Five Food Trends for 2018

Once again, our expert on all things gastronomic presumes to predict the future. Based on his report card for last year, we should all take notice.

Most humans who have ever walked this earth could predict next year’s food trends by looking inside the local grain silo and deciding whether the harvest was trending toward a) eating over the winter or b) not eating over the winter.

But after millennia of relative scarcity, in which mankind lived from growing season to growing season, the global food chain has given us perpetual abundance in the First World, both in calories and in the many, many ways we can devise to consume those calories.

As a result, we are subject to forecasts of our dietary future like this actual Wholes Foods prediction for 2018: “Smoothie fans are raising a glass to powders like spirulina, kale, herbs and roots for an oh-so-green vibrancy that needs no Instagram filter.” (I swear, I am this close to publishing an annual Hater’s Guide to the Whole Foods Market Top Trends Press Release.)

I can assure you that my predictions below are 100 percent spirulina-powder-free and hopefully more relevant to your day-to-day eating. That’s due in part to the fact that, in compiling this year’s list of Top Five Delaware Food Predictions, I checked in with some smart foodies from around the state, including Karen Stauffer at the Delaware Restaurant Association, Dan Sheridan from the sure-to-be-a-hot-trend-in-2018 Stitch House Brewery on Market Street, and others who will remain nameless because, OK, they’re all bartenders.

Also, see below for the report card on last year’s predictions. Spoiler alert: If I were still in fourth grade, my report card would earn me $5 from my grandpa.

Trend: Veggies on Main

Vegetables. They’re what’s for dinner.

That’s the word I’ve heard from friends who have food jobs that require them to travel the country looking at emerging food trends. (And yes, I too am annoyed that this job exists.) While beef certainly isn’t going away, a number of high-profile restaurants opening in New York and Chicago are leading with the greens … and oranges, yellows and purples from the garden.

Think “veg-forward,” not vegetarian. Restaurants like Philly’s Vedge may have elevated vegetarian cuisine, and new spots like Bad Hunter in Chicago’s meatpacking district (great name, great location for that name) are praised for menus that dive heavy into veg without abandoning meat. That’s in line with a trend predicted by both nutritionists and futurists, where dinner plates still have a protein and starch and a veg, but lead with the latter.

But are we really ready for the future? The Impossible Burger, with a patty that cooks, smells and tastes like a burger but is made entirely of plant, is inching closer and closer to Delaware. You can order one today at the Broad Street Tavern in Swarthmore, Pa., just a few miles across the border. Expect it to cross over soon.

Prediction #1: You’ll be eating your vegetables, even when they don’t look like your vegetables, as the Impossible Burger comes to Delaware.

Trend: One-Dish Restaurants

If there’s one thing that Sheridan and Stauffer both agreed on, it was that the hottest new eating spots in Delaware in 2018 probably will have fewer choices on the menu than ever before.

“The days of the eight-page menu, with 30 app options and 20 burgers, is fading away,” Sheridan says. “I love a menu that’s just two-sided.”

And while short menus have long been the norm at fine-dining locations like Domaine Hudson and The House of William & Merry, they’re becoming more common in the fast-casual space.

“The whole food hall thing, where there are a number of stands or stalls that all focus on just one thing, I think that’s going to be huge,” Stauffer says. “And Wilmington is going to get one with that food hall they’re opening on the first floor of the Hotel Du Pont.”

What’s happening at the hotel might be the future of eating, though I’m not privy enough to the plans to know if that’s coming in 2018 or beyond. Still, look for fewer choices everywhere you eat, and all for the better.

Prediction #2: The most exciting restaurant opening of the year will be in the fast-casual space, with a menu that features one item done very well (with maybe some room for customization).

Trend: The Evolution of Grocery Shopping

Headlines from 2017: “Amazon Buys Whole Foods”; “Lidl Opens in Middletown”; “Janssen’s Becomes First Delaware Supermarket to Get a Liquor License.”

What’s going on here? The way we shop for food is evolving rapidly, and the idea of what it means to be a supermarket seems to be up for grabs.

Local markets will look to improve the personal shopping experience wherever possible, especially at service counters, from the butcher to the cheese shop, thus taking a cue from high-end places that focus on that attention to detail.

But what’s up with Amazon? They bought Whole Foods and then promptly announced that AmazonFresh would no longer be delivering in Delaware, nor a host of other East Coast states. That doesn’t make sense … unless they have something up their sleeve for 2018.

Prediction #3: Amazon rolls up its sleeves and reveals the cards it is hiding up in there. Whole Foods Prime pick-up kiosks, maybe?

Trend: Market Street as Dining Destination, Part Deux

Two years ago, I predicted a Market Street boom … and there was a mini-boom for a while there. Most of the new-restaurant action shifted to Main Street in Newark in 2017, but it feels like we’re on the verge of another Wilmo surge as restaurateurs prepare to welcome all the new residents living in the soon-to-be-completed Buccini/Pollin Group apartments at Ninth and Orange. Dan Sheridan’s Stitch House Brewery should lead the way in 2018, and while I try to avoid specific predictions on restaurant opening dates, rumors of dim sum and crepes and even a cidery on or near Market have made it a street to watch.

Prediction #4: Same as 2016, restaurants may come and go, but I see a net positive five new restaurants/eateries on Market in 2018. And keep an eye on Shipley as an emerging entry point to the new Market scene.

Trend: Coffee on Nitro

Cold brewed coffee on nitro.

The best cold brew I tasted all year was a brown sugar vanilla latte on nitro from Cascade Beverage Company in Virginia. No, this is not yet available in Delaware, but the silky smooth taste of nitro cold brew is here, with open taps at the new Starbucks in the Christiana Fashion Center and the Brew HaHa In Trolley Square, but I see the trend only expanding as we move into summer 2018.

Prediction #5: Cold brew on tap. It’s what’s for breakfast.

Last Year’s Scorecard

Here’s how last year’s predictions stacked up:

1. More Eating Out of Bowls: Pokes pop up on appetizer lists around the state and don’t stop there. Watch for authentic Asian flavors in a bowl near you.

The poke craze heated up (as much as raw fish can) as the year went on, moving from appetizer menus to casual lunch spots, including two Poke Bros. restaurants on Kirkwood Highway and in Newark and the singular PoBu (a portmanteau of poke and burritos?) on Main Street in Newark. And I just attended a holiday party where our graciously gourmet host put out tuna, salmon, edamame, tobiko, cucumber and more, with rice and sauces, to create a DIY poke bar. Pokeboom!

2. Third-Wave Coffee: More quality coffee shops, increasingly local coffee production (perhaps another roastery in town?), and potential invasion by Stumptown Coffee.

No Stumptown in sight, but coffee lovers have something even better in homegrown craft coffee shops like Little Goat Coffee Roasting in Newark. (Coffee snobs, don’t sleep on the lattes. Owner Olivia Brinton, formerly a master mixologist at William & Merry, is concocting her own syrups.)

3. Breakfast for All Meals: Diners make a comeback. A new one will open, with a commitment to local, freshly sourced ingredients and breakfast all day.

We did get a new mid-county contender in The Metro Diner near Christiana Hospital, and they do brisk business. But the strongest showing for breakfast nooks comes from the south, where Egg in Rehoboth Beach was one of the hottest new restaurants of 2017.

4. Fast-Casual Takeover. Definitely on Market Street.

Not so definitely on Market Street. Still, fast-casual remains a fast-growing segment overall. See the poke craze, above.

5. Wild Boar Gets Tamed: It won’t be hard to find wild boar, ostrich and venison on menus in 2017.

A bit hard to quantify, but maybe I spoke too soon. Still, Ted’s Montana Grill has kept busy slinging bison at the Christiana Fashion Center. And Arby’s had venison sandwiches for one day in October, so … there’s your deer burger.

All In the Family

It’s getting hard to tell restaurant fare from home cooking, and vice versa, says our food trends expert

If there’s one overarching trend in cooking this year, it’s this: Restaurants have embraced home cooking, and home cooks have never had such easy access to the tools and techniques of the professional kitchen.

The newcomers in the fast-casual restaurant segment allow diners to personalize meals like they would at home, with options that go far beyond “wit or without,” while new devices that have come to market over the past few years have emboldened home chefs to create dishes they’ve only had in restaurants.

But what’s really new is the speed of change. In the past, the restaurant industry simmered like a soup.

You’d take a bunch of ingredients (a new idea, some fancy kitchen tools, a handful of early adopters, a pinch of social media, and celery, because there’s always celery), stir them together, add heat, give it some time—everything good took time—and new concepts would emerge.

But then came Instant Pot, and Instant Pot makes everything move faster.

It’s usually hard to pinpoint the exact tipping point when a trend takes off, but that’s not the case with Instant Pot. It occurred on July 12, 2016, on the totally made-up corporate holiday known as Amazon Prime Day. During that hot Christmas in July, Amazon moved 215,000 Instant Pot electric pressure cookers in 24 hours, sending hundreds of thousands of people to YouTube in search of recipe videos and launching breathless news articles with headlines like “Why Is Everyone Obsessed with This Pot Thing?” (Confession: I got my first Instant Pot for Christmas, and the things it can do to short rib in 30 minutes are astonishing.)

Idiot-Proof

There’s a simple reason why Instant Pot took off—the device seems to be idiot-proof. Home cooks who may have been intimidated by old-fashioned pressure cookers and their potential to explode pea soup all over the kitchen can find comfort in the sleek, push-button technology that allows you to set cooking times and styles to cook everything from beef stews to yogurts. (Those who might still need inspiration can find it among the many Instant Pot obsessives of Pinterest, or increasingly in New York Times recipes.)

But pressure cookers aren’t the only restaurant tool that ambitious foodies found under the Christmas tree this year. Also popular: the as-seen-on-TV “Steakager.”

“It was just a perfect example of Big Brother Facebook marketing,” says OperaDelaware General Manager (and accomplished home cook) Brendan Cooke. “Something came up on my Facebook feed —I guess my interests include meat—and in a weak moment in the middle of the night, I clicked on it. And then the ad starts following and following you.”

The Steakager, as seen on CNBC’s not-quite-Shark-Tank Make Me a Millionaire Inventor, fits inside your fridge and works to replicate the walk-in dry aging facilities of major steakhouses. The website says you can “age your beef for a minimum of 12 days to however adventurous you are,” which sounds decidedly like a dare.

“After you get 30 days in, it starts to develop a more beefy flavor,” Cooke says. “Longer than 40 days, it starts to take on the funk of a blue cheese, which is not really my thing. The sweet spot to me on the ribeye seems to be a 35-day age. You lose some moisture, it intensifies the flavor, and really changes the texture. What’s normally pretty toothy in a fresh steak becomes like butter.”

Cooke also has been experimenting with his new sous vide device (technically, a Christmas gift for his wife). Sous vide is a method where food is vacuum-sealed and placed in a temperature-controlled water bath for long periods of time. It’s used by top chefs for uber-precise cooking of everything from steaks to eggs.

“The device looks like a stick blender and it hangs on any vessel—I have a big plastic Rubbermaid container for it—and I can control it from my phone,” Cooke says. “The beautiful thing about that is that you literally can’t overcook things.”

The Chipotle of Eating Out

At the same time pressure was building at home, so to speak, fast-casual restaurants like Roots Natural Kitchen and honeygrow were expanding throughout Delaware, offering natural, fresh, and often locally grown fare. At honeygrow, the cooking happens right in front of you, as if you’re standing in a friend’s kitchen, with ingredients you both recognize and that are personalized to your tastes and dietary needs, before they are assembled into a bowl and handed over the counter.

“People want to know what they’re getting, unfiltered, and when possible where it’s coming from,” says Justin Rosenberg, founder and CEO of honeygrow. “I eat the same way. It never was about following a trend—more so about building a brand that exhibits the same values that my family and I share.”

It must be a bitter irony that the restaurant style popularized by Chipotle—pick your base, your protein, your toppings and your sauces, and promote their all-natural origins—has taken off at the same time Chipotle itself is seeing its profits plummet. Sales dropped after E. coli sickened a few burrito eaters in 2015, while similar ideas exploded in many markets, including Delaware.

“It’s a trend to see restaurants going with smaller footprints, with less overhead, for fast-casual food,” says Eric Aber, customer development specialist at Gordon Food Service.

It’s called the “Chipotle effect,” and those smaller shops around Delaware include places that might be called the Chipotle of Indian food (Zaikka Indian Grill, with your pick of protein and style of curry), the Chipotle of donuts (Duck Donuts, on Newark’s Main Street, where you decide the glaze and the sprinkles and whether your donut should come with bacon, and yes, the maple donut should come with bacon), and the Chipotle of pizza (Snap Pizza, with options on sauces, cheeses, meats, organic veggies and even finishing oils, on a pie that’s baked in just a few minutes).

The idea of quick-fired pizzas has spread beyond its fast-casual roots. When La Banca restaurant opens in Middletown, it will come equipped with a Marra Forni 800-degree rotator oven that will allow the restaurant to cook a 10-inch personal pizza in about 90 seconds, according to General Manager Adam Cofield. The menu for La Banca hasn’t been finalized yet, but that speed should allow for very personalized personal pizzas indeed.

And the menu at honeygrow reads like what any Whole Foods shopper might put together on a Thursday night. Whole-wheat noodles with roasted FreeBird chicken and a red coconut curry? Sounds good, and if not, the menu is “fully customizable,” with ordering on Wawa-style screens for people who want to linger over whether to include bean sprouts.

But even in a time when fast-casual is on the rise and home chefs dry-age their own sides of meat, the traditional restaurant experience still has its appeal.

“I will say that I do froth at the mouth when I see Xavier Texeido’s Facebook posts about the 45-day aged ribeye at Harry’s,” Cooke says. “We might give that a try.”

Food Trends, 2017

Pokes, boar meat and breakfast all day long: Once again, our fearless prognosticator offers his thoughts on what we’ll be eating in the new year.

Wellness tonics. Purple cauliflower. Coconut chips. Beet noodles.

That’s what you have to look forward to if Whole Foods is right and these are the hottest trends of 2017. And that’s why you need to care about food trends, lest you be caught unawares by a sudden beet noodle in your entrée.

You will find no beet noodles here. This is my third year of making predictions for the future of Delaware food, and one thing I’ve learned—I’m not very good at it. (Check the scorecard below.) While I thought 2016 would find a distillery opening in northern Delaware, I missed the brewery boom that was fermenting all around us. And though I saw sushi cooling off, I didn’t notice Newark becoming a hotbed for truly authentic Chinese cuisine.

But those are the risks foodie prognosticators take. There’s no accounting for taste, and even less accounting for what taste buds will crave from year to year. And so I rounded up a few of my usual suspects, did my research, and herewith offer another few predictions for the new year, in full knowledge that life will likely prove me wrong. Again. Happy dining.

Trend: Restaurants enter the bowl game

There’s a reason bowls are the serving vessel of choice at fast-casual restaurants. They’re quick to assemble, can contain both liquid and solid ingredients, and since they don’t require slabs of bread to hold the good stuff together, they’re easy to make low-carb or gluten-free. But while fast-casual trends often filter down from fine-dining experiences, expect bowls to be one idea that trickles up.

“I think that a growing theme is losing the pretense in a lot of things,” says Chef Robbie Jester from Stone Balloon Ale House. “When you get into tuna tartars and tuna carpaccio, they all sound really fancy. But when you shorten that to a four-letter word, I think that’s approachable.”

That four-letter word? “Poke,” as in Hawaiian for “slice,” and no relation to 2016’s least palatable smartphone trend. Jester serves his ahi tuna and avocado poke in ginger sambal sesame sauce with toasted sesame seeds in a bowl. Since he introduced it, it’s been (in his words) “supremely popular.”
“You can mix it with different ingredients, since it’s a larger cut,” Jester says. “I just think it’s a better preparation, and I enjoy eating it. And I think it’s going to continue to catch on until people beat the shit out of it on the East Coast.”

Prediction #1: Pokes pop up on appetizer lists around the state (gotta eat them all!), and bowls don’t stop there. Watch for authentic Asian flavors in a bowl near you.

Trend: Third-wave coffee washes over Delaware

What, you missed the first two waves? Then you haven’t been staring at the coffee horizon as deeply as the coffee nerds who have transformed caffeine consumption on the West Coast. The waves, loosely defined:
First wave: Insta-cofeee. The best part of waking up.
Second wave: The Starbucksization of America.
Third wave (as popularized by San Fran coffee maven Trish Rothgeb): “[In the third wave,] the coffee will make the moment, not the whipped cream or flavored syrup. These baristi will be able to tell you exactly when their coffee was roasted, how the beans were processed, the idea behind the blend, and offer cupping notes.”

The third wave first started to crash over the First State when Drip Café opened its doors and Brew HaHa! expanded its Trolley Square outpost into a coffee roastery. Both were smashing successes. Expect more to come.

Prediction #2: More quality coffee shops, increasingly local coffee production (perhaps another roastery in town?), and potential invasion by national third-wave riders like Stumptown Coffee.

Trend: Breakfast for breakfast, breakfast for lunch, breakfast for dinner

Breakfast for dinner has been a thing since I was a kid, but you can probably blame McDonalds for proving that people dining out will eat breakfast all day, any day, if given the option. Delaware may not have a strong diner culture, but some restaurants will be quick to fill the gap.

“I don’t think that boom is over yet,” says Karen Stauffer, director of communications for the Delaware Restaurant Association. “I see restaurants, especially in bigger areas, expanding to Saturday brunches, with more breakfast-themed items on menus.”

In Newark, brunch hasn’t just expanded to Saturday. It’s already a seven-days-a-week thing at Home Grown Café, where five brunch items are now available daily from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and the breakfast burrito is one of the top three items at lunch.

“We would get calls daily to ask if we were serving breakfast,” says Sasha Aber, owner at Home Grown. “It’s just nice, comforting food for people to start off the day. And they’re a good price point for people too.”

High-end breakfast food is the main course at Egg Restaurant in Rehoboth Beach and De La Coeur Café et Pâtisserie. Drip Café expanded its restaurant in 2016. Mrs. Snyder’s brought lemon hollandaise to New Castle. Expect all to continue.

Prediction #3: Diners make a comeback. A new one will open, with a commitment to local, freshly sourced ingredients and breakfast all day.

Trend: Fast-fresh-casual takes over the world

Consider this trend a subset of “everything in a bowl,” since that’s where you’ll find most fast-fresh-casual food being served. Also consider it one of the most obvious trends I missed in 2016, with the opening of two Honeygrows (one in North Wilmington, one in Newark), a Zoës Kitchen at the Christiana Fashion Mall, and Roots Natural Kitchen in Newark.

But the fast-fresh-casual trend deserves a category of its own. People certainly want to eat healthy, people increasingly want to eat fresh/local … but people don’t have much time. Those realities used to cancel each other out. Not anymore.

“I think we definitely see more of this coming in 2017, especially in Newark, Wilmington and Dover,” Stauffer said.

Prediction #4: Definitely in Wilmington. If there’s a concept that seems ready-made for Market Street, this is it.

Trend: Wild game gets tamed

Game meats have been popular in Delaware since the first time someone looked at a muskrat and thought, “Hmmm, I could eat that.” But what once was an acquired taste, embraced by a few select spots (like the always-game Stewart’s Brewing Company and the serving-kangaroo-before-its time Matilda’s) is now entering the mainstream. Metro Pub & Grill in Middletown has venison chili and wild boar sloppy joes. Stone Balloon in Newark has a venison Salisbury steak—and expects to add more game to the menu this year. Game meats tend to excite chefs—and they’ll try to excite you.

Prediction #5: It won’t be hard to find wild boar, ostrich and venison on menus in 2017.

Three final trends to watch:
• House-cured meats. (Domaine Hudson has the best charcuterie plate in town; Maiale Deli and Sulumeria continue to impress. Watch for more.)
• Locally produced sour beers.
• Wawa-style touchscreen ordering expanding everywhere.

Last Year’s Predictions Scorecard

1. The End of Tipping: At least one fine dining restaurant in Delaware eliminates tipping in 2016—most likely one at the beach.
Ouch. Not only did the trend to eliminate tipping not come to Delaware, but it seems to have stalled nationally. In fact, the San Francisco restaurant where I first ate under a no-tipping policy brought it back after only five months. If no-tipping is the future, the future is not now.
2. Home Cooking: Increased interest in home cooks entering the sharing economy leads Delaware legislators to loosen cottage food regulations, or they get no pie.
On May 1, 2016, the Division of Public Health published new Cottage Food Regulations that allow for the preparation of a limited type of food products in residential kitchens, pies included. Those regs are now final.
3. Scrapple is the new bacon: The biggest scrapplephobic in your life will venture to try some in 2016.
Only you know what your people think, but Bill Hoffman’s scrapple at The House of William & Merry was a revelation to scrapple-deniers in my life in 2016.
4. More wineries, more breweries … and more distilleries.
One out of three … well, that ain’t good, but at least I have beer to drown my sorrows. Breweries exploded in northern Delaware last year, with the arrival of Dew Point Brewing and Bellefonte Brewing, the re-opening of Twin Lakes, and more. And we got a meadery in Liquid Alchemy. Fenwick Wine Cellars expanded into Salted Vines Vineyard down in Frankford. But still no signs of a distillery up north.
5. Market Street, Dining Destination: Look for a net gain of five places on or near Market Street in 2016.
Let’s see: We added Merchant Bar, Masala Kitchen, Twisted Soul, Starbucks, Market Street Bakery & Cafe and Coffee Mode. Brew HaHa! moved across the street and expanded, but closed the first location, so that’s a net neutral. Still, nailed it!

Laugh Leader

Stand-up comedy is making a comeback locally, thanks to Brandon Jackson and his shows in Wilmington and around the state

Here’s how Brandon Vincent Jackson remembers his life before he got into comedy:

“I had a full-time job, three or four years ago. I was making like $34,000 a year, which was more money than I’d ever seen in my life. But they were trying to kill me for that money. They wanted me to die for it. Every day, I’d come to work and they’d try to stab me.” Pause. “I mean, I exaggerate, but I worked in a prison.”

With not much room for advancement and an understandable aversion to getting shivved, Jackson left his first job to pursue his comedy dreams. He has found a new day job—he’s a grad assistant while getting a master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language at the slightly less rowdy University of Delaware—and he started playing rooms in Philly at night, working Fergie’s Pub and the now-closed Lickety Split. He performed at Santa Fe in Wilmington and competed at LOL at the Grand. Then he began organizing comedy shows at UD and the Newark Bike Shop, before moving to Wilmington to start a weekly show at 1984, on West Fourth Street.

And then someone tagged him on a Facebook post advertising a new comedy night at a place called Spaceboy Clothing. He signed up, imagining he’d be performing his set between a bunch of t-shirt racks. But when he arrived that first night, they walked him past the shirts, down the stairs and into…
“It was a comedy club,” Jackson says. “It’s just there. Brick walls, the lighting is perfect, low ceilings. It’s like they accidentally built the Comedy Cellar down there.”

A complete accident, says Spaceboy Clothing’s David Sanchez. Before Spaceboy moved into its current location on Market Street in 2014, the basement was used by the former tenant as storage, if it was used at all.

“We just cleaned it up a bit,” Sanchez says.

Spaceboy Clothing's basement "comedy club."
Spaceboy Clothing’s basement “comedy club.”

Jackson immediately asked if he could start organizing shows. Sanchez was happy to pass along the task of gathering talent.

And so Spaceboy became the latest unlikely comedy hot spot in Delaware. Monthly shows organized by Jackson, and often hosted by local comedian Ty Jamison, bring dozens downtown to see local comics and Philly “heavies” performing in a BYO venue, below the shirts, and on Market Street.

Vincent and Jamison first met at a comedy competition Jamison was judging, at an unnamed Wilmington venue that was, well, not quite as nice as Spaceboy.

Jackson: “That was the shadiest place.”

Jamison: “The place was probably illegal. They did not have good paperwork there.”

Jackson: “You had to get buzzed in.”

But that was a reality of the underground Delaware comedy scene, a scene Jamison has been working for years, dating all the way back to “the days of mass texts,” when legions of comedy fans could be summoned from one flip phone.

Today, it’s all about Facebook. At the first show Jackson held at Spaceboy, more than 50 people showed up, filling the room. People they didn’t know stood out on the street, hustling people inside. The diverse crowd was full of 20-30 somethings, all out for a laugh.

“Everyone is super chill,” Sanchez says. “You laugh, maybe you socialize a bit before or after, and then everyone goes home.” (Sanchez repeats “everyone goes home” as the main positive of comedy shows, thus giving the impression that things might have been different when Spaceboy hosted punk rock shows in the basement.)

The comedy plays a bit differently in Wilmington than in Newark. College crowds tend to be more reserved in their laughs, more sensitive to a punchline with real punch, as Jackson learned when he tried out some material about race and privilege in town. (“They get uncomfortable,” he says. “They moan a lot.”)

“The frequency is different in Wilmington,” Jamison said.

Actually, knowing your room is important no matter where you play in Delaware. Jamison on performing in Milton: “That crowd is an average of 62. They’re all a retired, support-the-arts crew, and they come out for a good laugh. You keep it a little cleaner, but a little more direct. You crack a lot of jokes about Slaughter Beach.”

With regular shows now at Spaceboy that Jackson hopes to grow, as well as pop-ups at UD, in Smyrna, and elsewhere around the state, Jackson and Jamison see the start of something the area hasn’t had in a long time—a comedy circuit, one that could nurture local comics, provide local opportunities to work out new material, and draw out-of-towners.

Jamison: “Philly cats are comin’ down!”

Jackson: “They’re thirsty. I go to Philadelphia, and they’re like, ‘Hey, what’s going on with that show? What’s going on with that room?’”

Before a show in June, the first after his comedy series got some local press, Jackson got a call from Sanchez at Spaceboy: the fire inspectors were in the basement checking everything out. Jackson figured they were done, busted, over. He had already rented the chairs, man, and now the City had arrived to kill the show.

Actually, just the opposite.

“Those dudes were awesome,” Sanchez says. “The fire chief came through during a show, and he’s a big fan of comedy. He brought his wife.”

It helped that the building, owned by The Buccini/Polin Group, was fully up to code, with sprinklers and alarms and such, Sanchez says. But more than that, both Sanchez and Jackson found city officials to be genuinely welcoming and supportive (at least, after everything checked out).

Jackson and Jamison are planning a comedy week in November, with comedy showcases, concept shows and stand-up in multiple Delaware cities.

It looks a lot like that dream Jackson chased when he left the prison—and he admits it’s something that might not have been possible even a few years ago.

“This one night, I was on Market Street after LOL at the Grand,” he says. “There were people everywhere after the show, people out to go to Chelsea and to go to Merchant Bar. This is like what my great-grandma used to tell me Wilmington was like in the ‘30s, people just out. It’s been so long. I’d never seen that before.”

Brunch: Feeding on Innovation

Three area chefs have added creative dishes to the Sunday meal, once in danger of growing stale, that is enjoying its second golden age

At the tail end of the 19th century, the world cried for brunch. Well, pleaded, anyway.

British writer Guy Beringer wrote “Brunch: A Plea” in 1896, calling for an alternative to the “post-church ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies,” laying out a plan for a meal that would start around noon, begin with teas and jams and then slowly turn to heavier fare, making “life brighter for Saturday-night carousers.” It would be a “talk-compelling” meal to put people into “a good temper… satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings.”

H.G Wells predicted space flights to the moon. Jules Verne foresaw the submarine. But Guy Beringer may have invented the 20th century Sunday.

The world awoke to brunch and basked in its sunny-side-up glory for a century. But after years of delicious creativity—the popularization of Lemuel Benedict’s eggs, the Belgian waffle diaspora that spread from the 1964 New York World’s Fair—brunch began to grow stale, pancakes flattened, bacon strips went flaccid. And when Anthony Bourdain took to the pages of The New Yorker in the final days of the 20th century to reveal that our precious hollandaise sauce was made from last night’s bacteria-infested leftover table butter, we came close to losing out brunch appetite altogether.

But brunch did not die. Instead, it has fed heartily on something it hadn’t tasted in decades: innovation.

Welcome to the second golden age of brunch, and meet three Delaware chefs who are redefining the taste and trajectory of the most important meal of the week.

Robbie Jester

“Potstickers. We like doing potstickers.”

This is Robbie Jester, chef at Stone Balloon Ale House in Newark. This is how he thinks about brunch.

“We wanted to do something else with sausage gravy. We played with ideas, like some sort of sausage gravy pancake or things like that. Is it a biscuit pancake with sausage gravy on top? Do we do sausage gravy soup? That’s different. But potstickers. And we figured by changing the proportion of sausage to gravy in there, it’s what basically goes into a potsticker anyway. We think a lot like that. Like, ‘Ahhh, I just went to 7-11 and I had a taquito. It was pretty good. I’m a little drunk, but it was pretty good. I think maybe we should do something with this.’ And then all of a sudden, two and two together, sausage gravy and potstickers, and should we test it? Yeah, we should test it.”

The result: brunch potstickers with a cheddar cheese hot sauce. This is the brunch of the 21st century, with dishes that may once again make us a people who are satisfied with ourselves and our fellow human beings.

This is bacon-crusted French toast shooters. Sausage-egg-cheese biscuit risotto. Everything pancakes with smoked salmon and dill cream cheese. Chorizo cumin pancakes.

The Stone Balloon kitchen crew finds inspiration everywhere, in late night 7-11 trips, in Slim Jims, in jail food and in classic Disney songs. (“We sing a lot in this kitchen,” Jester says.)

Will every idea make it to the menu? Will every combination taste good? Will you necessarily be able to fit into your pants on Sunday evening? No, no and no. But that’s not the point of what Jester is trying to accomplish.

“People are not coming out for a half-hour brunch,” he says. “They’re coming out for two, three hours. That’s the plan.”

Whatever plan people had when they walked through the door often changes when friends find other friends at brunch, Jester says. Tables get pulled together. Things get loud. So how can the Stone Balloon extend the length of its service to keep people engaged and happy and eating as brunchers linger for hours, when one couple sits down while another couple is finishing their steak and eggs?

Ordering a tabletop cocktail for four is a place to start. You’ll get a carafe of orange juice (with a splash of Triple Sec) and a bottle of prosecco. It’s been so popular, more shareable cocktails are coming. Then maybe start out your meal with a brunch appetizer – a sticky sweet cornbread doughnut or the classic “Glass of Bacon,” which is … yeah, you get what it is. Main courses follow. Maybe a red velvet cupcake waffle?

“Could you argue that it’s dessert?” Jester asks. “Sure. But the sweet side of brunch is the beautiful side.”

Creative brunch cocktails at Grain include the Bloody Mary made with beef jerky and a manmosa, called Shavasana, that's made with Dogfish Head's Namaste. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)
Creative brunch cocktails at Grain include the Bloody Mary made with beef jerky and a
manmosa, called Shavasana, that’s made with Dogfish Head’s Namaste. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

William Wallen

“We have a dinner nacho, we have a dessert nacho. So we need a breakfast nacho.”

This is William Wallen, chef at Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark. This is how he thinks about brunch.

“So, breakfast nachos, what do we use? Tater Tots are your best base. I can make them as crispy as I want and they’re still going to hold up. Our Sunrise Nachos have chili, peppers, onion, bacon and cheese sauce. And I didn’t want to use home-fry potatoes, but everybody likes a Tater Tot. I can overcook them just a little, give them that crunch.”

He recently walked into the kitchen with an idea and walked out with a prototype to test on a table of college students—chorizo sloppy joe with cheese inside a donut bun. (“I’ve been trying to put something on a glazed donut for six months,” Wallen confesses. He made it happen.) It’s a hot, sweet, spicy, sticky mess of a thing, but all the flavors balance, and those college kids, they Instagrammed the hell out of that sandwich.”

Grain restaurateurs Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue have found a kindred comfort-food soul in Chef Wallen, who seems willing to pick up any ideas they throw out and make it work. Could pound cake be used as the bun for a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich? It can and it will, with pound cake from Bing’s Bakery, right down the street. Wallen puts beef jerky into the Bloody Mary and wraps lobster tails with Old Bay cheese sauce and scallions inside some pancakes. And don’t forget the Cap’n Crunch. Could Cap’n Crunch be used to make French toast? Yes. What about Cap’n Crunch ice cream? Working on it. (While Mikles might seem to have a bit of a Cap’n Crunch problem, it seems to be working out for Grain, which was recently Delaware’s entry on Yahoo’s Best Places to Have Easter Brunch in Every State, for its “inventive and indulgent breakfast offerings.”)

Innovation works its way into the craft beer selection as well, where Dogfish Head Namaste provides the bubbles in a surprisingly complex manmosa, with fresh orange juice and notes of peach and raspberry. The cocktail is the Shavasana, named for the yoga pose of complete relaxation.

Come to think of it, yoga pants are starting to sound like a good idea.

Chef Bill Hoffman's scrapple, served on toast, topped with an over-easy egg. (Photo O&A)
Chef Bill Hoffman’s scrapple, served on toast, topped with an over-easy egg.
(Photo O&A)

Bill Hoffman

“We break down a pig and save the whole head, and any trim from around the belly and the breast, when we’re scraping bone, any bit that comes off the side … all that goes into the scrapple.”

This is Bill Hoffman, chef/owner at The House of William and Merry in Hockessin. This is how he makes scrapple.

“A lot of times, I’ll chop up a little fat and throw it in there for extra unctuousness. There’s some cuts off the back, some cuts off the shoulder that I like to put in there. I take one cut that I love off every part of the pig—a section of the front leg, a section of the neck, all the livers, the kidneys, the heart goes in there, the tail, the ears, the trotters, the jowls. Chefs who make great scrapple don’t use the crappy parts. You use the best parts because you want your scrapple to taste the best. And those bits are what give it its traditional gamey flavor, which is what sets apart people who love scrapple and people who don’t.

“We take that and we cook it for 24 to 30 hours in water, mirepoix and a tea bag with peppercorns, some rosemary and thyme, coriander, fennel seeds, some bay leaves, and we let it just stew down. Sometimes we add a little white wine if we’re feeling fancy, sometimes we don’t. And we take all that and put it in the walk-in [refrigerator], and let it sit overnight.”

Then we take it, we pulse it up, mix in cornmeal, a special batch of seasonings—that’s where chefs put their own touch on things—and then add some stock, and it becomes a porridge, like pork grits. And when we get it going in here, this whole place smells like southern heaven.”

It takes five days to make 30 pounds of Hoffman’s scrapple, enough to last two or three weeks at the restaurant. It is a revelation of breakfast meat. The exterior has that salty, crispy crackle you’d want and expect, but inside, this scrapple is like a creamy pork pâté, delicate and almost spreadable. Serve it as a side and you could imagine slathering it onto some freshly toasted bread.

And with that scrapple, we have come full circle. The hottest innovations in brunch, the fuel that feeds the fire in the belly of these three chefs, these guys who dress in their neatly pressed chef coats on a Sunday morning while the rest of us lounge around in pajama pants…the newest trends all return us to that 19th-century plea for a Sunday meal to make life brighter. Family. Friends. Love. Community.

Brunch Equals Grandma

There is one common inspiration for brunch, one person who came up in conversation over and over, at every restaurant I visited. Her name is grandma.

“Brunch reminds me of the past,” Hoffman says. “It reminds me of breakfast with my grandmother, when the family was together. There’s something about memory and brunch, about this meal. I don’t remember many great lunches, but I remember a lot of great brunches.”

For Hoffman, honoring the spirit of brunch means making everything he can from scratch—the breads, the sausages and yes, the scrapple. He uses modern cooking techniques—circulating the eggs in a hot water bath and crisping them up in a fryer instead of a traditional poach—but the dishes on his brunch menu come back to the flavors and familiarity of family. Chocolate chip banana pancakes. House-made sausage gravy and fried egg on top of a house-made cheddar biscuit. Open-faced scrapple sandwich with local pepper jam, black garlic, fried egg and arugula.

All of it is brunch, that great meal at the end of the long week, that last chance to see visiting loved ones and to catch up with friends and family before we all go our separate ways, back to the weekly grind.

“I don’t see many cell phones out. I see them out at fancy dinners, but not at brunch,” says Hoffman. “Brunch should have some panache, it should have that vibe, you know, it should have fresh local fruit or whatever you have, but it’s always special with the people you spend it with. And I think our generation has not lost touch with that. We’re still holding onto it.

“People say, brunch, oh, it’s just eggs and bacon. It’s not. It’s not short-order diner cooking. It’s got soul, man.”

A Man Embraces the Spa Experience

Mani-pedi, Hydrafcial, CranioSacral Therapy—our intrepid reporter endures it all

Menus don’t usually intimidate me, but this time I felt lost. Sure, I recognized a few familiar ingredients and flavor combinations—kiwi and pomegranate, bergamot and lemongrass, coffee-lemon-olive rubs—but some of the preparations and technique items seemed as if they were written in a foreign language.

Phytopower sea wrap? Back-ial? Vita Flex? Mu-Xing? Bikini with optional full leg?

“I’ll let you order,” I told Rebecca Enrico, my guide.

She agreed. “I’m just going to put you through what I would do for any woman who sent her husband to me and said he was stressed out,” she said.

And that’s how it was when I walked through the doors of the Spa at Montchanin Village, located in the rolling hills of Chateau Country, one unseasonably balmy Friday in early January. I was tired, stressed out. More than a little not wanting to be there. And definitely unclear as to whether men sent here by their wives usually come home with a bikini wax—full leg or no.

Matt, in his "teddy bear robe," enjoys the mani part of the mani-pedi.
Matt, in his “teddy bear robe,” enjoys the mani part of the mani-pedi. (Photo by Luigi Ciuffetelli)

Whetting the appetite

After a bit of mandatory paperwork in which I disclosed that I was allergic to cats, definitely not pregnant, and might have rosacea (a mild skin condition on my face that causes redness but little other irritation, except when people ask me if I’m drunk in the middle of the afternoon), Enrico gave me a tour.

Cards on the table here: I’m no stranger to massage therapy. A semi-regular visit to a therapist is what it takes to keep my shoulders from stiffening harder than Frankenstein’s monster. But I can count the number of facials and manicures I’ve gotten on one poorly maintained finger, and I’ve never signed up for any spa treatment with the word “ritual” in it.

That would change today.

But first, time to get changed. Enrico led me into a very well appointed (and private) men’s changing room, showed me to a locker that contained my bathrobe-for-the-day and slippers, and said I could dress underneath said robe to my level of comfort, but I would be taking a shower later. Emboldened by this, I decided to go commando under the large and beautifully plush brown robe. I felt as though I’d hacked my way into the center of a particularly cuddly teddy bear and curled up inside it.

Robed and slippered, I wandered out into the “relaxation room,” where I found a bowl of fruit, herbal tea and seriously delicious coconut water (sweet and refreshing with no added sugar – who knew about coconut water?). Four women were already there, clearly together for a spa day, chatting it up before they were called. I sat quietly and relaxed—as the room seemed to suggest—and waited for the call.

The pedi: Nikki works on Matt's foot, including his "quirky toe."
The pedi: Nikki works on Matt’s foot, including his “quirky toe.” (Photo by Luigi Ciuffetelli)

First course: The mani-pedi

For at least the past 10 years, spas have quoted a stat from the International Spa Association that says 30 percent of all manicure/pedicure clients are men. “We get a bunch of guys who are all football coaches who come together to have it done,” Enrico told me. Translation: Not just men. The manliest of men. Tough men who hold clipboards with perfectly maintained fingernails.

I sat in the chair, put my feet up on the footrest, and Nikki sat at my feet. I was instantly regretful that I hadn’t kept the boxers on for this portion of the day. Thankfully, the teddy bear robe had enough to cover me up.

“Your feet don’t look too bad,” she said.

“What would bad feet look like?” I asked.

“Really callousy.”

This is true. I’m a shoe person. My wife is the barefoot contessa, but I wear shoes just about everywhere I go until bedtime, making me a tenderfoot of the first order.

Emboldened by Nikki’s compliment, I pressed on to see if she could settle a long-standing disagreement between my wife and me.

“So what do you think of the middle toe there? That’s normal, right?”

“Well, you had some kind of trauma to that toe?”

“Ahhh, no.”

“Ohh.” Pause. “Well, I think everyone has at least one quirky toe going point.”

Point to my wife.

The pedicure itself had only about 25 percent to do with my toenails. For most of the time, my feet soaked in warm water, nails were cut and buffed, and calves rubbed with exfoliating scrubs, which I don’t care if they worked or not because it was the best thing ever. I felt genuinely relaxed as someone handed me another glass of coconut water and we moved toward the manicure station.

“What do you usually do with your nails?” Nikki asked.

“I peel them off after a shower when they get long.”

This, apparently, is not proper technique. The manicure station had six tools laid out for the work ahead—officially five more tools that I ever had used on my own nails, and one of which looked intimidatingly like needle nose pliers. One hand soaked while she worked on the other and we chatted—pleasant, unforced conversation, the kind of small talk you might make at a cocktail party when no one is scraping away at your cuticles. We talked about her husband in the service, her house in rural Maryland, and the gentle reminders I use to convince my son to use his medicated hand lotion (“It rubs the lotion on its skin! It does this whenever it is told!”)

All in all, it was quite fun. I could easily imaging doing this with my wife, sitting in the side-by-side pedicure chairs, talking about things adults get to talk about when they’re relaxed and someone else is watching the kids.

Perhaps that’s why couples spa days are soaring in popularity. The spa press says that more couples are going to the spa together, and that’s something I can anecdotally confirm based on an uptick of Facebook check-ins I’ve seen from couples the past few years. Enrico will have to add extra beds to handle the volume on Valentine’s Day. (“Book now,” she said.)

Another perquisite: Krazy Kat's serves as the kitchen for the Spa at Montchanin Village.
Another perquisite: Krazy Kat’s serves as the kitchen for the Spa at Montchanin Village. (Photo by Luigi Ciuffetelli)

Intermezzo 1: lunch

Back to the relaxation room, and lunch. It’s an added benefit to have Krazy Kat’s serving as the kitchen at the Spa at Montchanin Village, and the abbreviated spa

menu had a nice selection—cheese plates, marsala marinated chicken sandwiches and duck confit salad.

(Groups take their lunch by the fireplace in the comfortable lobby of the inn.) I was tempted by the smoked pork grinder, but in the spirit of the spa, I went with hearts of Romaine and grilled chicken, with parmesan crisps and anchovy.

It was a really nice salad, but even as I enjoyed it, the thought did cross my mind that I was scarfing down anchovies and garlic right before someone was going to be up close and personal with my face pores. To counter that, I drank some coconut water.

Second course: bodywork

Kim and Sally arrived to take me back to a treatment room of low lights, warm tables and a luxurious shower in the corner.

Kim in particular was very excited to introduce me to a new technique she recently learned at the Upledger Institute in West Palm Beach: CranioSacral Therapy. (Enrico told me that one of the things she looks for in the hiring process is whether therapists have sought to expand their education by learning directly from institutes like Upledger. One thing I confirmed from Kim is that continuing education is very important to her. Plus, hey, West Palm Beach.) I’m certainly open to anything, but suspicious about whether anything described as a “light-touch approach” could do me any good, as I usually opt for deep tissue massage that beats my muscles into some degree of submission.

I lay on the bed and Kim placed her hands on opposing sides of by body—legs, torso, head—and held them, gently. As to what she was doing, I’ll defer directly to the Upledger Institute: “CranioSacral Therapy releases these tensions to allow the entire body to relax and self-correct. Using a gentle touch—starting with about the weight of a nickel—practitioners evaluate your internal environment. Then they use distinctive light-touch techniques to release any restrictions they find.”

I had carried some additional emotional weight into this therapy, some facts they hadn’t asked me to disclose on the medical form. The night before, I had lost a close relative—my grandfather—and as the half-hour session continued, my thoughts turned to him. It was a moment of peace in a chaotic week, a quiet time to reflect on what he had meant to me.

And in those moments, as Kim gently put pressure on my spine and limbs and head, I felt my emotions rising to the surface but my body staying relaxed and at peace.

I’m not giving up my deep tissue massages, but in that moment, CranioSacral Therapy was what I needed. And I was grateful.

And then Sally arrived with a smorgasbord of goodies to begin the Hammam Body Ritual. Coffee-lemon-olive oil stone scrub. Cardamom oil. Moroccan mint tea silt purifier.

Tangerine fig body butter. I’m pretty sure I’ve used these exact ingredients before while cooking a chicken, but Sally worked with gentle care and in sequence, always stroking in the direction of my heart in keeping with the proper care of the lymphatic system she was trying to stimulate. She then wrapped me in warming blankets while providing a bit of a scalp rub that I did not mind at all. At the end of the process, she stepped out while I used the shower to take off salts and scrubs, and stepped back into the bathrobe, smelling like all those things.

Intermezzo 2: quick break

Back in the relaxation room, I found myself enrobed and sitting next to a fully clothed young woman in her late teens who was with her mother.

If you’re a young woman, you do not want to be sitting next to a 40-year-old stranger who’s wearing a bathrobe and smelling of tangerine fig body butter. Neither of us was very comfortable in this moment. To calm my nerves, I drank some coconut water while fearing they might cut me off soon.

Third course: the facial

The last time I had a facial, I recall the therapist poking at my dirty, dirty pores with a metal rod, pulling crap out of my face that I had not previously known could live in my face. I was not eager to return.

Good news from the facial world: No more metal rods. Hydrafacials have taken over, and now tiny, powerful vacuums suck all that crap out of your face. This is an improvement.

Before we started the facial, there was a form warning me not to go forward if I have melanoma, autoimmune deficiencies or “unrealistic expectations,” but after getting a clean bill of health there, Macy began.

It’s a four-step process, which my notes describe as “1. Hydration. 2. Throwing acid at my face. 3. Sucking the crap out. 4. Profit.” (That last one was apparently shorthand for “delivery of antioxidants, hyaluronic acid and peptides.”)

The applicator tool never felt much different from a close shave, and the acid peel tingled a bit, but that’s the worst of it. (I later learned that I was given a 7 percent solution, and they go up to 30 percent. I think they correctly sized me up as a wuss.)

Halfway through the facial, I was so relaxed that I fell asleep. That does not happen when people are poking your face with metal rods.

Afterward, Macy pulled a canister from the back of the Hydrafacial machine to show me what she had pulled out of my face. I do not recommend this step.

The bill

And that was it. There would be no bikini wax, much to the chagrin of you readers, no doubt. (“There are men who do it,” Enrico said. “But it’s not very relaxing.”) The prices for individual treatments at the Spa at Montchanin Village are listed on the menu, but there’s distinct value in grouping procedures into spa days. My day would have cost about $300.

Enrico clearly hires good people—therapists with impressive knowledge and experience, many of whom are board-certified in addition to required state experience—and she says she looks for people who love the business and want to pamper people. Plus, no one checks to see how much coconut water you’ve consumed in one day, which clearly benefited me.
But at the end of the day, I thought back to a moment with Nikki, in the pedicure chair, as I made some joke about the process.

“You’re not really enjoying this, are you?” she asked.

That stung a bit. Nikki was doing a great job. And the honest truth was, despite the front I was putting up, I was enjoying it, just about all of it.

Maybe there’s an automatic defense that some guys, including me, put up when it comes to the spa thing. We’re quick to deflect, quick to rationalize, quick to come up with some reason we’re there. Our wife dragged us. I’m writing a story. Old badminton injury. Some reason—any reason—other than the fact that it’s OK to enjoy putting on a plush bathrobe and letting your foot soak in a tiny Jacuzzi and having someone rub that foot with salts and oils just because it feels damn good. Or maybe we can just own that. Try it sometime.

And if you do, ask for Nikki. She’s aces in my book.

Oh, and drink the coconut water. Drink all the coconut water.

Five More Bold New Year Predictions for Delaware’s Food Scene

Among them: tipping’s tipping point, home cooking, scrapple as the new bacon

The locavores have won.

Look at the top five trends in the 2016 Culinary Forecast from the National Restaurant Association (a.k.a. The Friendly NRA), and you’ll see a pattern: locally sourced meats and seafood; locally grown produce; hyper-local sourcing; natural ingredients/minimally processed food.

So yes, expect to eat, drink and breathe local next year. Also expect more smoked meats in your life, more food trucks, more healthy kids’ meals and artisanal pickles. They all made the national list and they’re among the hottest stories in Delaware this year.

But what are the unexpected trends that we’ll see in the food business this year? It’s our job to find out.

Once again, we hit the streets, the phones and the bars to talk with chefs, restaurateurs, industry professionals, city planners, servers, suppliers, home cooks and bartenders (confession: mostly bartenders) about what they expect to see in 2016—and then we made five Bold Predictions for the coming months. (Check the status of last year’s Bold Predictions below. We fared marginally better than a Magic 8-Ball might have done, wildly exceeding our expectations.)

Trend: the end of tipping

Yes, tipping has hit its tipping point. Sure, restaurants on the wacky West Coast have been experimenting with service-included pricing for the past couple of years, but people really sat up and noticed when famed restaurateur Danny Meyer announced last year that all 11 restaurants in the Union City Hospitality Group in New York City would eliminate tipping.

The Delaware Restaurant Association plans to make gratuities a major topic during its annual meeting in February.

“We’ve had calls, and we know that local business owners are curious about whether a tip-free or mandatory service charge model is something that could work in their restaurants,” says Karen Stauffer, DRA director of marketing. “So far, no restaurants in Delaware have switched to no tipping, but we do know of several in Philadelphia that have made the change.”

Xavier Teixido, owner of Harry’s Hospitality Group, says changes in tipping policy are driven by a number of factors: spreading compensation fairly among restaurant staff; creating a more professional, stable work environment, and dealing with changes that higher minimum wage laws will create in some parts of the country. What remains to be seen is how customers react. Will they experience acute sticker shock when they see much higher menu prices, even if tipping isn’t expected?

“It’s a really complex issue,” Teixido says. “And it would really change the composition of our industry.”

Bold Prediction #1: At least one fine dining restaurant in Delaware will eliminate tipping in 2016—most likely one at the beach.

Trend: home cooking for sale

In San Francisco, where digital start-up tycoons are eager to develop the Uber for everything, new apps connect home cooks with people too busy to cook at home, presumably because they’re at work developing apps, and they’re hungry.

Peer-to-peer food sales are already happening in Delaware, though we’re using a somewhat lower-tech solution: Facebook. Last Thanksgiving, I knew people online offering homemade gravy, soups and pies for sale to friends right before the holiday. Some were trained chefs, but others were home cooks renowned for their skill in the kitchen.

But would their dishes sell on an app if it were available?

“I wouldn’t mind considering it,” says Amy Watson Bish, pie maker extraordinaire. Actual comment on her Facebook page: “Can I still order a pie for next Saturday? You can say no. I’ll cry softly.”

She hadn’t heard of apps like FoodieShares before, but she’s clearly considered the concept enough to know that Delaware has no “cottage food laws” that allow home-based food producers to sell to the public. How does FoodieShares get around that?

In an interview with KCET, Channel 28 in Los Angeles, FoodieShares CEO George Mathew addressed that head on: “It’s a question that comes up sometimes. It’s confusing because we are new.” Translated, that’s start-up-tycoon-speak for “If we start making enough money, we’ll figure it out.”

Bold Prediction #2: Increased interest in home cooks entering the sharing economy leads Delaware legislators to loosen cottage food regulations, or they get no pie.

Trend: scrapple is the new bacon

Long considered the country cousin among more refined breakfast meats, scrapple is having its moment in the sun. You’ll see it in starring roles in brunch menus all around town—scrapple hashes, scrapple Benedicts, scrapple mac-n-cheese. You’ll drink it in scrapple beers and make a Bloody Mary out of scrapple-infused vodka. And the Apple-Scrapple English Muffin made it all the way to the finals of the Thomas’ Hometown Breakfast Battle before losing to something covered in sausage gravy from Illinois. That scrapple success comes thanks to Ryan Cunningham, chef at Abbott’s on Broad Creek in Laurel, creator of the aforementioned muffin and global ambassador of scrapple.

Why does Cunningham love it? “That soft mushy center and the crisp outside, the pork flavor, the sage. We use scrapple a lot in the restaurant,” he says.

And more chefs are doing it themselves. Bill Hoffman at The House of William and Merry in Hockessin and Hari Cameron at a(MUSE.) in Rehoboth Beach both make scrapple in house. Cunningham occasionally makes duck scrapple at Abbott’s, and others are not just experimenting, they’re upgrading.

“People are cutting higher-end pieces of the pig in there, so it doesn’t have that offal kind of taste,” Cunningham says.

Perhaps that’s what it will take to bring scrapple mainstream—if it’s not there already.
Bold prediction #3: The biggest scrapplephobic in your life will dare to try some in 2016.

Trend: more wineries, more breweries…and more distilleries

Craft spirits and locally-produced spirits continue to top the NRA’s list of alcohol-based dining trends, but Delaware has only entered the distilling game in the past few years.

When the Painted Stave wanted to open the state’s first stand-alone distillery in Smyrna in 2012, its founders had to get state laws changed in order to do so. But now that that work is done and the Painted Stave has infused some local flavor into the cocktail menus, the question remains: when does Northern Delaware get its own gin?

The beach has already gotten in on the action. Beach Time Distilling in Lewes and the Delaware Distilling Company in Rehoboth Beach have both gone through the doors that Painted Stave opened, and there are constant whispers—rumors, wishful thinkings—of another opening up further north.

Bold Prediction #4: Either a distillery opens in the Wilmington-Newark corridor, or some enterprising restaurant tries it on its own.

Trend: Market Street—dining destination

“We could build more glass, shiny towers, but that is not what is going to change this city. It is the coffee shops and the bike lanes; it is those kinds of things that get people here on nights and weekends.” – Chris Buccini, quoted in The News Journal, Oct. 28, 2015.

Exciting eats are coming to Market Street. By the time this sees print, Bryan and Andrea Sikoras’ Merchant Bar should be open across the street from La Fia. The guys… behind Chelsea and Ernest & Scott Tavern are planning a new barbecue spot/microbrewery called 3 Doors Brewing. What was once a dining/nightlife destination might become one again, as new residents move onto Market Street with dollars to spend.

Bold Prediction #5: Restaurants open and restaurants close all the time. Look for a net gain of five places on or near Market Street in 2016…

Scorecard for Last Year’s Predictions:

1. You will eat fish offal some­time in the next year.
OK, you probably didn’t. But local, sustainable fish continue to be popular.
2. A local chain will become a tenant in the new Fashion Center complex at the Christiana Mall.
Didn’t happen, though the Fashion Center isn’t done yet.
3. “Vintage Atlantic” will become a category on at least one prominent local wine list.
Galer Estates wines are now on the wine list at Sovana Bistro in East Marlborough. And the Vintage Atlantic Wine Region just published its first official map. Slower than expected, but all steps in the right direction.
4. A food truck park will open this year—with at least five new trucks that don’t yet exist.
Wilmington City Council voted in November to allow food trucks to operate on city streets.
5. La Fia taco.
Nailed it.

Remembering Their Roots

In the mid-to-late ‘90s, a group of talented young actors began learning their craft at the Wilmington Drama League. Twenty years later, they remain connected.

A hungry chicken walks into a McDonald’s.

“Do you have people nuggets?” the chicken asks.

“Umm, no…”

“Well, what kind of nuggets do you have?”

“Chicken nuggets.”

“Bwawk!” “Quack! Quack!” “Moooooo!” The chicken has brought reinforcements.

The cashier is an unwitting player in this bit of barnyard improv. Someone buys a milkshake to smooth things over, and the animals exit McDonald’s stage left and return to the Wilmington Drama League, where they will continue to rehearse The Ugly Duckling.
Twenty years later, that quacking duck is about to wrap his performance as the Big Bad in the rebooted Ghostbusters. Another member of that menagerie still performs with a chicken, five days a week on Sprout’s The Sunny Side Up Show.

And the hungry chicken? Aubrey is doing just fine, thank you.

Aubrey Plaza. Neil Casey. Carly Ciarrocchi. Keith Powell. John Gallagher, Jr. Rory Donavan. Seth Kirschner.

Aubrey Plaza at the Wilmington premier of Safety Not Guaranteed at the Grand. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)
Aubrey Plaza at the Wilmington premier of Safety Not Guaranteed at the Grand. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

If you live in Delaware, chances are excellent that you know someone who knows one of them, or you know one of them yourself. They certainly know each other, dating back to the time they all spent at the Wilmington Drama League in the mid-to-late ‘90s, through their early working days and their first big breaks, the awards, the steady work, the magazine covers, and genuine stardom … and back to Delaware for fundraisers and benefits and the occasional stop at the Charcoal Pit.

But let’s return to the beginning.

In the mid-‘90s, the Chrysalis Players were a new group within the Wilmington Drama League. Chrysalis was designed to give young performers an opportunity to write, cast, direct, act and produce their own shows and one-act plays. What they did with that freedom was up to them.

“We went crazy bananas creating things and building things and breaking things and ruining things,” Powell says.

And learning things. Chrysalis Players had their own board, which shadowed the board of the Drama League and had its own decision-making authority.

“We’re theater dorks,” Casey says. “So many people have their high school theater program. And I have that. But the Drama League was the place where the especially intense theater nerds from every school found their clubhouse.”

Many got their start in adult productions. John Gallagher Jr. (HBO’s The Newsroom, Broadway’s Spring Awakening and American Idiot) first showed up on the Drama League stage as a boy in Frankenstein. An auspicious production of Peter Pan featured the debuts of Ciarrocchi (The Sunny Side Up Show), Powell (30 Rock, The Newsroom and Keith Broke His Leg) and Rory Donavan (Broadway’s Finding Neverland: The Musical).

“Unlike a sports team or something, when you’re working on a play, it’s a community of all ages that are basically equal,” Ciarrocchi says. “I took it so seriously as an 8-year-old.”

Ciarrocchi’s time included acting as a dwarf alongside her six real-life siblings and appearing as Milky White in a production of Into the Woods. (“That part is usually played by a cardboard cut-out,” she jokes.) But it was performing in the Jeff Walker Youth One-Act Festival where these kids found their creative incubator —and their place to shine.

“The one-act festival is the thing that was very unique to us as young people, and really influenced the reason why we’re all working still today,” Powell says. “I think that it gave us a sense that you can create things yourself. You don’t have to wait for someone.”

Cast of Characters

If you were casting those Chrysalis Players of the late ‘90s in a John Hughes movie, it wouldn’t be hard to see who would play what role. Johnny is the hot older guy, and the object of many a schoolgirl crush. Keith is the driven, focused one. Aubrey’s the oddball. Neil’s the comic relief.

“I became everyone’s younger, annoying brother,” admits Rory Donavan. “But the cool thing about the drama league kids is that we were all oddballs.”

Oddballs, perhaps—and certainly committed ones. At the time, few could have predicted how many would move on to mainstream success.

“Yes, often, we realized how incredibly talented the group of kids were who were here,” says Kathy Buterbaugh, the official adult-in-the-room with the Chrysalis Players back in the day. “We did not recognize fully how unique that talent pool was. We just figured it was everywhere. But it’s really not.”

Buterbaugh, the sole employee at the Wilmington Drama League to this day, keeps some of its secrets—but she doesn’t keep them very close to the vest. She says she quietly permitted the barnyard invasion of McDonald’s (though she did insist that a milkshake be purchased). She’ll tell you about the performance of Cinderella when Plaza eschewed the original choreography in the final performance to launch into the Macarena. She knows about the time a bunch of Delaware girls with stars in their eyes went to see Gallagher in Spring Awakening and hung around the stage door to bring him a Charcoal Pit chocolate milkshake—packed in dry ice, no less.

And unlike the rest of Delaware, she’s never surprised to see them popping up on talk shows or movie trailers—possibly because she doesn’t own a TV. “When I catch what they’re doing, it’s intentional, so I have to Hulu them or whatever,” she says.

Many of those Chrysalis Players embarked on different education and career paths after their days with the Wilmington Drama League—but the time spent and lessons learned in that building on the corner of Market Street and Lea Boulevard stayed with all of them.

“The thing is that it made for a very natural transition for a lot of us—Seth and me and
Aubrey—to the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York, which is underneath a grocery store,” Casey says. “It’s just a moldy 200-seat black box in a not particularly nice area in the Penn Station region of Manhattan.”

But it had that familiar spirit of people coming together to put on a show. And it felt like home.

Breaking Big

Keith Powell remembers the night in an apartment in Astoria—“on that one block in Astoria Queens where everyone in Delaware seemed to move to”—sitting among alumni of the Wilmington Drama League and watching TV as Gallagher won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, wishing his friend Seth (that would be Seth Kirschner) a happy birthday during his acceptance speech.

It was the first big trophy won by any of them, but it wasn’t the first time their private and professional and Delaware lives would cross. Some things you might expect—like Kirschner and Plaza both appearing on 30 Rock with Powell. But far more often, you’ll see them supporting each other in small, self-produced work. There’s the Upright Citizen’s Brigade show “That’s My Booze” starring Kirschner and Plaza … and directed by Casey.

There’s Powell and Plaza popping up in the YouTube video “The Dark Side of Ring Pop,” shot by Kirschner. And the web series “Keith Powell Directs a Play” stars Plaza and Kirschner.

They act, write, direct and produce in a digital world that didn’t exist when they were performing at the Drama League, but for which they were uniquely prepared to flourish.
And—always—they had each other.

“I think what makes us particularly unique was that we all inspired each other, and we all allowed ourselves to be inspired by each other,” Powell says. “I think we’re all each other’s cheerleaders.”

He remembers giving Plaza advice on getting an agent when she appeared on 30 Rock. Ciarrocchi remembers getting pointers on improv from Plaza when she was going to school in Chicago. Donavan learned from all of them when he was running around the Drama League starting fires. (Note: He denies starting actual fires.)

“Being younger and looking up to them, everyone was the most talented thing I’d ever seen,” Donavan says. “And looking back, they were.”

And though a few have become household names, they continue to be cheerleaders for talent from Delaware. In conversation, every single person interviewed for this story dropped a name of someone else who’s in the entertainment industry and working and doing well: Filmmaker Jeremy O’Keefe. Actor/playwright Patrick Flynn. Actress/musician Heather Robb.

“The big secret in this business is that people are working and making a living long before people stop feeling sorry for them,” Casey says.

Finding Home

About 20 years have passed since the birth of the Chrysalis Players, and young playwrights and actors and set designers still gather in that building off Market Street, rehearsing one-act plays in the wings, in the lobby, in the offices—anywhere they can find space.

Buterbaugh tells the youngsters stories of Plaza and Casey, Powell and Ciarrocchi, Gallagher, Donavan and Kirschner, and how they left the cocoon, spread their wings, and learned to fly.

“They’re unintentionally inspiring a whole new generation of artists,” she says. “The youngest director in this year’s one-act festival was probably 12.”

They all come back to visit—usually in a low-key fashion, but sometimes to premiere a movie, headline a fundraiser or to direct a show. And they hold onto what they took from the Drama League —sometimes literally.

“I think I still have it,” Casey says. He’s talking about the duck costume. “If my mom threw it out, she didn’t tell me.”

Some are returning for the long haul. Donavan just bought a home in Wilmington, from where he’ll commute to continue working in Broadway’s Finding Neverland. After years of professional work, he recently directed Young Frankenstein for The Milburn Stone Theater in North East, Md., and the return to community theater refreshed him.

“The sole reason everyone is there is that they love theater,” he says. “And it’s so nice to go back and rediscover that.”

 

AUBREY PLAZA
• You know her as: April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation.
• You should see: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates with Anna Kendrick, and Dirty Grandpa with Robert De Niro, her two upcoming movies.
NEIL CASEY
• You know him as: A writer (and occasional player) on Saturday Night Live, Inside Amy Schmuer and Kroll Show.
• You should see: Ghostbusters, where he’s the bad guy.
KEITH POWELL
• You know him as: James “Toofer” Spurlock on 30 Rock.
• You should see: Keith Broke His Leg, his new web series.
JOHN GALLAGHER JR.
• You know him as: Jim Harper on The Newsroom.
• You should see: James Gunn’s The Belko Experiment. (He’s also popped up with some music gigs in New York and Philly lately.)
CARLY CIARROCCHI
• You know her as: Carly on The Sunny Side Up Show.
• You should see: The show “moving” to the city. (Your 4-year-old is very excited.)
RORY DONAVAN
• You know him as: An ensemble player in Finding Neverland on Broadway.
• You should see: Whenever he gets to fill in as Captain Hook.
SETH KIRSHNER
• You know him as: Josh on NBC’s Lipstick Jungle.
• You should see: His starring role in the indie romantic comedy Completely Normal.

The Sausage Story: Not For Everyone

Our writer takes a butchery class and learns in intimate detail just how committed the pig must be to creating this savory delight

Somewhere in Maiale Deli & Salumeria, on Lancaster Pike in Wilmington, there’s a Tuscan sausage with my name on it.

Even for sausage, it’s not all that pretty—a bit lumpy in spots, to be honest—but at least it didn’t burst. And I made that salami with my own two hands and one foot that was working the pedal that powered the machine that shot the pork and fat and spices into the casing—a process that requires significantly more hand-eye-foot coordination than I usually display. Still, I managed.

The pork came fresh from a pig butchered during a class led by Maiale owner Billy Rawstrom. And right now, as I type, my sausage is curing in a temperature-controlled environment at Maiale, bacteria inside the casing releasing the acids that will slowly “cook” the salami, until the day Billy calls to let me know it’s ready to eat.

I can’t wait to eat that salami.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is not about eating the sausage. It’s about how the sausage is made, and it starts with a pig—a 230-pound Delaware pig named Tommy. (Truth be told, they don’t name pigs at the farm. But Tommy is the farmer’s name, and after seeing it written on the animal’s hide, it was impossible not to think of him that way.)

Let’s be clear: This is not a story for everyone. Some people, even those who love their bacon, don’t want to think about the sausage-creating process. So fair warning: I won’t be sparing any details. This is your jumping off point. Class is starting. You may want to step out now.

Because we’re going to have to cut the head off that pig.

one. After Rawstrom makes all his cuts, it still takes a couple of solid twists to break the neck bone and remove the head, which is placed in a metal pan to be worked with later.

Once that is done, he goes into the belly of the pig to remove the tenderloins, and this is when I have my first revelation of the morning: Every pig has two tenderloins, no more, no less. You can understand that intellectually, but until you see the butchering process, it’s hard to grasp how every pair of tenderloins—marinated, pre-wrapped and sitting in the supermarket cooler—represent all a single animal had to give.

“It definitely makes me think about how I use my products,” Rawstrom says.

Of course there are other cuts beyond tenderloin, and a commercial butcher shop would use a band saw to quickly split the pig in half, but in this small space, Rawstrom employs a simple handsaw to slice the pig from the tail, along the spine, straight through to the neck.

Half a pig now lies on the table, and even in this raw state, it’s easy to see familiar cuts. There’s the Boston butt. The belly that will become the bacon. The spare ribs. The small backbone nubs that were once considered scraps until Applebee’s invented the riblet and started serving them with fries and cole slaw for $12.99. And the leg, the first to go, looking exactly like an Ibérico ham when removed from the pig.

As he breaks the pig down, Rawstrom describes in detail the different ways he uses each part in the store—curing the loin to make Italian lonzo, frying the pork cheek like an oyster to make “pork cheek po’ boys,” or cooking the loin sous vide as the first step in his roast pork sandwich. (“That’s a great sandwich!” Doug says. “It’s cool to get a look behind the curtain.”)

Finished sausages created by students from one of Maiale's classes.
Finished sausages created by students from one of Maiale’s classes.

Today, the fresh pork loin from Tommy will become sausage. You hear jokes, of course, about what sausage is made of, but Billy uses cuts straight from the loin (and fat from all over the pig) to make his pork sausages. In the back, he lets us step up to the grinder to feed the meat and fat into the powerful machine, and then after he adds the spices (salt, pepper, fennel, garlic, sugar, and some starter culture to get the chemical reactions going), we make our own. Ten salamis from Saturday’s class are already hanging.

After our amateur attempts at sausage making, Maiale staffers use more of the pig to whip up some fresh Italian sausage (ours to take home), and tell us they’ll call when it’s time to come back to pick up the salami (and a little bacon too, because they want us to be happy, and bacon makes people happy.)

After that, it’s all over but the snacking. Billy takes Tommy’s tenderloin off the grill, seasons it simply with some salt, pepper and oil and puts it on a plate. We eat with our fingers, the fat still hot and melting in our mouths. It’s delicious. Freshness makes a clear difference.

So what did we learn? If I ever have to butcher a hog in the future, I’ll probably do it very, very badly—but I’ll know where to start. And I learned how a good butcher will faithfully follow the “snout to tail” philosophy. All through the process, Rawstrom would tell us how the ears, the trotters and the trimmed bits would be used in soups, in sandwiches and elsewhere.

I remember an old saying about the division of labor involved in breakfast: Sure, the chicken made a contribution, but the pig really commits. It’s tough not to respect that commitment once you’ve seen Billy Rawstrom work—and he was still at it as I left, carving out pieces for the rest of the week. Tommy would provide necessary nourishment to many people, even if they’d prefer not to know his name.

Billy Rawstrom runs butchery classes out of his shop, Maiale Deli & Salumeria, 3301 Lancaster Pike in Wilmington. Class was $125 for about two-and-a-half hours, and each student goes home with some meat. Follow Maiale on Facebook or sign up for emails to learn about future classes at www.maialecuredmeats.com.

Five Trends, Five Predictions for Food in the New Year

More tacos and craft beer (of course), along with, perhaps, fish offal

There’s an art to trendspotting. There must be. It sure ain’t a science. And the artistic process seems to go something like this:

1. Look around.

2. See what’s happening.

3. Assume more of that will probably keep happening.

4. Decide it’s Miller time. (Unless, of course, you’re trendspotting in the restaurant biz, in which case it’s craft beer time. Local beer is No. 2 on the National Restaurant Association’s list of top alcohol trends for 2015—not a shock, since a recent Wall Street Journal story declared 2014 as the year Americans started drinking more craft brews than Buds.)

So you won’t find many surprises in the Culinary Forecast for 2015 from the NRA other than the fact that kale salads are on the way out and doughnuts are on the way in. (Prediction: We’ll get fatter in 2015.) But local produce? Healthier kids’ meals? Farm-branded items? If you’ve eaten in an area restaurant in the past five years, you’ve probably noticed all of the above.

But what’s really going to change in Delaware restaurants this year? After talking with industry leaders, chefs, cooks, restaurateurs, bartenders and random people sitting at bars, we’ve uncovered five trends, which in turn have compelled us to make five bold predictions. Predictions, we must note, are not trends. They are wild guesses. Hopefully, by the end of the year, you’ll have forgotten how wrong we were.

Trend: sustainable fish

“Langoustine. Uni. Escolar. Halibut. Corvina.” Chef Bill Hoffman pauses, but it’s just to catch his breath. “Bronzino. Cobia. Wolffish.”

These are the fish that Hoffman, chef/owner of The House of William & Merry, in Hockessin, is excited to cook. And they fit two of the NRA’s hottest culinary trends: “non-traditional fish” and “sustainable seafood.”

Much as the nose-to-tail movement inspired chefs to discover new cuts of meat and use the entire animal, a similar movement is coming to seafood, Hoffman says. In part, it’s driven by economics. A pound of fish a restaurant buys and doesn’t serve is money in the trash. Expect to see more chefs using the whole fish: the backbone of tuna roasted for its marrow; langoustine shells used to make sauces, livers and hearts, and roe appearing in appetizers.

“You have to use everything you’re getting these days or you’re not going to be surviving in this business very long,” Hoffman says.

Bold prediction #1: You will eat fish offal sometime in the next year. At least, you will if you’re eating at William & Merry. (“Can you make a salmon head cheese?” Bill asks. “Yes you can.”)

Trend: local chains

Delaware has a good track record when it comes to birthing regional and national chains: Capriotti’s, Jake’s, Iron Hill Brewery.

Will Two Stones Pub, El Diablo Burritos or Arena’s Deli be next?

Frankly, we’re not even sure any of those have national aspirations at this point. But local restaurant concepts and companies will continue to expand in 2015, according to the Delaware Restaurant Association. El Diablo and Arena’s have expanded into Newark, and Two Stones now has three locations. The Big Fish Restaurant Group is creating an Italian concept with Bella Coast on Concord Pike, and the Ashby Management Group is adding Union City Grille to a portfolio that already includes Deer Park Tavern, McGlynn’s Pub and Cantwell’s Tavern.

Bold prediction #2: A local chain will become a tenant in the new Fashion Center complex at the Christiana Mall.

Trend: drinking local

Beer in Delaware can’t be sold directly from a brewer to a restaurant. It has to go through a distributor. And that’s why Twin Lakes beer, brewed in Greenville, takes a 10-mile roundtrip through a warehouse (briefly) before it arrives on tap at Buckley’s Tavern in Greenville.

Still, it’s not a long trip. And it’s very local beer.

“As a restaurant, you want to have a sense of place in your area,” says Chuck Lewis, general manager of Buckley’s.

That carries over to spirits as well, as local distilleries like the Painted Stave in Smyrna have started filling premium shelf space behind local bars. It’s good, as a business owner, to support the local community, and local brews, like produce, are often fresher and better, and sometimes cheaper, Lewis says.

“The whole locavore movement is coming to the bar,” says Xavier Teixido, owner of Harry’s Hospitality Group. He thinks 2015 will be the year cocktail culture takes off in Delaware, with infused alcohol, homemade bitters and artisanal ingredients leading the way.

And while we’re drinking local beer and spirits, let’s not forget the local wine. The newly created Vintage Atlantic Wine Region, made up of more than 50 wineries spread across Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania, will start making some noise in 2015. Laura Stimson, the executive producer of the MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival, says that local wines will not only be featured at the 2015 festival, but several events will take place at local wineries.

Bold prediction #3: “Vintage Atlantic” will become a category on at least one prominent local wine list.

Trend: tacos

Who doesn’t love a taco?

“We’re selling tons of tacos at Kid Shelleen’s,” says Teixido, whose Harry’s Hospitality Group owns the Wilmington bar/restaurant. “Our new menu has seven or eight tacos on it.”

Shrimp tacos. Pork tacos. Chicken tacos. Tuna tacos. If you can fit it into a corn shell, you can make it into a taco, and chefs will continue to experiment with the form across multiple ethnicities and cuisines, Teixido says.

The menu at Del Pez, the new Mexican/seafood restaurant in Newark, has three tacos, including fried calamari taco and blackened swordfish. Every Tuesday is Taco Tuesday at Two Stones Pub. Tacos are not going away.

Bold prediction #4: La Fia taco. (That’s more of a dare than a prediction.)

Trend: food trucks

OK, let’s face it, after three seasons as stars of a reality-TV series hosted by Tyler Florence, food trucks need to have their Next Big Thing title permanently revoked. They’re part of the foodie culture now, and in Wilmington, expect the number of trucks on the street to continue to rise, thanks to a combination of new players in the market and warm receptions by local municipalities.

“People want different things,” says Wit Milburn, owner of Kapow Truck and co-founder of Rolling Revolution, a local food truck association. “People see what we bring to the community, the new dishes and a new food culture that’s starting to build.”

Milburn credits Paul Lauprasert’s KOI on the Go truck as a trailblazer, proving to locals that great food can come out of a truck. (KOI’s fish tacos are considered by many to be the best in the state. And hey, tacos again. Double trendy.) The members of Milburn’s Rolling Revolution are now looking for a permanent truck park where 15-20 trucks can gather in a kind of rotating food court.

Bold prediction #5: That truck park will open this year—with at least five new trucks that don’t yet exist.

So there you go. Five trends. Five predictions. But remember, in the world of foodie trendspotting, it’s not about how often you were right. It’s about how tasty the research was. Now, please excuse us. It’s craft beer time.