Gazing into the crystal ball to predict what we’ll be eating and drinking in the coming 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 breakout ideas of the previous 12 months that have gained traction.
During the pandemic, however, there have been few straight answers, though more frequent shifts that have moved the entire food industry in new directions.
Here are some of the innovations I predict will continue in 2022, finding new audiences or becoming significant trends for Sonoma County eaters.
If you’re still calling a plant-based diet vegetarianism, catch up. Reducing meat, dairy and egg consumption has gone mainstream, and most of us already have tried meatless burgers, Meatless Mondays and increasingly creative meatless dishes at restaurants that are less about “going without” and more about enjoying without.
We’ll see a continued explosion of alternatives for grocery staples (egg-less “eggs,” meatless frozen entrees, jackfruit everything) as well as chefs adding even more meatless menu items as demand grows.
Santa Rosa’s Cozy Plum Bistro (1899 Mendocino Ave., 707-526-3333, cozyplum.com) has created a comforting, approachable menu with dishes like “loaded tots,” crispy tater tots with taco “meat” made with soy, nondairy cheese, cashew sour cream and pico de gallo; and Philly cheesesteak with meatless steak, peppers, onions and a vegan herb cheese sauce. Little Saint is a plant-based restaurant slated to open in Healdsburg in February. Branch Line, another meatless eatery, opens in Railroad Square this spring.
Restaurants open fewer days
Staffing issues have forced restaurants to rethink their hours. Restaurateurs simply can’t afford to stay open on a sleepy Wednesday afternoon or a ghostly Monday night. Instead, they’ll only open during peak times.
After struggling to find back-of-house workers, John Ash & Co. at Vintner’s Inn and Resort recently announced they’ll be closed two days a week. Reservations are becoming required more often 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 might have to pay a hefty fee, which discourages no-shows that dent restaurants’ bottom lines.
Diversified business models
Restaurants aren’t simply restaurants anymore. They sell pantry items, kitchen goods and lifestyle home goods, too, to bring in more revenue. Stockhome (220 Western Ave, Petaluma, 707-981-8511, stockhomepetaluma.com) sells Swedish candies and home goods along with jewelry, clothing and other locally made products. Franchetti’s Gasthaus (1229 N. Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-526-1229, franchettis.com) rents their restaurant kitchen during off-hours as a commercial kitchen to caterers and up-and-coming food businesses.
Local delivery options
National delivery services like Grubhub, DoorDash and UberEats have almost entirely cornered the market on food delivery, and the hit on restaurants — up to 30% of the tab — is brutal. Local delivery options like Redwood Food Taxi, Petaluma Food Taxi and Sonoma Food Taxi keep dollars local and work with restaurants to make the process more equitable.
High-end dining isn’t going away
Luxury dining is booming. After being holed up at home, many want to spend their dollars on a food experience that delivers, whether that’s hosting clients with deep pockets or a special splurge 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) are booked out for months. Cyrus restaurant, a reprisal of Chef Douglas Keane’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant that closed in 2012, is expected to open in late 2022.
Streamlined menus with hyperlocal ingredients
Lengthy menus with everything but the kitchen sink will be curated so restaurants can cut down on skyrocketing meat prices, take advantage of seasonal products and insulate themselves from supply-chain issues.
Expect menu prices to keep increasing as the cost of ingredients and operations rise for restaurant owners who can’t offset those costs with volume or cheaper ingredients. We’ll also see prices rising at supermarkets as consumers question the environmental and other impacts of industrial farming and meat production and supply issues become the norm.
Concerns about the environmental impact of beef are growing, pushing many consumers to buy from smaller-production ranches. And there are only so many cuts of prime rib and filet on a cow, making them increasingly expensive.
Watch for more braised meats from cheaper parts, ground meat, creative uses of offal (still a tough sell for many Americans) and consumers willing to buy high-end, sustainable steaks as a luxury at restaurants. At home, meat CSA (community-supported agriculture) options like Panizzera Meat Co.’s subscription boxes will allow local meat producers to sell directly to consumers, lower costs and offer locally raised meat (panizzerameatco.com).
A whole new cocktail hour
Booze drinking is evolving. Takeout cocktails are a boon to restaurants with full liquor licenses and will continue in the state of California post-pandemic (whenever that is).
Lower-alcohol or alcohol-free cocktails are rising in popularity, focusing on flavor rather than buzz potential. Brands like Seedlip have pioneered nonalcoholic spirits, and a new generation of zero-alcohol gins that express the botanical qualities are exceptional. On the other side of the fence, canned full-strength cocktails are on the rise, with several local companies jumping on the bandwagon. Cappy Shakes Cocktails from former Duke’s founders Cappy Sorentino and Steven Maduro lead the pack with not-too-sweet versions of gin and tonic, Tiki-inspired Sidewinder Fang and Cucumber Cooler. Griffo Distillery, Zaddy’s, Alley 6 and Barrel Brothers are also making top-notch canned party-starters.
Mushrooms as tonic
Mushrooms aren’t just for pizzas anymore. The healing properties of funky fungi are becoming big business. Farmacopia (95 Montgomery Drive, No. 90, Santa Rosa, 707-528-4372, farmacopia.net) is one local seller with a lot of variety.
Commercial kitchens as launchpads
Unused or lightly used commercial kitchens are worth their weight in gold for new restaurant entrepreneurs looking to get 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 combo of a brewery and outside food service has become big business, allowing each to stick to what they know best. We’ve also seen a boom in local food truck traffic at 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.