January 3

Soup to Nuts: An end-of-year look forward and backward at food trends in Maine

We give you a list of what we liked, what we didn’t like and what we think is in store for 2014.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

This is the time of year that food writers pull together their annual roundups of the local food scene.

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SECOND HELPINGS

Things we’d like to see more of in Maine’s food scene:

More sustainable fish on local menus. To quote “Field of Dreams,” if you build it they will come.

Real hash browns, and we don’t mean chunky home fries or the hash browns formed into patties that soak up grease like a sponge.

Affordable appetizers that will enhance your entree, not replace it.

Plates of pickled vegetables and such.

Craft sodas and other creative non-alcoholic choices.

A good dairy CSA that includes milk, cheese and yogurt.

More game meats and “alternative proteins.” Except pigeon, which some surveys are predicting will be big this year. Yuck.

More creative egg dishes, like the chicken-fried soft-boiled egg served over wild mushrooms at Oscar’s New American in Yarmouth and the Kanom-krok quail eggs at Boda. And keep those creative deviled-egg fillings coming, please.

Freshly made french fries. Is there any reason to use frozen if you’re not McDonald’s?

A really good red sauce Italian restaurant.

The dish you’re known for. Just because you’re tired of it doesn’t mean we are.

Fried clams. Eggplant Parmesan. Crowds. Bring the family. The Village.

More restaurants using Open Table. We can reserve a table even when you’re not there.

Good service. We like you, but please don’t lean or scooch down at our table. Fill the water glass before we ask. If we ask for something, make that your priority – we’re waiting for it. Your tip won’t be reduced if you take notes; it may be if you mess up our order.

Side dish variety. Not every lobster and crabmeat roll has to be accompanied by fried potatoes, delicious as they are, or a pile of cabbage swimming in mayo. How about a beet salad on the side instead? Or if it has to be fried, how about fried green beans like the ones Fat Boy serves? Or a fried green tomato?

Wheat berries. Because flavor and texture-wise, they kick quinoa in the kisser. Also, they’re so much easier to pronounce.

Backyard Farms tomatoes. The Madison-based company had a bad 2013, pest-wise, and vanished from the supermarket. Here’s to a better 2014 for them.

Food swaps. Portland has one; those of us who live elsewhere are ready for the trend to spread.

Inexpensive (and good) Mediterranean food.

Non-red sauce Italian food. Piccolo is doing a great job, but it’s tiny. It would be great to have a casual, moderately priced, interesting Italian restaurant like those in Boston and NYC.

Desserts that taste as good as they look. Those pretty, plated, fussy sweets often don’t.

ON THE HORIZON

Things we expect to see here soon, whether we want them or not:

Fancy whole chickens as a shareable entree.

Sour beer. This is already here, but please don’t go crazy adding it everywhere. It’s kind of like sardines – you know you’re supposed to like them, but you just don’t.

Wine by the ounce.

Charging for bread. “That’s just wrong,” said our inner 2006 teenager.

Beer cocktails. Outliers does a nice job with them. With the mushrooming beer scene, more restaurants and bars will jump on the bandwagon.

Herbal cocktails. They can be fine if mixed correctly, but pretty nasty if not.

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.)

(Continued on page 2)

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