Shaft Meal

I’ve been stewing on this post for a while, letting it marinate if you will. Staff meal. Or shaft meal as I like to call it. My krytonite. My grear grinder.  Why do I get so grumpy about staff meal you ask? Maybe I’m just naturally bitter. Or maybe because I get annoyed when servers order food after I spent my little free time making them staff meal. I’ll go with I’m just a Bitter Betty. Anyway, for those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s a common meal shared by cooks, servers, dishwashers, etc before or after service everyday. Those of us in the restaurant industry don’t get a dinner break folks. No hour lunch to run to Bojangles and grab a chicken biscuit. Generally I’m in the building all day, I might leave to get a quick caffeine fix. Hell, you’re lucky to even to eat for 5 minutes. My first real meal of the day might at midnight. I chose this career right? Most of the time you’re hunched over grabbing a bite in between tickets or when you’re lucky enough to have a few spare moments of inactivity. Generally staff meal is made with leftovers that are hanging around the walk in, stuff you have extra of, and cheaper cuts of meat (i.e. scraps from butchering proteins). Now it might not sound appetizing, but you’d be surprised what you can create with just a little creativity or thinking outside the box. One pan baked pastas, meatloaf, stir fry, and of course tacos are all popular choices for staff meal. They’re easy and always a crowd pleaser. Kitchens have become so culturally diverse that I’ve had some of the best Mexican food at work, not at some popular Tex-Mex fusion joint. Tamales, mole, pozole, chilaquiles, you name it. When I worked at an Italian place I used to make pizzas for the kitchen, and then bribe backwaits with said pizzas to take out the trash. You gotta do what you gotta do. http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/staff-meals-10-la-chefs-restaurateurs-recall-the-best-and-worst-2379836 Now I’ve worked in places where there was no staff meal and servers could order food at a discounted rate during down times, other places where we made staff meal once service slowed down, maybe around 9 or 10 at night, and other places where we made meal before service even started, around 5. I’d much rather do it before service. By the time the rush dies down the last thing I want to do is cook more. I want a beverage. People talk about the importance of sharing a meal before service, keeping morale up, comraderie blah blah. I get it. It is significant because the shift is long and demanding. I do like staff meal despite my crabby demeanor. But servers can tell when you just throw cooler scraps in a pot and call it soup. Or take whatever meat you have, serve it with tortillas, and call it tacos. I’m guilty as charged for doing that sometimes; there only so many hours in a day and staff meal isn’t always my top priority. But front of the house does appreciate when you go the extra mile to make an awesome staff meal. If you feed them, they will run food. And the best thing about leftover staff dinner? It becomes staff lunch. Winning. Shit, I’ve always wanted front of the house to make the kitchen staff meal once.  Just Google and I found a restaurant in Californina where the FOH does every Sunday. http://www.starchefs.com/cook/savory/staff-meal/manresa-fried-chicken Staff meal might have once been a second thought of a busy day, just serve ’em frozen chickem nuggets or leftovers from bruch that were going to get thrown out. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-rise-of-the-gourmet-staff-meal-1455666198 But there is something necessary and vital about stopping for a few minutes each day to have a meal together as a kitchen or a staff. Just a few moments of down time can lighten the mood and recharge your batteries. The day is already long and hard enough that those few moments when you can stop are critical to maintaing your sanity. The actor Geoffrey Rush once said, “I always had a fantasy of being a chef, because I like kitchen life.” Cheers foodies!

Did You Say Steak?

Sullivan’s. The Angus Barn. The Peddler. Fleming’s. Ruth’s Chris. Vinnie’s. You get the idea. There are plenty of options for you in the greater Raleigh area if you want to go out for a nice steak dinner and never call her again. Little Anchorman reference there sorry, I digress. I mean what’s not to like about a great steakhouse? There is just something about the appeal of going out for a steak dinner. The ambiance of a dimly lit bar with dark wood, servers in ties, red meat, a loaded baked potato, and copious red wine. Maybe a little shrimp cocktail? Best steak I ever had? Peter Luger’s in New York. Better bring cash, they don’t take cards. Best steakhouse memories? Going to Vinnie’s as a kid and seeing our family picture on the wall with the rest of the regulars. However, the one drawback? They ain’t cheap. Want a steak? 50 bucks. A salad? 10 bucks. Taters? Another 10 bucks. I’m not that much of a baller that I can afford to eat out at a high-end steakhouse that often unless someone else is picking up the tab. Outback I can afford. But don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather cook a steak at home. Back when I was in culinary school, we asked one of our chefs where his favorite place to eat in town was. Like the cocky asshole chefs can be, he said his house. At the time I thought he was just being funny. But now after working in restaurants for years, sometimes you don’t want to go out on your day off, you want to be lazy and cook your own food, especially a steak. You know it’s going to be good, plus it’s going to be seasoned well. Probably one of my biggest gear grinders is under seasoned food. Enough about that, I’ll save that for another post.  So I get to choose the exact cut I want, char it over my own grill outside in shorts with a beverage in hand, and know it’s going to be medium rare. I find it relaxing to cook on my day off. Weird right? Plus I don’t have to pay 10 bucks per side. Hasselbacken potatoes? Creamed spinach? Obviously a wedge salad with blue cheese with extra crumbles. So recently I have been on a steakhouse kick. In the last few weeks I have been to Sullivan’s, The Capital Grille, and Outback. No rules, just right. You know I had to sneak a chain in there somewhere. Hey, I wasn’t going to Logan’s Roadhouse or Lone Star. The results? Hands down the best blue cheese wedge salad was from Sullivan’s. Their dressing was super crumbly and creamy. Delicious. At Outback, I ordered a blue cheese wedge salad and the server came back 5 minutes later and asked what dressing I wanted. Um, blue cheese? Duh. So when I get the wedge it had blue cheese dressing, but also balsamic reduction! No! Why would you do that and ruin a perfectly good salad? Despite this, Outback was as tasty as it always is. A Blooming Onion, a 10 oz ribeye (skinniest ‘lil ribeye ever), baked potato with the trimmings and a shareable Mason jar cocktail? What’s not to like. So much food. And it was so much cheaper than Sullivan’s and The Capital Grille. Considerably. Best steak? Probably Sullivan’s. Bone-in Cowboy steak was charred well and cooked correctly. Best overall experience? The Capital Grille. Service and cocktails were great, plus the sides were better than Sullivan’s and Outback. Plus you get an iPad for the wine list. Pretty cool. Kinda reminded me of the tablets  at Applebee’s and Olive Garden, but actually practical. You could sort the wines by price (obviously cheaper to more expensive for me), scroll through all the cocktails, and see what wines paired with certain foods. Foodie nerds will love it. One misstep of The Capital Grille was the steak tartare. Terrible. Like totes not good. Under seasoned, served on top of hard boiled eggs and capers, with a shitty deviled egg on the side. Ugh. Bad news bears. Outside of that, it was awesome. Great night. Plus we had gift cards so we were playing with house money. So what did I learn from my mi-steaks? Sometimes you gotta pay up for your steak just for the ambiance and Outback hits the spot when you need some red meat and a deep fried onion. Cheers foodies!

North Hills

Midtown? Nah. Old North Hills Mall. I miss you. Being a native of the City of Oaks, Andy’s Pizza and Scotty’s were an institution in Raleigh. The best pizza ever. What I wouldn’t do to have a simple pepperoni pie right now. Trophy? Doesn’t hold a candle. And how can you forget the famous Scotty dog and the best greasy burgers and fries?  Now all North Hills is high dollar chains, ITB soccer moms in SUV’s that take up two spaces, and a plethora of Starbucks. No thanks. The dining page of the Visit North Hills website says “From high end to fast casual, classic to cutting-edge, North Hills has it all.” Nothing says cutting edge more than Bonefish Grill and The Cowfish. The only reason I go to North Hills is for Target and Sur La Table. And maybe Total Wine. Again, chain city. Lord knows, I’ve spent enough time working and playing in North Hills, I did work at Vivace and Starbucks. Don’t hold it against me. Yeah, hard to picture me as a barista isn’t it? Lots of eye rolling at complicated orders. You want soy and no foam? Nope. That’s why I chose back of the house. Spent many o’ late night at Midtown, and countless Saturdays day drinking at Fox & Hound. Hey, my options were limited back then. We had the ‘ol Hibernian before it ‘burned’ down and the Creekside Ale House. You know, pre-hipster downtown Raleigh. Old North Hills mall was a dump, don’t get me wrong. We used to rush there on our lunch break from Broughton to grab a slice or two and buy cheap sunglasses from The Dollar Tree. Then maybe look at cd’s from Blockbuster Music. Free Jersey Mike’s because we had a friend who worked there also. (Thanks Jessie) Yeah, I had no life as a teenager. Now? North Hills is all shiny, new, and pretentious. Expensive condos and mixed use development. Gone is the Winn-Dixie. Enter a two story Teeter. Give the ITB’ers what they want, Beach Music on Thursday, expensive steaks, and pricey boutiques. Working on a Thursday was a nightmare. Drunktown as it’s finest. I get it though, it’s good for Raleigh. Cameron Village part deux. But it kind of feels a little Charlotte-ish to me though. Forgive me for being sentimental though, old North Hills Mall was part of my childhood. Lots of great memories. It shaped me to be the pessimist I am today. Cheers foodies!

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Mexi-can’t

I’m always looking for late night food options besides the usual suspects Player’s Retreat, Calavela, Mo Joe’s, etc. So when I found out Virgil’s Original Taqueria was opening and would serve until 2 am seven days I week I got excited. Plus who doesn’t like tacos and Tecate? However, after hearing about some of my fellow service industry friends experiences at Virgil’s I was a little leary and apprehensive; but I figured we would give it a shot anyhow. On Sunday around 10 pm we arrived to a pretty empty restaurant, maybe a handful of other people. We opted to sit at a high-top table rather than the bar. Maybe a mistake. We ordered a couple of cocktails and waited. And waited. And waited. I could see them completed and just glistening on the bar, staring at me, practically calling my name, “please drink me.” I was about to get them myself but eventually the bartender grabbed them, not our server,  and walked around the bar and dropped them off. It’s not like she was busy, there was practically no one in there. Strike one. The “flash fried” tortilla chips, as well as the salsa and guacamole,  are all a la carte on the menu, so if you want all three it’s 10 bucks. No thanks. I’d rather go eat bottomless chips and salsa at El Rodeo. Plus, the same”flash fried” tortilla chips  were just basking under the warmth of the heat lamp the entire time we were there. Plus the guys in the kitchen were ultra-hipster. I’m at a taco place, not The Stanbury ya know? Grinds my gears. So to start we got the Mexican fries, hand-cut and topped with mole, onions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and queso fresco. Well they arrived minus the queso fresco. The bits with the mole were tasty, but without the cheese they were really no bueno. In my best Gordon Ramsay voice, they were dry and bland. Next we opted to sample the tacos, so we decided on the fried avocado, chorizo con papas, and carnitas. Of the three, the fried avocado was the best. Slices of creamy fried avocado with cabbage, cilantro, onions and lime crema were really good. The carnitas were okay, just needed a lot of salt and hot sauce. The chorizo tasted as if it has been charred or burnt.  Oh well. I’ll overlook service sometimes if the food is great, but in this case neither was outstanding. Just middle of the road. For my money, I’d much rather go to Chubby’s Tacos for the relleno, spicy chicken tinga, and the barbacoa. I’ll give Virgil’s another shot because they are open so late,  plus they have Pacifico tall boys; but I’m in no rush to get back. If only Raleigh had better late night food options. Maybe Guy Fieri can open up a dive on Glenwood South. Cheers foodies!

 

Memorable Memorial

Writing can be a funny thing sometimes. You may have one idea in your head, but you sit down to type and something else altogether comes out on the screen. I had planned on one of my notorious “you know what really grinds my gears” sessions because I figured it had been long enough since I ruffled any feathers; plus it helps to vent sometimes. I had just gotten back from a quick trip to Nags Head for Memorial Day with the family and all of a sudden I forgot what I had intended to write about. Go figure. Although it was only for a couple of nights, it was still great to get the hell out of Dodge (i.e. Raleigh) and smell the fresh salt air of the Outer Banks. Being out there evokes recollections of spending my summers there as a kid, practically living in the water. Now, I spend an hour on the beach and end up looking like a lobster. Damn ginger skin. They need to make an SPF for our kind. I think they actually do, it’s called a t-shirt. Just sitting on the cabana, overlooking the sand and the waves, feeling the breeze in your face, it is utterly soothing. For a few moments you can forget about work and bills. There is also something to be said about the flavors and smells of certain foods that your family makes that can create memories, as well as transport you to different times and places of your life. Every time we have a cookout it reminds me of 4th of July in Nags Head, churning homemade ice cream, watching the fireworks explode off the fishing pier, and trips to Sam and Omie’s for greasy eggs and hash browns. I can still picture myself there as a kid, a pocketful of quarters, playing Galaga and Pac-Man, while everyone else was huddled around the bar having screwdrivers and baby beers, waiting for a table.  I miss those days. It’s also all about that sense of comfort of having your mom’s deviled eggs or your dad’s potato salad. When I try to recreate them at home they still taste good, but it’s not the same unless they make it. The food just tastes better. Maybe it’s all in my head, but it truly does. It’s my happy place being able to relax at the cottage with a beverage in hand, beach music playing, and everyone under one roof. My family may be crazy sometimes, but I love them for it. Thankfully it’s only one more month until I get back there for the 4th. Cheers foodies!

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Serve Notice

You know what really grinds my gears??? In my many years of being a line cook and chef, I have noticed that most servers fit into four categories. Those categories you ask? Apparently I like lists now. They are as follows:

  • The Modifier: For the modifier, it is physically impossible to ring in any food without a paragraph on each ticket. No onions, no garlic, SOS, gluten free, shellfish allergy, mammal allergy, blah blah. Can it be split? Blah blah. Rather than spend a half an hour typing in a hundred modifiers, just type see server. But once I have decoded whatever changes they have made to the menu, it takes 10 minutes for them to come back to the kitchen to ask me if that was okay. Better late than never right? It always makes me thrilled when a server comes back and asks me ahead of time rather than ringing it in with no questions asked; makes it so much easier for both sides. We’re all on the same team right?
  • The Question Asker: The question asker always is similar to the modifier, but always wants to know “Can we do this…insert whatever change to the menu.” Can the guest get the chicken, but over the flounder set up, and the sauce from the gnocchi? Sure, you can do whatever you want. No matter what dish is on the menu, even it has been on there for 10 years, the question asker is still unsure about what ingredients are in it. Are there tomatoes in the marinara? Is there gluten in the pizza dough? Can the Bolognese be vegan? You get the idea.
  • The Who Gives a Fuck: They are the longest tenured server. They have been there forever, know all there is to know about the menu, the restaurant, the cooks, etc. They are chill and arrogant, and all the guests love him/her. This is the server that all the regulars ask for. This is also the server who will say no to guests who are first timers or amateurs, but will bend the rules for regulars. The who gives a fuck is so popular with the guest that they can pretty much do whatever they want, like never run food. Sometimes I’ll see a server and have no idea they have been working because they haven’t been in the kitchen all night. Where have they been? I know they haven’t been doing side work. Duh.
  • Weeded City: No one likes being in the weeds. It sucks. As a chef it feels like you are drowning and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But once you finally get out there is no better feeling in the world. Well, maybe sitting down after you shift for a beverage. Anyway, there is always one server who is always in the weeds. The phrase “on the fly” is commonly associated with this server. You forgot to ring in the entrees? On the fly. The guest ordered the steak, not the salmon? On the fly. Can you run food? Nope, have to reset the table because the entrees are dying in the window. This is the same person who forgot the guest had an allergy as we are plating up their entrees. You guessed it, on the fly.

Enough gear grinding, the horse is already dead. I do appreciate all the shit servers have to deal with. It’s a tough job and I couldn’t do my job without them and their hard work. I’m sure there are million things that grind their gears about the kitchen; cooks who have blogs for one obviously. Tip your servers! Cheers foodies!

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Gearing Up

So we all know what grinds my gears, I’ve made it pretty clear through my blog; apparently everything does. So I thought it would be interesting to get the opinions of those whose gears I tend to grind all the time, the front of house. I couldn’t do what they do; I’d probably be fired within a week for rolling my eyes or talking back to the guest. My one experience with working with the general public was as a barista at Starbucks many moons ago, and that was bad enough. I’ll stick to the back of the house. So I asked some of my favorite bartenders and fellow service industry friends from my years of working in restaurants what really bothers them. Some were like how long do you have? I can’t help but think of the movie Waiting as I write this blog. Don’t worry, no names or places will be mentioned. I do think my favorite response was line cooks, or those specifically who have blogs. Hmm. Last time I checked I was the only person in the kitchen with a blog. Thanks you know who you are. Anyway, one thing I heard a few times was the snapping of fingers or the waving of arms to try to get their attention. They obviously see you, but the more you wave or snap, the less likely they will rush right over to get your order. Patience, or the next time they are going to your office and snap fingers all day in your face. And be ready with your order when the bartender does come over. They are busy; they don’t have time to wait around while you decide on a Jager bomb or an Incredible Hulk. Or the surprise me/what do you like to drink?/what’s your favorite shot? was also equally annoying. Their favorite shot is going to be something that will make you go away quickly. I may have been guilty of this in my younger days; it’s college, what do you expect? Also what kind of martinis do you have? Do you have a pomegranate martini? What about an appletini? Amateur hour. The asking for salt and pepper was something that hit home for me. Don’t coat everything on your plate with a layer of seasoning before you have even taken a bite. And then send it back because it’s too salty. Who knows, the chef might have actually prepared the food correctly. What a weird concept. Personally, I do like having S & P on the table at a restaurant. However, I do taste everything first. The placing of napkins also was a big gear grinder. Don’t ball your napkin up and put in on your dirty ass plate. Just more work for the server. Or don’t put your napkin on the table and then ask for dessert. The napkin on the table is a waving of the white flag; meaning I’m done, no mas. I will be sure and keep my napkin in my lap from now on. Foodies or those who claim to know everything because they watch Guy Fieri all day was something else I heard. We all know how I feel about them. Or is it worse when the guest has no clue about food? Hmm, I smell a new post. Have I mentioned that I couldn’t do what the FOH does? I may bitch and moan about them a lot, but I appreciate everything they do, especially when they bring me an ice cold Coca Cola when I hit the wall around 9. I guess what I learned from this whole experience was have some common sense when you are dining out and treat your server how you would like to be treated. They are not there for your every beck and call. Cheers foodies.

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