^ I Support Local Community Journalism Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of the New Times clear. It doesn’t take a nostradamus to know that 2021 will be an unusual year. Food predictions of any kind are dubious, but we can safely say that this year will bring new wrinkles. I’m not talking about the rise of a novel root vegetable or the viral resurgence of an ancient cooking method. I mean that the long, brutal, and dragging stretch of the pandemic will likely force us to take some previously untravelled roads. The year ahead will be tough, but it won’t be bad for the local food scene. Here are a few things to look out for in 2021. EXPAND A tray of stew, ceme’t, and a pumpkin burrito from Frybread House – a place that will (hopefully) continue to receive overdue attention. Chris Malloy The Rise of Drive-Thrus, Takeout Windows, and Ghost Kitchens I recently visited Slice Eat, a new Scottsdale restaurant that puts meals through a drive-thru window. The people behind Slice Eat are the people behind Forno 301, the Gagliano family. The Gaglianos have their roots in Italy, home of slow food and two-hour lunch, a country where riot police have been mobilized against crowds protesting against new McDonald’s locations. But the past is history and the future is here. Slice Eat is something like a very simple Forno 301, which is designed for speed and entrainment. This year, we’re likely to see more new independent restaurants specializing in take-away. Such food reduces the risk of spreading the virus compared to eating out in restaurants. Takeaway and delivery groceries tend to be cheaper too, which is more economical in times of unemployment and reduced incomes. These models can work. My favorite example might be Authentic Ethio African Spices, an Ethiopian restaurant in central Phoenix that, while having a corner for eating, has been primarily a ghost kitchen since before the pandemic. To-go buffs are evident in our dining scene, from Tucson’s Anello smashing its brick wall to build a takeaway window, to the new take-away restaurants from Fox Restaurant Concepts, a group that has proven it is one step ahead of certain curves. EXPAND Slice Eat in Scottsdale, a recently opened Italian drive-through restaurant. Chris Malloy Indigenous Foods Getting More Overdue Attention The most underrated element of dining in Arizona remains Native American food and foodways. This has changed in recent years, especially in 2020, with the release of projects like the documentary Gather, as well as the increasing presence of indigenous chefs, cooks, food educators and farmers in local and national media, and Arizona’s food culture stems from pre-colonial traditions. Planting tepar beans and pumpkin to flush with monsoons. The harvest and processing of wild cactus fruits. The plump, flowery varieties of corn from places like Ramona Farms, which make the yellow stuff out of the industrial flask or metal, can taste as lazy as factory-packed candy. As more people learn from places like Native Coffee Co. and Red Feather Cafe about the incredible foods experienced by activists like Nephi Craig and Twila Cassadore and chefs like Renetto-Mario Etsitty and Jaren Bates, the appetite for local Native foods increases will continue to increase. While it was a brutal year for our food culture, 2020 offered at least one solid good thing: increased recognition from our great local Native American food guides. EXPAND outdoor dining will be pushed for some time to come. Jacob Tyler Dunn Pop-ups Galore The pandemic has brought new opportunities for pop-ups. This comes with a spark of anticipation. Pop-ups can, at best, do things that fixed restaurants cannot or cannot do, but only to a lesser extent (like center-based preparations that are less familiar to the general dining audience, or like targeting a handful of dishes rather than many). In a communal kitchen in downtown Mesa, Phx Lechon Roasters has made Filipino take-away food, with an emphasis on Kamayan meals, Pandesal, Lumpia, and Lechon. Offers rotate. You can comfortably feed three to four people with a family-sized take-away order. Brian and Margita Webb’s specialty is lechon, a whole pork meat that is roasted on a spit over charcoal until the meat is tender and the skin develops a massive crust. Lom Wong is another top notch pop-up preparing regional deep cuts from above and below in Thailand. This year, food professionals will be more cautious about opening new restaurants. Pop-ups are a way to gauge interest in an idea before taking the stationary plunge. For chefs in between gigs, pop-ups are a low-risk way to prepare very personal food and raise money. EXPAND Ramona Farms run by Velvet Button. Chris Malloy Restaurant Remains in Survival Mode until a massive fall of 2021 at the start of month 11 of the pandemic, the return to normal for restaurants seems to take many seasons into the future. This is thanks to the gross negligence of the government and the seasonal rhythms of our tourism and restaurant scene. The latest federal stimulus package offers restaurants and restaurant employees meager support. The paycheck protection program has of course been renewed and slightly improved. Unemployment benefits have also been revitalized, which is essential for unemployed food professionals, yes. But all in all, the package is nowhere near enough to keep restaurants afloat. Without comprehensive legislation that better serves the needs of the industry, restaurants will continue to tread on the spot. And that for months. The introduction of vaccines has been slow. Most likely, vaccines won’t be widely used until the summer. Summer brings stifling heat and slow dining season to Phoenix. Fall 2021 will likely be the first chance for restaurants to get going again. EXPAND Deep purple Ube cheesecake at Phx Lechon Roasters. Chris Malloy Climate Change Continues to Pursue Our Food System As I noticed in my story about why I don’t eat in restaurants, the pandemic has brought immense challenges, but it’s not the final boss. That will be climate change, and our food systems will continue to be slowly pulverized as it continues to flourish. Overlooking the many growing threats to food feels like going through a list of biblical calamities. Climate change is driving temperatures up, as we saw in July and August, the two hottest months on record. This makes it difficult to raise animals outdoors. This creates more evaporation and endangers water sources like the Colorado River, where the level at Lake Mead is already so low that Arizona is rationing water to some farmers. More heat also makes it harder for people to work in the fields. Paradoxically, our agriculture runs at the macro level on synthetic fertilizers and fossil fuels, which feed us but also drive change. Paradoxically, the way we grow food threatens our food supply. Fortunately, the new presidential administration has signaled that it will treat climate change with more seriousness. Climate change is the biggest problem in the food world this decade and century. Finally it looks like we can finally see progress. Keep Phoenix New Times Free … Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we want it to stay that way. We offer our readers free access to concise coverage of local news, food and culture. We produce stories about everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with bold reporting, stylish writing, and staff who have won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Feature Writing Award to the Casey- Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with the existence of local journalism under siege and the setbacks in advertising revenues having a bigger impact, it is now more important than ever for us to raise funds to fund our local journalism. You can help by joining our “I Support” membership program which allows us to continue to cover Phoenix without paywalls. Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He’s been scrubbing pots in a restaurant kitchen, taking a cheese course, harvesting garlic in Marche, and rolling pasta like cappellacci with chicken liver. He writes reviews, but also narrative stories on the edge of the food world.