Looking into the crystal ball to predict what we’re going to eat and drink over the next year is always one of my favorite stories to write as the New Year approaches. It’s a combination of guesswork, wishful thinking, and piecing together the small group ideas of the past 12 months that have caught on.
During the pandemic, however, there were few clear answers, although more frequent changes took the entire food industry in new directions.
Here are some of the innovations that I believe will continue into 2022, finding new audiences or becoming important trends for eaters in Sonoma County.
All herbal: If you still call a plant-based diet vegetarianism, catch up. The reduction in the consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs has become widespread, and most of us have already tried meatless burgers, meatless Mondays and increasingly creative meatless dishes in restaurants which consist less of “doing without” and more of enjoying without.
We’ll see a continued explosion of alternatives for staples (“eggs” without eggs, ”frozen entrees without meat, all jackfruit) as well as chefs adding even more meatless menu items as we go. demand is increasing.
Cozy Plum Bistro de Santa Rosa (1899 Mendocino Ave., 707-526-3333, cosyplum.com) created a comforting and accessible menu with dishes like ‘loaded tots’, crispy tater tots with soy taco ‘meat’, non-dairy cheese, cashew sour cream and pico of gallo; and Philly cheesesteak with meatless steak, peppers, onions and a vegan herb cheese sauce. Little Saint is an herbal restaurant set to open in Healdsburg in February. Branch Line, another meatless restaurant, opens in Railroad Square this spring.
Restaurants open less than days: Staff issues have forced restaurants to rethink their hours. Restaurant owners just can’t afford to stay open on a sleepy Wednesday afternoon or ghostly Monday night. Instead, they will only open during peak hours.
After struggling to find office workers, John Ash & Co. of Vintner’s Inn and Resort recently announced that they will be closed two days a week. Reservations are increasingly needed everywhere, and you may be directed to reservation apps like Tock that require you to enter a credit card number with your reservation. That way, if you don’t show up you may have to pay high fees, which discourages no-shows that hurt restaurant results.
Diversified economic models: Restaurants are no longer just restaurants. They also sell pantry items, kitchen items, and lifestyle household items to generate more income. Stockhome (220 Western Ave, Petaluma, 707-981-8511, stockhomepetaluma.com) sells Swedish candy and housewares as well as locally made jewelry, clothing and other goods. Gasthaus Franchetti (1229 N. Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-526-1229, franchettis.com) rents their restaurant kitchen after hours as a commercial kitchen to caterers and emerging food companies.
Local delivery options: National delivery services like Grubhub, DoorDash, and UberEats have almost completely cornered the food delivery market, and the hit to restaurants – up to 30% of the tab – is brutal. Local delivery options like Redwood Food Taxi, Petaluma Food Taxi, and Sonoma Food Taxi are keeping local dollars and working with restaurants to make the process fairer.
High-end catering is not going to disappear: Luxury catering is booming. After locking themselves in at home, many want to spend their money on a dining experience that offers, whether it’s hosting customers with deep pockets or some special craziness for a couple. Expensive restaurants like Single Thread (131 North St., Healdsburg, 707-723-4646, singlethreadfarms.com) and The Matheson (106 Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707-723-1106, thematheson.com) have been reserved for months. Restaurant Cyrus, a retaliation for chef Douglas Keane’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant that closed in 2012, is slated to open at the end of 2022.
Refined menus with hyperlocal ingredients: Long menus with everything but the kitchen sink will be organized so that restaurants can reduce soaring meat prices, take advantage of seasonal produce and isolate themselves from supply chain issues.
Expect menu prices to continue to rise as the cost of ingredients and operations rises for restaurateurs who cannot offset those costs with bulk or cheaper ingredients. We will also see prices rise in supermarkets as consumers question the environmental and other impacts of industrial agriculture and problems with meat production and supply become the norm.
Luxury steaks: Concerns about the environmental impact of beef are growing, leading many consumers to buy from smaller production ranches. And there are only a limited number of cuts of prime rib and tenderloin on a cow, which makes them increasingly expensive.
Watch for more braised meats from cheaper cuts, ground beef, creative uses of offal (still a tough sell for many Americans), and consumers willing to buy high-end, sustainable steaks as luxuries in restaurants. At home, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) meat options like Panizzera Meat Co.’s subscription boxes will allow local meat producers to sell direct to consumers, cut costs and offer meat. locally raised (panizzerameatco.com).
A brand new aperitif: Alcohol consumption is changing. Take-out cocktails are a boon to restaurants with full liquor licenses and will continue in the state of California after the pandemic (whatever it is).
Low-alcohol or non-alcoholic cocktails are growing in popularity, focusing on flavor rather than buzz potential. Brands like Seedlip have pioneered alcohol-free spirits, and a new generation of alcohol-free gins that express botanical qualities is exceptional. Across the fence, canned cocktails at full strength are on the rise as several local businesses jump on the bandwagon. Cappy Shakes cocktails from former Duke founders Cappy Sorentino and Steven Maduro lead the pack with not-too-sweet versions of Tiki-inspired gin and tonic, Sidewinder Fang and Cucumber Cooler. Griffo Distillery, Zaddy’s, Alley 6, and Barrel Brothers also make top-notch canned party entrees.
Mushrooms as a tonic: Mushrooms are no longer just for pizza. The healing properties of fungi are becoming more and more important. Farmacopia (95 Montgomery Drive, No. 90, Santa Rosa, 707-528-4372, farmacopia.net) is a local seller with a lot of variety.
Commercial kitchens as launching pads: Unused or lightly used commercial kitchens are worth their weight in gold for new restaurant entrepreneurs looking to establish a foothold.
Old Possum Brewing in Santa Rosa (357 Sutton Place, 707-303-7177, oldpossumbrewing.com) has helped several restaurant concepts come to fruition, including Austin’s Southern Smoke BBQ and Bayou on the Bay. The combination of a brasserie and an outside catering service has become big business, allowing everyone to stick with what they know best. We’ve also seen a boom in local food truck traffic in places like Shady Oak (420 First St., Santa Rosa, 707-575-7687, shadyoakbarrelhouse.com), Cooperage Brewing (981 Airway Court, Santa Rosa, cooperagebrewing.com), Hen House Brewing (322 Bellvue Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-978-4577, henhousebrewing.com) and others.