Any given year will bring a tally of restaurants that made their debut and a list of those that closed. But there’s always more happening in a restaurant scene than arrivals and departures.

Looking back at another year of food stories from New Orleans can reveal clues of what’s to come, patterns for what endures and questions about what might change.

What follows is one take away from a busy, sometimes tumultuous 2017.

New paths through craft

Terms like “artisan” and “craft” can sometimes feel like trigger words. Mention them in the realm of food and drink and some people declare gentrification, elitism or frou frou indulgence. Sometimes that fits, but it’s hardly the only narrative.

In New Orleans, craft and artisan approaches have been vehicles for new talent, brands and even industries. Playing to modern tastes, they’re building back a niche of commerce that once filled New Orleans neighborhoods with distinctive brands from small producers with locally-vested owners. 

Craft brewing has been one focal point for the trend, and 2017 showed it doesn’t have to follow one model. Port Orleans Brewing in Uptown and Royal Brewery in New Orleans East each opened as production breweries, making beer primarily destined for distribution (plus more specialized brews for their taprooms). Across the spectrum, two tiny, taproom-only beer makers bubbled up at Parleaux Beer Lab in the Bywater and Brieux Carre in the Marigny.

Dixie Beer got a major boost when Tom Benson bought the brand, and while this beer is still produced out of state his company has pledged to develop a new brewery here. The influx of marketing money has put the Dixie name all over the city again, and with a revamped recipe, said to be based on the original, the brew is now pitched to a new generation.

The ranks of local breweries took a hit, however, when 40 Arpent Brewing, a pioneer of the current trend, closed up shop in Arabi.

Another story this year showed how small local producers have a new ally in a unique and growing New Orleans company. My House Social has lately developed a niche connecting food trucks, pop-ups, specialty caterers and other producers with the corporate events, conferences and functions that course through New Orleans.

It’s helping new players access a cornerstone of the city's tourism economy. As tastes change, they are also bringing more to the table that comes from New Orleans but doesn’t necessarily follow the same script.

Another story this year looked at how a hub of new craft brands developed together near the Broadmoor end of South Broad Street. The rum-maker Roulaison Distilling, Piety and Desire Chocolate, Broad Street Cider & Ale, Laurel Street Bakery and Wayward Owl Brewing all now constitute their own district of artisan production. Some connect the dots by using each other’s ingredients and together their counters and tasting rooms make an easy walking tour of distinctive local flavors.

None of this compares to landing the new Amazon headquarters. But bit by bit, these new businesses are building back a slice of the city’s life and economy by dialing directly into one abundant natural resource – the New Orleans appetite.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.