Stepped-Up Sides

Potluck Creative

No longer an afterthought, adaptable and appetizing side dishes are having a moment.

Thanks in part to the small-plates craze, side dishes have been elevated in both taste and presentation. It’s no longer sufficient to serve some sautéed green beans as the leading side. Nowadays, side dishes stand boldly paired with the center-of-the-plate stars.

Typically defined as non-protein dishes using vegetables and starches, sides have to taste great and carry much more visual and creative appeal. They also have to fit into a new way of shared, delicious dining—like family-style potato dishes that transition from oven to table in cast-iron pots; exciting new creations with vegetables; and even snacks versatile enough to eat with cocktails, appetizers, or entrées. Here’s a sampling of what restaurants around the country are doing with their petite pairings.


Laura Pensiero, chef/owner of Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, New York, serves a variety of sides in cast-iron pots, both for the attractive presentation and the cooking functionality. During the fall season, the pots hold hearty sides like maple pumpkin polenta with locally milled cornmeal and a Parmesan gratin topping, or fiaschetto, a side with creamy Tuscan giant white beans and sage, rosemary, and extra-virgin olive oil. Pensiero also uses the pots to serve seasonal roasted vegetables, pancetta-spiked Brussels sprouts, eggplant slow-cooked with garlic and herbs, and roasted sweet potatoes with leeks, figs, and toasted sesame seeds.

“Our vegetarian guests and meat eaters alike often make a meal just out of our sides and small plates,” Pensiero says.

STK Midtown, a modern steakhouse by The ONE Group in New York City, serves its thick-cut, rectangular Parmesan truffle fries stacked on mini cast-iron plates, which are meant to be shared around the table. STK’s sweet corn pudding, also served in mini ceramic dishes, has become another popular side.


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