One day in late October, the three Barcia children sat at a table in front of their parents' restaurant, Palazzo 53 in Pittston, carving decorative pumpkins and munching on a snack of … calamari.
That's nothing, the youngsters' teen-age babysitter mentioned to a passing reporter and photographer.
They've eaten figs, she said, hinting that too was remarkable in a world where many children are rumored to eat nothing but chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese.
But the Barcias' willingness to try different foods could be a sign of the future.
Several local chefs cite a greater maturity of youthful taste as a trend they foresee for 2013.
We don't have a children's menu per se, Ruth Corcoran from Cork Bar & Restaurant in Wilkes-Barre said. I'm seeing their palates grow. We have 5-year-olds who come in and want fish dishes. We'll make a smaller version of whatever the adults are having.
A lot of times we'll offer a petite fillet, said Chef John Hudak Jr. of Vanderlyn's Restaurant in Kingston. Or we'll offer a grilled chicken breast with vegetable (to kids). But we can't take away the ever-so-popular chicken tenders and fries.
Whether it's tried-and-true chicken tenders or something more exotic, naturally you'd expect a child's portion to be smaller than one intended for an adult.
Some chefs say restaurants will make adult portions leaner in 2013, in keeping with people's growing desire to be health-conscious.
As a bonus, Corcoran said, when portions are tiny you can sample more things.
I recently went to special tapas restaurant in Atlantic City. There were three of us and we must have tried about 10 different small plates, she said. It was great.
She sees new flavoring agents coming to the forefront this year, including some that could make you pucker.
I'll add different vinegars to short ribs or chicken dishes, she said. It adds a real depth of flavor.
Sour beers are huge right now, added Chef Gene Philbin of the Peculiar Culinary Co. One of my favorites to come out is Dogfish Head Birra Etrusca Bronze. Especially in the warmer weather, it pairs great with fruit.
Speaking of menu items from the sour side, Hudak said, Pickling is a big thing. You can do it with any vegetable. We might pickle some watermelon rinds or pickled tomatoes when they're in their prime.
As for Philbin, he's such a big fan of pickling, he once wanted to own a pickling company. For now, he's established the Peculiar Culinary Co., which has popped up in various locations to serve multi-course meals, most recently in Pittston on New Year's Eve.
I've pickled radishes. I've pickled ginger, he said. I've pickled winter vegetables – little patty pans and zucchinis – to go with pork. I love pickling tomatoes, small cherry tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. They'll last in your refrigerator.
A pickled cabbage dish called kimchi is also something Philbin expects to serve in 2013. It's a Korean dish, and he expects Korean food to be the next big thing.
In the big cities (Korean restaurants) are becoming huge and trendy and posh, he said.
Since he likes to blend traditions, Philbin said, he's working a Korean braised short-rib taco. It's a mix between Spanish and Korean flavors, he said.
Another restaurant trend for 2013, area chefs say, will be to offer foods that are gluten-free to accommodate diners who are sensitive to that protein component found in grains.
You can have everything – any fresh protein, veal, shrimp steak. The gluten comes in the sauce, how you thicken the sauce, Hudak said. Are we going to put it on the menu? No, but people usually ask and we can accommodate them.
I've trained my staff to know there are different kinds of vegetarians, Hudak continued. Some don't eat meat; some don't do meat or dairy, some don't eat seafood. And for the true vegan that eats only plant-based foots, no animals, nothing with a face, we can really dress something up. We can make a vegan dish that absolutely turns heads.
Local chefs said they try to buy regional produce when they can.
Hudak, for example, purchases honey from a farm in Dallas. Corcoran buys desserts from a baker in Nesquehoning. Philbin has purchased ales from a Nanticoke brewery and said he doesn't mind paying a little more for meat from a mom-and-pop butcher shop.
It's wonderful to get vegetables and fruits from local farms in late spring, summer and into fall. Everything is so fresh, Hudak said. It's a little more difficult this time of year.
But for restaurants to patronize closer-to-home growers, Corcoran said, it has to be cost effective or it just won't work.
Finally, Philbin said, he predicts more food trucks, especially those offering gourmet-style food, will be spotted throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania in 2013. He'd like to have one himself, he said.
He also foresees more pop-up restaurants joining him in that arena, and said he welcomes them.
Competition is good, he said. If you don't have competition, you could get stagnant and lose your passion.