Overrated and Underrated Food Trends in Philly

By Danya Henninger  |  November 4, 2013
Credit: Danya Henninger

No one knows quite how trends take hold, but once they do, an ingredient or dish can go from unknown to culinary superstar seemingly overnight (did you know what quinoa was two years ago? We didn’t). However delicious or healthy or decadent these viral pop stars are, all the attention can become tiresome - do we really need another Cronut knock-off? - and distract from new things that deserve at least a bit of the spotlight.

Check out what’s totally overrated in Philly food right now and what underrated alternatives are also worthy of your attention. Don’t agree with the list? Let us know in the comments.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Overrated Dessert: Salted Caramel
    Perhaps there are exceptions - Barbuzzo's salted caramel budino generally lives up to the hype it gets - but does salted caramel have to show up at every turn? “Salted caramel anything!” responds a Twitter follower when asked to pick trends-turned-pet-peeves. Whole Foods is even selling a bath soap in salted caramel “flavor.” A line must be drawn.

    Underrated Dessert: Sweet Potato
    The combination of savory and sweet is a compelling one, and talented pastry chefs can tease it out of simple ingredients. At Rex 1516, new dessert maestro Brian DeMuro has just introduced a sweet potato panna cotta. Served with cranberry preserves and fried mint, it’s a Thanksgiving dish turned satisfying final course.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Overrated Soup: Ramen
    Philly may have come late to the ramen craze, and we still don’t have all that many places to get it, but should we care? “Grow a set and pick on ramen!” chef Scott Schroeder of the South Philadelphia Tap Room told us the other day, fed up with the lionizing the dish receives from the restaurant community.

    Underrated Soup: Pho
    What Philadelphia does have a ton of is pho. There are probably as many places to get the Vietnamese belly-warming treat here as there are cheesesteakeries. Okay, that may be pushing it, but you could hop from Pho Ha to Cafe Diem and Nam Phuong, and experience a unique and great version at each one.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Overrated Drink: Anything Barrel-Aged
    We asked what you were sick of seeing in cocktails, and several of you called out barrel-aging. It’s a technique that’s been used for years to make whiskey, but the recent trend of putting everything in a cask before you drink it may be overkill.

    Underrated Drink: Aquavit
    This Scandinavian spirit combines a distinctive taste (usually from caraway or dill) with a bracing, refreshing finish. It’s sometimes sold aged, but since we’re skipping that trend, ask Lee at Hop Sing Laundromat if he'll whip up a custom batch for you. His most recent aquavit was infused with pineapple and strawberries, adding a fruity edge to the sharp herbal flavor.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Overrated Squash: Butternut
    “Delicious, no doubt, but too often the base for a thoughtless vegetarian standby,” said one of our Twitter followers about this winter staple. Even non-vegetarians may get tired of seeing it on menus everywhere this time of year.

    Underrated Squash: Acorn
    Though it comes into season during late fall and winter, acorn squash is actually of the same species as summer squash and zucchini, and its tender, sweet flesh is more flavorful than its overused cousin above. Try it at the brand new Laurel on East Passyunk, where chef Nicholas Elmi serves a "smashed" version beneath pan-seared Berkshire pork.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Overrated Hot Sauce: Sriracha
    The recent threat that there would be a shortage had people threatening to make a run on the beloved rooster sauce, and markets were worried about keeping it on shelves. Is it that good? Consenus seems to be yes, it is, but it still doesn’t deserve all the hype. (See also: bacon - as one person tweeted to us: “it’s probably overrated but still too good to be denied #bourbon #bacon.”)

    Underrated Hot Sauce: Grilled Jalapeño
    Chef Eli Kulp isn’t selling his new hot sauce by the bottle yet at High Street on Market, but we’re trying to convince him that he should. Made from grilled jalapeño peppers, it’s piquant, savory and only lightly spicy, but with enough kick to make you take notice. Head to Old City to try it on your next breakfast sandwich.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Overrated Hybrid: Ramen Burgers
    Back to ramen, a follower tweeted “I really don't understand the appeal of a ramen burger. Boundaries, people,” and we kind of agree. Seemingly done just for the sake of novelty, they're tough to eat, and the flavors could be paired in tons of other ways.

    Underrated Hybrid: Brisket Ramen
    Cheu Noodle Bar did do ramen burgers for a one-night pop-up, but the brisket ramen that’s always on the menu at the Wash West noodle house offers a much tastier (and less messy) hybrid experience. Jewish cuisine meets Asian in this soup of matzo balls, kimchi and brisket in a sesame seed broth.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Overrated Root Veg: Beets
    Once rarely seen outside of borscht and unfamiliar if not canned and pickled, beets are all over the place now and in a wild array of colors. Pretty as they are, perhaps we need to dial back the beetiness for a while. As another Twitter follower put it, “Piss off, beets!”

    Underrated Root Veg: Jicama
    Instead, seek out this vegetable, also sometimes know as a Mexican turnip. Though not as colorful as beets (it’s a ho-hum off-white), it has a similar sweet flavor but is easy to eat raw. Just-opened Taqueria Feliz in Manayunk offers a jicama salad, mixing crunchy strips with mango, avocado, arugula and pumpkin seeds.