Our favorite Twin Cities food trends
Look familiar? Duqqa on roasted chicken and farro pilaf at Cafe Maude.
As we near our annual Best of the Twin Cities issue in April, we've been counting down our 50 Favorite Dishes of the year (blogs.citypages.com/food) and analyzing some of the biggest recent food trends — ingredients that made a comeback, snacks that reigned supreme, and the exotic newcomers that seem poised to become mainstays of our local and national food scene. Here are our six star foods of the current scene (plus one honorable mention):
What: Watermelon radishes
Why they're trendy: If you participate in CSA, you know that when radishes of any kind are in season they grow relentlessly. In fact, the Greek name for the radish genus is raphanus, which means "quickly appearing," a reference to the root's reputation for speedy proliferation. But beyond their abundance, chefs value the watermelon radish for its high visual impact. Since they're an heirloom variety of Chinese daikon radish, they impart a more direct, bitter spiciness than the common round red variety. Watermelon radishes are the new candy-striped beet.
Where we've seen them: Slices of the hypercolored roots graced the top of a gorgeous platter of sesame-oil-roasted turnips, parsnips, and sweet potatoes at Icehouse. They provided a vibrant garnish to the gourmand's take on fried chicken and soubise gravy at Borough. At Fika, thin slivers of watermelon radish were layered over smoked goat cheese on nutty rye bread and then drizzled with a cider vinaigrette to create a sophisticated open-faced sandwich. Spoonriver used sections of the radishes to finish dishes of masaman curry, offsetting the spice with a bit of cooling crunch.
Will they stick around?: Yes. They're hardy, pretty, and versatile, just like a good Midwestern woman. I predict that other varieties, like the high-contrast black Spanish round radish, may debut as well.
What: Duqqa (or dukkah, sometimes dukka)
Why it's trendy: Because ras el hanout has reached maximum saturation.
Where we've seen it: This Egyptian mixture is made of some combination of hazelnuts, sesame, coriander, mint, cumin, and a host of other spices. It can be used as a crunchy garnish, a side dish, a dip for bread or vegetables, or as a house seasoning, so every time you encounter duqqa it will probably seem like a new experience. Tilia puts it on a cracker-like flatbread brushed with oil; Cafe Maude serves it with its seared chicken, farro pilaf, and apricot chutney; Nightingale sprinkles it over the top of its bruschetta with fresh ricotta cheese; and Kafe 421 employs it as a flavoring and crust on its succulent roasted chicken.
Will it stick around?: It remains to be seen, but my personal hope is that we adopt duqqa into our culinary lexicon just like we did with sriracha, tahini, and harissa.
What: Scotch eggs and deviled eggs
Why they're trendy: Nostalgia. And as City Pages' own Joy Summers pointed out regarding the rise of Scotch eggs, something extravagant had to replace poutine. The upside of deviled eggs is that the flavor combinations are endless, so you can have hors d'oeuvres that range from lowbrow (just your standard dry mustard and paprika treatment) to tres chic (caviar and creme fraiche).
Where we've seen them: A miniaturized version of a Scotch egg, made with quail's eggs, bacon, and sausage appeared on the menu during preview nights at Borough & Parlour. The Lowry's deviled eggs, made with bacon, arugula, pickled relish, and garlic aioli, have proved to be a popular bar snack. The Strip Club Meat & Fish makes its deviled eggs appropriately spicy with curry powders and chile oil. Red Cow in Edina just opened with classic Scotch eggs on the menu and serves them with beer-mustard dipping sauce. Maruso Street Food & Cocktails serves "Angry Eggs," made with wasabi and crumbled bacon.
Will they stick around?: Unlikely, at least in the case of Scotch eggs. Places like Brit's Pub will always have them, of course, but in a year's time some other cocktail snack (maybe brandy snaps or cheeseballs?) will achieve a higher level of quaint retro status.
What: Kale and Swiss chard
Why they're trendy: The hyped-up health halo surrounding kale, like the one acai and goji berries experienced a few years ago, has a lot to do with the trend. If people see a delicious-sounding preparation of something on a menu that they know is also supposed to be good for them, that dish becomes an easy sell. Manufacturers effectively apply the same tactic by slapping the words "superfruit" or "antioxidants" on everything from iced tea to face cream. But kale is more than just trendy, it's substantial, and you can use it in dishes for any meal of the day. Sneak it into smoothies and scrambles, make a salad out of it at lunch, and wilt it with something fatty and salty as a side for meat or fish.
Where we've seen them: Where didn't we see them? Cooked and raw dark leafy greens have never been fully absent from American plates, but until a few years ago you were much more likely to see spinach and rapini (where did rapini go this year, by the way?) than kale or Swiss chard. Some notable appearances included the sinfully good creamed kale at Mona Restaurant & Bar, served on the side of grilled pork tenderloin and figgy jam; braised Swiss chard and a mix of other greens, cooked down in a wood-fired oven with a good dose of citrus at Sparks; the Swiss chard cake with sorrel yogurt at the Kenwood; and a baby variety of kale in a Caesar salad with soft-boiled egg and sweet bread crumbs at Union.
Will they stick around?: We're seeing collard greens pop up here and there, but kale is here to stay for a few more years at least.
What: Sauce Choron
Why it's trendy: Because bearnaise and hollandaise have been done to death. We need a new egg-yolk-and-melted butter-based sauce to love.
Where we've seen it: Choron (which is essentially bearnaise without the chervil or tarragon but with either tomato paste or puree blended into it) went beautifully over poached eggs, caramelized Brussels sprouts, broccoli romanesco, and soft leeks at Bachelor Farmer. Stewart Woodman paired sauce Choron with soft-scrambled eggs on a croissant for brunch at Birdhouse. A smear of Choron added extra luxury to the already extravagant butter-poached lobster with crispy bone marrow at La Belle Vie. And Eli's East topped house-cured pastrami hash with a dollop of Choron for good measure.
Will it stick around?: If anything, this trend will only grow stronger. Choron sounds exotic but tastes familiar, and its salmon-pink hue adds beautiful color to otherwise pale foods like fish and eggs.
Why it's trendy: It's easy to share, people love meat, and there's been a swing in the pendulum back to tip-to-tail and made-from-scratch everything. Call it the Portlandia effect, but the dream of the 1890s is also alive in the Twin Cities.
Where we've seen it: It's become ubiquitous, even at places you'd never expect to be making their own charcuterie. Standouts include the turkey braunschweiger at Butcher & the Boar, the incredible chicken liver mousse at Union, terrines and speck at Ward 6, and the ever-changing plate (with great cheese selections too) at Harriet Brasserie.
Will it stick around?: The idea of doing everything you possibly can from scratch seems like it's become the standard, but in the next few years the philosophy may manifest itself in other things like house pickles and artisan yogurt. We've seen plenty of examples of both already.
An honorable mention goes to marshmallows, which we've seen making a comeback in desserts like the smoked s'mores at Butcher & the Boar; infused with the flavors of stout beer and Earl Grey tea at Golden Fig; and used as a flotation device in Parka's chicken wild rice soup. But will they stick? Probably not. Or at least they won't suddenly be everywhere. I predict adventurous pastry and sous chefs will start experimenting more with candy floss (a.k.a. cotton candy) in sweet and salty varieties.
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