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If I could do an article on the best coq au vin instead of the best fast-food biscuit, this town would be in much better shape.
Here we are wrapping up another year of food storytelling in the Port City, and I’m trying to find what really launched us forward this year. We’ve had a few restaurants open and more to come, but I can’t really say what trends we should associate with 2019. Perhaps you’d say there were a lot of “bowl” places, you know, the built-to-order, assembly line style of dining that has been so popular.
It’s like Morrison’s, but healthier. “I’ll have a little of that. Some of that. Yeah, that sauce would be great, but not too much.” From sandwiches and pizza to burritos, Greek and poké, we’ve stood in the queue only to reinvent what Subway has been doing for years.
Mobile is perpetually a day or two behind the larger cities when it comes to culinary trends, but I’ve come to accept that as a positive. Some things are just too damned flighty. But once we see something catching on, witnessing it work elsewhere, we usually embrace it. The pimiento cheese craze hit us a little late, but it hit hard, thanks in part to Pretty Perfect Pimento Cheese. Gourmet deviled eggs blew up in popularity, but hit Mobile when The Noble South raised the bar. Dumbwaiter was slinging brussels sprouts early on in their game. Poké and ramen were hot trends five years ago in the more metro areas, but are still getting their legs here.
We are, for the most part, followers of trends after a slight buffer, but we also have set some trends, not only as NOLA’s sister city, but on our own. Gumbo, grits and grillades, and the perfect shrimp po’boy can be argued much the way Mardi Gras is fought over, but you can bet your sweet MoonPie that West Indies salad came from here. Oh, and oyster farming is as prevalent here as anywhere!
We are no stranger to setting benchmarks.
So what are the new trends? I’m no Carnac the Magnificent. There is no culinary crystal ball. But I do read a lot of periodicals and watch which of their predictions come and go. Goat meat never caught on (I wish it would), nor did wild game such as elk (I really wish it would). Raw wines aren’t really as popular here, but I don’t see them skyrocketing in other places, either.
So what are the new “trends”? It’s been a decade that began with fusion menus and then followed a path through the “perfect” burger, which then became ridiculously huge with wild toppings. Nashville hot chicken is still loved by the cool kids, but we never got anything with real heat on a regular menu to my knowledge.
It has been the age of creativity for chefs near and far, a time when no matter how far-fetched the imagination, a CIA grad could make anything work and be respected. If I told someone the chef at this restaurant uses Fruit Roll-ups, pulverized Crunch Berries and Gatorade (original formula, not any of that Fierce garbage) in the sauce for the chicken, most of you would say, “Wow, that sounds interesting. I’ve gotta try that!” All of these weird ideas were molded into decent dishes that could have taken a shortcut.
Then how did we cap off the decade? A chicken sandwich. That’s it. If Time magazine had a Food Trend of the Year, the Popeyes mega-hit would rightfully be on the cover.
So here is what I’m hopeful for, Mobile. Here is how I believe we can be at the forefront of food in the Roaring ’20s. The avant-garde isn’t going away. But I see a public who would embrace the classic dishes of yesteryear.
We miss well-executed favorites that had nothing odd in their name or list of ingredients. You can tell me who has your favorite taco, but what about ratatouille? If I could do an article on the best coq au vin instead of the best fast-food biscuit, this town would be in much better shape.
I’m certain the last chance I was afforded a nibble of beef wellington was at a wedding in the ’90s. When was the last time you saw French cassoulet or beef bourguignon on a menu? Chicken cordon bleu and à la King may have been fads at one point, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t excellent.
I could see more Italian in this town without a pizza oven. I love you, Via Emilia, but there is only one of you. We are also short on the lunch crowd’s meat and three. I think Café 219, Mama’s on Dauphin and the newish Truman’s fit this bill, but there is nothing of the sort save the Dew Drop Inn and Butch Cassidy’s from Midtown to the west.
And for the love of all that is holy, could we please get a true New York-style deli here? If I could choose a great pastrami on quality rye with the perfect mustard and pickle over an oversized burger with something weird on it, I would. Every. Single. Time.
Mobilians need lunch spots for quick daily specials and sandwiches with tickets under $12 and dinner spots (not chains) where a couple could have a date night and get out for $50 with a glass of wine or a beer each. We would eat out more often.
Normal food, if there is such a thing, is making a comeback. I’m not talking about retro dishes. Those are fun, but have no staying power. Restaurants don’t have to reinvent the wheel, nor do they have to have menu items with any shock value. I think 2020 could be the start of something beautiful, and Mobile could play follow the leader or stand at the front of the pack. There is a lot of talent in this town. I can’t wait to see what our chefs will do this year. I, for one, am hopeful.
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