Florida’s menu for the next 10 years is easy to predict in some ways:
More beer, small plates, take-out and delivery, burgers, barbecue tacos and
pizza and all-hours dining. More fresh and local, especially beer.
Beyond that? It’s anyone’s guess. In the meantime, here’s what’s headed our way …
Carrots and Farro
Charred, parboiled, caramelized or pureed, carrots are the latest in the vegetable renaissance pioneered by kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Look beyond quinoa for other ancient grains, like farro, freekeh and spelt. Expect more veggies from the deep, from kelp to sea beans.
Chefs will smoke, cure, trim and grind more meat and fish in-house for burgers, meatloaf, sausage and salamis. As beef prices rise, more pork, wild boar and lamb will show up as premium cuts, yet $60 rib-eyes will remain. Wagyu and other premium names will show up in burgers and stews. Next big fish: Branzino.
This will be the fashionable term for healthful restaurants of all sizes and prices, vegan or maybe not, that promote whole and fresh ingredients, sustainability and local produce and humane protein. They eschew too much fat and steer away from peanuts, gluten, soy or dairy or other taboos of the moment. FitLife Foods now provides ready-made meals from chicken pho to paleo sloppy Joes at 15 locations in Tampa Bay, Orlando and south Florida from a modern central kitchen in Plant City.
We will drink more of our meals as traditional meal times lose relevance. Our days and refrigerators will be filled with fork-free lattes, smoothies, kombuchas, craft ales, stouts and $15 craft-bourbon Manhattans. Many restaurants will serve more small plates and drinks than entrees.
Since Millennials stay home binge watching, smart restaurants will strive to make dining more fun and sociable. Alluring decor, even rough, tumble and distressed, will be essential. Expect more steampunk than tropical. As more diners host family parties at restaurants, tables will be bigger, and more dishes from appetizers to roasts will be served “for the table.”
Fewer Dinner Tables — Or None
Dining rooms will be smaller and open fewer nights as more diners eat take-out or delivery at home. Some restaurants will go “headless” without any sit-down service. New Outback & Carrabba’s Express locations have one kitchen dishing out both menus in to-go containers.
Diners will rediscover soup, an unsung triumph of many kitchens. It will join the endless foods in bowls that need no fork: Tuna poke, ramen, eggs and grits, cereal, acai, hummus and health meals. Look for spoon-free eating, too, like cereal milkshakes.
For chefs and restaurateurs, technology goes beyond appetizers and tabletop iPads to the hard stuff. Even cooks playing with fire will use high-end grills from Japan and Spain. Smart kitchens will have blast chillers, Pacojet ice cream makers, nitrogen, dry ice and dehydrators, convection and induction ovens. Three-D printers and designers will make mobile pop-ups like the Cucuyo restaurant constructed entirely from 3-D printers at the Perez Art Gallery in Miami.
The avalanches of doughnuts, cronuts and cupcakes has spurred more entrepreneurs to zero in on sweet treats like milkshakes at Vicky’s House (Miami) and popsicles at Hyppo (locations from St. Petersburg to St. Augustine). A menu of cookie-dough treats at Dough Nation (Tampa) is run by and for a homeless ministry.
We will eat our way deeper into the cuisines we know broadly. Italian is more than north and south; taste Sardinia in Sarasota and Venice at Ristorante Acqua Alta in Clearwater. Catalonia has pronounced flavors distinct from Spain at NIU Kitchen in Miami. Latin cooking will lose its monolithic reputation as we delight in Salvadoran pupusas and Uruguayan chivitos.
The casualization and rustification of dining is most obvious in Asian foods once considered pristine and precious. New Asian small-plate restaurants now specialize in the ramen and izakaya of working-class Japanese, Vietnamese banh mi, Thai satay and the street food of Malaysian markets like Hawkers, which now has four locations.
Harissa and Fenugreek
Diners and chefs will explore more ethnic foods from Africa and the Middle East through Central Asia and Korea for new flavors and techniques. Tiffins at Disney’s Animal Kingdom for instance, ranges from black-eyed pea fritters to pomegranate chicken.
Not So Much
Some ideas pushed by trend-mongers will get frustratingly few bites. No-tipping policies will work at the very high and low end, but in most restaurants, diners want to keep prices lower and keep tips at their discretion. Likewise, communal tables seem cool but are second choice for most diners; sitting at the counter will prove more popular.