Consumer food demands are all over the map these days. A curious mixture of health-driven, convenience-driven, and taste-driven, diners want it all at a restaurant. They want to veer from something comforting, to something healthy, to something decadent—and back again. No one can cater to everyone, but restaurateurs can check out these possibilities if they want to satisfy those wacky needs

For the Health Conscious:

Quinoa – The ancient grain is more accessible to the consumer than ever in a ready-to-eat-and-heat form. As with brown rice, taking the time and mystery out of cooking the good-for-you grain will take it mainstream, but don’t be fooled by the fact that it will be easier to make in the home kitchen. (Hello oatmeal.) As consumers grow more comfortable with the grain, they will also be more open to ordering quinoa made in unique ways with a chef’s touch.

Kale – Everyone is looking for the next vegetable (broccoli! cauliflower!) that will be the new kale, but kale is going to be the new kale. With add-ins. Kale pudding, kale lasagna, kale-stuffed mushrooms…sky’s the limit on turning kale into the next big…comfort food.

Staying Up to Date

For the Comfort Food Lovers:

Deviled Eggs – This ultimate in comfort, picnic and ‘50s cocktail food is showing up on numerous menus from New York to Atlanta to New Orleans to Denver to California. Deviled eggs are more fashionable than ever as chefs top them with duck cracklins, smoked trout, and everything in-between. It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t like a deviled egg, but they’re a pain to make at home. When people find them on the menu, they snap them up faster than you can say mustard, mayo and a little pickled relish.

Fried Chicken – Who would have thunk it? Restaurants are vying to make the best fried chicken in town and consumers are happy to enjoy something that was once the sole province of a few fast food chains and scattered independents. To drive profits up a notch, restaurants are also pairing fried chicken with champagne and sparkling wine—those tiny bubbles are just what you need to cut through the salty chicken flavors.

For the Decadent:

Dulce de leche – Although predominantly used in desserts, dulce de leche can be used in savory dishes. It can be made from sweetened condensed cow’s milk or goat’s milk (cajeta)—it is even available in a can. If you want to please both the health-food cravers and those who are looking for decadence, offer a two-bite dulce de leche dessert that will satisfy taste buds without blowing the day’s calorie count.

Pies – Not only are pies coming in to their own again, but there are all those delicious cutting edge artisan ice creams to top them. Hand pies—single-serve pies that can be eaten with a fork or, as the title implies, with your hands—are also making a comeback this year. Homemade peanut-butter-bacon Pop Tarts, anyone?

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