Everybody likes to say that Phoenix is years behind "real" food and drink towns, and for an embarrassingly long time, that was absolutely true. Lately? Not so much. I've read a slew of end-of-the-year predictions about what we Americans will be eating and drinking next year, and in many cases, we've already got glimmers (or more) of those same white-hot trends emerging right here at home.
So take that, San Francisco. Up yours, New York. And Portland, I suggest you watch your back. We're starting to look like one of the cool kids. Sorta. Compare these national trends to what we've got going on right here in Phoenix.
4. Mezcal and Brandy Mezcal, tequila's rustic relative, has been sitting on the sidelines for years now -- maybe because of the worm in the bottle, or maybe because it's only recently been elevated from scary rot gut to small-batch, artisanal status. I remember a wonderful mezcal dinner at Tarbell's five years ago and plenty of fine cocktails (including a fantastic punch) made with mezcal when Jason Asher was running the show at Mabel's on Main. Now, the soothsayers say, this faintly floral, decidedly smoky spirit is destined for mainstream popularity. I'm totally on board. Prognosticators say brandy and cognac will be the year's hottest resurrections, but I think rye will continue to grow, as will old school liqueurs such as Benedictine, Lillet and Chartreuse. 5. Barrel-aging, fat-washing and carbonating/bottling cocktails Barrel-aging -- where bartenders fill casks with pre-mixed drinks and let the flavors develop over several weeks -- has been trending for at least three years now, probably longer in the big cocktail hubs. But it's hardly old news. People are simply finding different things to barrel-age and in different conditions (like ocean-aging bourbon, for example). And then, of course, there's fat-washing: infusing a spirit with something fatty, such as meat, butter or oil to add flavor and interesting mouth feel. But the newest bartending trick and the one that requires the coolest toys is carbonating entire cocktails, then bottling them. Richie Moe and his crew at Citizen Public House play with all of these techniques, and they're only going to become more popular in 2013, so we can expect to see them wherever our best bartenders work.
6. Bread Who doesn't love bread? Oh sure, the gluten-free enthusiasts pooh-pooh it (another ongoing and growing trend, to be sure), but most of us offer up give-us-this-day prayers, well, daily. And this year, they're being answered. Not only are more restaurants baking their own artisan loaves, some are even offering bread courses. We haven't seen that one here yet but we can hope. Nevertheless, Phoenix doesn't lack for yummy house-baked bread (think Italian Restaurant, St. Francis, Quiessence and Binkley's, just to name a few). Some restaurants even buy their flour from recently re-opened Hayden Flour Mill. I'm guessing we'll also see more ethnic breads and more artisan bakeries as well.
7. Technology Food-related instagram-ing was huge in 2012, and it's not going away anytime soon. Ditto for instagram menus, iPad cooking apps or simply using the iPad for bar and restaurant tabs. While we're on the techno subject, liquid nitrogen will still be used in food and even cocktails. Bartenders are jumping off the technology cliff in droves. But nobody will be calling it "molecular gastronomy" anymore. That's over.
8. Smoking and pickling We smoked us some bacon last year, but in 2013, there'll be no end to what we smoke. Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain BBQ already smokes sea salt for his fantastic tomato sandwich come summer. Guessing we'll see more of that. Smoked meats of every description (that goes without saying), but how about smoked olive oil and of course, smoked cocktails? Old hat. Binkley's did that last year. As for pickling, we've got that covered too. Sacha Levine not only makes her own under the Green Thumb brand, but also pickles things for Chrysa Robertson at Rancho Pinot and for Charleen Badman at FnB. Bernie Kantak of Citizen will pickle anything that doesn't pickle him first. Meanwhile, "Chops" Smith at Searsucker is so good at it that Kantak calls him "the pickle-whisperer."
9. Juices Consumers are forsaking colas for healthier alternatives: namely, fresh juices, made with vegetables and fruits -- the more exotic, the better. Flavors such as hibiscus, lemon grass and basil will go mainstream. Scottsdale's own Juice Core, which makes green drinks, cleanses and elixirs from raw, organic fruits, herbs and veggies has already garnered an impressive share of loyal, come-back-every-week customers. This one seems like a no-brainer. Surely, other new start-ups will cash in on the trend. And why can't we have a small, indie juice bar or two?
10. Nose-to-tail dinners Last summer, Daniel Boulud's dbgb offered an entire pig for up to eight people (plus head cheese to start and Baked Alaska to finish up) for $495. Let's hope this one catches on in Phoenix. Cafe Bink and The Mission are already roasting whole pigs on the weekends, so a whole hog extravaganza sure seems within the realm of possibility, especially since both restaurants already cater using La Caja China (a portable roasting box).
11. Collaboration Although we all love a good food fight and we got a doozie in 2012 from Pete Wells and Guy Fieri, collaboration and resource sharing is the name of the game this year. Super-freak Anthony Bourdain and haute-shot Eric Ripert contributed to a candy bar called the Good & Evil, made by chocolatier Christopher Curtin. We'll see more shared spaces, more pop-ups and more creative events where farmers, artisans, chefs and winemakers work together.
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12. Artisan Food Products/Eating Seasonally Farmers have had their moment, and yes, we still think they're rock stars. In fact, we're finally learning what's in season and why we don't want to eat a peach in December or Brussels sprouts in August. But this year we'll see more artisan everything -- small-batch distilleries, mustard-makers and charcuterie champs. Here in town, Steve Douds makes his own Wonder Mustard, while So We Meat Again is cranking out smoked and cold-smoked sausages and deli meats. We even have a vodka distillery (Arroyo) in Glendale, and our own Bitters Lab in the East Valley. Lots of artisan products can be found at Urban Table, an artisan food shop housed within Jam in Scottsdale.
I've barely scratched the surface here. There's so much more. Feel free to chime in on the trends I haven't covered. And cheers to a 2013 of fantastic food and drink!