Fare..Eat..Ales Predictions of 2013 Food Trends.

Each year sees a shift in the direction of the restaurant industry.  I’m going to take a chance and speculate on what food trends will start or continue  in the Toronto dining scene  in 2013. Feel free to agree, disagree or suggest your own trends by commenting here, voting in the poll or tweeting #2013tofoodtrends.

1. Ramen Rage

Arguably the biggest craze in 2012, noodle houses will continue to appear like Starbucks and Subways in the coming months.  Given the versatility of this noodle dish, I suspect new variations will emerge and will not be limited to ramen restaurants  alone.  I expect the big chains and even the small fusion eateries and food trucks to join the ramen rage in some way, shape or form.

2. Offal Offerings

Black hoof has gained international exposure for its offal menu with thumbs up from celebrity chefs including Anthony Bourdain during his lay over visit and  Richard Blais’  endorsement on his list of favorite restaurants on Urbanspoon.  Adaptations of  the nose to tail concept have been adapted by many eateries, even including  a beginner’s lesson in offal  at Skin and Bones in Leslieville. This concept will continue to flourish given the surge in responsible eating as well as those seeking the adventure of multiple organ consumption.

3. In a Jar

I’m not referring to the traditional strawberry jam, pickled cucumber and mango chutney here.  In efforts to use more local ingredients throughout the year, preserving is gaining popularity.  Local and seasonal cranberries, tomatoes, peppers and tree fruit can be used year round when processed into sweet or savory condiments to compliment meats and even cocktails.  Savory and briny condiments are definitely in.  One of the best dishes I had in 2012 was a pickle tray at Sidedoor in Ottawa and it only makes sense that these creative, unique and in many cases  relatively inexpensive foods are housemade to complement  menus and blackboards in 2013.

4. Eat Street

Despite strict downtown by-laws and less than favourable year round weather, Toronto is catching up with other large metropolitan centres regarding  the presence of food trucks offering anything from smoked meats to tacos to cupcakes. More and more private businesses and fundraisers are seeing the potential in these nomadic sculleries as an awareness raising tactic. In addition,  the low overhead, creative license and geographical flexibility are appealing to restauranteurs, ensuring that the fleet of food trucks will continue to grow.

5. Carrying the Torch

The chef’s blowtorch is a cooking method which has typically been reserved for creme brulee and more recently sushi.  The ease of use and aesthetic properties of charred food could expand the use of this handy tool to other areas of food preparation.  Vegetables, cervices, meringues, terrines and even fois gras could be meliorated with a quick singe  of the blue flame.

6. Mexican Mania

Tacos were the rave of 2012 with the success of Grand Electric and  La Carnita taco-heavy menu. Burrito Boyz, Mucho Burrito and Burrito Bandidos are lunchtime and late night hotspots.  Baja fish tacos adorn almost every chain restaurant’s lunch and dinner menu.  Modernized twists on tasty tostadas, multifarious moles and piquant pozole will expand beyond the traditional taquerias, making Mexican fare one of the hot ethnic cuisines across the board in 2013.

7. Soul Train

Soul food has just gotten started.  The success of Barque, Stockyards and new additions such as AAA combined with the Hogtown and Urban Smoke food trucks have put pulled pork and brisket on the must eat food map.  Look for  southern food to dominate  in 2013 with the expansion of  southern-influenced mainstays such as shrimp and grits, collard/mustard greens, gumbos and maybe even a crayfish or two.

8.  Snack Time

Tastebud teasers  including  spiced nuts and other savory snacks have been a complimentary mainstay of bars and taverns for years.  It seems this concept has crossed into the dining room, with a snack menu available offering munchable morsels, such as warm olives at Patria and Campagnolo, even before the appetizers arrive.   In particular, popcorn is gaining popularity, providing a blank slate for various flavors including  truffle at Origin and chipotle-caramel at Cava,

9. Comfort Zone

It appears chefs have dusted off  their old copies of  “They Joy of Cooking” and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.  A return to comfort food is an emerging trend. In 2012,  coq au vin was a staple at Richmond Station and Trevor Kitchen. Chicken Pot Pies were  being baked up traditionally  at C5 and with fois gras gravy at Reds Wine Tavern.  Fried chicken is half the menu at Paulette’s and is available for two at County General.  Old school bourguignon and gamy stews are emerging elsewhere.  Expect a cornucopia of European inspired comfort food in 2013, complete with the use of fresh meats and seafood, rich sauces and homemade, flaky pastries.

10. Icy Indulgence

Frozen desserts have become a common default dessert item for many big name chefs, especically those with a aversion to baking.  Working on the notion that frozen sugar and milk fat make anything taste better,  unique flavours have been incorporated into ice creams, sorbets and gelatos alike.  Whether it be savory flavours such as thyme or balsamic vinegar, sweetness through the use of commercial sodas or fruit nectars or incorporation of tart flavours like yuzu, a good ice cream maker and imagination is all that’s needed for this trend to blow wide open.

What do you think?  Answer the poll and add your comments.  Multiple answers are acceptable!

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Review:Toronto:Food Trucks:Food Dudes

A couple of days after Hogtown Smoke, I ventured back to the corner of Sherbourne and Front to take on Food Dudes. An established catering company in Toronto, Food Dudes joined the truck craze a few months back.  I’m learning with food trucks to get there early to avoid longs lines and product shortages if possible. I’m also learning that gas station parking lots are an interesting place to meet people. In this case, I was first in line, narrowly beating out a woman with a large parrot on her shoulder.  They were there for the Mac and Cheese balls.

Food Dudes Menus (subject to change)

Must

Who am I to question a parrot? The Mac and Cheese balls were a great start, served hot and in a shallow pool of fresh, spicy marinara. The crisp outside and  gooey, rich middle was balanced by the tart, acidic and spicy sauce.  The shaved cheese  and fresh herbs filled out the flavor profile.  A fun, balanced dish overall. Based on the parrot’s reaction, I wasn’t alone.

Mac and Cheese Balls

Other than the fact they were round, I wondered why they were called nutella bombs.   I made the mistake of biting into one (I guess the normal protocol is to eat the whole thing at once) and found out.  There was a minor explosion, luckily away from me and on to the ground. The remnants were delicious; a sinful mix of banana bread and nutella coated with corn flakes and garnished with whipped cream and bourbon caramel sauce.  They had an intense sweetness but it was contained in a small morsel and was a funky way to end the meal.

Nutella Bombs

Maybe

The fish taco can be described as Cap’n Crunch meets Captain Highliner.  Served in pairs, these cod tacos were decent.  The coating didn’t have the intensity of sweetness I expected from the cereal and it  provided an appreciated crunch instead of a soggy batter which often come with other fish tacos. Whether it was the shape or the texture they did, however, remind me a little of the fish sticks that went from blue box to cookie sheet to oven that haunted my childhood. The condiments were a bit scarce and a little underwhelming but the sauce was tasty and fresh.

Cap”n Crunch Cod Tacos

The BBQ pork shoulder was served on a cheddar jalapeno biscuit and topped with a southwest slaw providing most of the components of a southern barbeque meal with the added benefit of being able to hold it on one hand. The biscuit was delicious and the other components were decent. The pork was moist but it was more about  the sauce and less about the meat itself. Not a bad sandwich overall, but it was like an anchor in my stomach  and I don’t think I could finish it on a good day.

BBQ Pork Shoulder on Cheddar Jalapeno Biscuit

Mundane

The chicken curry was a bit of a mess. It was served overflowing in an asian-style take out container which eventually leaked out the bottom.  The dish itself was average, lacking any of the extremities of  flavour and spiciness of a good curry.  Call me a purist, but I like a plain basmati rice with a curry.  Instead, this curry was served with a sticky rice which didn’t do much to help.

Chicken Curry

My Take

With exploding balls, tacos inspired by fictional sea captains, anchor-like sandwiches and a mac and cheese eating parrot I felt I was in “Pirates of the Caribbean”.  The mates behind the counter were courteous and the booty was fine. Stick with the staples such as the cod tacos, and you’ll yell yo-ho-ho.  The mac and cheese and nutella balls made me shiver me timbers but the curry was blimey.  With great variety, great service and an established catering business in a hot food truck market (check out http://torontofoodtrucks.ca/), I don’t see Food Dudes sinking to meet Davy Jones’ anytime soon.

Food Dudes on Urbanspoon

Review: Toronto: Food Truck: Hogtown Smoke

Reminiscent of Big Foot or Rob Ford jogging, food trucks are a rather elusive sighting in Toronto. Bound by by-laws which do not allow more trucks to attain  permanent residency in the downtown core, they are forced to travel like Nomads making it a bit of a feat to find one that is open on any given day. Check out http://torontofoodtrucks.ca/ for information about food trucks in Toronto.

As I approached the corner of Front and Sherbourne in search of Hogtown Smoke, I caught a whiff of the smoked meat about a block away. I happened to be second in line so I was able to sample some of the brisket right out of the smoker before I even ordered.   Although it took a while to get rolling after a minor gas malfunction (which I appreciated because it allowed me to stare at the small menu like an idiot for 15 minutes without  a clue what I was going to order)., the window opened and I was greeted by the friendly staff members. Specials included a kimchi grilled cheese and side ribs in addition to the traditional pulled pork, poutine, brisket, po’ boy sandwiches and kicked up grilled cheese.  I opted for the ribs, brisket and poutine to get a taste for a bit of everything. The staff  joked with the building crowd,  apologizing for the delays and asking everybody their names.

Must

St. Louis Side Ribs ($10)

New to the truck, I was a little leery since side ribs are not as forgiving as back ribs and are easy to mess up.  They came through by fulfilling  the holy trinity of rib triumph; crunchy bark (although a bit salty), a deep pink smoke ring and fall off the bone tenderness.  They were supposed to be  served with  baked beans and slaw but in the lunacy of opening I did not get the slaw so I can’t comment.  The beans were very saucy, had  great texture and bubbly flavours driven by the unmistakable sassifrassness of root beer. Imagine a baked bean flavoured Jelly Belly jelly bean and you’ve got the taste.

St. Louis Side Ribs with Root Beer Beans

2 lb Pulled Pork Poutine ($10)

This alliterative aliment almost achieves all acclaimed attributes (of a good poutine). Poutine has its own holy trinity characterized by fabulous fries, great gravy and cheese curds.  Hogtown almost reached divinity.  The fries were a good size, taste and texture (which is tough since poutine fries get really mushy, really fast).  The pulled pork got bonus points.  It had a huge, juicy pork flavour and good seasoning. My one criticism was the  final execution because the curds didn’t melt under the gravy. A small thing, but a traditional poutinist may pou-pou it.

2 lb Pulled Pork Poutine

Patron Jalapeno Mango Sauce

Use the Patron Jalapeno Mango sauce in anyway you can.  It’s fantastic and can best be described as Big Mac sauce on steroids. I would go as far as baking up six High Liner fish sticks and bring them in a zip lock bag  just so I could taste this sauce over and over again.

Maybe

Brisket ($10)

The brisket sandwich was sliced thin, piled fairly high and served on a good size swirly rye-type bun.  At the recommendation of the staff,  I topped it with the spicy barbeque sauce and horseradish aioli.  The meat was busting with flavour with minimal grit but it was a bit dry. The sauces helped to moisten it up a bit,  making  it  quite a good  sandwich.

Beef Brisket Sandwich

Mundane

Not much other than the early service disruption and the fact they forget my slaw!

My Take

Hopefully food trucks are here to stay because they provide limitless variety and creative license.  Hogtown smoke didn’t disappoint, offering traditional smoke house flavours with modern twists. The ribs approached divinity. The poutine may have reached sainthood.  Like many trucks, the biggest issue is execution and speed of service.  These are good guys with a good  attitude and a good concept.  I’d endure minor traffic and a small crowd to come back. Hell, I might even start going  to church again.

Hogtown Smoke on Urbanspoon