Special Sections » Dish

On the rise

City takes a look at five food trends that have started to take hold in Rochester


The worlds of food and fashion have at least one thing in common: trends. What's deemed cool one day is quickly replaced by something new. With Rochester's food and dining scene in the midst of a renaissance, it's no longer necessary to visit a larger city to sample the latest and greatest.

City Newspaper's dining staff has curated a list of its five favorite 2015 food trends and where you can find them in the Rochester area. Let us know what food trends you enjoy locally by commenting on this article online at rochestercitynewspaper.com.

Beneficial bacteria

Fermenting is one of the oldest methods of preservation for both food and drink, and in the last few years there has been a resurgence in using these age old methods. About three years ago, Small World Food (90 Canal Street, 563-9018, www.smallworldfood.com) started fermenting with kimchi and sauerkraut, which has become the core of its ever expanding product line. I counted more than 25 different varieties when I visited at the Public Market with most of them using raw local and organic produce as the base.

An explosion of interest in fermentation's healthy byproducts, like probiotics and digestive enzymes, was the catalyst, but according to Nathan Carter of Small World that's not all there is to it: "Introduction to fermented foods or probiotics usually starts from a health perspective, but once you try it, the depth of flavor you get can't be replicated."

For example, the miso ($5 for soy, black bean, or chickpea versions) and fermented garlic are staples in my fridge. Personally, I use them to make my own vegetable base for soups or stews when I'm looking for that umami boost without the meat. If you're interested in learning more about cooking with miso, Small World will offer a class on Saturday, May 30, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Small World has also recently delved into making apple cider vinegar — another product of fermentation. Vinegar is hot right now in the drink world with the use of shrubs (flavored and sweetened vinegar) for both non-alcoholic and traditional cocktails. Currently, Cure (50 Rochester Public Market, 563-7941, curebar.net) is using a gastrique in one of its cocktails and Joe Bean Coffee (1344 University Avenue, 319-5279, joebeanroasters.com) and The Revelry (1290 University Avenue, 340-6454, therevelryroc.com) are both using shrubs in items on their menus.


Voluptuous vegan baking

Lush and creamy cheesecake, topped with layer of thick, chocolate mint ganache. An Elvis cupcake, with dollops of rich peanut butter frosting and coconut "bacon" perched upon a tender banana cake. Truffles stuffed with salty pretzels and sweet caramel. They're 100-percent delicious, 100-percent vegan, and 100-percent made by Jenny Johnson, owner of the Pudgy Girl Bakery (678-1630, pudgygirlbakery.com).

Johnson has had a lifelong passion for baking. As a photography student at RIT, she would bake vegan treats to use as photo subjects. Post-graduation, she pursued both passions, freelancing as photography assistant and honing her pastry skills at The Owl House. Today, baking is her primary focus, but tempts customers on her website and Facebook page with photos of carrot cakes slathered with vegan cream cheese frosting and toasted nuts, sugar cookies shimmering with citrus glaze, and chewy maple bourbon pecan pies.


Johnson was drawn to vegan baking through the idea of cruelty-free eating. "Replacing dairy and eggs with plant based ingredients such as soy and starches is a small step in making a smaller, less destructive impact on the cows and chickens as well as the environment," she said.

While Johnson explores the possibility of selling pastries from a food truck or opening a storefront, you can custom order items through her website (cakes start at $35). Pudgy Girl Bakery items are also available at Abundance Cooperative Market (62 Marshall Street), Balsam Bagels (288 North Winton Road) and Lori's Natural Foods (Genesee Valley Market, 900 Jefferson Road).

You can find more vegan baked goods at Get Caked (274 North Goodman Street, 319-4314, getcakedroc.com), Scratch Bakeshop (113 Park Avenue, 360-4844, scratchbakeshoproc.com), and The Red Fern (283 Oxford Street, 563-7633, redfernrochester.com).


Fancy fried chicken

Butapub's Korean fried chicken is almost too good to believe. The half-chicken entrée ($18) presents four, fat pieces of chicken — legs, thigh, breast. There are also two ramekins, one packed with kimchi, another stuffed with thinly-sliced pickles, and a small bowl mounded with white rice.

Though the sides are good, the chicken is the star. Each piece is battered and fried until richly browned. The coating is craggy, with peaks approaching chestnut brown, and valleys a shade of blonde. Smeared across each piece is gochujang, a deep red, thick and sticky chili paste made with fermented soybeans and glutinous rice.

Butapub’s Korean Fried Chicken served with gochujang, kim chi, pickles, and rice. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Butapub’s Korean Fried Chicken served with gochujang, kim chi, pickles, and rice.

The gochujang adds heat, depth of flavor, and sweetness to the chicken, but it doesn't subdue the coating's crispness. Each bite releases a satisfying crunch that resonates in the mouth. Even a day later, after a drumstick had chilled in my refrigerator, the crunch and flavor remained. This is chicken that lives up to the tagline finger-lickin' good.

Butapub's chef-owner Asa Mott serves up Korean Fried chicken nightly as a wing appetizer ($11) and an entrée ($18 for half a bird or $32 for a whole). During Sunday brunch, the white rice with the dinner entree is swapped out for house-fried donuts. I'm pretty sure that's what they serve for brunch in Heaven.

Butapub is at 315 Gregory Street (563-6241, butapub.com). You can find more fried chicken at Good Luck (50 Anderson Avenue, 340-6161, restaurantgoodluck.com), The Revelry (1290 University Avenue, 340-6454, therevelryroc.com), and TRATA (145 Culver Road, 270-5460, tratarochester.com).


Pho sure

As recently as five or six years ago, I'd never heard of pho, and I certainly wasn't aware of the pronunciation issues surrounding this Vietnamese noodle soup.  Nowadays there are at least 10 places to slurp it within a 10-minute drive from the center of Rochester.

Pho may be beef-based (pho bo) or chicken-based (pho ga). Either way, pho begins with an earthy and aromatically complex broth created through long hours of simmering bones, along with the addition of spices like star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. Within that broth you'll find voluminous rice flour noodles, along with either chicken or various cuts of beef, and possibly chopped scallions. From there, choose your garnishes to add more complexity to both flavor and texture. Most restaurants offer mung bean sprouts, Thai basil, wedges of lime, and Thai chile peppers or jalapeños. You'll also typically find Sriracha and hoisin sauce at the table to further liven up your soup.

The newest addition to the Rochester pho scene — a mashup of Vietnamese, Russian, and American cuisine — is East/West Kitchen at 337 East Avenue, where the recipe (also a mashup) originated with the wives of two of the Vietnamese owners. Chef Keith Finch conjures up a fresh batch from scratch daily. Finch beings by boiling beef bones with onions for eight hours before adding star anise, caraway, beef paste, coriander seed, black cardamom, and even rock candy, but no MSG.

After another four to eight hours, his broth reaches culmination. The finished product has a clean citrusy flavor highlighted by fragrant anise. While beef is sometimes a footnote to pho, the thinly sliced rare beef here was among the most flavorful I've had in a bowl of pho, perhaps due to its local roots, as Finch tries to source all his ingredients locally.

A few other prime picks for a sensuously sumptuous bowl of pho include Dac Hoa (230 Monroe Avenue, 232-6038), SEA (741 Monroe Avenue, 473-8031), and Saigon Pho (1384 Lyell Avenue, 235-3611).


Duck fat frites, duck gravy, and First Light Creamery cheese curds makes up Lento’s poutine. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Duck fat frites, duck gravy, and First Light Creamery cheese curds makes up Lento’s poutine.

Our new neighbor from the north

Migrating south, poutine has passed through customs, crossed the Canadian-American border, and taken up residency in Rochester — the dish now populates more and more menus of local bars and restaurants.

A simple dish, yet one whose ingredients demand balance and harmony, poutine — (ideally) fresh cut French fries and nuggets of slightly melted cheese curds smothered in gravy — has its roots in 1950's rural Quebec as something of a cheap fast food.

The rise of poutine's popularity in our area could be attributed, at least in part, to Le Petit Poutine. One of Rochester's most beloved food trucks, it has spread the gospel of poutine for four years now at the Rochester Public Market, the Brighton Farmers' Market, the Memorial Art Gallery, the corner of Broad Street and South Avenue, and at night outside South Wedge bars.

Perhaps this area's quintessential poutine comes from Lento chef and owner, Art Rogers. Having had duck fat frites on the menu since Lento opened eight years ago, Rogers was persuaded about six years ago that those duck fat frites could have a higher calling in poutine. He sees his poutine as a fine fit for his farm-to-table philosophy: duck (for fat and for the stock used to make the gravy) sourced from Gansz Farms in Lyons, Kennebec potatoes ("Ideal for frying, better than Russet," according to Rogers) from Greater Tater in Wayland, and the cheese curds from First Light Creamery in East Bethany. Rogers perfects this integration of textures and flavors by placing the frites, topped with the cheese curds, under the broiler before adding his signature gravy and locally grown chopped herbs.  He suspects the recent upsurge in poutine popularity — beyond Le Petit Poutine raising awareness locally — has much to do with our proximity to Quebec and the Internet's effect of shrinking our world.

These days, you can find various incarnations of poutine at such places as J.B. Quimby's (3259 South Winton Road, 272-9780, jbquimbys.com), Simply Crepes (which uses wedges of red potatoes in lieu of French fries) at 7 Schoen Place in Pittsford, Victoire (duck-fat fried, with duck gravy and duck confit) at 120 East Avenue, and numerous other places in the area.


In This Guide...

  • DISH 2015

    Rochester food & drink
    In this year's edition of Dish, City's guide to Rochester's food and drink culture, we explore some of the more recent changes in the area's dining scene.

  • Bean to cup

    In 2012, City contributor James Leach wrote about three new coffee shops in Rochester that were roasting, brewing, and selling their coffee all in house, a relatively new concept: Joe Bean Coffee Roasters, Canaltown Coffee Roasters, and Java's at the Market. Fast forward to 2015 and I had the chance to interview the owners of three more small-batch coffee roasters that have opened since then: Press, Pour, and Fuego.

  • Grain to growth

    Just inside the entrance of Black Button Distilling on Railroad Street — right next to the door that separates the business's product and bar area from the back room packed with barrels and equipment — is a large poster board that lays out Black Button's process. The simple diagram walks the viewer through the distilling process, from preparing the grains and turning long-chain starches into short-chain sugars before going to the fermentation tanks and the shiny hybrid pot still.