Dave's Fiery Front Page
Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke
Tags >> restaurants
Posted by: Dave DeWitt
on Jan 27, 2010
My good friend, Rick Browne of "Barbecue America" on PBS, has launched a new project entitled A Century of Restaurants and because he has to travel to 100-year-old (and older!) restaurants all over the country and photograph them, he needs help funding the project. He has found a publisher and has rounded up about 25% of the funds needed, but needs more help with the production of the book. I am helping him with a donation and I urge everyone else to assist, especially restaurant people. Here's Rick describing it:
I'm starting an exciting new project that will involve a book and later a TV series about America's oldest restaurants. The book is tentatively titled: A Century of Restaurants, but that may change before it's published. To be specific we'll pick 100 century old restaurants from our list of 213 restaurants located in 50 states, and in fact some are 300 years old, a bunch are over 200, the rest have merely been serving up vittles for ten decades!
In a profession where the failure rate for restaurants is upwards of 60% after 3 to 5 years, these centenarian eateries stand way above their newer competitors. We're going to try and find out why they've outlasted hundreds of thousands of other restaurants by visiting these centenarians in person and talking to the owners, chefs, wait staff, and (perhaps most importantly) customers, as to why they think their restaurant has survived and flourished in one of the most competitive businesses in the country. Oh, and yes, we'll probably grab at bite at most of them as well.
I've launched the project on the Kickstarter website, a site which helps authors, movie makers, artists, and other creative folks find funding for their projects, and I would love you to go there, watch my short video, read about the project, and hopefully be inspired to throw a few bucks our way. Here is the web address.
Posted by: Dave DeWitt
on Dec 07, 2009
Here in New York, the temperature has taken a nosedive for the winter, which makes me wonder, is that why I'm seeing so many scorching hot cocktails around town these days? As a major hub of mixology, I’ve noticed that Manhattan’s finest bartenders have been flirting with habanero-infused vodkas, rare chiles and even hot-sauce in their newest cocktail concoctions. These peppery tipples have been popping up on diverse drink menus around the city. I think I’ve spotted a hot trend.
At Mari Vanna, the gorgeous NYC outpost of the chic Moscow-based dinner club, more than 15 vodkas are infusing behind the bar at any given time, including a scorching hot pepper vodka along with a sinus-clearing horseradish infused vodka (pictured above). "We infuse Mari Vanna's pepper vodka with a ton of red jalapeño peppers and the horseradish vodka with a bunch of sliced horseradish roots. The ingredients sit in the jar of vodka for seven days to really soak up the flavor. One sip of either of these spicy infusions, but particularly the pepper one, and any cold or flu should be wiped away! It'll clear you right up," said Tatiana Brunetti, owner of Mari Vanna.
Could super-spicy infused vodka cocktails kill the common cold? I pondered this very question over a Piquant Bloody Mary at Brooklyn’s newest Southwestern-themed restaurant, Piquant. Made with house-infused orange habenero vodka, tomato juice, cilantro, horseradish, fresh lime juice and plenty of hot sauce, this slow-burning bloody managed to spice up my brunch routine. I'm not sure if it managed to kill any viruses I may have been harboring, however.
At La Esquina, the no longer ‘secret’ Mexican speakeasy-style eatery, a shockingly refreshing, beer based cocktail has appeared on the menu. Called the Michelada, this chill drink is made with Mexican beer and chipotle puree, served over ice with a dash of lime and a salted rim—adding a subtle kick to your refreshing pint.
Even some of Manhattan’s most upscale hotels—including the Surrey—have a spicy cocktail to offer. Bar Pleiades (pictured), a luxe black and white lounge located on the ground floor of the recently refurbished hotel, offers a spicy/sweet cocktail called the Southern Fashion created by Canadian mixologist Cameron Bogue. The Southern Fashion is “a bourbon based drink that I infuse with Espelette, a chile from the northern Basque region in France [that] is a favorite to many chefs as it packs quite a bit of flavor without being too hot,” noted the passionate-about-peppers Bogue. Whether you like a little, or a lot, of heat, super-spicy cocktails are sure to warm up imbibers this winter. Cheers!
Posted by: Dave DeWitt
on Oct 17, 2009
I have been exchanging emails with chilehead Dexter Holland, lead singer of The Offspring, who just bought a copy of The Complete Chile Pepper Book. He writes, "Got the complete chile pepper book in the mail today...nice one! Looks great, very professional, very informative. I might even try some growing now!" I wrote back and suggested hydroponics under grow lights aboard his private jet!
I'll be off to the Bay Area November 10 for Round Two of Kingsford University. I graduated a couple of summers ago when it was held in Arizona (see the article here), but apparently this one is graduate school. Melanie Yunk of Melanie's Fine Foods will be a student with me and two of our instructors are the delightful Corinne Trang, author of Noodles Every Day: Delicious Asian Recipes from Ramen to Rice Sticks,
and Chris Lilly, author of Big Bob Gibson BBQ Book: Recipes and Secrets from a Legendary Barbecue Joint. I shot this pic of him at the last Kingsford University class. Read all about him in this article.
And finally, my hobnobbing with the stars continued a few weeks ago when I was a Green Chile Stew Cookoff judge during Navy Week at El Pinto. I was rough work to be paired as a judge with KOAT-TV news anchor (and incredibly cute) Shelly Ribando, but somehow I survived.
Posted by: Dave DeWitt
on Oct 07, 2009
Yes, barbecue has a great historical tradition and many BBQ cooks use techniques several hundred years old. That said, you can't keep restaurateurs from experimenting. Here's what innovative restaurant chefs are doing with barbecue these days.
BBQ Omelet ($9.50): Slow-roasted pulled pork and smoked Gouda cheese folded into an omelet.
--Old Vine Cafe, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Pulled Rib and Brisket Chili ($5.95): Award-winning chili with beef and pork, loaded with sour cream, Cheddar cheese, onions and jalapeños.
BBQ Quesadilla ($9.95): Tortilla stuffed with chopped brisket, pulled pork or chicken, with peppers, onion, Cheddar cheese, Memphis sauce, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.
--Old Glory Bar-B-Que, Washington, D.C.
BBQ Spring Rolls ($7.95): Rolled chopped barbecue served with chili glaze.
The North 40 Salad ($9.95): Brisket, Jack cheese, bacon and mesclun greens.
--Jake’s Dixie Roadhouse, Waltham, Mass.
Dixie Chips ($6.95): Tri-color tortilla chips with pulled pork spiced with a blend of chili seasonings and mixed with black beans, corn, barley and tomatoes. Salsa, jalapeños, sour cream and Cheddar cheese top it off.
Bar-B-Q Rueben ($7.50): A traditional Reuben sandwich with a twist: smoked corned beef.
--One-Eyed Jacks Mokehouse Grill, Lockport, N.Y.
Brisket Chowder ($2.99): Slow-cooked brisket, potatoes, green onions and sour cream.
--Brisket Basket, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Lone Spur Pasta ($11.50): Smoked chicken or Cajun shrimp with penne pasta and fajita vegetables in chipotle-Alfredo sauce; served with Texas toast.
--Lone Spur Grill and Bar, Minnetonka, Minn.
Rattler’s Minis ($6.99): Barbecued meatballs or barbecued tri-tip on a freshly baked roll.
--Rattler’s Bar B Que, Santa Clarita, Calif.
Pig Skins ($6.99): Four half potato skins filled with pulled pork, cheese and jalapeños with a side of barbecue sauce.
--Hog Heaven Open Flame BBQ, multiple locations
BBQ Nachos ($9.95): A huge portion of fresh tortilla chips topped with BBQ beans, Cheddar cheese, barbecue sauce, sour cream, guacamole and house-made pico de gallo.
--Southern Hospitality, New York City
Toasted Ravioli “St. Louis Style” ($11.95): ravioli with braised pork and smoked-tomato sauce.
--Blue Smoke, New York City
Posted by: Dave DeWitt
on Aug 03, 2009
A recent post entitled "How Restaurants Lose Customers," here, generated the most number of page views and comments so far on the new SuperSite Fiery Front Page launched last September. In one of the comments, John Marks criticizes the post, which of course is his right to do. But I'm going to briefly discuss his objections.
"What's the problem? Restaurants can serve soup from a can, a bag, powder, or made from scratch." I guess this is true if you like to eat at McDonalds. I don't, and expect that a restaurant calling itself a "bistro" and offering a soup they call a "St. Clair signature" would make it from scratch.
"Just because you happen to know the brand they are supposed to give you the soup for free?" John misses the point. I didn't want free soup, I wanted them to address why they were serving me canned soup.
"Here's a clue: restaurants charge more for what they sell than it costs them. It's called capitalism." Thanks for telling me something I never knew before: that restaurant owners want to make a profit.
"Sure, you can buy the VERY SAME soup at the store, and so what? You are paying for the fuel to heat the soup, the dishwasher, the manager, the atmosphere, the waiter, and all the other things you can't get at home for your $1." Again, John misses the point. I know all this and I have no objection to restaurants marking things up to make a profit. But please, mark up the raw ingredients and the chef's time, not a processed soup from a can.
"What they did was neither illegal or unhealthy. You are just being a food elitist with a big ego." I've been called a foodie and a food expert, but never a food elitist. Am I one, and if so, is this a bad thing? One definition of elitism holds: "Elitism is the belief or attitude that some individuals are members of the elite—a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes." Well, then, I guess I am a food elitist rather than a food populist who eats at Burger Doodle. Jeez, I'm a sinner with a big ego too. So sue me.
Posted by: Dave DeWitt
on Jul 31, 2009
July 30, 2009
I went to one of my favorite Albuquerque restaurants, St. Clair Winery & Bistro, for lunch and because of what happened, and how I was treated, I will never return. Before I explain the details, let me say that I am a huge supporter of local restaurants. For example, I have eaten lunch at The Quarters on Yale about once a week for 35 years. More about that later.
Today, at the other restaurant, I ordered the soup of the day and a salad. The salad was wonderful but I had a problem with the soup. It wasn't the server's fault, so I asked to speak to the manager. He came over to the table and I introduced myself as the producer of the National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show and the author of more than thirty cookbooks. He knew who I was.
“I like your restaurant and eat here often,” I told him, “and I also visit your other restaurant in the southern part of the state. But when I go to a restaurant, I don't expect to be served soup out of a can.”
His face fell. Busted! “What do you mean?” he asked.
“This soup is Wolfgang Puck's Italian Wedding Soup. I know because I've eaten it more than a dozen times, and we can buy it for a dollar a can at Big Lots.”
He blushed beet red. “Uh, sometimes we don't make everything from scratch,” he stammered. “But we do add stuff to it like wine.”
“Food service products are one thing because the consumer can't buy them,” I explained. “But a famous chef's soup from a can, heated up for four times the price, is not acceptable.”
“Sorry about that,” he said, backing away. When I got the check, the soup was still on it. I paid the bill, thanked and tipped the server and left, never to go back.
What should the manager have done? At the very least, taken the offending soup off the bill. At the most, comped the meal, given me a certificate for another lunch, and agreed to take canned soup off their menu. But he didn't do any of these—obviously an incompetent manager.
Now why have I eaten at The Quarters more than 1,700 times? Because Connie Nellos knows how to run a restaurant. The food is good, with substantial portions. They pour a generous drink. The servers are well-trained and very nice people. My wife was a bartender there in the '70s, working her way through graduate school and she made good money. And Connie takes care of his customers.
One time at lunch at the Quarters, my wife reached for her coat and a splinter from the rough, wooden wall got embedded painfully under her fingernail. Connie came over, apologized, and said he would take care of all the medical expenses, which was essentially a trip to the emergency room at Presbyterian. He was a man of his word and paid the bill I gave him later.
That's just one example of what keeps customers coming back. Food made from scratch is another.
So, how hard is it to make Italian Wedding Soup from scratch? You decide, from the following recipe, which, of course, I have spiced up.
Spicy Italian Wedding Soup
This Italian-American dish is popular in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The term “wedding soup” is a mistranslation of the Italian language, minestra maritata (“married soup”), which is a reference to the fact that green vegetables and meats go well together.
1/2 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup minced Italian parsley
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
Garlic hot sauce, such as Tabasco®, to taste
In bowl, combine the meat, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, basil and onion powder; shape into 1/2 inch balls.
In large saucepan, heat the broth to boiling; stir in parsley, orzo pasta, chopped carrot, and the meatballs. Return to boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook at slow boil for 10 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Add the hot sauce, stir, and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Varies
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