Christmas is almost here, and everyone is wondering what will be on the table. Something that is often overlooked but almost as important as the entrée are the appetizers that kick off the festivities.
While they’re not the star of the show, they do set the tone for the meal. Sometimes, especially at larger gatherings, they even become the meal. But how do you strike the right balance? What flavors should be present? What will people actually eat? Some Pittsburgh caterers brought their best advice to the table to help answer those questions.
Figuring out what works best for each client is definitely a process for each caterer. According to Mary Garrison from John Marshall Catering, every menu is different, and they craft each menu, including appetizers, to their clients’ specific needs and wants. It all starts with the type of gathering they’re throwing and what types of food guests love.
Kate Kobylinski, the chef at Bistro to Go, works very closely with her clients to create their dream menus. “I think how we craft our catering menus is heavily dependent on the event and our relationship with the client. We use their vision and feedback to tailor a menu and experience that is unique to them,” she explained.
While some events require a mix of heavy appetizers, others are made up of full meals with appetizers to start. No matter which you prefer, the caterers advise leaning into the season—in the case of holiday gatherings, this means adding some fall favorites into the mix.
According to Larry Kretzler from Remo’s Catering, anything with apple, cranberry, and pumpkin is going to go fast at a holiday gathering. Some of the company’s seasonal offerings include cranberry and apple phyllo and pumpkin squares.
Bistro to Go offers an entire holiday collection that revolves around seasonal favorites, with items such as apple harvest crostini and pecan sweet potato tartlets.
Guests typically want something warm and filling during these colder months, especially if it’s a party with appetizers only. “This time of year, customers usually request rich and hearty appetizers like spinach and artichoke dip or beef tenderloin stuffed with gorgonzola and wrapped in bacon,” said Garrison.
One of Kobylinski’s most requested appetizers is mini-grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup shooters. “It’s warm, simple and familiar, and it seems to appeal to everyone,” she said. “Especially post-COVID, it’s something that comforts and brings you home.”
There are, of course, classic appetizers that people appreciate all year round, such as cheese and charcuterie trays, shrimp cocktail, and bruschetta. All three caterers believe that a cheese and charcuterie board is an essential holiday table item.
“A cheese and charcuterie board creates a place to graze, gather, and connect,” said Kobylinski.
Cheese and charcuterie boards are extremely trendy right now as they can be customized, and Kobylinski said the ability to individualize and personalize these trays is a huge attraction for her catering clients.
“They’re looking to wow their friends and family with something beautiful and unique, which is why they love our displays,” said Kobylinski.