Southern food may just be the most dominant American regional cuisine at the moment. But, evidence does not reside on the menu alone. Instead, it lies in the memories that come with each plate. A culmination of celebrations, today’s southern cuisine brings with it a story that restaurant patrons are actively seeking. Mintel’s Foodservice Trends 2017 reminded us that consumers are not just interested in the dining experience and flavors—they also want to understand the concepts behind them.
Today’s New Southern Cuisine is a very broad array of traditional Southern styles, driven by regional influences, a strong connection to regional BBQ and inspired by flavors from the north, East, West and across the globe. The cuisine is gaining traction and proving that rules are indeed made to be broken. Food-obsessed Millennials continue to be considered palate pioneers and with over half of them willing to spend money on such experiences, they often receive credit for pushing a cuisine forward. According to Technomic, 67% say visiting restaurants is one of the top activities they enjoy with friends and over 50% are more interested in trying new or ethnic flavors than they were just a year ago. It’s all about sharing experiences and actively discovering new flavors. The experience is as valuable as the food itself.
“I am more willing to visit a restaurant that offers something I haven’t had before… it’s even better when it’s from somewhere I haven’t been. Discovering and sharing with my friends is as important as the food.”
A Global Mash-Up Contender
“Sometimes when we go out, we’re not thinking of any actual food style – just a fun place with great new flavor combinations and real food.”
As innovative chefs move into hot trendy food-driven Southern cities like Asheville, Charleston, Nashville and Atlanta, we’ll see the influence continue to spread. These chefs are folding in their experiences and ideas—from global flavors and cuisines that they love to local ingredients and flavors of the region. In the 2017 Trends Report from Datassential, it is predicted that Southern Mashups will continue as chefs get more playful and adventurous. According to the report, Southern/Asian concepts may experiment with ingredients like pork belly or fried chicken, topping them with Asian-inspired flavors like fish sauce, hoisin, or togarashi. Southern/Latin spots may feature sweet potatoes, chicharrones, tomatoes, corn, and beans. At Hog & Hominy, Memphis, TN, Italian dining is combined with Southern roots in dishes like biscuit gnocchi and “grits al forno” topped with an amatriciana sauce.
While mash-ups are getting attention, the darling of southern cuisine remains in the tried-and-true chicken and biscuit duo. Biscuit shops, such as Biscuit Love in Nashville, TN, are opening up to lines of millennial fans while the fried chicken sandwich continues to make mouths water with options like the Three Alarm Chicken Sandwich at Artisan Meat Share in Charleston, SC.