Thoughts and Predictions for the 2012 Food Scene

It's no secret that the Valley food scene is slow to hop aboard the gastronomical trend train, but that doesn't mean it can't surprise us every once in a while. And when it comes to food predictions for Arizona eaters in 2012, I'm certainly no fortuneteller, but given high food prices continuously making headlines, what happened in the Valley food scene in 2011, and our overall love of good eats, I'm happy to take a few scrumptious stabs at what we can look forward to (or not) in the New Year.

Nutella Goes Nuts: Most of the free world knows that Nutella, the chocolate hazelnut spread, is the food equivalent of a double rainbow ending in a pile of unicorns, puppies, and sparklers. Even now, restaurants like 32 Shea in Phoenix will put Nutella in your coffee or slather it on a piece of toast with bananas for breakfast. And Scottsdale's new Cuoco Pazzo uses it in its warm soufflé pecan crepes. But in 2012, Valley chefs and restaurants will really spread the spread in the form of creative dishes like Nutella enchiladas, French toast, pizzas, dessert pastas, salty snacks like popcorn, and drinks like adult Nutella hot chocolate and Nutella-laced cocktails.

Breakfast/Brunch Gets Big: It's quick, easy, and fairly inexpensive — so why wouldn't Valley restaurants start adding the most important meal of the day to their menus? Damon Brasch of Green and Nami is experimenting with a weekend vegan brunch, downtown's Cibo pizzeria started serving a weekend brunch in December, and the new Sunnyslope wine bar, Timo, opened in October with a wood-fired brunch already on the menu. Look for even more breakfast and brunch offerings to come in the new year and be ready to greet the day hungry for the next a.m. adventure.

Expect more food trucks to roll into the Valley in 2012.
Expect more food trucks to roll into the Valley in 2012.

No One Eats Alone Again. Ever: Thanks to an increasing number of food truck sightings, communal tables in restaurants, pop-ups, underground dining groups, food raves, and all matter of tech-i-fied social gathering apps like Foursquare, Yelp, GoWalla, and Living Social in 2012, eating out solo in the Valley will be so 2011. Sharing food experiences is where it's at next year. Which means knowing when and where your cookbook book club, raw food troop, or "I Heart Pork" posse is going to meet next. Got a Groupon or a social media scoop discount for that event? Even better.

Food Trucks Peak, Then Get Screwed: With the first Food Truck Festival, Food Truck Fridays at Phoenix Public Market, and more new mobile kitchens coming onto the scene than you could throw a spare tire at, there's no denying that the Valley's food truck phenomenon exploded in 2011. So what happens next? In 2012, Valley chefs and local restaurants deliciously get into the act (Think a Barrio Queen restaurante sobre ruedas or a Chef Christopher Gross Grub To-Go) and even add cocktails and beer offerings into the mobile mix. But then, when the food truck star is shining the brightest — the supernova: Corporations like Wendy's, Chipotle, and Denny's smell money, create their own mobile eateries, saturate the waters, and eventually start screwing everything up. Ugh.

More Gardens Get Growing: The Parlor Pizzeria in Central Phoenix has one outside its entryway, District American Kitchen in Downtown's Sheraton has one on its roof. Noting last year's 17 percent rise in the number of farmers markets throughout the nation and the current trend of supporting locally grown eats, more restaurants will respond in 2012 to a growing number of patrons interested in knowing where their food comes from by planting their own gardens or reaching out to a growing number of local sources who can provide the greens for them — including community gardens. That means smaller, more seasonal menus that change regularly, requiring patrons to put their trust in the overall output of the restaurant or chef (as well as the farmer) and not in a single dish.

Chefs Get Packaged: Who says good eats from favorite Valley chefs and restaurants have to end with the last course? Thanks to successful items like Chris Bianco's organic canned tomatoes and chef Justin Beckett's holiday offerings of pumpkin seed brittle and organic cranberry orange jam in 2011, Valley diners got to take the deliciousness home. In 2012, with food prices still on the rise, folks might be opting to eat at home more, but they're going to want to do it with flair and a little help. In the New Year, expect to see more packaged goodness from Valley taste makers and restaurants as well as dedicated retail areas selling the signature wares along with other tempting take-home treats.

Mixologists Rise to Celebrity Status: Citizen R + D, the intimate, 30-person cocktail lounge that opened upstairs at Citizen Public House in Scottsdale in December with the help of master mixologist Richie Moe, is just the beginning of what might be the year of alcohol-fueled celebrity. Sure, the Valley has always loved to imbibe, but in 2012 drinkers will be delighted by a slew of cocktail connoisseurs whose names will become as familiar as those of standout Valley chefs — and restaurants will benefit from having their own mixologist mogul behind the bar. Will it be mixed drinks on tap? Boozy jellies? Mini-cocktails? Whatever new creations are mixed, shaken, or stirred in the New Year, they'll be made more memorable (and worthy of a name drop) with some celebrity in the recipe. Laura Hahnefeld

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