9 food trends to watch in Charlotte in 2018

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It’s tough to use national food trend forecasts to predict what will happen on menus here in Charlotte because we tend to fall a few years behind the curve.

Poke, for example, is just now starting to surge in Charlotte but was peaking on the national radar two years ago (and of course was a Pacific island staple for generations before that). In fact, Eater named the traditional Hawaiian dish the #1 food trend of summer 2016. It’s just starting to pick up steam here.

So while some of these trends may take time to really find traction in Charlotte, a handful of on-the-ball establishments are already serving them up. Here’s what to look for in 2018.

Poke bowls

The traditional Hawaiian dish is having a moment in Charlotte with several new poke-centric restaurants opening in the last month alone. It’s a light, fresh meal made with marinated raw seafood, rice and toppings like avocado and seaweed.

Bonsai Fusion – 225 E. 6th Street

HI Tide Poke & Raw Bar – 919 S. McDowell Street

Seoul Poke Bowl – 3609 South Boulevard, Suite D

Umami PokeRito – 7510 Pineville-Matthews Road, 5A

Matcha

The vivid green powder made from finely ground tea leaves has been a central part of traditional Japanese tea ceremonies for centuries. Now it’s popping up in every form from lattes to ice cream.

In New York City, there are entire ultra-trendy eateries — like Cha Cha Matcha and MatchaBar — dedicated to matcha. Here, you’re most likely to find it in coffee shops and juice bars.

Clean Juice – multiple locations

HEX Coffee – 125 Remount Road

Living Kitchen – 2000 South Boulevard and 4521 Sharon Road

Not Just Coffee – multiple locations

Matcha latte at Not Just Coffee via Instagram

Charcoal

Activated charcoal is used in the medical world to treat poisonings and drug overdoses because toxins bind to it and can then be flushed out of the body. It’s showing up in food either to achieve a stunningly unexpected visual aesthetic and/or to tout its alleged cleansing health benefits.

It’s pretty rare in Charlotte. HEX featured a creative black Lump-of-Coal mocha for the holidays and Viva Raw has an Eclipse black lemonade and a black ash-coated Onyx cashew cheese. I’d expect to see some black charcoal ice cream and a lot more charcoal lemonade in Charlotte by the end of the year.

Viva Raw – 224 E. 7th Street

Viva Raw’s Onyx cashew cheese via Instagram

Cinnamon Rolls

I don’t see them giving doughnuts a run for their money as a grab-and-go breakfast option any time soon. But this messier, fork-and-knife-required morning pastry is a perfect complement to our relentless millennial obsession with a formal sit down brunch.

Cinnamon rolls make a ton of sense as a brunch starter — like Fern’s head-turning skillet cinnamon rolls or Haberdish’s classic cinnamon roll served with pour-your-own milk dip. And the door is wide open for someone to go all in on a local shop dedicated entirely to cinnamon rolls — like Cinnaholic’s first Charlotte-area vegan cinnamon roll franchise which will be opening any day now in Indian Trail.

Cinnamon rolls are hardly a novel food concept so they’re easy to find around town. Here’s where to find the best:

Cinnaholic (coming soon) – 6461 Old Monroe Road, Indian Trail

Fern – 1419 East Boulevard

Haberdish – 3106 N. Davidson Street

Kindred – 131 N. Main Street, Davidson

Sunflour Baking Company – 2001 E. 7th Street and 220 East Boulevard

Cinnaholic features 18 frostings and 20 toppings so you can mix and match your own custom vegan cinnamon roll

Instagrammable food & edible branding

Love it or hate it, creating dishes with social share-ability in mind is an effective marketing tactic as long as taste isn’t sacrificed for visual appeal.

We’re talking dishes that are excessive (like Moo & Brew’s Large Marge Bloody Mary), inventive (like FūD at Salud’s bizarre line of pasta cones), eye-catching (like Imperial’s glittering galaxy martini) and just plain photogenic.

Along with this trend, we’ll see more photo-worthy edible branding like Suarez Bakery’s custom message doughnuts that can be used to spell out anything and Zeppelin’s smart use of a logo stencil garnish on its Pen Pals cocktail.

Adaptopgens & powdered algae

Adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms are used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese medicine for a host of treatments that WebMD vaguely summarizes as helping the body “adapt to and resist physical, chemical and environmental stress.” Be on the look out for unfamiliar names like ashwagandha, maca and cordyceps, among others.

Powdered algae — including chlorella and spirulina — are used as much for their vibrant natural food colorings as they are for their potent health benefits.

You’re most likely to find these ingredients in powder form as a booster in smoothies, juices and other health foods. Adaptogenic mushroom coffee — made with traditional ground coffee beans along with some combination of powdered reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane or chaga mushrooms — is particularly on the rise right now.

I’m not seeing much of this in Charlotte at the moment. Green Brothers Juice is using maca in its Energizer 2.0 and Captain Clutch smoothies and a “blue majik” algae to make its blue almond mylk. Turmeric has also become much more common in juices and lattes and was a food trend to watch in 2016.

I’d expect this trend, specifically adaptogenic coffee, to start catching on in 2018.

Green Brothers Juice’s unique blue almond mylk gets its color from powdered algae (via Instagram)

Plant-based entrees

Meat-free alternatives are on the rise across the country and not just at vegan and vegetarian establishments. Even traditional restaurants are embracing the trend beyond tired old pasta dishes and portobello mushrooms. You’ll see everything from the creative use of vegetables and grains as the main attraction rather than a side dish to cutting-edge fake meats that look and taste like the real deal.

We’re talking menu items like Stoke’s grain bowl with heirloom tomatoes, avocado, cashew butter and salsa verde; Fahrenheit’s roasted cauliflower steak with pine nuts Fresno chilies and date syrup; and Pinky’s Beyond Meat burger.

See 25 more must-try meat-free dishes in Charlotte

Pinky’s rolled out the Beyond Meat burger as its December Burger of the month and has extended the offering through January (via Facebook)

Peruvian cuisine

The National Restaurant Association predicts 2018 will be a big year for Peruvian cuisine, which I definitely see translating in Charlotte.

Local favorite Viva Chicken now has 6 locations in the greater Charlotte area and you can get Pio Pio in Dilworth or Ballantyne. Coaltrane’s, which describes itself as less authentically Peruvian and more generally “South American inspired,” also opened its second location in Plaza Midwood earlier this year.

On the beverage front, you can expect pisco, Peru’s national drink, to show up on more cocktail menus.

Coaltrane’s – 210 E. Trade Street and 1518 Central Avenue

Pio Pio – 1408 East Boulevard and 15025 Lancaster Highway

Viva Chicken – multiple locations

viva-chicken-menu-items

Viva Chicken

“Fine casual”

Whatever that is.

The jargon-y industry term used to describe upscale counter-service restaurants is taking off in Charlotte. It basically just means a place with the high quality food and polished atmosphere of a fine dining establishment but with the convenience and casual vibe of a fast food joint. Everybody wins, right?

I’ve seen it frequently used to describe Shake Shack (which will be opening a Charlotte location very soon at Park Road Shopping Center), and I’d say CAVA, another trendy chain also opening a location at Park Road, certainly fits the bill as well.

You also see this kind of execution in Charlotte at places like Yafo (powerhouse restaurateur Frank Scibelli’s Chipotle-style Mediterranean restaurant), Inizio Pizza (Grant Aron’s obsessively authentic Neapolitan-style pizza place), Fidelli (a combo wine bar and Italian kitchen) and Lincoln’s Haberdashery (chef Michael Shortino’s new urban grocery).

Fidelli – 1616 Camden Road

Inizio Pizza – 10620 Providence Road and 2230 Park Road

Lincoln’s Haberdashery – 1300 South Boulevard

Yafo Kitchen – 720 Governor Morrison Street

shai fargian executive chef of yafo kitchen

YAFO Executive Chef Shai Fargian

Header photo of Suarez custom doughnuts via Instagram

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