At the beginning of every year, we like to predict the dining trends that lay ahead. While nothing here is written in stone—save the continued and deserved confidence of New Jersey’s evolving food and drink scene—here are some guesses as to the kinds of choices, flavors, and feelings Garden State restaurants are going for in 2020.
And, as always, keep an eye out for our best restaurants lists and continued openings, closings, and events coverage to see how New Jersey struts (or strides) into this next year of drinking and dining.
1. Reinvigorated Chef-Driven
There are plenty of large-format, razzle dazzle ways to dine in New Jersey (see #2 and #9 below), but 2020 is going to be a big year for evolution and investment among chefs and restaurants with unique points of view—for instance, Michael Stollenwerk’s confidently classic French menu at the 18-seat boite Little Hen in Haddonfield; Joseph Voller cooking like a virtuouso of Italian purism at Il Nido in Marlboro; Michael Casalinho’s Portuguese-rooted Broa Café, and of course places like Osteria Crescendo, Felina, South + Pine, Common Lot, etc. If you haven’t yet, make 2020 the year you discover some (all?) of the state’s top restaurants, or the incredible restaurants vying for that title, because you’ll find some of the best food in New Jersey will be coming out of smaller, chef-driven concepts.
2. The Rise (and Fall?) of the Food Hall
They’re here (just check traffic reports) but whether the massive workspace/entertainment space/food hall formulas behind places like Bell Market at Bell Works and American Dream are successful—that’s still very much TBD. One thing we do know is 2020 will be the year New Jersey either embraces or slowly, painfully rejects these large-format, multi-concept dining experiences. “Chopped” regular and seasoned New York chef Marc Murphy is joining the American Dream fray with his Old World-meets-New World Grisini Food Hall (which alone will host two dozen concepts) and elsewhere, safely distant from the American Dream parking lot, chefs Joe Muldoon and James Liuzza are working on their culinary market concept in the former space of McFarlan’s in Haddonfield.
3. New (and Renewed) New Jersey Neighborhoods
We’re happy to know some of New Jersey’s top dining destinations by heart: Princeton, Montclair, Morristown, Red Bank, Cape May, Collingswood, Jersey City, Hoboken, Collingswood, Asbury Park, and so on. But in 2020 we expect to see other, maybe smaller or formerly under-exposed neighborhoods emerging with stronger drinking and dining scenes, either with internal investment—as in festivals like the still-growing “Uncorked and Uncapped” festival in West Orange, embracing local product (at the Paella Festival in Perth Amboy), looking at an old city in a new way (see “Ducktown Food Tours” in AC), or thanks to some generally welcome outside push, as in Philly restaurateur Michael Schulson’s two Camden waterfront restaurant projects, currently in the works.
4. Korean and Filipino Flavors
According to Yelp’s first-ever trend forecast, Korean cuisine, fluffy pancakes, and Filipino desserts are all coming to a plate near you in 2020. That might sound a little specific—Yelp also predicted flowers in everything, and low- to no-ABV. But for New Jersey, this prediction might be spot-on. We’ve already covered one unexpected (sublime) Filipino delight Halo Halo in our Shave Ice round-up, which we could sample multiple times because Jersey has healthy Filipino dining enclaves. Same goes for Korean cuisine in the state: beyond the ongoing innovations of Kimchi Smoke’s Robert Cho and the incredibly strong northern Jersey Korean food scene at large, there are Korean flavors making appearances in new places, e.g. Faubourg recently hosted Seoul chef Inje Seong and Common Lot’s uber-creative Ehren Ryan drew inspiration from Korea for this pristine fish stew at Common Lot. Filipino flavors are popping up, too: Hearthside recently served grilled octopus with palapa, an incredibly flavorful, texture-rich sweet and spicy Filipino slaw.
5. Seeing More Seafood
Yes, 2019 was the year of alternative meats and 2020 is likely to be the year of the continued backlash against (or, we prefer, “thoughtful questioning of”) the trend. But for New Jerseyites who still partake in eating animals, look out for a strong seafood scene in 2020, and not just on the coastline. From the continued growth of Local 130—which recently added a 6,000 square-foot warehouse in Long Branch—to the more recent opening of Stern & Bow in Closter, New Jersey seafood is thriving. Chefs are using interesting and new, to you, sources of serious fish flavor, e.g. Tilefish Collar with dashi at Black Eyed Susan’s in LBI. As the keto diet continues and post-holiday diners keep looking for sources of pure protein, fish—ideally Jersey local fish—will emerge shimmering from the sea of options. (Although you can also keep an eye out for plant-based fish this year, too.)
6. “No!” to No- and Low-ABV
Don’t get us wrong—we’re happy to have an increase in thoughtful, creative non-alcoholic drink options on cocktail and beverage menus. But as everyone all over the country predicts a continued rise in low- and no-ABV, we’re guessing it’s not going to hit hard in Jersey. Why? Because New Jersey is just doing too good at booze. We have bartenders carving their own ice cubes, next-level Italian cocktail menus that can rival anything in NYC, scores of new craft breweries opening all over the state (including breweries touting a visionary farm-to-glass ethos we’ve never seen before), award-winning craft whiskey distilleries out of Newark’s Ironbound district, and our very own award-winning hard seltzer, born on the Jersey Shore. Jersey’s wine scene, no surprise, is thriving, and just received yet another national plaudit—Unionville Vineyards received a 90-point score for its 2015 Pheasant Hill Pinot Noir from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
7. Global Flavors (The Pot Keeps Melting)
New Jersey has never been a state to compartmentalize its flavors (otherwise we would miss out on things like Puerto Rican Disco fries). When it comes to food, New Jersey flavors flirt, which is why—even as ethnic culinary traditions stand strong—you’ll see more creative, thoughtful, and playful integration of flavors and techniques from one menu to the next: e.g. Sauce Veracruz on Osso Bucco at Summit House, sweet Southeast Asian Calamansi citrus with Squid a la Plancha at Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, the Surf & Turf at Elements (aka Uni wrapped in cured pork, a kind of deluxe Euro-Japanese nouveau sushi roll), Spaetzle with Snails and Hazelnut at Faubourg, etc.
8. Tech Trends?
There’s a lot of talk about how artificial intelligence is going to change the dining landscape, but for New Jersey restaurants, where an evening out is the goal, don’t expect to have to calculate proper tip for your robot bartender just yet.
Ghost or Delivery Kitchens are also not expected to scare up much action in New Jersey. (They’re basically commissary kitchens, or kitchens unattached to a restaurant dining room, where higher quality food can be created for delivery—think Uber Eats, GrubHub, DoorDash, etc.) We’ll always enjoy delivery but the outlets will remain separate, with delivery and restaurant dining satisfying very separate needs.
9. ’20s Vibe
Speaking of those needs, though we now know all about New Jersey’s (sadly) defunct history in caviar production, that doesn’t mean the state won’t see some ’20s-era luxe trends, maybe chief among them the increased emphasis on razzle dazzle along with dinner (see David Burke’s swingin’ Ventanas, the rustic grandeur of dining destinations like Beach Plum Farm in Cape May, the delicately refined Old World luxury of Faubourg in the urban bustle of Montclair, etc.). Especially as dining becomes one way to assert (or aspire) to luxury that remains available to the hungry masses, expect to see places like those and their glitzy brethren dive into the luxury, satin shoe first.
10. A Few Key Ingredients
Some ingredients you’ll see peppering New Jersey menus in 2020: green garbanzo beans, lots of dashi and mushrooms for added umami in the meat-light era, heavier use of nuts, especially hazelnuts (they’re already everywhere), sorrel (a kind of hibiscus) especially as West African and Caribbean foods continue to make headway, ancient grains, duck and other game birds (as a more sustainable, interesting protein option), a flurry of foie gras dishes (in anxious anticipation of the 2022 NYC ban?), interesting textures like fluffy Japanese pancakes and chewy ice creams, and more booze in food. Keep an eye out for what trends replace Avocado Toast (can anything unseat it?) and ubiquitous grain and acai bowls on fast-casual upmarket breakfast menus. Our pick/secret desire: haute egg sandwiches.
Here’s to a Happy and Hungry 2020!Click here to leave a comment