The theme for our latest food-focused DISH issue was comfort food, which we instinctively gravitated to in an uncomfortable year. We’re hardwired to crave salt, sugar, fat, and carbs, and many of our most memorable Bites of the Week were full of the stuff.
Frozen treats dominated. There were the ice cream sandwiches: Locopops’ ginger-molasses-cookie and Rose’s Noodles Dumplings & Sweets’ blueberries-and-cream. There were the scoops: Andia’s Homemade Ice Cream’s Dark Indulgence, its dark chocolate ribboned with peanut butter and scattered with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups; Two Roosters’ Sea Salt Chip Cookie Dough, in which Southern Sugar Bakery’s cookie dough elevates vanilla ice cream to something sensational; and M Tempura’s orange buttermilk sorbet with a shiso leaf chaser, which struck us as a grown-up take on an orange creamsicle. And there was the sundae at Crawford and Son, a disc of chocolate shortbread topped with smoked cacao-nib ice cream, chocolate mousse, and toasted meringue.
Savory highlights included a sampling of dishes inspired by Southern comfort food. There was Iyla’s Southern Kitchen’s BBQ “Sundae,” where a smoked-cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese base comes topped with pulled pork, collard greens, and a barbecue-sauce drizzle; Jack Tar’s fried chicken, in which Nashville hot chicken detours through China with a Szechuan peppercorn-infused oil; and a duo of bar snacks at Saint James Seafood: cornmeal-dusted N.C. shrimp and Geechie Boy cornmeal hushpuppies.
We self-soothed with beverages, too, which may have coincided with the launch of our Day Drinker beer column. We loved Glass Jug Beer Lab’s O’Malley’s Kilt, a crisp, light Scottish ale with a nutty aftertaste and honeyed finish, as well as its Cryo Opacity, a hazy New England IPA with citrus and pine notes. Funguys Brewing’s Paula Street was a pleasing pale ale with a creamy mouthfeel and pithy, citrus-peel finish, and Crank Arm Brewing’s refreshing, bracing Tight Cassette made for a fine palate-cleanser between sips.
Four Food Buzzwords We’re Putting on Notice
Craft Don’t get us wrong; we think it’s great that more people care about where their food and drinks are coming from. But like most buzzwords, “craft” is losing its luster and meaning through wanton application. Plus, people are getting a little craft crazy: Some of the drinks we tried this year were memorable because, frankly, they were kind of weird. Among the many delicious local craft beers we sampled were others that tasted like Margherita pizza, Flintstones chewable children’s vitamins, and potpourri. A little creativity goes a long way, y’all. And we’d much rather make our own cocktails using Durham Distillery’s excellent Conniption gin than sip a gin and tonic from its new line of canned cocktails.
House-Made See also “artisanal” and “hand-crafted.” If you ever edit a food section, you’ll notice how often you have to write these words, and you may start wondering what they even mean, especially now that they crop up on corporate snack-food packages and fast-food menus. Even at McDonald’s, meals are prepared in-house by people who are using their hands. Unless there’s a fine-dining restaurant outsourcing food from robots that we don’t know about, we think we can all give these blurry bona fides a rest.
Farm-to-Table We’re definitely not against the farm-to-table concept. We salute those who diligently source or grow their ingredients locally and sustainably. It tastes better, and it’s better for our bodies, the local economy, and the planet. But just because something grows in the dirt doesn’t make it farm-to-table, and just because a restaurant lists a couple farms on its menu doesn’t mean the rest of its ingredients aren’t trucked in. It’d be great to get to a point where menus don’t need to list the pH level of the lettuce’s soil and farm-to-table was just the standard, not a shibboleth. Until then, it’s worth keeping an eye on what it actually means.
Gourmet Specifically, we’re looking at you, gourmet burgers. We love a good burger, and we get that premium ingredients cost more. But when the price starts creeping up toward the $18 mark, we need more than the magic G-word to convince us to shell out. If “gourmet” is just an overused euphemism for “expensive,” maybe we should just get back to basics.