‘Intentional scarcity’ and other get-’em-while-they’re-hot trends

At Federal Donuts on Second Street in Pennsport, customers line the counter enjoying the fried chicken. Limited supplies, says the chef, was not the plan.
At Federal Donuts on Second Street in Pennsport, customers line the counter enjoying the fried chicken. Limited supplies, says the chef, was not the plan. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 29, 2011

We hear frequently from readers who arrive at Federal Donuts, on Second Street in Pennsport, just as the shop runs out of its celebrated fried chicken.

Could that be intentional?

According to the international consulting firm, CultureWaves, "intentional scarcity," offering limited supplies of items in order to drive up their popularity, is among the food trends predicted to crest in 2012.

But Michael Solomonov, the James Beard award-winning chef who co-owns Federal Donuts as well as the acclaimed restaurant Zahav, says offering "limited supplies" was not in the original plan.

"We planned to offer donuts and coffee in the morning and fried chicken for lunch and into dinner hours," Solomonov says. "We didn't realize the amazing response we'd get, running out of both donuts and chicken before 1 p.m. every day our first week."

The problem is that the kitchen is just too small and the food too good.

"We are considering cooking up a second batch (of fried chicken) later in the day," he said.

But even if that happens, "it would be the same situation, once the food is finished, we will be done." And that, according to CultureWaves, is part of the national trend.

Tamale Queen in Atlanta is open, "from 11 a.m. until the food is gone." And the Donut Vault in Chicago, "until we run out."

Expect to see more intentional scarcity around here.

Or not, because food trends do not conform to calendars the way trendspotters would like. And what's hot or not in Brooklyn or L.A., may not reach us in the Quaker City until long after it has stopped "trending," on Twitter.

With those caveats in mind, here are some of hot-and-not trends being touted nationally for 2012, and a look at how we compare locally.

Greater grilled cheese. The San Francisco-based food consulting firm, Andrew Freeman and Co. sees a surge of interest in all varieties of grilled cheese. It's a move, Freeman says, that could lead all the way to grilled-cheese-infused vodka.

We're at least half-way there, with two mobile grilled cheese trucks on the Temple University campus: Cheese Busz makes an eggplant with strawberry balsamic version and one with tomato and pesto. Say Cheese! (also at JFK Plaza/LOVE Park on Fridays) offers a design-your-own menu with customers selecting from an array of breads, cheeses, meats and spreads.

In addition, South Philadelphia Tap Room (1509 Mifflin) and Royal Tavern (927 E. Passyunk) are among the many local gastropubs that consistently do right by this most comforting and versatile sandwich.

Mom would approve.

Customized french fries. Freeman also wants us to imagine a heaven where French fries are cut and cooked to each customers' specifications. Select sweet potatoes or russets; cut thin, thick, or curly; perhaps twice-fried in peanut oil; dipped in mushroom gravy, hot sauce, drawn butter, or artisan ketchups.

Philadelphia foodies are not yet in that kind of French fry nirvana. But some local eateries have been doing delicious duckfat fries for years.

"The only serious advance in 2011," says Craig LaBan, "has been frying in wonderfully retro alternative fats (beyond duck fat), such as molten beef tallow at Dandelion, which now has my vote for city's best, and smoked bacon grease at Khyber Pass."

"They're a total addiction," LaBan says, "the equivalent of French fry crack."

The other Nordic. For several years in a row we were advised by trendsetters to keep an eye out for Scandanavian or Nordic cuisine. We looked high and low before Joan Nathan reminded us that not all herring comes in a jar and is served on Jewish holidays.

LaBan predicts the local rise of the lowly herring, pickled and/or smoked.

Korean F.C. Brooklyn-based Baum & Whiteman are among the trend spotters calling 2012 the year Korean cuisine goes mainstream. It's certainly been inching toward there for several years, and this is a trend we're on top of locally.

Our own Korea-town spans the county lines between Philadelphia and Cheltenham, where Cafe Soho is the place to go for Korean fried chicken. Other favs include Meritage (500 S. 20th) and Wah-Gi-Wah (4447 Chestnut), order the Lahori Chargha Or, of course, Federal Donuts (1219 S. Second St.).

Celebrity farmers. In 2012, foodies will still want to know the source of ingredients - in restaurants and at markets. That trend is here to stay, says Phil Lempert, who shills for ConAgra Foods as the "Supermarket Guru."

Lempert also predicts the rise of the farmer as food celebrity.

"Expect to see more advertising and television programs starring these real food experts," Lempert says.

Locally, we're hoping for an end to the (excessive) use of "farm" in restaurant names as a marketing tool.

Meals on wheels. Surely, you've noticed the increase mobility on our city streets? Yes, food trucks are also trending nationally - to the point of coining a new term, bustaraunts.

Long a staple of our own city streets, food trucks have evolved into movable feasts of artisan edibles where the restaurant chefs of tomorrow are making the most of today's dismal economy. If lunchtime isn't convenient for you, look late on Friday and Saturday nights in the area of Frankford and Girard.

See this article for more on the topic.

Save room for dessert. Cupcakes were heralded as a hot trend in the late 1990s, and declared "over" in 2010, 2011 and again for 2012.

But on our city streets, cupcake trucks and shops still seem to be multiplying.

This is a "problem," not because of the quality of the cupcakes (who complains about ecstasy?) But because creating a better cupcake is not enough. Sometimes we just need a change.

Macarons (as opposed to macaroons, which should be saved for Passover Seders) emerged locally in 2011 to challenge cupcakes. Parisian-born, macarons are round, two-layered pastel pastries with fillings like blackberry curd and buttercream. They were everywhere - from Miel Patisserie to Sugar Truck. Jose Garces even partnered with chocolatier Chris Curtin of Eclat for a milk chocolate and mole amarillo macaron.

Next? For 2012, Freeman is touting Snow Ice, a treat from Taiwan that is reportedly, "All the flavor and creaminess of ice cream with unbelievably light texture."

But now that we're hooked on the Salted Caramel Budino, at Barbuzzo (110 S. 13th), we'd like more pudding, if you please.

Already, Sbraga (440 S. Broad) has a mascarpone-coffee-granita pudding with chocolate; and Blue Bear Tavern (216 S. 11th) has a Philly Pudding of chocolate, caramel and pretzel crust.

If we're wrong about pudding, we would be happy to see a dramatic rise in the popularity of caneles (sometimes spelled canneles. Either spelling rhymes with days).

The canele trend prediction comes courtesy of the James Beard Foundation.

Caneles are French-inspired treats are cakes with a rich custard interior, baked in copper molds lined with caramel. Reportedly 300 years old, caneles have been perfected locally by Gil Ortale at Market Day Canele and have been available at least since 2008 at the Headhouse and Rittenhouse farmers markets.

As dessert lovers, we're open to all options. We find dessert as comforting as . . . grilled cheese.


Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211, dmarder@phillynews.com, or @marderd on Twitter. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder

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