While Chattanooga is typically about three years behind on most trends, food is an exception. We're not Brooklyn by any means, but we've certainly got our fair share of hipsters working in and patronizing local kitchens and introducing Chattanoogans to widespread trends across the restaurant industry. Some local spots have had what foodies the world over are calling 2018's most fashionable eats on their menus for years. Here's where to find the dishes everyone's talking about.
The National Restaurant Association named ethnic-inspired breakfast items one of the top five food trends of the year, providing millennials who've realized they can make their own avocado toast new options to order at brunch. Dishes incorporating the aromatic, sour and bitter flavors associated with Asian island fare are especially hot right now, maybe because they feel both foreign and familiar. Look for ingredients like sambal, a hot sauce or paste made with a variety of chili peppers, which is native to the cuisines of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. The Bitter Alibi uses sambal on its Seoul Train brunch dish, along with slow-cooked pork, potatoes, sauteed spinach and soft-boiled egg. Other touches of ethnic flare for the morning meal include topping your biscuit with chorizo gravy— which you'll also find at Bitter — rather than the same old pork variety.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a restaurant menu this year that doesn't include pork belly. St. John's Restaurant uses the ingredient creatively in its pork belly croque madame, with prosciutto, fried quail egg and smoked Gouda topped with Mornay sauce and cherry jam, all piled on a buttermilk biscuit.
Cauliflower is really having a moment right now. Try the roasted half cauliflower at Flying Squirrel Bar, which gets its nutty flavor from peanut pesto and peanut dust, while arugula oil and micro basil add a little spice. The website Grubhub predicts the versatile veggie, which is also showing up on menus as a popular substitute for other foods such as rice, mashed potatoes and steak, will have an 88 percent rise in average monthly popularity this year. Red Sauce's cauliflower gratiana is a creamy cauliflower mash topped with breadcrumbs and Romano cheese that will make you forget you're not eating potatoes.
The growing popularity of veganism is also apparent in the jackfruit trend. Considered the latest "miracle food," the large, spiky green fruit comes from a tree in the fig and mulberry family that's native to southwest India, and it's most commonly seen on restaurant menus as a vegan substitute for pulled pork. Like many of this year's food trends, it's healthy and sustainable. Local vegan restaurants Cashew and Plant Power Cafe & Juice Bar both have barbecue jackfruit sandwiches that even meat-lovers rave about.
Zucchini is another veggie being used as a substitute for other foods, particularly for pasta. The veggie primavera from the Solarium — the Dwell Hotel's new space offering shareable small plates — tops zucchini ribbons with tomato, capers, oregano, Parmesan and pine nuts.
Earl Grey tea is a fashionable flavor that's being used in all kinds of things. The Earl Grey shortbread from Milk & Honey is my favorite local use of this trendy tea.
Spicy tonkotsu ramen, a tasty trend with a nuanced balance of meat, aromatics and body, is a deeply satisfying Japanese comfort food that's difficult for home chefs to get right. Eat this intensely flavorful soup hot and fresh from Two Ten Jack, made with melt-in-your-mouth braised chashu pork belly, kikurage mushrooms, menma (a condiment made from fermented bamboo shoots), sweet baby Vidalia onions, mayu (a burnt-oil condiment) and soft egg.