Restaurant Trends to Expect for 2014 in New Orleans

I am gradually crawling out from under a virus that laid me out over the recent holidays, with the exception of two brief respites provided by steroid shots. I wouldn't say I'm cured, exactly, but I'm at least able to walk around without moaning and coughing. All of which is to say that I hope your New Year's Eve celebration was more exciting than mine. My wife and I fell asleep around 11 p.m., not long after our 19-month old daughter. I reckon the fireworks went on until sometime after midnight, but when I woke again around one, things were quiet.

I am not inclined to retrospectives, so hopefully you aren't expecting me to recap what happened in the restaurant scene last year. Restaurants kept opening, is the main thing, and that's a trend that doesn't seem to be going anywhere. It's still something of a mystery to me how our population, even with an increase in tourism, can support so many ambitious restaurants, but perhaps that's just myopic on my part?

I don't think it's entirely explained by the fact that a lot of the new places are more casual, despite being chef-driven. While it's true the prices at upscale burger joints or pan-Asian noodle shops are lower than the prices at white tablecloth establishments, we're still talking more than the average family would spend cooking at home or even going out to a more “traditional” casual restaurant. Additionally, the growth hasn't been confined to the traditional French Quarter/CBD/Garden District venues; places are popping up all over the city, regardless of whether they'll benefit from regular tourist traffic.

I remember being asked, not long after Katrina, whether I thought restaurants and food could lead the recovery in New Orleans. I honestly don't remember what I said, though I think I wrote an editorial for the TP on the topic, and I'm sure I said something on my personal (now-neglected) blog, Appetites. I hope I said “yes,” or at least, “maybe.” Because while there's a hell of a lot more going on than restaurants in the city these days, restaurants are certainly one of the primary engines driving things.

I'm curious as to what the next trends will be. I think it's safe to say that we'll continue to see more casual restaurants opened by chefs with fine-dining credentials, and as long as the food is good, that's ok with me. I don't think the farm to table movement is abating either, and again, so long as certain allowances are made (don't ask me to give up olive oil, wine or certain Chinese fermented chile pastes) I'm okay with that as well.

There are a number of chefs who are procuring meat in the form of whole animals, then breaking the carcass down themselves. That's a trend I see growing in the next year or two; you'll know I'm right if you start seeing things like liver, heart, spleen and tripe on menus with increasing frequency.

Barbecue is something that hasn't always been a strength in New Orleans, at least in the restaurant scene. That's been slowly changing over the last several years, and my guess is that's another trend that will accelerate in 2014. I know a number of chefs who've bought or made their own large smoking rigs, and I'll bet we'll be seeing the results in their restaurants and possibly in new ventures.

I'm wondering where we'll be with food trucks in the next year. The change to the city's laws regarding mobile food vendors seemed to loosen restrictions, but was it enough to encourage real growth in that industry? I have absolutely no idea, but I'd love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you are a member of said industry…

If I could pick a trend or two that would take off here in 2014, I'd start with more and better Greek restaurants opening. We have a lot of food from the far eastern end of the Mediterranean sea, but not so much from Greece. It's one of the world's great and distinctive cuisines, and we have a significant population of folks who claim ancestry from Greece, so one would think another two or three excellent tavernas would be welcomed, no?

I'd also like to see an even greater expansion of the farmers market scene here. I think the consensus is that we may have reached the saturation point, but one of the best things a farmers market can do in a place like New Orleans is to encourage folks to not only shop for local produce, but to grow it themselves. Most of us have access to at least some sort of yard, and that's just about all it takes to get started growing things for your own table. You likely won't become self-sufficient, but even if it's infrequent, eating something you've grown is satisfying in a way that's hard to explain. (Not so hard to explain – my hatred for the caterpillars and worms that decimated my tomatoes and fennel this past year – bastards).

If you've got an idea about what to expect in 2014 where the food and dining scene is concerned, by all means leave a comment or drop me an email. My New Year's resolution is to listen to people. Or at least not ignore people all the time. As you, dear readers, are presumably people or highly intelligent cats, you mostly count. Our stars align.  

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