5 Food Trends That Need to Die

One of the hurdles that I’m worried about clearing on my road to better health is my deep-seated adoration for crap food. As much as I love a really well-cooked steak or an authentic oriental meal, I’m still (and will probably always be) a sucker for all varieties of things that are essentially horrible for me, regardless of how amazing they taste.
Which reminds me -- they're opening a Chicken and Waffles joint in Arlington
in the next few months (the first one in town), and I for one can't. Frikkin'. Wait.
One way I’ve been able to combat this problem in recent years is to indulge my love for little mom and pop restaurants. The places that aren’t really on the map – places where you order in English and then someone turns around and translates it to the cook. Restaurants like that offer flavors you never imagined before; tastes from cultures that you’ve not had the chance to experience on your own.
And when you realize how incredible homemade Dim Sum can taste, it’s kinda hard to go back to chicken fingers.
The problem is that most of the food you can get quickly and easily in Jacksonville is corporate. There are mom and pop places to be found -- but just like everywhere else in the world it varies by neighborhood. So even though after a lot of trial and error in my old apartment I had found a groove I really liked between Moon River Pizza, The Sake House, Tom and Betty's, Beethoven's Bistro, and the Al's in 5 Points (which is completely different than the Al's at the beach) -- I don't live there anymore.
So my task now is to discover the secret spots hiding in the new neighborhood.
It’s gonna be tricky though, because this part of town is fern bar heaven. My new apartment is nestled snugly between two of the larger malls/shopping centers on this side of town, offering me all I could ever want in terms of turn and burn cuisine if I decide I'm too lazy to cook on a given night.

And before you start to think I'm gonna go all food snob or something here, I’m the first guy to tell you that there are plenty of national chains that can make a decent meal if you give them a chance. Not as good as a mom and pop to be sure -- but there are worse things in the world you can put in your mouth than a Chili Dog from Sonic.
Like Red Lobster.
Red Lobster is essentially a stain on the tablecloth of good seafood. Having been to Maine, having spent time in the British Virgin Islands spearfishing for fresh rock lobster to grill on the beach -- my eyes have been opened to what really good lobster should taste like – a concept that Red Lobster not only doesn't get, but sometimes seems to actively resist when they make their dishes.
..But those Cheese Biscuits
Oh, those salt-infused cholesterol lumps that they bring you while you're waiting for your Snow Crab-stuffed Hot Pockets (or whatever the hell it is they're featuring this week) -- am I the only one who worries that I could literally eat a squillion of those and still want the waiter to bring me a few more in a bag so I can eat them on the ride home?

These are the things that keep people coming back to places like that, regardless of the quality of anything else on the menu.

The restaurants owners know it too, which is why many corporate chains hang their hats on their novelty items instead of the entrees they serve when it comes to attracting customers. So you’ll go to Chili’s for the Baby Back Ribs or Outback for the Bloomin' Onion (love those) – but then when it comes time to fill out the rest of your order you end up with the same old crap to choose from.

I mean think about it -- why is it that some places are famous for their french fries? Just as a basic concept it's ridiculous, because nothing could be simpler to cook than a french fry --
Yet so many places totally screw them up.
The fries are too thick, too thin, too salty (or not salty enough), or worst of all -- just flat out bland. But because so many of these places are put in locations where people are in a hurry, where office workers escape for an hour in the middle of their day, or where families take their kids after a long day of running errands and shopping; people simply get used to it.

You get to the point where you’ve had so many crappy orders of French fries in your life that it’s not that big a deal anymore to settle for less, especially if you drown them in ketchup or dip them in the ranch dressing that’s leftover from the buffalo wing appetizer you split with the other people at the table.
Next thing you know, you can’t have fries without it.
Or worse, you actually get excited when they take the fries with ranch dressing and put them on top of a burger.
The problem is that when you run a corporate restaurant, you’re continually working to keep people from becoming blasé about your menu -- so the only way to keep the ones you’ve trapped with your cherry location is to constantly throw new things at them. Things with booze in the name, things that sound like two other things pushed together, things that you dip into other things, things that sound sort of like they come from a foreign country but still taste like a cheeseburger.

The trick is to take the new novelty dish that you know might be hit or miss and pair it with things people already know and like to make them less scary – leading to ideas like Buffalo Chicken Fish Sticks, Bacon Lettuce Wraps, and Tilapia Burgers.

It’s almost like corporate cooking has based it’s entire thought process off the kinds of things I used to do to try to mask the flavor of the vegetables that my mom would try to force me to eat as a kid – hiding the peas in the mashed potatoes or covering the broccoli in cheese.
Except that's not really cuisine -- It’s smuggling.
But that’s what it seems like these big chain places are specializing in now – bizarre food combinations re-engineered from international cuisine mixed in with the same five buzzword foods they’ve managed to get people hooked on last year. The kind of things that were sorta good when you first tried them, but now you can't fucking get away from them.
Seriously, if someone with an apron and a pencil behind their ear says
cilantro out loud, all I want to do is run screaming in the other direction.
To make matters worse, it kinda feels like we're in the midst of a food trend lull. Like the "next big thing" hasn't really been found yet -- so the mad scientists in the basements of these huge restaurant conglomerates are racking their brains trying to figure out the best way to combine the things they already have on hand so that it somehow sounds like something new (without sounding like something so weird that people might be afraid to order it). Which would be fine if it were just your menus that were getting out of whack –- but now the deli down the street is starting to put chipotle sauce on everything, and that’s simply not cool.

So before things get any more out of hand, it’s time to cull the herd. Time to put a few of these fern bar staples out to pasture. Time to let the rest of us cleanse our taste buds before we’re so dulled to real flavor that we’ll eat anything and think it’s good.
It’s time for these five food trends to die.
  1. Ciabatta Bread -– Although the idea is based off an old Italian favorite called “slipper bread” –- the version most places are using these days tastes like a pita pocket with a pillow baked into the middle of it. I know flatbread sandwiches were all the rage for a while, but can we stop pretending that it somehow makes a burger better? It’s like chewing on Styrofoam and hoping there’s something in the middle.
  2. Caribbean Jerk-flavored anything –- Not because it’s a bad flavor (real Jerk Chicken is one of my favorite dishes in the world) but because you people clearly have no idea how to make it. For the record, it’s not a delicate combination of green olives, maple syrup, and a handful of sand from the beach, all right?
  3. Out of Control Whipped Cream on Pancakes –- You know what’s fun to say? Pancake Bukkake. Those are two words that sound kinda funny when you put them together. But it’s not really something I want to eat. I know it looks like a big cream puff when you put it on there back in the kitchen, but once it gets to me it’s a whooole other story.
  4. The "where’s the goddamn potato?" fully-loaded baked potato -- Where the hell did you get all this stuff? The green things (I’m hoping) are chives, but after that it starts to all look like potpourri. I swear to god, one of these days they’re gonna introduce a potato topped with a steak – which you can order instead of salad to go with your steak.
  5. The 50 dinners in 1 dinner Dinner -– You know what’s good? Surf and turf. A really nice ribeye paired with some grilled shrimp. Mixing opposing flavors, like spicy chicken and cool celery. You know what’s not so good? The pick 5 appetizer followed by the make your own combination pick 3 entrée (which I’m a sucker for, btw). It’s for those of us who can’t decide which food we want to kill ourselves with – so just bring them all, ok?
And can I get a couple more cheese biscuits while you’re at it too?
That would be great.

[Listening to:  Dry Kill Logic"As Thick as Thieves" ]


The Ex said…
6. Chipotle. Because no one does it right. I don't want chipotle mayo or chipotle tortillas. I'm done.
Satorical said…
I hate it when people say "You can really taste the cilantro," which is anytime there's cilantro in something. I know there's cilantro in it; it's a Mexican restaurant. Tard.
sarah said…
I'm with the ex...chipotle needs to die.

along with sundried tomato anything. unless it's an actual sundried tomato in my salad, or on my sandwich, i don't want the flavor. because sundried tomato-flavored pita chips, triscuits, tortilla chips, hummus, pasta sauce really just taste like ass. sundried tomato-flavored ass.
unMuse said…
I didn't know you ever went to Beethoven's. it's still my favorite Sunday breakfast place, hands down.

as far as things that need to die, I'm with sarah on the chipotle. I make great chipotle at home, but out it's bland and hot, no real flavor. Also, ever sit-down chain and their versions of White Castle/Krystals. I don't care that it's angus beef. If I wanted a Krystal, I'd have a Krystal. Not your "burgers on a toothpick".
unMuse said…
Oh.. if you're ever in Arlington, go to University Diner. Be prepared to wait.
Adam said…
Have you seen the Hardee's thickburger that is topped with prime rib? WTF?
Adam said…
In London, it seems you can't get anything that doesn't have one of the following:

1) Coriander (i.e. cilantro)
2) Rocket (i.e. arugula)
3) Prawns (i.e. shrimp)
4) Mature Cheddar (i.e. sharp cheddar)
5) Mayonnaise
whatigotsofar said…
Red Lobster does a decent meal with a grilled chicken and some rice.

My French Fry Manifesto

And a food that must die is a croissant sandwich. The croissant (a reall croissant) lacks the structural integrity to support being cut open and filled with fried fast food snausage.
Hex said…
The Ex -- Once it starts getting into the mayo, it's game over. It's like when you go into health food stores and see soy turned into all sorts of wacky crap -- soy hot dogs!?

Satorical -- What *are* these electrolytes? Do you even know?
They're... what they use to make Brawndo!
But *why* do they use them to make Brawndo?
..Because Brawndo's got electrolytes!

Sarah -- I have this theory about certain vegetable add-ons, and it goes like this. They don't want them either, so they're trying to pawn them off on you. Have you ever been to Ruby Tuesdays - you can't order anything without getting like a pound of broccoli on the side. I ordered a cheeseburger -- what's with this effing broccoli on my plate?

Unmuse -- Yeah, the mini-burger thing is completely out of hand. It's like they can't stop themselves anymore.

Unmuse II -- Before my dad retired, he and I would go to the University diner for breakfast a couple of times a week on his early break from work. Great food there, and there's this one waitress that I always loved staring at.

The Baymeadows diner is awesome too -- J took me there once for the corned beef hash. It was total heaven.

Adam -- I've written many times about the abusive relationship I share with Hardees. It's like I know it's awful for me, but I can't keep myself from wanting to go back. I'm like one of those losers on COPS.. "But he looooves me!"

Adam II -- I've heard a lot of less than flattering accounts of what the food is like in London. Fish and Chips seems to be a winner, but everything else is a point of complaint. You'd think they'd be a little better than that over there..

WIGSF -- yeah, but that totally proves my point if the best thing you can get at Red Lobster not only isn't a fish but can't goddamn swim!?

ps -- When I'm king of the world, I'm making you the ambassador of french fries.
Heff said…
Hex, I'm with you ENTIRELY. Especially regarding Red Lobster. It's over-priced Sea-Shit.
unMuse said…
Oh another thing.. the sandwiches that don't fit in your mouth.

what is the point of those? I had Tom and Betty's last night and I had to deconstruct my sandwich just so I could get it in my mouth. Then, because of the total hassle, I just picked off the meat and ate it.

I never went to the Baymeadows Diner when I lived on that side of town. One thing I've noticed being on this side of town is that the food is so much better, with much more mom-and-pop places.
unMuse said…
ps. (this side of town = murray hill)
Jaeme said…
I also do not understand mini burgers, but I love restaurant broccoli. I've even paid extra to sub it for fries.

I hate mozzarella sticks. They're a stupid idea.
Hex said…
jaeme -- remind me next time i get served broccoli to give it to you, because i can't stand it.