What's Hot?

Mike Cook

Besides the oven-like interior of our cars and the lava-like air, what's hot in Baltimore? Every year the National Restaurant Association surveys professional chefs to see what they predict will be hot this year. It's halfway through 2011, so it's time to see if Baltimore is ahead of the trend or barely keeping up.

Here are the NRA's top trends:

1) Locally sourced meats and seafood

2) Locally grown produce

3) Sustainability

All sort of the same, aren't they? The sustainable food trend is so hot that it's certainly not news. I feel Baltimore is right on par with the rest of the country and the chefs' predictions for the top three trends.

4) Nutritionally balanced children's dishes

I see very little of this in local restaurants, but that doesn't mean that children's nutrition isn't a big deal. See below.

5) Hyper-local (restaurant gardens, do your own butchering)

Here I feel we're ahead of the game. Clementine has been producing its own charcuterie since it opened, and it is not alone here. Almost before it started serving, Bluegrass had planters full of herbs outside, and Regi's has long served tomatoes grown from their roof top.

6) Children's nutrition

As I mentioned above, I don't see much attention to kid's menus in Baltimore restaurants, perhaps because many families with kids flee to the county, but debate of children's nutrition is a big deal in the public school area. Sadly, as Urbanite reports, there's more debate than action.

7) Sustainable seafood

In the Chesapeake Bay area, this isn't just a food trend; this is a political issue, a way-of-life issue, and an overall huge issue. Surprisingly, I see less awareness of it on menus than I would expect. You'd think we'd be amongst the best-educated eaters when it comes to sustainable seafood. Except for oysters, I don't think this is true.

Whereas oyster bars are always careful to note where their oysters came from, we aren't even very picky about where our signature crop, the blue crab, comes from. A lot of the city's biggest crab houses import them from the Gulf of Mexico. I suspect that, as a city at least partially known for seafood, restaurants here feel pressured to provide seafood regardless of sustainability. You have to have crab meat on the menu, even if it's flown in from Indonesia.

8) Gluten-free/food allergy conscious

I see some recognition of this popping up, like Camden Yards’s gluten-free crab cake, and even a gluten free menu at the Greene Turtle, but in general this isn't a trend that's hit Baltimore yet.

9) Simplicity/back to basics

I think Baltimore's food scene has always been refreshingly down-to-Earth. A few restaurants dabble with foams and sous vide, but here in Charm City we seem to like our food simple in the first place.

10) Farm/estate branded ingredients.

Number ten would surely be higher up on the list in Baltimore. Farm names are everywhere. It seems you can't even order bison without seeing the word Gunpowder, for Gunpowder Farms. I think this really started trending early last year in Baltimore, when menu descriptions started to read like books. It's most noticeable on cheese plates, but you see it in descriptions of entrees too.

Last but not least, a trend low on the National Restaurant Association's list but one that would be high on Baltimore's: ethnically/street food inspired appetizers - the number one appetizer trend from the survey, but only the 26th most popular trend overall. Around here there's lots of tempura this, chorizo that, or wonton something-or-others, and hummus on every appetizer list in the city. Take the Waterfront Hotel's menu, with chorizo mussels, tamales, and coconut shrimp, or look at the truffle oil popcorn and ahi tuna tartare on Blue Hill Tavern's menu.

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