The only thing certain about annual lists of what to expect in the year ahead is that nearly everything on them is wrong.
Or, at least wrong-ish. People generally don’t tether their likes and dislikes to the calendar, so a 2014 prediction that didn’t pan out might well have become a way-of-life by 2017. For example, Good Housekeeping’s 2012 call that the year ahead would be filled with pickles, white sugar alternatives, salty desserts and novel pasta shapes doesn’t sound especially bold in retrospect.
Still, it’s fun to play prognosticator. So once again, the experts have issued their rulings, declaring that eaters in 2019 will replace the dairy alternative currently in their coffee with powdered coconut milk, gravitate toward snacks that promise to strengthen their bones (perhaps because they’ve taken most of the calcium out of their coffee) and start their meals with compact dumplings inspired by Central Asian cooking. At least, that’s what the folks at The Kroger Co., Mintel and Baum + Whiteman say.
There are a few points of convergence on the many 2019 trends-to-watch roundups, and a number of them seem like they could take hold in the Charleston area. The following list of projections is based on both national crystal ball readings and circumstances specific to the local scene. And remember, if none of them come true, we told you so.
Offbeat places to eat, Part I: Across the country, an increasing number of non-restaurants are nosing in on meal service, including movie theaters and bank branches. Charleston has already witnessed various attempts to fuse food with traditional retail, including The Skinny Dip, which in early 2017 opened with a lineup of frose and frocks. But it’s likely still more sellers will urge their customers to stay for a drink or small plate in the years ahead.
Additionally, the many planned hotels and residential complexes with ground-floor shops have to figure out how to get a share of locals’ food-and-drink dollars when elaborate dining rooms have proven far from a sure thing. (That said, the restaurant at the forthcoming Hotel Bennett is one of the few promised venues commanding any attention, in part because the chef was recruited from Galatoire’s in New Orleans).
Offbeat places to eat, Part II: Since it’s become too costly for restaurants to deal with down time, look for more arrangements in which an existing restaurant serves as the standing backdrop to a different concept, much as The Daily hosted Kwei Fei before it found a place of its own. Normandy Farm housed the now-defunct Bar Normandy and Tu turned over its space to a pastry maker during the day.
Playing it safe: Speaking of Tu, reaction to the restaurant switching to an all-Indian menu has been split, with many fans holding both opinions at once. They’re eager for more Indian food but sorry to see Tu abandon its opening commitment to eclecticism. Yet as owner Josh Walker explained to The Post and Courier, it’s challenging in a market as competitive as Charleston’s to run a restaurant that can’t be explained in one or two words.
While Tu is likely to still take risks in its revised incarnation, the restaurant’s understandable sensitivity to customer skepticism suggests most owners will conclude this isn’t the time to take chances. Brace for culinary conservatism (especially if the talked-about recession materializes).
Driving traffic: Meal kits put a dent in people’s desire to eat at restaurants but the newly widespread availability of home delivery has almost crushed it. Restaurant owners, who aren’t keen to lose out on the money collected by delivery services or see careless drivers damage their food’s reputation, are seeking compromise solutions, such as the pick-up window at Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Look for restaurants to find more creative ways to scale back the service portion of dining out, along with anything else that smacks of being beyond the customer’s comfort zone.
DIY dessert: Life Raft Treats and Renzo, two 2018 high points featured in the Dec. 26 Food section, both did an excellent job of turning restaurant patrons’ pastry frowns upside-down by demonstrating that wit and deliciousness can be accessed through ice cream, which conveniently doesn’t require a chef on the premises, and has a much longer shelf life than mille-feuille. Expect more restaurants to experiment with desserts that try to compensate for a full-time pastry chef with interactivity, cleverness and fresh produce.
Sweet stories: Ice cream and cake tend to garner lots of likes on Instagram, which is fine by the restaurants serving them. As frequent restaurant-goers know, restaurants long ago quietly adjusted their seating arrangements and interior lighting to help patrons produce the most flattering social media shots.
Now, though, frequent Instagrammers are putting their energy into Instagram Stories, which are designed to showcase the progression of time rather than fix a single moment. In other words, savvy restaurateurs are likely to develop more drinks that change colors, appetizers that change shape and desserts that don’t merely allow for interactivity but demand it.
Put a biodegradable fork in it: Another trend likely to carry over from 2018 is the vicious hatred of plastic straws and utensils, the former being recently banned by the city of Charleston (Mount Pleasant, Folly Beach, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island already had plastic bans in place). Compliant restaurateurs are likely to start flaunting their environmental sensitivity with high-end metal straws and other earth-friendly items which, not coincidentally, look great in an Instagram Story.
Protein alternatives: Possibly even before consumers develop a powdered coconut milk habit, they’re likely to flirt with the new class of lab-built proteins, including eggs and meat. Don’t believe it? Just wait a few months. The popularity of nondairy milks grew at a spectacular pace, with sales surging 61 percent between 2012 and 2017.
And a toast to 2019: The soothsayers agree that beans are likely to have a better year than bread (which bodes well for the Lowcountry’s heirloom varieties). But those who monitor the wine world say an increasing number of drinkers are liable to lift a glass of something chilled, light and red in 2019, displacing rose as the go-to glass for warmer weather relaxation. Take note, Charleston.