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.

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.

The Q Factor

Led by a newcomer in Little Italy, BBQ is the latest culinary craze in New Castle County

From Facebook posts to newspaper articles to food blogs, the big buzz around Wilmington is all about barbecue. Credit the August debut of Locale BBQ Post in the old Sugarfoot Fine Foods & Gourmet Catering location on the edge of Little Italy. News of the soft opening, which went viral among local Facebook users, led to lines out the door and sold-out signs by early or mid-afternoon.

Locale BBQ isn’t the only eatery heating up the dining scene. Down in Elsmere, Philippine Smoked BBQ & Grill opened in June. The Road Hog food truck this summer pulled up at the rest stop on 95 near Newark. And if all goes as planned, 3 Doors Brewing, which will feature barbecue, will open in late winter or early spring next year.

What’s the appeal of BBQ? “It’s a great food,” says Chef Dan Sheridan, who owns Locale BBQ with Mike Gallucio and Justin Mason. “You can feed a lot of people and a lot of your friends, and it’s not fussy. I’ve always been a fan. I don’t know too many people who don’t like barbecue.”

Dan Sheridan owner of Locale BBQ Post in Wilmington, checks on brisket that is being smoked, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. (Photo by Tim Hawk)
Dan Sheridan owner of Locale BBQ Post in Wilmington, checks on brisket that is being smoked, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. (Photo by Tim Hawk)

A Tasty Tradition

Real barbecue takes time. It’s not about burgers on the grill. It’s about cooking meat slowly over indirect heat, which is why Locale BBQ can’t just pop more meat in the smoker when supplies run out.

The approach has been around for hundreds of years. It’s thought that after landing in the Caribbean in the 15th century, the Spanish coined the word barbaoa to refer to the natives’ slow-cooking method. The technique spread to the American South, where pigs were so plentiful that they became a barbecue mainstay. In Texas, not surprisingly, it’s all about the brisket.

Because barbecue allows hosts to easily serve a large crowd with inexpensive cuts of meat, it became the dish of choice for large picnics and gatherings. Anyone who’s read or watched Gone with the Wind recalls Scarlett O’Hara charming her beaux at the Twelve Oaks barbecue, where she first met Rhett Butler.

Behind the Q Curve

Despite its longevity and popularity, barbecue as a culinary trend has been slow to catch fire in Wilmington. Sure, there are some solid mainstays, most notably Rick Betz of Fat Rick’s BBQ, who’s maintained that “nobody beats my meat” since 1989 in a bricks-and-mortar restaurant early on and, more recently, as a caterer.

New Castle County contenders that fly under the radar include Big D’s BBQ, David Deal’s counter in The Well Coffeehouse and Marketplace in Hockessin, and Russell’s Quality Food on Centreville Road, which has built a cult-like following for its barbecue, cooked onsite and served out of an unassuming shed-like building near Steve’s Liquors.

Farther south, Where Pigs Fly in Dover has been dishing up hickory-smoked pulled pig since 1993, and Bethany Blues’ two beach locations—in Lewes and Bethany—are smoking strong.

When Eppy’s Barb-B-Que on Philadelphia Pike opened in 2012, North Wilmington diners hoped that the BBQ restaurant might become more of a trend than a “hidden gem.” Unfortunately, Eppy’s quickly closed. (That Holly Oak location has witnessed a string of failed eateries.)

In Philadelphia, however, barbecue is plentiful and popular. Consider Percy Street Barbecue, opened in 2009 by celebrity Chef Michael Solomonov, Phoebe’s BBQ, which opened in 1994, Smokin’ Betty’s, Fette Sau, and Pig Daddy’s BBQ—to name just a few.

Locale BBQ Post in Wilmington, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. (Photo by Tim Hawk)
Locale BBQ Post in Wilmington, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. (Photo by Tim Hawk)

As the Spit Turns

Locale BBQ’s popularity could indicate that barbecue in Wilmington is developing the same hip factor that it has in Philly. Recently, the mostly takeout shop offered garlic-peach sauce made with black garlic from Obis One in Pennsville, N.J., a destination for cutting-edge chefs seeking local, artisanal products.

Sheridan’s prior business, Wilmington Pickling Company, provides the pickles. In fact, it was Sheridan’s search for a kitchen where he could take the side business full time that helped spark the idea for a BBQ joint. “I needed to do something else besides just pickles, and I wanted to keep cooking,” says Sheridan, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Australia who’s worked at Bistro on the Brandywine, Cantwell’s Tavern, and La Fia. “Barbecue just kind of goes hand-in-hand with pickles.”

Locale BBQ also benefits from the talents of fellow Chef Christopher Baittinger, who’s worked at Ulysses American Gastropub, Chelsea Tavern, University & Whist Club, and, most recently, Ernest & Scott. Baittinger, who’s unabashedly passionate about all things pork, makes bacon to sell at Locale BBQ. (Culinary trend spotters could say that barbecue’s shining star is partially linked to the public’s continued appetite for pork, which was a common ingredient at the recent Farmer & the Chef benefit.)

Locale BBQ sticks to sweet tea for its signature libation. Barbecue, however, also goes well with craft brews and bourbon. The latter is a combination the new 3 Doors Brewery, located three doors away (thus the name) from sister restaurant Chelsea Tavern on Market Street, will promote. “I love barbecue; I love beer,” says Joe Van Horn, operating partner of both restaurants, as well as nearby Ernest & Scott Taproom. “This is the restaurant I’ve always wanted to do. This is going to be a little more of my baby.”

Although the full-service 3 Doors Brewery, which will brew Belgian-style ales in its seven-barrel system, will have a 500-pound smoker onsite, the restaurant won’t limit itself to barbecue. Other items will include burgers, soups and salads.

Ribs at Locale BBQ Post in Wilmington, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. (Photo by Tim Hawk)
Ribs at Locale BBQ Post in Wilmington, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. (Photo by Tim Hawk)

Deciding Differences

Even barbecue-centric restaurants, however, often go beyond the expected pork, chicken and brisket. Locale BBQ, for instance, has bratwurst. Russell’s offers jerk chicken, hot dogs, yams and fried fish. Fat Rick’s is also home to Miz Walt’s chicken, which was the star at the restaurant Rick and wife Tina opened in 1990 in what is now Eclipse Bistro.

Philippine Smoked BBQ & Grill takes the BBQ menu to a unique level in town. Here you’ll find the expected favorites: beef brisket, whole or half chicken, chicken leg quarters, pulled pork, and ribs. The shop offers smoked turkey legs and kielbasa as well. Then there are the dishes inspired by owners Romeo and Lalaine Balan’s Filipino heritage: chicken or pork kabobs, mini eggrolls, puto with cheese (sweet rice cake with cheese) and biko (sweet sticky rice).

Sides, made in house, include a Carolina-style vinegary slaw but also a macaroni salad with smoked chicken breast, raisins, and pineapples. Roast lechon (a Spanish term for roasted suckling pig) is available Saturday or Sunday. It’s particularly popular on the Filipino island resort of Cebu, where Lalaine grew up. The restaurant also does special orders for a whole pig or turkey. “We do everything,” she says. “Just think of it and we will do it for you.”

There are other differences among the area’s barbecue restaurants. Some serve the meat already sauced. Others dry rub the meat, then customers pick from the available sauces, which usually include sweet and spicy selections.

Betz sticks to the tried-and-true. “We are a classic American barbecue,” he says. He uses a dry rub and adds a touch of vinegar to the Carolina-style pork. Traditional sauces are on the side. “We do the classic barbecue that was served 100 years ago and will be the same barbecue that will be served 100 years from now.”

But in Delaware, even classic fare can go in and out of fashion. “Brisket sneaked up on us a few years ago,” Betz says. “I don’t know where that came from; we do a ton of brisket now.”

Betz, who had restaurants in the North Wilmington suburbs and in downtown Wilmington, closed his bricks-and-mortar operation 15 years ago to cater. He now has a location in an office plaza off Foulk Road mostly for its commercial kitchen, but he’s open during lunch for those who want to pop in. “You know how some restaurants do a little bit of catering? We’re a catering company that does a little bit of ‘restauranting.’”

Newcomers don’t threaten him. “Barbecue has been a tiny, tiny niche in the food segment” in Wilmington, he says. “That’s where I survived all by myself all those years.”

He might get a lot more company in the future. Along with the opening of 3 Doors Brewery, Sheridan and his partners would like to open additional locations with the same to-go-friendly model. “We’d like to do two or three down the line,” he says. “I’d like to get down to Main Street, Newark—anything with a lot of people driving by or walking by who need a quick bite to eat.”

All that will have to wait. At week three, Sheridan, who gets in no later than 6 a.m. to feed the smoker, was still busy meeting the current demand. The good news is that despite the hard work and long hours, he hasn’t lost his appetite for his menu. “I still eat it every day,” he says. “I ate a rack of ribs last night. And if we’re still eating it, we hope it’s also good for everybody else.”

Judging by the lines outside his door, “everybody else” agrees.