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A Drink in the Mise en Place

01 October 2011

food1_oct11An emerging trend fueled by independent restaurants finds beverages taking center stage as ingredients.

Coffee, tea, beer, soda and spirits are all being featured on independent restaurant menus in new and unique ways. These beverages are contributing spicy, sweet, tart and savory flavors to dishes, and operators are taking advantage of the flavor recognition from these beverages when used as ingredients.

A report recently released by Chicago-based trend-tracker Technomic examined the menus of 100 independent restaurants across the United States to identify new food and beverage trends currently taking shape. Industry experts examined a range of independent operations, from food trucks to fine dining. The report finds these operations preparing dishes in innovative ways, one of which involves the use of cola or other beverages as a primary ingredient.

“Chefs have long been using flavored drinks in various preparation methods, but the way beverages are being used on today's independent menus is helping to redefine the boundaries between comfort food and gourmet cuisine,” says Laura McGuire, Technomic’s editorial manager. “Using soda or beer as part of the preparation adds casualness to the dish, even when the proteins or other ingredients are uncommon. These independent restaurants are revisiting comfort food and putting contemporary twists on old themes.”

Interesting examples of menu items featuring beverages as ingredients include:

  • Sweet-tea-brined pork chop with creamed corn and apricot/cardamom chutney from Benjy’s (Houston)
  • Pepsi-braised pork belly from Second Empire (Raleigh, N.C.)
  • Blueberry Guinness cheesecake from Walter’s (Portland, Maine)
  • Aztec Duck: duck breast rubbed with pan-seared coffee and ancho chile, served with chipotle/bacon cheese grits, sautéed spinach and fig demi-glace from The Fort (Denver)
  • Bananas Foster French Toast: Bacardi-spiked caramelized bananas, challah and vanilla-bean chantilly from Frontier (Chicago)

Photo caption: Tea-Smoked Salmon with Honey & Lavender Glaze gets its smoke from opened tea bags of Tazo chai and Tazo wild sweet-orange tea. Moistened and wrapped in aluminum foil with brown sugar and a little dry rice, the smoking packet is placed directly on the coals below the grate of the grill. Courtesy of Starbucks Coffee Company.