Bacon, food trucks, cake pops, kale and farm-to-table dining were all the rage in 2012. But it's 2013, which means the way has been cleared for all sorts of new food trends to take center stage.
Using lots of data and sophisticated algorithms, many marketing groups and trade associations have made their predictions as to what will be hot in the new year. But, to get a glimpse into the culinary crystal ball, all you really have to do is take a close look at local restaurants and markets to see where the future is headed.
"Popcorn is the snack of 2013," says the Boulder, Colorado-based communications firm Sterling-Rice Group. This fits in nicely with one of last year's big trends, eating more whole grains. Popcorn is natural and low in fat and calories.
But, of course, options go beyond just plain or buttered. Look for popcorn dusted with everything from lime and cilantro to curry powder and maple syrup. The newly renovated Redding Roadhouse offers bacon popcorn on its bar menu. That's right -- popcorn popped in bacon fat with added bacon bits mixed in. It definitely takes away from popcorn's healthy aspect, but it's wildly tasty and addictive.
We survived the long, drawn-out trend of flavored vodkas from all over the world. Now, this year, the focus will get back to locally crafted spirits, most notably beer.
While microbrews were all the rage in the 1990s, now it's all about craft beer. (Basically, the difference between the two has to do with the size of the batches and the quality of the ingredients. For a detailed explanation, seek out a beer enthusiast. They're everywhere.)
This year, all eyes (and taste buds) will be on Two Roads Brewing Co., the area's newest brewery that just opened in Stratford.
Another big beverage of 2013 will be tea. While lattes and cappuccinos will still be popular, the health trends associated with food will lead to more tea drinkers.
In November, Starbucks acquired the retail tea chain Teavana, and opened its first Tazo tea store in Seattle. Westport recently welcomed a new tea store to Main Street. David's Tea offers over 150 different types of loose tea available hot, iced or in bulk.
"You should've seen the college students coming here to stock up before going back to school," said assistant manager Diana Jeudy. "We're opening up the tea market for people."
Kale was last year's veggie super star. This year, expect Brussels sprouts to pop up on menus and at farm stands. Once reviled, the "mini cabbages" now will become the most sought-after side dish. On Le Farm's current menu, they offer "Brussels sprouts and duck two ways," while Dressing Room has caramelized Brussels sprouts with shallots and cranberries.
The past few years, we've seen tons of new gluten-free products becoming available at the supermarket. This year, expect an explosion. Now it's not only people with celiac disease who are eating gluten-free.
Dieters are picking up the lifestyle as a way to lose weight (keep an ear out for the term, "wheat belly").
You'll find gluten-free options at almost every restaurant, including, surprisingly, bakeries and Italian restaurants. The Pantry in Fairfield offers gluten-free brownies and Quattro Pazzi's menu includes gluten-free cavatelli, ravioli and tortelloni.
Menus on actual paper are so old school. This year, expect technology to make its way into the dining room. According to a survey done by the National Restaurant Association, 27 percent of chefs interviewed ranked tablet computers, such as iPads, as the hottest technology trend in restaurants in 2013.
Visit Wafu in Southport and you'll be handed an iPad when you sit down instead of a leather-bound menu.
Patti Woods is a freelance writer. Contact her at email@example.com.
THE (TRENDING) SCOOP
Redding Roadhouse: Check out the bar menu for a basket of bacon popcorn. 406 Redding Road, West Redding. 203-938-3388. www.reddingroadhouse.com
Two Roads Brewing Co.: The region's newest craft brewery. 1700 Stratford Ave., Stratford. 203-335-2010. www.tworoadsbrewing.com
David's Tea: More than 150 different types of tea. 135 Main St., Westport. 203-221-4435. www.davidstea.com
Le Farm: Brussels sprouts and duck two ways. 226 Post Road East, Westport. 203-557-3701. www.lefarmwestport.com
Dressing Room: Caramelized Brussels sprouts with shallots and cranberries. 25 Powers Court, Westport. 203-226-1114. www.dressingroomrestaurant.com
The Pantry: gluten-free brownies. 1580 Post Road, Fairfield. 203-259-0400. www.thepantry.net
Quattro Pazzi: Four types of gluten-free pasta. 1599 Post Road, Fairfield. 203-259-7417. www.quattropazzi.com
Wafu: High-tech menus. 3671 Post Road, Southport section of Fairfield. 203-251-2288. www.wafuasianbistro.com