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food and appetizers at a sports bar

Have you ever thought about switching up your fried mozzarella sticks for a cheese plate, or your buffalo wings for some vegetable tempura?

Some restaurant stick to the basics, while others have been getting ahead of the appetizer trends, offering unique selections prior to growth in popularity. I just had Salt & Vinegar wings at CHOMP Kitchen and Bar (a brand new Upserve client) the other day and I think that’s a dish worth trending.

But alas, the National Restaurant Association surveyed chefs and American Culinary Federation members to compile a list of data on trends in the industry. Here’s a look at the top five appetizer trends for 2013. 

1.  House-cured meats / charcuterie.

Bacaro in Providence, Rhode Island is one restaurant that offers a unique option for charcuterie – the branch of cooking devoted to preparing meat, primarily from pork. A store specializing in charcuterie is typically called a salumeria because of its selection of sliced and cured meats.

Bacaro offers every table a checklist of salumeria options. The guests are encouraged to select all the desired options, and a board of their choices will be brought to the table.

An example of one possible board includes: biellese bresaola, capocollo with mostarda fruits, biellese wild boar dry sausage, country-style pork pate, chicken liver pate, assorted picklings & crostini. Wine pairing: tenuta pederzana lambrusco grasparossa. Yes please. All of that. Here’s another:

2.  Vegetarian appetizers 

Puritan & Company in Cambridge’s Inman Square offers an impressive variety of vegetarian appetizers like cherry tomatoes & stracciatella or roasted beets with farmer’s cheese, mizuna and pistachio. Visit on a Monday during the summer and experience the Monday Market Menu, which focuses on the freshest products from local farmer’s markets.

Or how about some Fried Green Tomatoes Remoulade and Kohlrabi Slaw from The Grange?

3.  Ethnic/street food-inspired appetizers 

There is a large variety here and the study specifically mentions tempura, taquitos, kabobs and hummus as part of the trends. However, other unique creations are made with a combination of ethnic components.

For instance, DeWolf Taven in Bristol, Rhode Island offers two such options. The first is a sweet English pea and potato samosa with cranberry chutney. The other is an Asian-style braised pork short rib with coriander, cinnamon, soy sauce, chili, star anise and is served with an orange carrot salad.

Or step into Parallel Seventeen in Denver, Colorado. It’s a an upscale Vietnamese French Bistro that actually made some of the best Pho I’ve ever had. They also have a Sizzling Saigon crepe, a coconut scented crepe, sautéed chicken + mushrooms, onions, bean sprouts, pickled daikon + carrots, cucumbers + a bouquet of fresh herbs. For an appetizer, perhaps some grilled corn salad with crispy prosciutto, frisee, watercress, red onion, togarashi caramel popcorn and miso vinaigrette?

4. Amuse-bouche/bite-size hors d’oeuvre

In French, “amuse-bouche” translates to “mouth amuser” and  as you surely know, is technically a bit different than a traditional appetizer; guests typically don’t order amuse-bouche and the chef takes the liberty in preparing the selection. It’s often paired with wine to display the chef’s approach to artistic cuisine.

Amuse-bouche was linked with bite-size hors d’oeuvres in the survey results, even through some restaurants or caterers may have hors d’oeuvres consistently on the menu.

I adore the lemon sorbet amuse bouche palette cleanser at Gracie’s in Providence, Rhode Island and these tiny little BLTs drizzled with truffle oil at Chimney Park in Windsor, Colorado. I even did the restaurant paparazzi thing and snapped  a photo.

Catering With Distinction, a catering company in the Boston area, provides an array of passed hors d’oeuvres for cocktail parties. Among the highlights is seared tuna served on rice crackers with wasabi aioli and caviar; roast tenderloin of beef (thickly sliced), served on French bread toasts with horseradish cream; and mini lobster club sandwiches, served on toasted challah bread with avocado, bacon and citrus aioli.

5. Flatbread appetizers

It’s easy to see the growth in popularity of flatbread appetizers. I remember a time when flatbread was reserved for pizza places. Now, more restaurants have adopted it while utilizing their own recipes.

The Cambridge Brewing Company has a unique flatbread appetizer: Fresh melon and prosciutto on grilled flatbread with fresh heather-infused honey.

Small, unique plates of food are in demand. Are you offering any of these popular appetizer options? If so, have you seen an uptick in orders? We’d love to hear about your experience.

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As part of Upserve’s family of more than 10,000 restaurants, The Chef is Restaurant Insider’s secret weapon in the kitchen. As a restaurant expert in all things marketing, menu building, management, training and more, restaurateurs trust The Chef and the award-winning Restaurant Insider to dish out the ingredients needed to make your business a sweet success.