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Smarter Restaurant Philanthropy

October 24, 2014

Restaurants have it tough. I’ve heard it said that owning a restaurant is a great way to turn a large fortune into a small one. It’s a brutal business.

What makes it even more brutal in the Capital Region are the demands local charities put on our eating places. This is, after all, a small town with a lot of restaurants. The last thing an owner wants to do is to piss off well-connected regulars. As it turns out, many of those regulars are also involved with philanthropy.

Signing on to attend one of these wine and food events isn’t that bad. Restaurants can get suppliers to donate food and take it as a write off. It gets the chefs out of the kitchen for a few hours and puts them face to face with an adoring public. It’s good exposure for the restaurant, as it helps to keep their name fresh in consumers mind. Plus it provides an opportunity to entice prospective guests with a taste of the restaurant’s food.

Participating restaurant come off as being generous. Generous is the opposite of cheap. And in this town, “cheap” is like the worst possible thing imaginable.

The problem is that it’s never just one event. These things go on all the time. And a chef could be away from the kitchen several nights in one week just covering these affairs. Affairs which never truly do a good job at putting the restaurant’s food in the best light. Affairs which effectively replace a dining out occasion for those in attendance. Affairs which may not be geographically proximate to the restaurant and may draw a lot of people who will never consider making a reservation.

I need to dig more deeply into all of this, and I hope to in the near future. For now, I’m pleased to report that one restaurant group seems to have found a better way.

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Small, Cheap & Unique

October 23, 2014

Perhaps a few people today will help these words break out of the echo chamber.

The growing readership of the FLB is humbling. I’m amazed that the site has hundreds of subscribers and that thousands come to these pages regularly to read my thoughts on food. But even regular readers don’t read every post every day. So it’s very possible that one of you reading this right now has no knowledge of the Capital Region’s culinary treasures.

I’m amazed at how many people I meet from Albany, whose families have lived in the region for generations, know nothing about its culinary heritage. Some have never tried a Capital Region Fish Fry, our signature mini dogs, or the idiosyncratic mozzarella sticks with melba sauce.

Perhaps it’s foolish, but given how much I and others have written about some of the region’s more exciting ethnic restaurants, I assume that most people are at least aware of their existence. But like the region’s edible oddities, far too many of our residents have never heard of them.

Take, for example, a recent question posted by a reader of the Table Hopping food blog.

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Unburdening: Waste Not Want Not

October 22, 2014

Yesterday’s post reminded me that I was delinquent in finishing my series on unburdening the family meal. Since I undertook this challenge in September, we’ve covered a lot of ground, and I’ve posed solutions to many of the problems posed in the North Carolina State University study.

Problem: The “ideal meal” is hard to pull off.
Solution: There is no shame in simple one pot meals.

Problem: Healthier lean meats are expensive.
Solution: Cheaper fatty meats are delicious, just use less.

Problem: Fresh veggies can rot if not used quickly.
Solution: Frozen veggies are an awesome alternative.

Problem: Cooking takes a long time.
Solution: It gets faster with practice. Have realistic expectations.

Problem: The kids may reject new foods and cause chaos at the table.
Solution: Try a battle-tested approach that prevents conflict.

There were plenty of other problems identified in the study that I can’t solve. It’s hard to get around not having a clean, safe place for meal preparation. It’s hard to cook if you don’t have access to a pot or a stove.

Perhaps there are some good tips and tricks for preparing delicious food in a microwave, but I’m not equipped to provide those. Still, I found one last problem to solve, and that’s what to do with leftovers if the kids reject the meal and take the cereal option.

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Judging for Good

October 21, 2014

Fasting is good for the soul. It sucks for the body, but it’s a powerful reminder about the physical effects of hunger. I recently went through this and the headaches, fatigue, and irritability were all very real. It was sobering to reflect on how many people go without food on a daily basis. Not just in faraway places, but here in America and in our very own communities.

Ever since I was young, I’ve been a believer in supporting charities that help fight hunger, because there’s not much one can accomplish on an empty stomach.

Without a doubt, I am very lucky to be able to do what I do. My grandmother, who lived through The Great Depression, couldn’t understand why I was so irate at the dismal state of my cappuccino. So I drew her a diagram of how this drink is supposed to be fundamentally different than the latte I was served. It was no use. She thought that I should be glad just to have coffee.

But later this week, I will have the chance to put my fastidious observations on food to good use. As crazy as it seems, I’ll be judging a culinary competition at a fundraiser for The Food Pantries for the Capital District. I suspect it’s going to be awesome, and here’s why.

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Donut Picking (Better Late Than Never)

October 20, 2014

Getting back into old routines isn’t easy. Last year while I was away, the FUSSYlittleTOURS went off without a hitch. Now that I’ve returned to the Capital Region, I’ve let things slip. The summer savory tour never happened. And it looked like my annual rite of fall, the Tour de Cider Donut, was headed towards a similar fate.

I can’t let that happen. Perhaps the findings of this year’s tour will not be helpful to those families trying to navigate the crowded cider donut landscape during the peak of this autumnal season. But that doesn’t mean that our efforts to continually suss out the best apple cider donuts in the region will be in vain.

Yes, we are going apple picking again. Grab your calendars. Get ready to pencil in a date. And put on your thinking caps, because once again, I’m opening up the floor to nominations. But before you get too excited and just prematurely blurt out the name of your favorite orchard, let’s review where we’ve been and some thoughts on how we may move forward in the tour’s fifth year.

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Rocking Breakfast – Recipe #1

October 17, 2014

Sunday is the seventh instalment of chef Josh Coletto’s Rock n Roll Brunch at The Low Beat in Albany. That means this is the fourth one since I’ve returned to the area. And I’m still going to have to miss it. Damn obligations. Hopefully, I’ll make it next month to the eighth one in November. With my luck I’ll be out of town. Harumpf.

Chef Josh also participates in the Chefs’ Consortium, and I’ve followed his career in the Capital Region since he first appeared on my radar at The Flying Chicken. Now he’s mostly working down at Local 111, but still comes back up to Albany to cook these monthly brunches.

This time around he’s got a local grassfed chicken fried steak with gravy. Add a fried egg and one of his buttermilk biscuits, and I’m a happy guy. But these come with home fries too. I guess if you’re eating steak, you have to have some potatoes.

A few weeks ago Josh and I were chatting, and it dawned on me that I may not be the only person who is sad about missing these brunches. So together we came up with a little plan.

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Digging in the DZ Farm Dirt

October 16, 2014

Recently I was sent a press release about a new enterprise called the DZ Farm. It’s the newest venture from DZ Restaurants, the company that owns and operates Chianti Il Ristorante, Boca Bistro, Forno Bistro and Pasta Pane.

Anyhow, they were having a ribbon cutting ceremony followed by a big party to celebrate the farm’s official grand opening. And I was suspicious.

After reading some of the copy about DZ Farm on the website, I had my doubts about the integrity of this project. How much of this was about cooking with local seasonal produce, and how much of this was about saying the restaurants were doing such things?

To make a long story short, I was invited to spend some time talking with the company’s executive chefs at the farm, and judge for myself.

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