NRN reflects on the top food and beverage trends of 2015.
Which Wich Superior Sandwiches
This year didn’t see a mere acceleration of America’s lovefest with bacon. In fact, instances of silly bacon — candied bacon, chocolate-covered bacon, bacon in cocktails — might actually have waned. However, unprecedented low bacon prices over the summer saw a spate of BLT limited-time offers, as well as a few new bacon milkshakes.
Pictured: Which Wich Superior Sandwich's Bacon Milkshake
Grain was widespread on menus in 2015. These grains varied from “ancient” (as in Starbucks’ Ancient Grain flatbread, made mostly from Khorasan wheat) to “super” (as in Veggie Grill’s supergrains mix that includes millet, buckwheat, quinoa and brown rice) to multi-grain (a popular sandwich bread descriptor) to simply whole grain, with its growing presence in rolls, buns, toast and pizza. Related or not, the year also saw a lot of whole-grain mustard.
Pictured: LYFE Kitchen's Ancient Grains Bowl
Max's Wine Dive
Independent restaurants across the country experimented with “Hot Chicken,” the Nashville delicacy of spicy fried chicken. And fried chicken sandwiches appeared at places like Shake Shack, which introduced a Chicken Shack at its Brooklyn, N.Y., locations over the summer, and Fuku, a two-unit operation by celebrity chef David Chang that specializes in fried chicken sandwiches.
Pictured: Max's Wine Dive's fried chicken
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen
Spicy burritos, tacos and wings are to be expected, but this year chile was everywhere. Besides the spread of Nashville-style “hot chicken,” customers could find the spice in the chile ranch dressing on the Butternut Ranch Salad at Modern Market, in the Boom Boom sauce on Togo’s new pastrami sandwich, and in Dos Caminos Pink Grapefruit, Jícama and Watercress Salad sprinkled with a chile lime sea salt. Although Sriracha remained ubiquitous, other spicy elements found their way onto menus across the country, including Chinese Szechuan peppercorns and Peruvian aji amarillo.
Pictured: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen's Wild Pepper Tenderloins
Native Foods Cafe
There was a lot of talk of the rise of Korean food over the course of the year, but Thai trumped it, both in the number of mentions and its appearances in places where you wouldn’t expect it, like the sweet Thai chili sauce that’s now a condiment available at White Castle.
Pictured: Native Foods Cafe's Thai Meatball Bowl
The Brass Tap
Whether it was Canadian poutine, all-American chili cheese fries or variations of fried potatoes with other food on top of them, these items of low food cost and high deliciousness frequented menus this year, including the new Philly Cheesesteak Loaded Street Fries at Johnny Rockets. That’s a plate of fries topped with all the fixings of a Philly Cheesesteak, minus the Amoroso roll. Charleys Philly Steak took a similar approach this summer with its Pepperoni Pizza Fries covered in grilled pepperoni, onions, mushrooms and green peppers, all smothered in a provolone and cheddar cheeses sauce and topped with Italian seasoning.
Pictured: The Brass Tap's Beer Cheese and Bacon Fries
The classic Moscow Mule is a beverage of vodka, ginger beer and lime served in an ice-cold copper mug. There are now twists on the drink, including Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant’s Barenjager Mule, made with that honey liqueur, ginger beer and lime, and the Mexican Mule at Legal Sea Foods, which has mescal, tequila, muddled grapefruit, lime and ginger beer. Hooters offered three mules this summer: the Melon Mule (melon vodka, lime juice and ginger), the Happy Mule (ruby red grapefruit vodka, agave syrup, lime juice and ginger) and the American Mule, a Moscow Mule made with American Vodka.
India Pale Ale became an even more dominant player in the craft beer scene, accounting for more than 27 percent of all craft beer sales, according to the Craft Brewers Association, up from around 19 percent last year.
Nitro coffee — coffee infused with nitrous oxide, like stout beer — is a thing in trendy coffeehouses these days. Cold brew, coffee made by steeping grounds in cold water, is on the permanent menu at Starbucks. New variations of coffee also came into play in 2015, like the coffee cocktails at Everyman Espresso in New York City, where coffee replaces alcohol drinks; the Espresso Old Fashioned drink is made with a shot of espresso, bitters, simple syrup and a citrus twist.
Pictured: Caribou Coffee's Nitro Coffee