Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen

Archive for the ‘restaurants’

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival: Final Dispatch 0

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Sahar

Finally. The last installment.  It’s admittedly a little later than I intended; but we’re now reaching the finish.


Day 4 – Saturday

Steve & I woke up with – surprisingly – no hangovers.  Must have been the rich food.

Alpine's Mural in a Weekend.  They completed this the last weekend of July 2013.

Alpine’s Mural in a Weekend. They completed this the last weekend of July 2013.  It was inspired by Jesus Helguera’s “Poco a Poquito”.


We soon met my parents to take a look at the Alpine Farmers Market.  It’s a rather small market.  Not much in the way of fresh produce, but there were plenty of homemade goods like preserves, goat cheese, gluten-free baked goods, and pickles.

Alpine train station

Alpine train station

At the farmers market

At the farmers market

Fresh eggs. We didn't buy any.

Fresh eggs. We didn’t buy any.

This gentleman and his granddaughters were selling all kinds of goat milk products.  I bought 2 types of chèvre. It was great.

This gentleman and his granddaughters were selling all kinds of goat milk products. I bought 2 types of chèvre. It was great.

Chocolate goat milk ice cream. It had the texture of ice milk.

Chocolate goat milk ice cream. It had the texture of ice milk.

These folks had, oh, I don't know, about 10 flavors of preserves an chutneys.  I bought the last cranberry chutney. I'm still savoring it.

These folks had, oh, I don’t know, at least 10-12 flavors of preserves and chutneys. I bought the last cranberry chutney. I’m still savoring it.

We spent about an hour at the market and then took a walk through town.  On the other side of the tracks, so to speak.

Not sure what this used to be. Almost looks like a market.

Not sure what this used to be. Almost looks like a market.

The Three Amigos. And Steve.

The Three Amigos. And Steve.

Someone's rose bush.

Someone’s rose bush.

Old buildings in old Alpine.

Old buildings in old Alpine.

Blooming cactus. I think this is a Barrel Cactus.

Blooming cactus. I think this is a Barrel Cactus.

When we went back across the tracks, Mom and I took a detour into a jewelry store that I frequent every time I go to Alpine, La Azteca Jewelry.  The couple that own the store design their own jewelry into one-of-a-kind pieces.  Beautiful stuff.  And very reasonably priced.  Mom fell in love with the store and bought herself a new ring. I bought two.

After this, we went our separate ways for a few hours.  Steve and I headed to the Big Bend Brewing Company ( for their big barbecue and music party.

Big Bend Brewing Company. Since 2012. Damn good beer.

Big Bend Brewing Company. Since 2012. Damn good beer.

I offered to work the gate for Stewart.  Steve, Mom, and Dad went on in to enjoy the food, beer, and music by the Doodlin’ Hogwallops (  Steve was kind enough to bring me a plate of barbecue, boudin, and potato salad.  The lady who helped me at the gate, Mary, was a volunteer for one of my classes last year.  I was happy to see her again.  She lives in Dripping Springs and has family near Fort Davis.  So, she comes out often.  She sure seems to know a lot of people.

Lines for the food & beer.

Lines for the food & beer.

The Doodlin' Hogwallops

The Doodlin’ Hogwallops

Enjoying the music and the food.

Mom & Dad enjoying the music, beer, and the food.

It was, from what I observed, the biggest event of the festival.  I felt great for not just the brewery, but Stewart, too.  It, to me anyway, was a very positive sign that  the festival is becoming successful and can be even bigger next year.

Cowboy on tank.

Cowboy on tank.

By about 3pm, traffic into the brewery was had slowed considerably (the event was to end at 4), so Stewart let me leave.  Mom, Dad, and Steve were off doing their own things – Dad went back to his hotel to rest; Mom and Steve to a Tito’s Vodka Infusion Class.  I took advantage of the alone time to go back to my hotel and take a quick nap.  Glorious.

Honeysuckle bush in our courtyard. It smelled heavenly.

Honeysuckle bush in our courtyard. It smelled heavenly.

I couldn't tell what flower this was, but it's lovely.

I couldn’t tell what flower this was, but it’s lovely.

Later that evening, we went to our last planned even of the festival – Dinner at the Cow Dog.  I’ve written about Cow Dog before in one of my previous Big Bend posts, but, just in case you haven’t read it, I’ll just say that those are quite honestly the best hot dogs I’ve ever had.  And, with Hogan and Moss ( providing the music, it was a wonderful ending to a fun festival.

Cow Dog!

Cow Dog!

The German: Sausage, Saurkraut, Caraway Seeeds, Mustard

The German: Bacon, Sauerkraut, Caraway Seeds, Mustard

The El Pastor: Red Onion, Pineapple, Cilantro Pesto, Lime Mayo.

The El Pastor: Red Onion, Pineapple, Cilantro Pesto, Lime Mayo.

We left the party early to head out to the McDonald Observatory for the Star Party (  Steve, Dad, and I had attended a Star Party before and the night was perfect – clear with no moon.  Unfortunately, the night we went with Mom (who’d never been to the observatory), it was overcast.  Once we arrived at the observatory, there was a bit of touch-and-go as to what they were going to do if the weather didn’t clear.  Apparently, they do have contingency plans for just these sorts of events.

Sunset at the Observatory. What I could see, anyway.

Sunset at the Observatory. What I could see, anyway.

One of the telecopes at the observatory the public is allowed to look through during the star parties.

One of the telescopes at the observatory the public is allowed to look through during the star parties. (This is a photo from 2012.)

When it was time for the Star Party to begin, we were informed that it was too overcast to go to the amphitheater  Instead, the employees directed us to the indoor theater to talk to us about what we would be seeing that night if it was clear.  Mom’s and my favorite part was when they displayed pictures from the Hubble Telescope on screen.  We later agreed that we could’ve sat there and just looked at more of those all night.

The theater where we had our opening lecture.

The theater where we had our opening lecture.

Different ways people would navigate by, and study, the stars.

Different ways people would navigate by the stars.

About 30 minutes later, it was announced that it was just clear enough to go outside and hopefully catch some of the night sky.  We all got to see Jupiter.  Mom, Dad, and Steve got to see the moon.  I opted for the telescope pointed at Mars.  However, by the time I got to that telescope, it had clouded over again.  Bummer.  We left not long afterwards.  Despite the disappointing night sky, we all had a good time.

Back to Alpine.  Then, to sleep.


Day 5 – Sunday

With the festival officially over, it was time to head back to Austin.  However, breakfast with my parents before they left for home was in order.

Somewhere in his travels around town, Dad saw a sign for Magoos.  A Tex-Mex restaurant that served Menudo.  Well, there was no way he was going to pass that up.

Dad's Menudo. It actually wasn't too unpleasant.

Dad’s Menudo. It actually wasn’t too unpleasant.

In case you don’t know what Menudo is, I’ll tell you.  It’s a rather hearty soup made with a base of chiles, broth, and beef tripe. Sometimes hominy is also added.  You garnish the soup with onion, dried oregano, and either lemon or lime.  It’s believed to be a traditional hangover cure in Mexico.  If the tripe is cleaned properly, the soup has a rather mild and slightly gamey flavor. If the tripe isn’t cleaned properly – yuk.

I did try some of Dad’s Menudo.  It was pretty good.  It didn’t taste dirty at all.  I don’t know if I would’ve eaten a whole bowl of it, though.

Mom, Steve, and I went a little more safe:  Huevos Rancheros.  They were excellent.


Mine - Sunny Side Up

Mine – Sunny Side Up

Mom's - Over Easy

Mom’s – Over Easy

Steve's - Scrambled

Steve’s – Scrambled

After breakfast and hugs good-bye, Mom & Dad headed back to north Texas while Steve & I headed back to our hotel to check out and head back to Austin.

As is our wont, we decided to take an alternate route back home as opposed to driving back on IH10.  We decided on US190 to US71.  It took us about 2 hours longer than the traditional route home, but we did get to drive through some towns that time forgot and see some new scenery.

At a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. We were switching drivers.

At a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. We were switching drivers.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

Not everything out here is bucolic. Let me tell you, the gas fumes smelled awful.

Not everything out here is bucolic. Let me tell you, the gas fumes smelled awful. And lingered for miles.

While we were on US190, we passed through the towns of Girvin, McCamey Iraan, Sheffield, Ozona, El Dorado, Menard, Mason, and, finally, Llano.  Some of these towns were simply a crossroad while some were almost bustling metropolises.

Girvin, TX. This is literally the whole town.

Girvin, TX. This is literally the whole town.

Heading into Menard.

Heading into Menard.

While Steve was dozing in the passenger’s seat, I passed an old ruined fort.  I decided to turn around and check it out.  If, for no other reason than to stretch our legs.  It was Fort San Saba (Presidio de San Saba).

Fort San Angelo

Fort San Saba (Presidio de San Saba)

The original fort (presidio) was built in 1751 on the banks of the San Gabriel River.  In 1757, it was rebuilt on the banks of the San Saba River where the remains stand today.  Like many Spanish forts, it was a way to gain a foothold and hold onto conquered land, for protection, and to convert the native inhabitants to Catholicism.  The fort was abandoned after an attack by native tribes in 1772 and was basically left to the elements.  In 1936, the Texas Centennial Commission made attempts to restore the fort and, frankly, did a rather poor job of it.  Most of what they restored fell to ruin once again.  The Texas Historical Commission and the town of Menard both oversee the current restoration to see that it’s done carefully and properly.

One of the facades in what was known as the "VIP Area"

Some of the walls in what was known as the “VIP Area”

The San Saba River at the back of the fort.

The San Saba River at the back of the fort.

Prickly Pear along the front gate.

Prickly Pear along the front gate.

One we hit US71, we decided to stop at our favorite barbecue joint, Cooper’s.  For me, it’s the best.  Anywhere.

Of course, we way over bought and overindulged.  Brisket, Sausage, Pork Chops, Steak, Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Bacon-Jalapeno Mac & Cheese (a new item for them; in fact, I bought more for home), and Peach and Blackberry Cobblers.

Barbecue porn.

Barbecue porn.

What the hell, we figured.  We’ll just take it home.

Another hour driving.  And, finally, home.

Steve & I decided while it was lovely to be in our own house again and settling in with the cats, we already missed Big Bend.  It just has that kind of pull on us.

I mean, how can one resist this?

I mean, how can one resist this?

Or this?

Or this?


Just so you can get a little taste of the fun we had, here’s link to the official trailer of the Viva Big Bend Food Festival 2014 (  Yes, I’m in there.


Hope to see you all there in 2015!




Inaugural Viva Big Bend Food Festival: Wrap-Up 0

Posted on April 30, 2013 by Sahar

Admittedly, this is coming a little later than I had planned.  With life getting in the way over the last few weeks, I haven’t had the opportunity to write a post.

Finally, the time as finally made an appearance.

The inaugural Viva Big Bend Food Festival was, as a reminder, held the first weekend of this month, April 4 – 6.  Monica Pope ( was the “celebrity” chef in residence, having brought a trainload of folks from Houston as part of a “Foodie Train”.  I only caught a passing glance of her once.  However, I understand her classes were spectacular.

Of course, I would expect no less.

For my part, I got the opportunity to meet Tiffany Harelik ( when I checked in as well as her partner in all things delicious, Maurine Winkley (  They are absolutely lovely and I sincerely hope that I get to know them both better as time goes by.  They gave me so much advice, help, and guidance that I can’t thank them enough for.

Also, I must send a huge shout-out and thank you to the mastermind behind all this, Stuart Ramser (  He invited me, answered all of my persistent questions, and gave me plenty of encouragement.


Day 1:  Thursday

Leaving Austin on time for once, Husband Steve & I enjoyed our share of Austin morning rush hour.

Austin rush hour. Sigh.

Austin rush hour. Sigh.

We started breathing a little easier once we got a little west of Ozona.

Endless black ribbon.

Endless black ribbon.

We arrived in Alpine in the early afternoon.  We stayed at Alpine’s historic Holland Hotel.  It was originally opened in 1928.  They’re in their latest incarnation, and the hotel and Alpine seem to have benefitted. Very nice.

The Holland Hotel. Alpine.

The Holland Hotel. Alpine.

My VBBFF wristband.

My VBBFF wristband.

After checking in, unpacking and resting a bit, we headed down to dinner.  The Century Grill, as is my understanding, has only been open for a few months, but they’re already well on their way to doing great things there.

My sister-in-law Kim had traveled down from Odessa to hang out with us for most of the weekend, so she joined us for dinner.  We started out with cocktails:

SIL Kim: Hibiscus Champagne Coctail

Hibiscus Champagne Cocktail

Kim had a Hibiscus Champagne Cocktail. Literally champagne (or, more likely, sparkling wine) with hibiscus petals.  Very pretty, but Kim said she didn’t taste any hibiscus until the very end.  Plus, she had little bits of dried petals floating in her drink. She wasn’t too crazy about that.

Sparkling Margarita

Sparkling Margarita

Husband Steve ordered a Sparkling Margarita.  I liked it better than my drink. So, we ended up switching.

Sparkling Pomona

Sparkling Pomona

Actually, when these two drinks were brought to our table, we thought the Pomona and Margarita were put in front of the wrong person.  If you look at the way the drinks are presented, you can see why.

Appetizers:  Fried Green Tomatoes.  Why the hell not.

Fried Green Tomaotes with Aioli

Fried Green Tomatoes with Aioli

These were excellent, by the way.  Crispy and not at all greasy.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical, but hopeful, when it came to the entrees.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  It really showed me how serious the kitchen is in enticing the fine dining customer to the hotel.  In fact, I had several local merchants tell me that the Century Grill has been great for the town.

Seared Tuna

Seared Tuna on Pearl CousCous, Citrus, and Fennel

Steve’s entrée was Seared Tuna.  He said it was very good.  While it looked a little overdone to me, he enjoyed it.

Pecan Crusted Chicken Fried Steak

Pecan Crusted Chicken Fried Steak

Kim went all Texas traditional on us with her choice of Chicken Fried Steak.  While I’m not really one to mess with the traditional, the pecan crust and the corn in the cream gravy worked well.  She ate the whole thing while saying the whole time, “I don”t know if I can finish this”.

Crab Ravioli with Arugula Cream Sauce

Crab Ravioli with Arugula Cream Sauce

I opted for the special that night. Crab Ravioli with Arugula Cream Sauce.  I was very happy with my choice.  For the most part.  The pasta was fresh (I don’t know if it was made in-house, but it was fresh) and the filling was crab. Just crab.  The sauce was really more like melted butter with wilted arugula and a little cream; I was fine with that.  The only things I can say is I wish the pasta was a little thinner and there was a little less salt.

Now, on to dessert:

Cajeta Cheesecake

Cajeta Cheesecake

Steve had Cajeta Cheesecake. Basically, cheesecake served in a Mason jar topped with cajeta, cream, and a strawberry.  Interesting presentation, I thought.

Chocolate Torte

Chocolate Torte

Kim had Chocolate Torte.  It was lovely.  Dark, dense, and not too sweet.  Kim loves dark chocolate, so this was perfect for her.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I had Sticky Toffee Pudding.  Yummy.  Not too sweet.  Nice and warm when served.  Perfectly cooked.

I’m seeing Sticky Toffee Pudding everywhere now.  I only hope it doesn’t become the Panna Cotta of 2013.


After dinner, we waddled down to the Granada Theater for the opening night party.  When we got there, many of the restaurants from the surrounding towns had tables set up and were serving samples.

Oh, well.

The eclectic crowd was pretty sizable and seemed to be enjoying the music, booze, and food.

Opening night party at the Granada Theater

Opening night party at the Granada Theater

Music supplied by the great Dale Watson

Dale Watson

Dale Watson with his amazing voice and Closer to God Hair.

It was a great party.  Had the opportunity to meet some new people and enjoy the evening.

Very long day. We turned in early.


Day 2: Friday

Alpine sunrise.

Alpine sunrise.

Breakfast was from a local bakery (whose name I didn’t note).  Husband picked up Pigs in a Blanket and a scone.

The scone was delicious, if a bit dry. And these were the most awesome Pigs in a Blanket I've ever seen.

The scone was delicious, if a bit dry. And these were the most awesome Pigs in a Blanket I’ve ever seen.


We started out the busy part of the day by heading to the grocery store in Alpine.  I brought many of the ingredients for my  classes with me from Austin, but I wanted to buy what perishables I could when I arrived.

We slowly started making our way towards Ft. Davis.  On the way out, we saw a few spots where the fires from last year left their mark.

The trees in front of the house show scars from last year's fires.

The trees show scars from last year’s fires.

Wide open spaces outside Ft. Davis.

Wide open spaces outside Ft. Davis.

Soon after, Steve, Kim & I made our way into Ft. Davis.  There were salsa and tortilla classes we wanted to attend as well as a fajita buffet lunch at Mountain Trails Lodge.

Outside Mountain Hills Lodge, Ft. Davis

Outside Mountain Hills Lodge, Ft. Davis

Our teacher was the head chef a the lodge, Patrick Camacho.

The great Patrick Camacho

The great Patrick Camacho

He gave us a quick demonstrations on flour tortilla and salsa making.  By the way, those were some of the best tortillas and salsa I’ve ever eaten.  Even better, he makes his Salsa Macho with chiles he’s grown himself.

Can’t get much fresher than that.

I must admit to not being the world’s biggest fan of fajitas.  Probably because I’ve had so many bad ones.  These were the best I’ve ever had. The meat was tender and full of flavor.  The ingredients were fresh.  All of us who took the classes (about a dozen or so) agreed that Patrick was one of the best chefs we’ve ever seen.

And, his fresh tortillas were the proverbial cherry on the cake.

Our fajita brunch. Yummy.

Our fajita brunch. Yummy.

Patrick's fresh salsas on the buffet.  OMG.

Patrick’s fresh salsas on the buffet.

My lunch. Oof.

My lunch. Oof.

Oh, yeah. There was dessert. My personal favorite cake, Tres Leches.

Tres Leches Cake. Oh. Yeah.

Tres Leches Cake. Oh. Yeah.

After a stroll around Ft. Davis to walk off lunch, I settled in at the Hotel Limpia to prepare for my first class.

Limpia Hotel. Ft. Davis, TX

Hotel Limpia, Ft. Davis, TX

(photo credit: – I somehow lost my photos of the hotel)

I taught my class in the courtyard area.  It was a beautiful, if windy, day.

I need to thank the owners of the Limpia, David & Anna Shriver, for all their help and allowing me the use of their kitchen during the evening prep for their restaurant.

I also want to thank the morning chef, Caroline, the evening chef, Isaac, and my volunteers Sue, Abby, & Mary for all their help as well.  I’m so happy I had those ladies help out. I don’t know if I could’ve done the class without them. I think I was a little overambitious with my menu.  It’s hard to become completely organized and focused in an unfamiliar kitchen. At least it is for me.

The menu was a few choice Middle Eastern specialties: Hummous, Baba Ghannouj, Ful Mudammas, Fatoush (Bread Salad), Ard Ma’Khuzbara (Artichoke & Coriander Salad), and Shish Kebebs.

I wish the class was a little larger (I had about 10 people), but they all seemed to enjoy the class and got plenty of food. Added bonus: Patrick Camacho came to my class!

After clean-up and bundling what leftovers there were for the kitchen staff, Steve, Kim, & I made our way back to Alpine.  After a shower and a nap, we headed out to Railroad Blues for some music and hot dogs.

The Cow Dog. Damn great hot dogs.

The Cow Dog. Damn great hot dogs.

OK. Not to take anything away from anyone, but we all agreed that the Cow Dog had the best hot dogs we ever ate. Mine was The German.  A beer-braised brat with sauerkraut, hot mustard, caraway seeds on a Kaiser bun. Sublime (and I’ve never used that word about hot dogs).  Steve ate 3, including one that had shoestring fries on it.

I had a nice long chat with Tiffany & Maurine about their class at the Holland and I told them about my class at the Limpia.  We were switching places the next day, so the exchange of information was invaluable.

Railroad Blues opened in 1993 ( and has long been established as one of the best live music venues in the state. And, after my first visit there, I can see why.  It’s small enough to be intimate without seeming claustrophobic and it  had that honky-tonk feel.  That night was Cory Morrow.

I’ve never seen him before, despite the fact he performs fairly frequently in Austin. Great show.

Cory Morrow Band at Railroad Blues.

Cory Morrow Band at Railroad Blues.

Stepping out for some fresh air:

Railroad Blues.

At Railroad Blues.

Good night.


Day 3: Saturday

Steve, Kim & I headed to Marfa for some breakfast and to check out the farmer’s market.

We went to Squeeze.  A restaurant I’ve wanted to try for some time.  It’s a nice small space with a lovely courtyard (it seems that most restaurants in Marfa use this same design).

Squeeze Marfa was started in 2004 by Verena Zbinden as a juice bar that slowly morphed into a sandwich and coffee shop.  She imports chocolates from her family’s chocolate business, Vollenweider, in Zürich.

They’re great, by the way.

Squeeze Marfa.

Squeeze Marfa.

We all three ordered the same thing: Ham, Egg, & Cheese Croissants.  Delicious. Just what I needed to start my day.  My only disappointment was that there was no hot chocolate on the menu. It sounds stereotypical, I know, but I would expect someone from Switzerland to have hot chocolate.

Breakfast. Squeeze Marfa.

Breakfast. Squeeze Marfa.

Oh, well.

I was disappointed in the Farmer’s Market.  I was expecting a whole lot more than I saw.  I think there was one produce seller, a few people selling homemade goods, a bookseller, and a lady selling rocks she found (Kim bought one).  Steve found someone selling homemade lemon-blueberry bread and peanut brittle, so he was happy. I did get some local honey, so I guess that was a win.

Took a quick trip to The Get Go to pick up a few items for my class at the Holland and then back to Alpine for a little personal shopping and class prep.

Alpine wall art. I had no idea Dan Blocker was from there. Silly me.

Alpine wall art. I had no idea Dan Blocker was from there. Silly me.

Once again, I must take the opportunity here to thank everyone at the Holland who helped me out: Front of the House Manager Donovan Sanchez, Head Chef Alex Costa, and kitchen staff Bret, Adrian, and Joey.  I had a great volunteer in Barbara.  She’s an ex-Austinite, so we had a lovely time commiserating.  She jumped in with both feet and I couldn’t have appreciated her help more.

Class on Saturday was Hors d’oeuvre.  And, I had a good sized crowd.  About 20.  I think they were expecting the Middle Eastern class.  But, they didn’t seem too disappointed with the menu.

Photo, by Steve, of my class at the Holland. I'm somewhere in the middle.

Photo, by Steve, of my class at the Holland. I’m somewhere in the middle.

The menu was Three Cheese Straws, Mushroom Tart, Blinis, and Crostini with Brie and Candied Walnuts.  During class, Barbara was furiously making blinis and dressing them with sour cream and caviar to serve out.  When those we ran out, we served up more blinis with my homemade cherry compote.  Everything else was prepped and ready to go before class.  Not much food was at the end.  Again, we bundled up what we could and left it for the kitchen staff and got out of their way as quickly as we could.

I thought it was a success.

Kim left us after this to drive back to Odessa, and Steve & I went back to Ft. Davis to have at Blue Mountain Bistro, the Limpia’s restaurant.

It was serviceable food. I had a pasta dish with shrimp and Steve had salmon.  None of the seafood was overcooked, the food had good flavor, and the portions were ample.  Just nothing special. We shared cheesecake for dessert.

My critique.  It’s my understanding that the Shrivers have only owned the hotel for a short time (I couldn’t find out how long) and they’re bringing the restaurant along.  Good.  But, they still have a little ways to go.  The other thing I have to say is that they really need to plan a little better for big weekends.  They were out of two things on the dinner menu and the only desserts they had available were cheesecake and carrot cake.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they seem to be getting enough business to run out of a few things, but planning is a big part of running a restaurant.  And, the food needs to move beyond serviceable.  They need to make it special.

That being said, they certainly know their clientele much better than I do.

Off to Marfa to see the Shelly King Band.

Shelly King Band at Padres. Marfa.

Shelly King Band at Padres. Marfa.

Great show.  Amazing voice.

Got to see Stewart, Tiffany, and Maurine again.  They all looked tired.  Stewart looked happy.  I think he felt the weekend was successful.  I think so, too.

For what that’s worth.


Day 4: Sunday.

Going home.

Not feeling so funky fresh the next morning, I opted for a large cup of hot tea.  I figured I could eat when we got back to Austin.

I love old road signs. Outside Alpine.

I love old road signs. Outside Alpine.

Of course, just to stretch our legs, and &c, we stopped in Fredericksburg.  It was a lovely day (unlike when we left) and we finally decided we were hungry.

But first, we walked around the Virens Kirche in the center of town and saw the little botanical garden.  Honestly, in all the years I’ve gone there, I never noticed it.  I’m glad I finally did.

Virens Kirche. Fredericksburg

Virens Kirche. Fredericksburg

Roses. Frediercksburg.

Roses. Fredericksburg.


Finally. Home.


I had a wonderful time at the festival.  And, like I said before, it was great to be able to get in on the ground floor of something that, hopefully, will become an annual event.

I hope I’m invited back and that I also have the opportunity to see more of the classes and events.  Unfortunately, my schedule this year didn’t allow for that.  But, there’s always next year.


West Texas Sunset.

West Texas Sunset.














Points East: A Chronicle 2

Posted on April 24, 2012 by Sahar

Well, my goal of  posting each day while I was on the East Coast didn’t materialize.  Surprisingly, for one of the most wired cities on the planet, my internet access was spotty.  Then, when I finally arrived home, I realized the monumental task of editing and labeling the photos I took. So, yeah. I went a little shutterbug crazy.  But the results, I’d like to think, are worth the wait.

Admittedly, I did get a little artsy with some of the photography.  These iPhone camera apps are great.

Not all my photos will be of food.  I’ll be adding a little scenery, too.  Why the hell not.


On our first full day, Sister Haneen took Husband Steve & I up to the Hudson Valley to the FDR Library & Museum.  We’d never been that far upstate so we were looking forward to it.  It didn’t disappoint.  It was a lovely, warm day.

Husdon River Valley behind Springwood, FDR's home.


Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside Springwood.  Too bad, really.  It’s quite lovely inside. It’s pretty much just stuck in the 1940’s.

But, as was typical of large homes built in the 19th century, the kitchen was separate from the rest of the house.  We couldn’t go inside, but I could at least get a picture:

Kitchen at Springwood.


For those of you who are history buffs, like me, here’s FDR’s globe:

FDR's globe.


It was neat looking at a globe with countries that no longer exist.


After we were finished there, we got directions to the Eveready Diner. Apparently Guy Fieri filmed his show there once. I tried not to hold that against them.

Eveready Diner. Hyde Park, NY


I had the French Dip. It wasn’t the best I’d ever had.  But, the food was good enough and the atmosphere was fairly quiet (but then, it was almost 3 in the afternoon). They’re apparently known for their pastries and desserts that they make in-house.


On our first foray into Manhattan, Husband & I enjoyed a lovely lunch at Eataly in the Flatiron District.

The Flatiron Building


Union Square Park. Across from Eataly. Flatiron District.


Admittedly, we indulged.  Our appetizer (or, antipasti) was a ball of fresh mozzarella with fleur de sel, very fruity olive oil, and fresh basil.

Our appetizer at Eataly



Husband Steve had a lovely sea scallop with the coral broiled with orange-fennel butter.

Husband Steve's Lunch.


My lunch was fresh sea urchin with a lemon vinaigrette.

The Author's Lunch


We finished with the insalada tricolore.  It was wonderful.

End Of Lunch Salad

Eataly is a sensory delight.  Even if Italian food isn’t your favorite.  The fresh food counters, the packaged foods, the hundreds of different dried pastas, and all the restaurants make a trip to the grocery a pleasant experience again.  That is, of you go before or between the lunch and dinner rushes.

Fresh meat counter at Eataly


Seafood counter at Eataly


Fresh Greens. Eataly


The next day, we took a trip to the Seventh Level of Hell. Otherwise known as Times Square.

Times Square.


Andy Warhol Statue near Times Square. Enjoying its 15 minutes of fame.



We headed to the Edison Cafe for lunch. It’s in the Edison Hotel right off of Times Square near the Theater District.

Arches inside Edison Cafe. Old school.


Husband Steve had the Reuben:

Reuben at Edison Cafe


I had my usual whenever I go to a deli,  a Corned Beef on Rye. Their corned beef was dry, but the flavor was good.

Corned beef on rye.


Now to share a little culture.  Husband Steve & I took a long afternoon and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). I was excited because the museum just re-opened it’s Islamic Art wing as well as re-designed and refurbished its American Art wing.  Can’t go wrong there.

Folio page from a Qu'ran. 14th Century Iraq.


Mihrab. Iran. 14th Century. (Marks the direction of Mecca in the mosque)


Still Life: Balsam Apples with Vegetables. Charles Peale, 1820-1830


Madame X. John Singer Sargent (one of my favorite American artists). There's a book about this painting. Get it. It's great.


Can't get much more American than this. Washington Crossing the Delaware. Emanuel Leutze. 1851


On our way to Penn Station to catch the train back to New Jersey, we came across Cupcakes by Melissa

Itty bitty Cupcakes by Melissa


These were delicious little literally bite-sized cupcakes that come in 11 regular flavors and one “special flavor of the month”.  We picked up a dozen to take back to share with Sister Haneen & Brother-in-Law Mark.

Closer view of Melissa's cupcakes


If you’re like me, you’ll be able to eat these in one bite. If you’re dainty like my Mom, two bites.


The next day, strolling through Chinatown, as always, I found some fun and interesting foods

Lovely little dried veggies and seafood. Chinatown.


Almost bought these for the hell of it.


Dried salted squid.


The next day, a little more culture. MoMA

Still Life with Apples. Paul Cezanne


Starry Night. Vincent Van Gogh.


Waterlilies. Detail. Claude Monet

After MoMA, Steve & I went with our friend Rorie (who graciously came down from Boston for the day) to a place I’ve been wanting to try for years: Sake Bar Hagi.

Sake Bar Hagi


They’re a late night place. Open at 5:30 pm until 3 am.  You go down a stairwell to essentially an underground lair. We discovered the day before (during a bar crawl with Haneen & Mark) that if you don’t get there essentially when they open, count on at least a 45-minute wait. Minimum.  So, we were there promptly at 5:30 and were the first table seated for the night. The place was packed within 20 minutes of our arrival.

Tako Yaki with Bonito. Essentially fried balls of dough with octopus. Yum.


Wasabi Dumplings. Horseradishy.


Yakatori. Wagu Beef; Chicken Skin; Pork Belly. Always delicious.


Softshell Crab Tempura. We ordered this twice.


Grilled Rice Cakes. One was filled with shad roe (an acquired taste) and the other was salmon.


Front: Deep fried Pork Belly (can't go wrong there); Back: Shrimp Tempura. By this point, we were hurting


When we left, about 90 minutes later, the line was up the stairs and out the door.

If you get an opportunity to go to Hagi, do it.  The food’s great, the beer’s cold, and the service is, if not always attentive, it’s at least efficient.

Our next big food experience happened on a trip into Newark.  Haneen said there was a restaurant in the Portuguese section of the city that she really liked.  She made a great decision:

Sister's restaurant choice in Newark. Good Choice.


Fresh Clams on the Half Shell. A revelation for me.


We each ordered our own entree.  However, we had no idea how huge the plates were.  The food was served on plates that were essentially meant to be passed around family style.  There was enough food on each plate for two people.  We each ate our fair share, though.

My lunch. Grilled Octopus. The boiled vegetables were excellent, too. They actually had flavor.


Steve's choice. Grilled Salmon with Compound Butter. His favorite.


Haneen's Choice. Essentially "Cod Face". It tasted better than it looked. She ordered it because there were chick peas on the side.


On Steve’s last evening in the City, we went to Central Park West & the Upper West Side.  We were meeting a lady of whom I’m a huge fan, comedienne Maysoon Zayid.  We were early, so we wandered around Central Park for a bit.

Central Park West


Springtime in Central Park


No trip to Central Park West is complete without a visit to Strawberry Fields.


We went to Josie’s on Amsterdam & West 74th.  I was told when it first opened in 1994, it was supposedly The Place To Go Restaurant for fresh ingredient foods.  It was good, but nothing was a revelation for me.  In fact, Maysoon had to send back her shrimp because it was bad.  She did like the beet salad they substituted for her.  And she also liked my pasta with pomodoro.

I was so engaged in conversation that I forgot to take pictures of the food.

A photo of us.  The lighting doesn’t do Maysoon justice.  She’s a beautiful woman.

At Josie's with the lovely, beautiful & very funny Maysoon Zayid.



For Steve’s final meal in New York City, we met up with my dear friend, the wonderful Kelly Ann (with whom I’d be bunking for the next week), and headed to Katz’s Deli for lunch. It’s very close to her place in the East Village, so it was a logical choice.

It’s touristy and pricey, but if you enjoy excellent corned beef & pastrami, it’s still the place to go.

Reuben and Egg Cream. Katz's Deli. Steve's choice. Of course.


And, yes. I ordered the Corned Beef. The best I’ve ever tasted.  And a Chocolate Egg Cream? A must-have.

Quite possibly the greatest corned beef sandwich ever. Corned Beef on Rye with Mustard. Katz's Deli.


After Steve handed me off to Kelly and took the train back to NJ to fly back home, Kelly & I decided to begin our food adventures.  I suggested a place that I’d heard about on Anthony Bourdain’s show.

Big Gay Ice Cream. You just can't go wrong here.


The guys who opened the shop started out in a truck.  They became so popular, they were able to open a brick-and-mortar.

I wish I had gotten a photo of what we had: The Salty Pimp.  A cone with vanilla soft serve, laced with Dulche de Leche, sprinkled with Fleur de Sel, and dipped in chocolate.  We ate it too fast for me to take a picture.

They have custom cones (like the Bea Arthur: vanilla soft serve, Nilla Wafers, Dulch de Leche, and Fleur de Sel), ice cream sandwiches, and a make-your own selection.

I saw two gentlemen standing outside near us eating the sandwiches.  I asked how they were.  They said great and offered Kelly & I a bite.  After some initial hesitation, I took him up on his offer.  It was red velvet cookies with the soft serve.  Wow.

After a lovely conversation about ice cream, food, and the South, we parted company.  Amazing how ice cream brings people together.

Needless to say, Kelly & I went back to BGIC 2 more times.  Hey, it’s in her neighborhood. And it’s always good to shop at local businesses.


The next day, Thursday, was a long day.  Kelly & I started at 8am and didn’t finish our day until 1am Friday.  Because it was IACP Tour & Event Day.

Kelly assigned me to help out with the walking tours for the West Village, East Village, and to escort a group to Chef Hiroko Shimbo’s home for a Kaiseki (formal Japanese) Dinner.  Kelly helped me out with the first part of the West Village tour, then she had to leave to take care of her own tours (so, we didn’t meet up again until late in the evening at the end of Hiroko’s dinner).

I was left in the very competent hands of the amazing Liz Young.  She does bus & walking tours in the City (  If you get the opportunity to take a tour with her, do it.  Liz is just wonderful.  And she knows the places to go.  You won’t be disappointed.

The wonderful & amazing Liz Young


We started in the West Village & Greenwich.  Our first stop was Pasticceria Rocco.

Rocco's. On Bleecker St. in the West Village


They’ve been open since 1974 and are apparently world-famous for their cannoli. We were given a small custard pastry and coffee for samples.  While I’m sure they have plenty of wonderful pastries, I wasn’t impressed by what we were given.

But, the counters were pretty.

Rocco's front window.


Lovely little pastries at Rocco's


Rocco's pastry counter #2


Our next stop was Florence Meat Market on Jones Street.  One of the last of the old-school butchers in NYC:

Florence's front window. I just thought it was cool looking.


Old style butcher. A dying breed.


Next was Fiacco Pork Store on Bleecker.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures of the samples – parmesan rice balls.  They were delicious:


By this point in the day, I was already full.


Next was Murray’s Cheese Shop, also on Bleeker. It was gorgeous.

Cheese straws at Murray's. Mmm...


Murray's charcuterie counter


Cheese counter at Murray's


Next came Raffetto’s.  It’s been around since 1906.  Once you try their fresh pasta, you’ll know why.  It was so good, it literally brought tears to my eyes.

The wonderful Andrew and his great mom Ramona. And Liz.


The amazing Ramona with fresh cut pasta. The machine behind her is 90 years old.


Raffetto's grocery shelves


Ramona & Liz.


West Village. Sullivan Street.


Beautiful church across from Joe's Dairy.


After a little hike, we ended up at Joe’s Dairy on Sullivan Street.  The great Vincent came out and acted as guru of mozzarella.

The great Vincent. NYC's Mozzarella Guru.

This mozzarella was literally 5 minutes old.


Brother Michael making the mozzarella. Joe's Dairy.


The final stop on the West Village Tour was Amorino Gelato by NYU.  I didn’t have any because I was already full from everything else.  But it sure looked good.  The people on the tour enjoyed it.

Amorino's flavors.


Very handsome and very Italian store manager. I forgot his name. Shame.


5th Ave. near NYU.



Next, after a 30-minute rest, Liz & I headed out for the East Village walking tour.

East Village.


East Village. Looking down Second Ave.


We started at Veselka, an Eastern European restaurant on Second Street.  It was opened in 1954 by Ukrainian immigrant Wolodymyr Darmochwal.  His daughter and son-in-law still run the restaurant.




Perogies. The house specialty. Potato and Cabbage & Pork. This was a sample plate. Even after working off the previous tour's food, these filled me up.


Our next stop was Pomme Frites on 2nd Ave.  It’s one of my friend Kelly Ann’s favorite places to go.  One of these days I’ll have to try their poutine.

Pomme Frites on 2nd. Ave. East Village


Pomme Frites up close. Decadent.


Off we then wandered to the underground wonderland that’s Jimmy’s No. 43.  You literally go down a flight of stairs on E. 7th into a cozy spot where you can get some wonderful craft beers, locally made sausages with fabulous mustards, and your amiable host, Jimmy Carbone.

Jimmy Carbone. Hugs all the men and kisses all the ladies.


The entrance to Jimmy's lair.


Mmm... Beer


Can't go wrong with sausage and mustard with beer.



One street over on St. Marks (essentially 8th Street), on the edge of Alphabet City, was Dumpling Man. Hand made dumplings.

Dumpling Man!


We got a live demonstration from their head dumpling master.  He was amazing to watch.  Flying fingers, this guy had:

Makin' the dumplings.


Dumplings frying. Pork, Shrimp, Veggie.


Veggie Soup Dumplings


Their own creation, Pumpkin Spice Dumplings. They smelled great and the crowd loved 'em.


The dumplings there were so good, Kelly Ann & I ordered them for dinner three nights later.  Great dipping sauces, too, by the way.


A little impromptu public art.


At this point, I left the tour.  I had to go back to Kelly’s apartment to get ready for the event I’d been looking forward to all day. A Kaiseki Dinner at Hiroko Shimbo’s.

I had to escort a group of 13 to the dinner at Hiroko’s in the West Village.  In the end, 3 went ahead of time and 4 took a cab, so I escorted the other 6 on the F Train to 16th Street.  We arrived to a beautiful table, Hiroko playing hostess, and some awesome smells coming from the kitchen.

Table at Hiroko's.


Ikebana. I think these were plum blossoms.


Individual place setting. Hiroko's.


A place setting menu. Normally, a Kaiseki dinner can be up to 15 - 20 courses. Hiroko played it sane and kept it to 7 courses.


Hiroko was short an assistant that night.  I was recruited to help.  So, for me anyway, I got the best of both worlds.  I still got to sit and enjoy a wonderful dinner as well as help Hiroko and her lovely assistant, Anna, in the kitchen.


Anna (r) and Hiroko in the kitchen prepping the Sushi and Sashimi


Hiroko in her kitchen. I want her kitchen.


Now, for the food.  It was amazing.  And, for me anyway, it was a revelation to have a Japanese dinner without tempura, yakatori, minimal sushi, and no beer.


This was an extra appetizer not on the menu. It was eggplant with a miso sauce.


Asparagus Kuzu Tofu. Very distinct asparagus flavor and very creamy. Almost like a custard. And, yes. That's real gold on top.


Clear Soup Broth. Duck Meatball Soup. The greens were almost like a Chinese Spinach. There was also a little crispy duck skin in the broth as an extra flavoring component.


Slapjack Tuna sushi/sashimi


My favorite. Braised Short Ribs. Although I think this was actually brisket. The sauce had a slightly sweet mirin/5-spicy flavor.


Final Course. Rice & Miso Soup. The pickled radish was a last minute addition.


Dessert. Fruit, Shiratama with Creme Anglaise (she made it with green tea).


The sake served: Kamoshibito Kuheiji and Oze no Yukidoke


It was a great reward for a very long day.

Kelly & I went back to the apartment and slept until almost noon the next day.  We deserved it.


A few days later, on a very cold, drizzly day, Kelly & I took a trip to Chinatown. No trip to New York is complete until a walk through there.  Plus, the food markets are a constant source of fascination for me.

We went to a restaurant I had on a list that I sent Kelly before my trip.  (I always send a suggested list ahead of time.  Kelly always has a list.  They get merged into a list that’s always overambitious.)

The restaurant? Excellent Pork Chop. Other than the meal we got for free my last day, this was the least expensive meal of the trip.

They actually made us move to a different table because, as usual, we ordered way too much food.

My favorite thing about the restaurant? The shrine in the corner:

Shrine at Excellent Pork Chop.


And, now, for the meal:


Shrimp Fried Rice.


Stir Fried Pork with Rice Cakes.


Kelly's lunch. Won Ton Soup. Bet you'd never seen it look like this.


Won Tons in Garlic-Chili Sauce.


Their Excellent Pork Chop. It was a broiled chop rubbed with 5-spice.


My lunch. Clear Seafood Broth with Fish Balls. A funny name for something really delicious.


A little Chinatown culture:

Ducks in the window.


A classic storefront in Chinatown.


Again, the markets are endlessly fascinating for me.  The little dried vegetables, seafood, and meats; the preserved eggs, and the freshness of many of the ingredients are always a learning experience.


Live shrimp at Deluxe Food Market in Chinatown.


Live crab. Deluxe Food Market.


Lovely Chinese Bacon. I almost bought some.


Loaves of cooked pork blood.


Whole dry salted duck.


Pig uterus. I'm actually curious as to how this is cooked. Braised, I'm guessing.


If you’ve been to NYC, then you know that Little Italy is not only next to Chinatown, but is essentially being swallowed up by it.  There’s about 8 blocks of classic Little Italy left in Lower Manhattan.  And I may be overestimating the size of the neighborhood.

But, even though the restaurants are almost all touristy – meaning sub-par and overpriced – there are at least still some shops that are clinging to the old ways.

Thank goodness.

Beautiful dried sausages. Alleva Dairy. Little Italy, NYC


Fresh mozzarella. Alleva Dairy.


Proscuitto! Alleva Dairy.


And, of course, the shop windows are rather enticing.  They make you want to eat again even though you’re full of Chinese Lunch.

Can't remember the store. But, their windows were beautiful.


Lovely. Just Lovely.


The next day, Sunday, was our big goal day.  Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.  Kelly & I have done this before, but, at least for me, it’s still an exciting expedition.

But first, we were meeting  our friends Cathy and Ray at Bottega Falai.  A cute little pastry & sandwich shop in SoHo on Lafayette.

Yummy bomboloni. My breakfast that day was the chocolate filled.


Crepe Cakes at Bottega Falai.


On a wall in SoHo next to a parking lot. The photo doesn't do this art justice.


Walking through Soho


Off the subway and near the Brooklyn Bridge.  Our ultimate goal? Grimaldi’s Pizza.

Touristy? Yeah.  Delicious? Most definitely.

The Gehry Building. The tallest residential building in the world. Or so I'm told.


Off the subway, near City Hall and across from the Bridge.


Not sure of the name of this building, but I love the old-school architecture. Downtown NYC


First arches. Brooklyn Bridge.


Looking into Manhattan from the Bridge


Looking back into Lower Manhattan at the WTC construction.


Manhattan and the East River from the Bridge


Sweet, sweet Brooklyn.


Our first stop in Brooklyn was at a restored carousel Kelly wanted to see.

Jane’s Carousel is a completely restored historic Carousel made in 1922.  It’s a beautiful 3-row carousel near the East River between the Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges (

Jane's Carousel. Brooklyn


Jane's Carousel. Brooklyn


I just thought he was beautiful. Jane's Carousel.


Now, for a little public art:

This artist, every day for 2 years, would use a color to express his mood. Now it's hanging up in Brooklyn across the street from Jacque Torres' Shop. Delicious hot chocolate, by the way.


After a bit more walking around, we finally ended up at our ultimate goal. Grimaldis.

The queue at Grimaldi's.


The story of the queue. Yes, the line was long. It was also cold and damp.  But, when you know you’re going to eat some damn good pizza, you’re willing to put up with a bit of discomfort.

After about 20 minutes in line, a manager from the restaurant started coming out and announcing numbers. Mostly 2.  When Kelly & I were finally the first party of 2 in the queue, we got to go in ahead of most of the rest of the people.  I couldn’t help but feel a little smug.  And, we were grateful to get into a warm room.

We sat at a cozy little 4-top next to a lovely couple from Maryland.

After waiting for our waiter to stop flirting with two blondes at the bar, we finally got to put in our order.

Pizza #1: The Classic Margarhita. We ate half of it before I remembered to take the picture.


Pizza #2: May Favorite. Pepperoni, Sausage, and Mushroom.


By the way, we were really hungry.  We had 4 pieces left.  We took them back to Kelly’s.  Of course.


The next day, Long Island City & Astoria in Queens.  Because, why the hell not?

The Burger Garage in Long Island City, Queens. Delicious. Their shakes are great. I ate too fast to get a food photo.


We went to a place under the El called 5 Pointz.  It’s a group of buildings that have been set aside for graffiti artists.  Some of their art is amazing.  It’s a wonder what can be done with spray paint and some talent.

An interesting take on Alice in Wonderland. 5 Pointz, Queens


I really liked this one in particular. It was very different from all the other art.


One of the few where I could actually read what had been written. 5 Pointz.


More art. 5 Pointz.


From Long Island City to Astoria:

For you 30 Rock Fans. Where they do most of their principal filming. On the way to Astoria.


Looking from Queens towards Roosevelt Island and Manhattan


An Egyptian restaurant in Astoria, Queens, Kelly & I wanted to try. Unfortunately, it's closed on Mondays. But, the facade is great.


Back in the East Village later that night, we went to what is considered to be one of the best Thai restaurants in the City, Zabb Elee, on 2nd Avenue.  It was perfect after a very chilly day.


Spicy Noodle Soup with Meatballs, Fishballs, and Noodles. Perfect after a long wet walk around Queens.


Shrimp & Basil Salad. Kelly said it was quite spicy. And delicious.


As our final outing for the evening, we went to Veniero’s on East 11th.  One of the oldest Italian pastry shops in NYC.  Open since 1894.

Veniero's front window.


The pastry counter. Veniero.


Mini Cream Tarts. These were great. I had mine for breakfast.


My final day in New York consisted of an excursion to Chelsea and the Meat Packing Districts.  We went to Chelsea Market since I’ve never been before.  It wasn’t what I expected.

It looked to me like offshoots of the restaurants in the area with a few gift shops thrown in for good measure.   I wasn’t impressed.  So, I didn’t feel the need to take any photos.

Kelly & I went to Pastis for a quick bite.  A French Bistro that opened in the Meat Packing District in 1999.  It’s a fairly large space that they claimed was half reserved for the evening and they weren’t setting anyone in that space.  So, they were crowding everyone into the area around the bar.  Then, of course, I saw them seating people in the roped off section.  Either evening came early or we weren’t pretty enough to sit there.

Snark aside, when we finally did get our food (our waiter forgot to turn in our order), it was quite good.  But then, it’s hard to mess up a ham & cheese croissant.  And, Kelly missed out on her poached eggs.  They ran out.

The artifically antiqued mirror at Pastis.


But, we did get our brunch for free.  I’d like to give them another shot on another trip. Maybe lunch.


We then went, for my last excursion, to the Highline.  It’s an old elevated railway that was converted into an elevated walkway and park.  A wonderful example of urban renewal.

On the Highline.


Public Art at the Highline.


Spring colors on the Highline.


Looking into Chelsea from the Highline.


The Highline.


The Empire State Building peeking over Chelsea.


Bird feeders at the Highline.


Final NYC photo. The East River.


After a rather convoluted trip home that consisted of getting stuck in traffic and missing my flight from JFK, getting rerouted, having to spend the night at my parents, and getting home 14 hours later than I originally planned, I made it home to Austin.

First meal home in Austin. Arandas #3. Chicken Flautas and Beef Enchiladas.


As much as I enjoyed my trip, I was very happy to be home.  But, if someone offered me a ticket to go back tomorrow, I’d take it.


I’ll have more pictures posted soon on my photo page.




























Chain Food Nation 0

Posted on January 01, 2012 by Sahar

Happy New Year to All!  I hope it’s happy and healthy.

Speaking of healthy, I do have at least one resolution I plan on keeping.  Avoiding national chain restaurants.

Taking a peek at the Eater website recently, I found myself reading a list of America’s most popular restaurants. Needless to say, they’re all chains.  Now, I know, to be fair, many Americans don’t necessarily have to opportunity to go to an independent fine-dining restaurant.  Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Applebees will have to suffice.

I’m admittedly guilty of eating at Denny’s myself. When I was in college and drunk. However, I noticed it’s not on the list. But, here’s a helpful list of their biggest misses.

That being said, I have a few thoughts on chain restaurants.

First, they contribute to the dumbing down of the American palate. Bland flavors, indifferent cooking, mediocre food, and forced sameness have been accepted as the norm in the most popular American restaurants. In the Eater story, the author writes that Olive Garden has to sell their pasta soft because their average customer doesn’t like their pasta al-dente. What? Overcooked pasta is a crime against nature. Along with seafood served with cheese and over-dressed salads. Both of which Olive Garden is guilty.  Most chain restaurants don’t even fully cook the food on site.  It’s made in a factory, vacuum-packed, flash-frozen, and shipped to the restaurants for final assembly, reheating and microwaving.  So, with that, the freshness factor is gone as well.

Second, they contribute to the image that Americans are gluttons.  I’m sure we’ve all seen the commercials.  Never ending pasta, bottomless soup bowls, plates loaded with enough food to feed a family of four.

Does the average person really need to eat that much?  I’ve eaten in restaurants overseas.  I can tell you they don’t serve enough to keep you fed for a week.  The portion sizes are reasonable.  You walk away feeling satisfied, not stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.  Flat out, Americans eat way too much. Not just food, but the fat and sugar in the food.  As a country, and the West in general, we consume an average of 4000 calories per capita as compared to developing countries where about 2000 or fewer are consumed per capita (per USDA).

An excellent graph and photographic comparison from 2010, but it’s still very relevant.

Third, waste.  Too much waste is generated by these restaurants.  Over-ordering by management, waste generated at the source, customers sending back overloaded plates, and leftover food thrown away all contribute to the millions of pounds of food and millions of dollars wasted.

Are just chain restaurants guilty of these sins?  No.  I’ve eaten at Mom & Pop operations that serve steaks as big as manhole covers and vegetables so loaded with butter that I literally felt my cholesterol level going up while eating.

Restaurants, especially the national chains, are not going to change their portion sizes.  It’s seen as value for the money.  A great marketing tool.  That being said, there are a few things we as consumers can do to help with our overeating and the waste. If you know the restaurant you’re going to has huge portions, split them.  Skip the appetizer (most of those are the size of the main meal anyway).  Skip or split dessert.  Choose the healthier menu options. Go to restaurants that you know have reasonable portion sizes and enough choices to give you options.  Not everything has to have cheese or cream sauce.

Or, just cook at home.  You can control what goes into your food, the portion sizes, and, if you cook enough, you’ve got lunch for the next day.



↑ Top