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10 wedding food cliches (and how to avoid them)

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Sick of shrimp cocktail? Try skewered grilled shrimp, or even a bunch of tapas for guests to snack on.

By Chiara Atik

The well-seasoned wedding guest may attend six or seven weddings a year, which often means sitting through six or seven nearly identical renditions of shrimp cocktail, rubbery chicken with grilled asparagus, a slice of cake, and milk and cookies at midnight. A sundae bar? They've done it. Mini-quiche? They ate their fill at the last one.

When Bon Appetit highlighted their wedding-cliche picks (like the raw bar -- can it really stay cold enough through the whole cocktail hour?), it got us thinking: What's a bride and groom to do, then, who want to mix tradition while still knocking the socks off their guests? Because boring food leads to a boring wedding, keep things interesting with these wedding cliche alternatives:

1. Crab cakes
Substitute them with something your guests will enjoy just as much: Executive Chef Daniel Mattrocce of FCI Catering & Events suggests swapping out crab cakes for Green Curry Thai Crab Salad. When replacing overplayed menu items, ask your chef or caterers if they have alternate dishes or selections using the same ingredients or flavors for unique twists on traditional wedding fare.

2. Mini quiche
Mini Quiches are readily available in the frozen food section of most grocery stores: a sign that they should be retired from wedding menus. Try instead mini savory pies as the perfect appetizer to pass around during cocktail hour. Mini chicken pot pies are easy crowd pleasers, as are mini versions of traditional British meat pies, such as steak and ale or lamb and mint.

3. Overdone: Bruschetta
Instead of the messy, table-only Italian treats, Chef Mattrocce suggests Heirloom yellow tomato gazpacho with a basil crostini stirring stick as a twist on the typical bruschetta (his recipe is below). Bonus: you get to eat it with a spoon, thus less chance of spillage. 

4. Shrimp cocktail
Like crab cakes, shrimp cocktail can be delicious, but not when they're prepared ahead of time and served in a giant pile. Chef Mattroce suggests substituting it out for a more refined grilled shrimp on rosemary sprigs. Or, set out an array of Spanish style tapas, like olives, cheeses, sausages, and other mini dishes that your guests can help themselves to.

5. Chicken breast
If you're going to serve chicken at your wedding, think outside the rubbery chicken breast box: BBQ chicken, for example, might not immediately call to mind a wedding, but is be an inexpensive and delicious alternative to chicken Marsala. "It’s unconventional and makes for a crowd-pleasing alternative to typical wedding fare." Says Katy Foley of New York City's Blue Smoke, which caters BBQ fare for weddings. "If you're dainty you can always opt for a knife and fork… otherwise, grab some wet naps and dig in!" Or, try fried chicken and waffles, so long as guests aren't averse to licking their fingers.

6. Baked potato/mashed potato bar
Baked potato bars have become popular as of late, but a potato, even with the works, is hardly worth standing in line for. Lily Donald, 28, from Pensacola, Florida, considered a baked potato bar for her July 9th wedding, but opted for something more tailored to her roots. "A potato bar doesn't relate to our story as Southerners -- and besides, it's kind of boring. So we decided on grits, instead, to reflect our Southern roots." Donald's caterer, Chris Kelly, came up with a station serving two kinds of grits with a variety of toppings. "The station was a hit!" Donald says. "People kept telling us how much they liked the grits, and how they'd never seen that at a wedding before." 

7. Carving station
It's hardly the most efficient way to serve food -- or the most appetizing, but carving stations continue to be a wedding reception go-to. If you're going to force your guests to stand in line for food, make it a for something a little more fun. Try a taco bar, with fish, chicken, and short ribs. 

8. Sliders
It's a tradition for weddings to send guests away with something filling to ward off hangovers, but sliders at this point have become par for the course. If your wedding goes late, offer breakfast burritos and mini pancakes instead.

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Instead of a chocolate fountain, try something more original.

9. Chocolate fountain
Don't make your guests stand in front of a huge vat of (not that high-quality) chocolate, holding sticks. Better dessert ideas? A cotton candy machine, a cookie bar, or a pie station.

10. Cupcakes
Cupcakes experienced a renaissance in the early part of this century, but at this point it's hardly a surprise to see a great big pile of them at a wedding. Better to stick with wedding cake (the one menu item that will never be overplayed), and instead surprise your guests with a delicious treat they won't expect to see: an attractively arranged assortment of multi-flavored donuts, perhaps.

Recipe: Daniel Mattrocce's gazpacho

FOR THE GAZPACHO

  • 2 pounds yellow heirloom tomatoes, blanched, peeled and seeded
  • 1 cup cucumber peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup yellow pepper chopped
  • ¾ cup yellow onion chopped
  • 1 navel orange peeled and segmented
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • Salt  to taste

Place the first 6 ingredients in a food processor and process until very smooth. With the processor on, drizzle in the oil and the vinegar. Stop the machine and taste for salt. Process a minute more. Put gazpacho in a bowl and refrigerate until well chilled.  Can be made a day in advance.  Follow instructions below on assembly.

FOR THE BASIL CROSTINI STIRRING STICK
Basil oil:

  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Blanch basil leaves in a saucepan for 10-12 seconds. Rinse basil under cold water. Drain and dry basil leaves. Put basil leaves in a blender.  Add oil to blender and blend till smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Can be made and refrigerated a week in advance.

Stirring stick:
Preheat oven to 300°F.

Take a loaf of crusty French bread, slice, (remove the crust) and cut into fingers ½ inch by 3 inches.

Brush the fingers with basil oil on all sides and lay out on a baking sheet.  Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake 15-20 minutes or until completely dried out but with no color.

TO ASSEMBLE

Fill 30, two-ounce shot glasses ¾ full with chilled gazpacho.  Place a basil crostini stirring stick in the glass as a garnish.  Serves 30.