Fare..Eat..Ales 10 Food Trends That Will Fade in 2013

Much like trends that surge in a given year, there are many that begin to fade away.  Here are my predictions of the Toronto food trends that should curtail in 2013.

1. Beet to Death

Almost every menu offers a beet salad of some kind.  They are cheap, earthy and offer a pretty colour to a plate.  They are however, very distinct.  This uniqueness usually results in a short shelf life. Plus, root vegetables take turns being in favour. Just ask a sweet potato.  They had to step aside for the beet and a new tuber should soon reign supreme.  Perhaps an heirloom carrot, parsnip or even the relatively unknown sunchoke?

2. Doubt the Sprout

Despite its sinister reputation among the young, the brussel sprout  has become the cool cruciferous vegetable in the past few years, offering a perfect marriage with other in vogue flavours  like  hot sauce and bacon fat.  However, with other greens such as collards, swiss chard and  mustard greens gaining popularity, I suspect the brussel sprout will lose some of its spark and go back to being the low point of many a childhood.

3. Pig: The Magical Animal

Pork is no longer the other white meat; it is THE white meat.  Thick chops and pork  belly have dominated menus in the past few years.  Bacon has been used to wrap everthing from steak to scallops to ice cream.  The combination of demand for lighter foods  coupled with expected increases in pork prices in 2013 should see the presence of pork diminish somewhat across the board.  That being said, bacon will be coveted and pork will remain a key component in ramen dishes, but don’t be surprised to see more chicken (in an attempt to gain the white meat status back) and beef options emerge as a replacement to the mighty pig.

4.  Feelin’ Blue

Strong flavours will be replaced  with more mild ones and cheese is no exception. The intensity of the bold blues, including gorgonzola will be replaced by lighter cheeses with more subtle flavour.  The use of blue as a base for rich creamy pasta sauces (especially vegetarian ones) should fall out favour for more acidic, zingy ones.

5. Falling Flat

Flatbreads are pizzas for places that don’t make pizza.  Once a popular appetizer, flatbread is a canvas to display other popular ingredients such as short rib, mushrooms and asparagus with white, red and barbeque sauce foundations.  The novelty has worn off as diners are satisfied with the toppings reconstructed in novel and abstract ways minus the bland and often overcooked dough.

6. Holy Aioli!

Chipotle mayos, basil aiolis and other thick and sinful sauces should give way to vegetables based dips, sauces and condiments.  The trend toward the focus on fresh and local ingredients doesn’t necessarily include mayonnaise and oil but  may favor tangy, tomato jams, spicy chimichurris and vibrant pestos instead.

7.  “Poutin'”

Call me crazy but the life cycle of poutine may be coming to an end.  The classic Quebec dish has evolved to include lobster, brisket and pulled pork as well as modifications to the traditional beef or chicken gravy.  The pendulum is swinging in the direction of lighter flavours. In the end, poutine, regardless of the version,  is a salty and fatty mess to the extreme, one which will soon return to be reserved primarily for the after bar crowd.

8.  Taking a Slide

Despite the number of new restaurants opening promoting sliders of all kinds, in all likelihood they will not sustain the popularity of the past couple of years.  The initial simple slider gave way to newer ideas like pulled pork or beef topped with kimchi, slaw or fois gras. There may be some survival among the many small plate restaurants, but sliders have quickly become an outdated novelty. The advent of competitive burger joints have swung the pendulum back toward the large chin-dripping mains and away from the dainty, often dried out finger sandwiches.

9. “Not”ella

Nutella has gone from  a rare childhood vice to a condiment which recently seems to grace everything from grilled cheese to crepes to burgers. The hazelnut spread has been elevated to iconic levels in the past couple of year with many restaurants going as far as displaying various sized nutella jars in their establishments like some kind of award or trophy.  Not that it will go away, but the jars should come down with diner’s reactions shifting from 2012’s “Cool, this place has nutella” to 2013’s “Oh, nutella…again”.

10. Muffle the Truffle

Truffle oil is not a truffle.  It’s a cheaper, liquid version of the exquisite fungus which has been grossly overused in everything from popcorn to pasta.  Truffle is like fish sauce and saffron; if you use too much once, it resonates to every similar  dish afterwards.   Truffle is meant to subtly complement other flavours, not be the main flavour and too many dishes are offered without this understanding.  Similar to Newtonian law, as the numbers of those who have been subject to truffle oil  abuse increase,  its popularity will decrease.

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Review:Toronto:Food Trucks:Urban Smoke

Not since the days of Shaggy, Scooby-Doo and  the Mystery Machine have mobile smokehouses been so mainstream.  Case and point, I was at a fundraiser a while back and the line for Urban Smoke was twice that of any other truck that was onsite.  Parked comfortably within the confines of a private parking lot (so as not to add to further Toronto city hall controversies) , the staff were busy dishing out some traditional and not so traditional fare. Ten bucks got you one of four choices so I picked up some lunch for myself and a colleague.

Urban Smoke Menu
Urban Smoke Menu

Must

The ability to get a hearty soup is a rarity in most restaurants let alone a food truck. The split pea soup was reminiscent of something your French-Canadian uncle J.P. may spend hours in the kitchen whipping up in a magical cauldron. It was thick and savory and filled  with chunks of delicious double smoked ham while resisting  the temptation to over-salt, a common transgression of many an eatery.

Perfecting the grilled cheese seems a easy trick but its simplicity is often its quandary. Urban Smoke offered two sandwiches; a standard grilled cheese and one featuring nutella and mascarpone cheese as a dessert. Magic is grilling the bread to golden brown while melting the ample filling, a feat that everyone from top chefs to 15 year old latchkey kids have spent generations trying to perfect.  Urban Smoke comes close. The secret could very well be seasoning the bread with just a small amount of salt on the outside before grilling the abundant contents within. Simple but extremely satisfying.

Pea Soup, Grilled Cheese and Banana Pudding
Spilt Pea and Ham Soup, Grilled Cheese and Banana Pudding
Marscapone and Nutella Grilled Cheese
Mascarpone and Nutella Grilled Cheese

Maybe

The pulled pork was average which is still a compliment considering the number of food trucks, burger joints and smoke houses who lay  their foundation on good pulled pork.  The meat was tender, partnered with piquant seasonings and the bread was soft and proportional to the filling. The “magic fries” provided a poof that could certainly help Penn and Teller make a rabbit appear but maybe not enough to make David Copperfield’s convertible materialize out of the blue.  The slaw added a delicious, tangy crunch.

Pulled Pork with Magic Fries
Pulled Pork with Magic Fries

Mundane

I took a chance and opted to skip the magic fries in favour of the banana pudding (see picture above).   It had a decent flavour but I felt a bit ripped off by the size and the fact it was starting to separate a bit, leaving a bit of an oily pool in the bottom of the glass.  It was about the size of  a jello shooter and in the end about as exciting as the never-ending handkerchief trick.

Part of the appeal of a food truck should be a quick meal to avoid having to sit down, order, eat and wait for the bill. Although almost inevitable, especially during high volume events such as fundraisers and other events,  long waits continue to be an issue with wheel-bearing establishments and Urban Smoke was no exception.

My Take

Urban Smoke is a bit of a traveling roadshow, bringing a kind of magic show to each and every parking lot or street side it inhabits. The  headliners include  a variety of southern BBQ foods including pulled pork and brisket partnered with a few other choices.  As a result, it draws big crowds which means big lines and  big waits.  The staff, however, are quite efficient and personable and maintain a decent flow. If the truck is around (check out torontofoodtrucks.ca for schedules),  I would definitely consider a trip for lunch  if you have the time and desire to break up a hectic day. After all, after a busy adventure unmasking criminals, I’m sure Shag and Scoob would have been happy to fill up on a few grilled cheese  sandwiches following an equally smoky visit to the Mystery Machine.

Mulling Moment- Please Comment!

Urban Smoke Fusion BBQ on Urbanspoon

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