This is the time of year that food writers pull together their annual roundups of the local food scene.
What’s new, what closed, what are we expecting to see in the coming year? Which vegetable is in, which entree is out?
There’s a lot of these lists floating around, so I thought I’d put a little twist on it and focus on Maine food trends we hate, trends we love, and trends we just expect to show up at our door one day unannounced, whether we want them or not, sort of like “60 Minutes.”
These lists are a group effort. I asked several people I know on staff who love food and/or dine out a lot to send me their wishes and gripes. Thanks to my colleagues Susan Axelrod, Mary Pols and Jack Milton for their contributions.
If you think we missed something and would like to add to one of these lists yourself, email me and I will post your responses on our Maine a la Carte blog.
GO AWAY, PLEASE: Trends we wish would just slink out the back door:
• Those $12 to $14 cocktails. This ain’t Boston or New York. Yes, we are blessed with some great craft cocktail bars, but where does this upward climb end? It’s getting to the point where you can only meet friends for drinks OR dinner, but not both because the drinks soak up all your dinner money.
Apparently this cocktail creep is happening all over the country. (In the D.C. area, one bar is charging $22 for a Manhattan. A very special Manhattan.) Some of the mark-up is understandable; it’s a mix of more expensive ingredients, labor costs, bar atmosphere, and whether or not your martini was made by a rock star bartender.
Consumers are also partly to blame. Restaurant Sciences LLC, an independent firm that tracks food and beverage sales, found that between November 2012 and April 2013, cocktail prices rose between 4.5 and 11.2 percent, with the biggest increases at the lower end of the market. The company attributes the increases, in part, to consumers experimenting with drinks and the trend toward using premium spirits.
But enough, already.
• A la carte potatoes and vegetables. Eight bucks for broccoli?
• “No problem.” What the wait staff really means: “You’re welcome.”
• Intense social media campaigns for restaurants that then open with only 14 seats.
• Food truck over-regulation. Let the best food win, no matter where it comes from in the city.
• Nine-dollar glasses of wine from a bottle that sells for $9 at the grocery store.
• Gluten-free menus. How many people actually have celiac disease? (About 1 percent.) We expect lots of virtual high fives from chefs on this one.
• Noise in restaurants. We get it. You want your place to feel hip, to be the kind of hot local venue that fills quickly with 20- and 30-somethings who will spend lots of dough on booze. (See cocktail entry.) But when you’re sitting at a table for two – literally yelling across the appetizers at your dinner partner – and you still can’t hear each other, things have gone too far. So go ahead and keep that buzz you love so much, just turn down the music a little so we can save some hearing for our old age. (We’re talking to you, Harding Lee Smith.)
The marketing group JWT just released its annual forecast of trends that will drive consumer behavior in 2014. On the list: silent meals. Some restaurants are doing this Zen-like exercise occasionally to get diners to focus on their food and eat more mindfully. OK, maybe that’s going too far. Just hear us, chefs. Noise is one of those things that you think is pulling in customers, when actually it is doing the exact opposite.
• Cupcakes. Doughnuts. We have enough of both already, thank you.
• Kale. We don’t want to banish the leafy green entirely, but can the trend at least be over? We’ve still got some unharvested plants standing tall in the snowy garden, a sure sign that we’re not that into it. Besides, it looks as if brussels sprouts may be taking kale’s place as the vegetable du jour.
• Whoopie pie overkill. Sure, whoopie pies are great, they’re Maine, we love them. But whoopie pie doughnuts and and whoopie pie stout are a whoop too far.
• “Hi my name is Ashley and I’ll be taking care of you.” Fine to tell us your name, but is she going to be spoon-feeding us and wiping our chins?
• Nose-to-tail cookery. This sometimes puts things on the plate that frankly don’t taste all that good, despite the hype. Most people do not go to a nice restaurant and order pig trotters. Or pig ears. Of course, there’s an exception to every rule: We had a great fried pig tail at Hugo’s once.
• Cheap cuts like hanger steak. Kudos for using all of the animal. And yes, we know the mark-up helps your bottom line. But you know this affectation has gone too far when readers call for advice because they have no idea where in town they can find a good old-fashioned ribeye.
• Bistro chairs, also known as counter-height seating. This is another misguided attempt at hipitude. If your customers need mountaineering equipment to get into their chair, and their feet dangle off the floor when they finally get there, they are not going to have a comfortable dining experience. This is another one of those trends that restaurateurs think is attracting people to their place, but in reality it is alienating a large segment of society. Trust us, we hear the complaints.
• Bacon-flavored or bacon-covered anything. Yes, we know, this is heresy. But when you start getting bacon-flavored mints, made in China, in the mail, you know things have gotten out of hand.
• Menus that list every item in a dish, even if it’s a single sprig of herb. We’d rather have some idea of how it all comes together so we know how to order.
• Small plates, “perfect for sharing.” We like small plates, if they don’t cost the same as an entree (because otherwise, what’s the point?) and if they’re not just a “let’s jump on the small plates bandwagon” kind of thing. But, if they’re “perfect for sharing,” shouldn’t they have more food on them, not less? You can see why we’re confused. For a lesson in doing small plates right, see Tao Yuan in Brunswick.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: