins, particularly beef. Investing in higher-quality sourcing, experimenting with unique protein options, and putting a twist on traditional favorites can help restaurant menus keep prices from falling too much as well.
Beyond the typical bucket of cluck, fried chicken is finding its place on a wide variety of restaurant menus as a nod to its Southern charm and versatility from breakfast to dinner. With all-day breakfast already making its mark, biscuit sandwiches are forgoing bacon for fried chicken. Some restaurants are tying the dish to ethnic food trends with Korean wings or Japanese kastu, and even fine dining restaurants are jumping on board using high-grade lard for frying.
Butcher to Table
While farm-to-table has long been a prevalent trend in the industry, more restaurants are adding attached butcher shops to close the gap on their protein sourcing. Spots like The Corner Butcher Shop in La Verne, Calif., offer high-quality meats available for purchase behind the counter but also have a dine-in option for the restaurant to prepare and serve those fine cuts on site.
Frequently a favorite on Indian restaurant menus, goat is set to become a popular protein for other restaurants in 2017. Goat has less fat than options like chicken and is high in protein, which makes it a healthy choice — as well as a delicious one. It has a rich taste similar to lamb, but a beef-like texture that blends well in preparations like the sloppy Joe at Chicago staple Stephanie Izard’s Little Goat.
More of a new kid on the menu compared to goat, ostrich is starting to pop up more in American restaurants. Ostrich is not only 97 percent fat free, but has a taste and texture similar to filet mignon, which makes it poised to become “the other red meat” of 2017. This unique game meat also adds interesting options for the growing paleo diet trend, with dishes like ostrich carpaccio or grilled ostrich medallions.
Forget those little fishies in the can – when prepared correctly, sardines are full of umami flavor and healthy benefits. Like other kinds of fish, sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein. They also happen to be delicious when smoked. Restaurants are pairing this fish fad with the toast trend, creating open-faced sandwich options reminiscent of the Scandinavian smørrebrød.
Spotlight on Produce
Sustainability and local sourcing continue to trend in restaurants, but along with rising demand for vegetarian and vegan dishes, restaurants are focusing more on plant-based omnivore options. No longer banished to side dishes and salads, veggies are taking center stage on restaurant menus across the country.
Proving that you don’t need to be vegan to enjoy a meat-free meal, many restaurants are offering dishes with the flavors and textures of their meaty origins but using only plant-based products. Seitan and soy have long been used as great meat substitutes, but restaurants are now starting to expand into options made from beans, chickpeas, and mushrooms. The Chicago Diner, which has been perfecting its meat-free options since 1983, features a mushroom lentil meatloaf with a truffle sauce so delicious, you’ll forget there’s no meat in it.
Along with plant butchery, other restaurants are experimenting with more realistic faux meat options. Jackfruit’s texture when shredded makes for a great pulled pork substitute. Also making headlines in the industry are the “bleeding” veggie burgers. Offered at restaurants like Crossroads in Los Angeles, these patties defy your vegetarian preconceptions to have the taste, texture, and appearance of a beef burger but is made from plant-based ingredients like potatoes, wheat, and coconut oil.
Spiralizers are becoming all the rage in home cooking, but the trend is also rising in popularity on restaurant menus. Using vegetables as noodles can help satisfy gluten-free customers who still want a comforting and filling dish, as well as those looking to cut carbs. Other “veggies as comfort food” popping up in the industry include mashed cauliflower and mushroom Stroganoff.
Root to Leaf
Similar to the “nose to tail” style that has been popular in recent years, this trend cuts down on food waste by utilizing as much of the produce in the kitchen as possible. Instead of throwing out carrot tops, chefs are turning the leafy greens into pesto. Radish greens are being utilized in salads. Even celery root purees are finding their way back onto restaurants’ plates.
Let’s take a moment to pour one out for kale, because there’s a new trendy green in town. While it’s been uber popular since the sushi craze took over America, seaweed is finding a place in its own right on restaurant menus. Seaweed has more umami flavor than kale, as well as antioxidants and fiber, which makes it a great candidate for the country’s next super green.
Healthy eating trends are definitely not disappearing in 2017, but indulgent calorie bombs also continue to climb the charts. From drink garnishes that constitute an entire meal to creative dishes blending the boundaries between savory and sweet, restaurants encourage their customers to “treat yo’ self” with these trends.
Jumbo Bloody Marys
This trend has been literally growing as the garnish offerings on bloody marys demand for the size of the cocktails base to increase as well. One of the first restaurants to make a splash with these buzz-worthy brunch beverages was Sobelman’s in Milwaukee. Their Chicken-Fried Bloody Beast sports some of the classic garnishes like pickles and cheese, but flips the script with two skewers of bacon-wrapped cheeseballs and a whole fried chicken.
If you’re an avid follower of Instagram foodies, there’s a slim chance you’ve missed these monster milkshakes – especially those from Patissez in Australia, Molly Bakes in London, and Black Tap in NYC. Like the jumbo bloody Mary trend, Freakshakes super-size the traditional milkshake with an unbelievable amount of garnishes. But instead of fried chicken and cheeseballs, Freakshakes feature the likes of cookies, cake, doughnuts, and candy, piled high into picture-perfect arrangements that almost look too good to eat.
Rolled Ice Cream
When you think of cuisines known for frozen desserts, Southeast Asia doesn’t usually come to mind. But this rolled ice cream’s origins come from street vendors in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and the Philippines. The ice cream mixture is poured onto a subzero metal plate, similar in appearance to crepe griddles. As the ice cream freezes, it’s flattened and rolled into three or four bundles served in a cup. And of course – as many of these decadent trends dictate – the ice cream is loaded up with a variety of photo-worthy toppings.
Savory Ice Cream
Portland’s ice cream pioneers Salt & Straw turned the dessert world on its head with their Thanksgiving flavors this year, including Salted Caramel Turkey, Buttered Mashed Potatoes & Gravy, and Chestnut Stuffing. The dessert menus at restaurants might not be quite as extreme across the board into the new year, but the trend does result in frozen creamy treats with savory flavors like olive oil, black pepper, and even wasabi. These tastes pair well with sweet flavors like lemon, strawberry, and honey, helping the trend appeal to a wider audience.
Chocolate for Breakfast
How sweet it is to have dessert for breakfast in 2017! Recent scientific studies have supported starting your morning with chocolate: Syracuse University found that chocolate enhances cognitive function, while Tel Aviv University’s study suggested eating dessert for breakfast supports weight loss. But this trend goes beyond the chocolate chip pancakes and Cocoa Puffs you’d think of as breakfast chocolate. Look to find items like chocolate cake “amuse bouche” popping up on breakfast menus and full dessert menus being offered during brunch.
Want to see what industry trends are circulating for restaurants you know and love in 2017?