Where have all the white tablecloths gone? For all our new craft breweries, old-school butchers, barbecue joints, restaurant districts and fast-casual concepts, the candlelights seem to be flickering on fine dining. Now to most foodies, this is nothing new. As our dining scene has evolved over the past decade, it’s shed many of its formal trappings in favor of a more comfortable appeal.
While dining out used to be reserved for special occasions, restaurants have become a much bigger part of our daily lives than in the past. Heck, the average American eats out 4.5 times a week (not including breakfast), according to a 2016 Zagat survey.
If you need any further proof, just look at this year’s Silver Spoon Award finalists for best new restaurant: Nuevo Modern Mexican & Tequila Bar, Mabel’s BBQ and the Plum Cafe & Kitchen. Delicious, one and all, but none fit what we’d traditionally call fine dining. Even at Nuevo, where you’ll find a crispy ancho coffee duck confit and other entrees in the high $20s, there’s an entire section of the menu filled with tacos, burritos and quesadillas. Plus it’s all served in a fun, relaxed atmosphere with a coastal vibe fueled by margaritas.
While Michael Symon brought us Mabel’s (thank you, Iron Chef), the brisket, pork belly, kielbasa and cracklins are served on a metal sheet tray. There’s no greater contrast than looking next door on East Fourth Street at Symon’s Lola, which has represented the highest elevation of our food scene for a decade.
Then there’s my favorite new restaurant (and our readers) this year: Plum Cafe, where even co-chefs Brett Sawyer and Jordan Kirk struggle to categorize the Ohio City spot as any one type of cuisine. “I very much wanted to open a restaurant that my friends could come to regularly,” Sawyer told managing editor Kim Schneider.
In that, he’s succeeded. My wife and I have visited several times, because the place feels comfortable yet adventurous. Whether it’s the subway tile or the bright, flowery wallpaper or the mismatched vintage plates (chips included), the place is so inviting we’ve always just enjoyed eating at the 10-stool bar. And yet, the food is seriously good, often tempting us to try new things or flavor combinations — whether that’s chicken feet or the panna cotta with peas, cilantro, shallots and mustard green flowers on our cover.
So go ahead and keep your white linens if I can get another order of chickenrones.