2016. Food. Trends. Do an online search using these keywords and you’ll find voices galore forecasting the flavors that will surface this year: more chef-driven fast-casual, veggies overtaking meat on the plate. …
There’s no question that Atlanta chefs are aligned with national trends. Lately, it’s been porridge for dinner at Ticonderoga Club, Staplehouse, One Eared Stag and White Oak Kitchen and Cocktails.
The latter two are also among those aboard the hot chicken train, that Nashville manner of dousing fried chicken in hot sauce and serving it over a piece of white bread. While it’s been a fixture on the menu atLadybird Grove & Mess Hall since Day 1, now even home cooks can get chefy using recipes from newly released “The Hot Chicken Cookbook” by Timothy Charles Davis.
What other trends will hit Atlanta in 2016? Some anticipate this year being the one when we wake up to African food. If so, credit restaurateur Justin Anthony for leading the charge locally. He brought South African cuisine to Buckhead with 10 Degrees South and Yebo. Anthony recently opened upscale Cape Dutch, where South African braii steak (a style of barbecue) is coming out of the kitchen in the former Woodfire Grill space on Cheshire Bridge Road. Soon to make its debut is Anthony’s Biltong Bar at Ponce City Market, with a menu of jerky, savory South African-style hand pies, cheese and charcuterie, plus South African wines.
The artisanal bread movement is another that I’m keeping an eye on, especially after biting into sourdough potato rolls at Staplehouse. At this new spot in the Old Fourth Ward, chef Ryan Smith and his team make the bread by hand, using a sourdough starter that is more than eight years old, to which they add hard red wheat flour from Day Spring Farms near Athens. You can taste the wild funk and denseness of the red wheat.
The opening of Billy Allin’s Bread & Butterfly means we’ve got yet another place to enjoy the high-quality carbs coming out of Proof Bakeshop. And Jan. 4 marks the opening of Todd Ginsberg’s TGM Bakery. Located next to the General Muir in Emory Point, the bakery will provide the bread for the General Muir, Fred’s Meat & Bread, Yalla and sister restaurant West Egg Cafe, as well as wholesale and retail customers. Think of TGM as a stage for head baker Rob Alexander, who first attracted attention when he ran the baking operations at Holeman & Finch Public House and Alon’s Bakery & Market.
Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market were hot, hot, hot in 2015. That’s unlikely to stop (Urban P18 is about to open in the former and there are a handful of PCM eateries opening in 2016), but the Atlanta dining scene is bigger than those two food hall phenoms.
Consider Avalon, a $600 million mix of shops, restaurants, offices and residences at Old Milton Parkway and Ga. 400 in Alpharetta.When Avalon opened in the fall of 2014, nearly a dozen restaurants were on the directory, including heavy-hitters like Ford Fry’s El Felix. True, Asian fusion quick-serve eatery Bantu closed, but it has been reconceived as Branch & Barrel, which just opened and features an upscale Southern menu by Todd Hogan. Other restaurants coming to Avalon in 2016 include Farm to Ladle, Cafe Intermezzo … oh, and a Chick-fil-A . Three to five additional restaurants are expected to fill spaces in Phase II, which begins in early 2016.
A similar development, Ballpark Village, debuted in 2014 in my hometown of St. Louis. St. Louis Cardinals fans love filling up at the restaurants and watering holes in this complex located next to Busch Stadium. Neighboring restaurants, however, haven’t been as happy, because Ballpark Village has lured business away from their operations, especially on game days. It’ll be interesting to see what happens here.
All of these dining developments are excuses to hit up the approximately 12,000 restaurants in metro Atlanta’s 23 counties. (Stats are according to the Georgia Restaurant Association, and a “restaurant” equates to any place with a food service permit.) Yet, there are also budding enterprises keeping us away. Across the country, there’s a revolution in high-speed food delivery to homes and offices with the likes of UberEats, Google Express, Amazon Prime Now, Postmates and GrubHub. The ease of cafe-to-curb delivery is tempting when we don’t feel like taking a seat at a restaurant but we don’t want to cook, either.
And when we do want to cook, there’s another innovation changing the way we sup at home: meal delivery kits. Newer local concepts like Garnish & Gather and PeachDishare built around the idea that we want to eat healthy, fresh and exciting food, but we’re too busy to do it all. What am I going to make for dinner? That’s the working parent’s daily conundrum. The solution: Recipes from award-winning chefs and a bag full of (almost) everything needed to make the meal, pre-measured and all, so that we can have something fancier than a frozen pizza on the dinner table in about 30 minutes.
We’re in the midst of national conversations about healthier fare coming out of fast-food chains, and about tipping and pay disparities at restaurants. How far will any of these advance in 2016 — and in Atlanta, in particular? I don’t have a magic ball to predict the future, but I do know that we customers, by the choices we make, have a lot to do with what restaurants put before us and how they do it.
Let’s make 2016 a delicious year in dining.