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Off Brand

April 24, 2012

This is difficult. On one hand, I’ve pledged to support and promote restaurants that are doing good things with food. On the other hand, from the get-go I’ve been railing against restaurants charging outlandish prices for their food.

So today I find myself at the crossroads.

To make matters worse, the restaurant in question is one that I once loved. It’s a place that I’ve recommended since it opened its doors. It’s a place that I’ve written about multiple times on multiple platforms. And it’s a place that has garnered more than its fair share of business from me personally.

And I still like the place. I really like it. But the love affair is over. It has changed. The change has been slow and insidious. However, the final straw is this new menu item. The one that I should love. But its existence just leaves a bad taste in my mouth (figuratively speaking of course, I’m sure it’s delicious).

The place is Garden Bistro 24 and the new menu item is their local organic grass-fed burger.

Here’s the kicker. It’s fourteen dollars and fifty cents. Yes, there are more expensive burgers out there. Yes, I’ve even ordered and enjoyed them. And I don’t think Garden Bistro 24 is going to make a fortune selling this burger, either. They’ve tarted it up enough to try and justify its price tag. The menu proudly states:

The Bistro Burger is made from 100% organic, grass fed NY state beef. The beef is born and raised at the Herondale Farm in Ancromedale, NY where the livestock is 100% free from hormones, antibiotics and their pastures are certified organic.

And they take a seven ounce patty of the stuff and slide it between, “an all natural 100% butter Croissant bun” with a few other premium toppings: roasted garlic, rosemary aioli, fresh spinach, tomatoes and caramelized onions. Plus it comes with fries, and should you be some kind of heathen who prefers salad or soup with your burger, well then you are in luck, because those are options too.

Part of me wants stand up and cheer, “Bravo” for using better ingredients and putting them on the menu. After all, it’s surely a solid $10 burger with some great fries and a few toppings that will make it delicious (minus the raw spinach). $14.50 is a perfectly fair value for a meal like that.

The other part of me takes a long hard look at Garden Bistro 24, and remembers what it was about the place I used to love.

When the restaurant opened in July of 2010 it made shockwaves in the food community because it had a simple fresh menu of uncomplicated and delicious dishes that were fairly priced. Eight-ounce steak frites for $11 or a bowl of moules frites for $10.50.

Prices started to creep up a couple of dollars. When I wrote the piece on the steak frites for All Over Albany last year the cost had risen to $14. Today, that same dish is $17, and the mussels have followed suit coming in at $16 for an order.

Here’s the thing. As a value restaurant, there were touches that transcended what was available at restaurants that charged twice the price: thin-rimmed wine glasses, heavy flatware, and thick linen napkins, to name a few. But there were also lapses I was willing to overlook in the printed menus, décor and service.

So I look at this new local grass-fed organic hamburger and all I see is a burger that’s more than 30% over what the restaurant recently used to charge for a steak.

Now you can also say that better ingredients cost more. Absolutely.

But this is hamburger we’re talking about. I don’t even need to look past Albany to get a sense of the market. Let’s go to Taste, which is a beautiful restaurant downtown where they serve a local pasture raised burger (with bacon, cheese and fries) for just $10. I presume Taste’s rent downtown is a fair bit higher than the strip mall Garden Bistro 24 inhabits on the distant edge of Colonie, not to mention the additional costs of the fine furnishings which make the dining room such a comfortable place to eat.

I no longer love Garden Bistro 24, but I’d like to still be friends. I think it’s great that they have no freezers and use only fresh ingredients. I am impressed with their commitment to seasonality. And I have no doubts that this locally raised organic grass-fed burger is delicious.

But Garden Bistro 24 needs to figure out what it is. If it’s a fancy restaurant, it had better start looking and acting the part. If it’s a casual bistro, someone has to find a way to get those costs back in line. But the launch of this burger at this price point seems to indicate the restaurant is going in another direction.

The good news is that it leaves the market once again open for some hot young chef to dazzle us with a commitment to delicious fresh seasonal food, served without pretense, for a fair value.

So congratulations to Garden Bistro 24 on their commitment to putting high quality local foods on the menu. Regardless of my internal turmoil, it’s a good thing for dining in the Capital Region. I’ll just wait for the restaurant to get some more comfortable chairs, tablecloths, nicer menus, and to ditch the television set before I come in and give it a try.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2012 9:47 am

    Sounds like they are having a bit of a personality crisis. Hopefully, they can figure it out and maybe you can fall in love all over again.

  2. Gay Griffith permalink
    April 24, 2012 9:56 am

    My husband and I buy our own NYS totally grass fed beef directly from a local farmer as well. This beef is also hormone free and FDA inspected. We only paid for one side of beef and paid about 2.65 a pound!!!!!! So why he’s justifying his price with the kind of beef it is, is beyond me. I also have filet mignon’s that only cost $2.65 a pound, Steaks…I think you get my drift…Coming from montreal, where you can get a fabulous meal from the tiniest inexpensive joint to a 5 star restaurant, I find the majority of restaurants in this area, to overrated, mediocre and over priced. There are some exceptions to be noted. Myako on the corner of 155 and Western, Van’s Vietnamiese, on Central Salsa Latina virtually next door is also great, Panchos in Clifton Park and the brand new Mexican restaurant that just opened at the old Scarborough’s location on Altamont St., in Schenectady (name eludes me),Caravelli on 9(R) off 9 in Latham, Shalimar on Route 7. I don’t mind paying a lot of money for a meal, but it has to be worth the price.

  3. Chris permalink
    April 24, 2012 10:11 am

    Well, the GB24 burger (although pricey) is grass-finished; the burger at Taste is not:

    “Kilcoyne Farms is a family owned and operated business dedicated to pasture-raised, grain finished, high quality, flavorful beef. ”

    Besides being processed in New York State, I’m not sure how that differs from any other store-bought beef that starts its life on pasture and is finished in the feedlot.

    • April 24, 2012 10:28 am

      Kilcoyne Farms also pledges that:
      – No antibiotics or synthetic chemical hormones are used to artificially stimulate growth
      – Animals are never fed animal by-products, considered to be a major factor in mad cow disease
      – Animals are custom processed in small batches in a local, family-owned packing plant

      This is different from conventionally raised beef. For more you can check out their website and I encourage you to get in touch with them directly.

  4. April 24, 2012 10:14 am

    “…lapses I was willing to overlook in the printed menus” … Such as, “Ancromedale, NY.” There’s no such place, AFAIK…. Herondale Farm is in Ancramdale. So here’s my tip: If you’re going to proudly name the source of your ingredients on the menu, please spell said source correctly.

  5. Elyse permalink
    April 24, 2012 10:21 am

    Wait- there is a TV in the reatuarant??? WHAT

    • -R. permalink
      April 24, 2012 11:14 am

      Agreed.

      TVs and flat screen displays have no place in a serious dining establishment. There are several restaurants in the area the annoy the hell out of me because the damn things are always within your sight line – The Point being a chief offender for me. Yes, I know they have a bar area, but unless one is tucked away in the back room, you can see them glowing ominously from almost every vantage point. I may have to start carrying a universal remote with me…

  6. April 24, 2012 10:28 am

    My one quibble would be that $17 is a perfectly fair price for high-quality steak frites. $14 burger is a different issue…

  7. April 24, 2012 11:12 am

    Even at the farmer’s market, grass-fed, pasture-raised beef is $5/lb. So for 7 ounces, even with added sides, the price seems to be taking advantage of those who want to eat “good meat.”

  8. April 24, 2012 11:48 am

    I may be opening myself up for some serious flak and flame….BUT…I must add my 2.5cents (Adjusted for inflation)…As You may already know I have been doing my best to work with the quality and sourcing of my product at my location and have found both good and bad points to the ideas you present here. As a fellow restaurant owner I understand the difficulties of trying to balance profitablity with sustainablity…NOT AN EASY TASK!!! I recently attempted to source a grass-fed local strip-loin for NY strip steaks and was quoted over $15 per pound…with trim and waste it would be closer to $20 per pound…how am I supposed to sell that at a profit. For the person who claimed they got fillet for $2.65….uh???your math is WAY out of wack…You paid that for the WHOLE side of beef…what about waste, bone, trim, fat…etc?
    KUDO’s to Garden Bistro 24 for trying to make it work…for trying to put out the AWESOME product that they do…It’s not easy folks. Depending on where he is sourcing this product from…between the burger, roll, toppings and frites…this probably costs him between 4-5 dollars OR MORE. His price is in line with the proper cost vs. price for the product. Enjoy the food (it’s great) and suck it up a little would ya? If we all take the time to understand the real costs of being in the restaurant biz today…we could probably do well, to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of “I can do it myself for so much less”. Of course you can..but not a living profit.

    • Gay Griffith permalink
      April 24, 2012 12:10 pm

      I’m not way out of whack. But I must correct myself. The first time we bought meet it was $2.65 and the second time it was $2.85. I know exactly what we paid. It was for one entire side of beef and my husband butchered it himself. We have a beef band saw and he has a set of knives and my son helped him grind the hamburger meat sans ‘”pink slime” or “fillers”. We bought this for our personal use, not a restaurant. So if you don’t believe me, please contact me on my FB page or linked in page (Gay Pascal Griffith & Gay Griffith respectively) and I will be more than happy to give you the name and phone number of the local farmer we deal with. I realize there are a lot of factors that go into pricing food at a restaurant, We didn’t have that much waste. The bones we froze for our dog and used some to make broth. So you want to split hairs ok, you say it ended up at least 4 -5 dollars, I say it was probably between 3 and 4 because we were very efficient in how we butchered and utilized the meat, the bones and the fat. I don’t care for your tone to me either. I have no problem paying for an expensive meal. We just went out for sushi at Myako and dinner for three, with alcohol, appetizers, more sushi/sashimi than we should have ordered and one hibachi dinner came to $175.00 with tip. glad to pay it. Myako is a fabulous restaurant. For sushi/sashimi lovers and lovers of Hibachi, if you haven’t been you don’t know what your missing.

      • April 24, 2012 4:17 pm

        I am sorry if you “didn’t ‘like’ my tone”… It was by no means meant to offend or call you ‘out’…But When you pay $2.65 for the whole side of beef…it does not translate to $2.65 per pound for the fillet. If you actually figure the amount of time necessary to break down the primal parts of the animal and into smaller and smaller cuts you must figure that time into overall cost.
        Secondly, the fact that you were able to utilize a large portion of the by-product, again, doesn’t translate properly towards the per pound cost of the sirloin or fillet. Regardless of any of this…the point of the OP was the burger and price point at this particular restaurant.
        The product he chooses to use IS MORE EXPENSIVE than the average burger…because it is ‘more’ than the average burger…so too…is the atmosphere, service and overall quality of the location. A similar burger at 5guys is $5 without cheese. Is this burger at Garden Bistro 3x’s better on ALL levels than 5 guys? Local, grassfed, organic, hormone free…”an all natural 100% butter Croissant bun” with a few other premium toppings: roasted garlic, rosemary aioli, fresh spinach, tomatoes and caramelized onions….” I haven’t had it so I don’t know…But I, for one, am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
        Can’t we try to support those who try ? In the words of Theodore Roosevelt “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
        -Nuff Said!

  9. Gay Griffith permalink
    April 24, 2012 5:14 pm

    Good way to entice a potential customers to your restaurant. I’ll be sure to tell all my friends..NOT!

    • April 24, 2012 8:47 pm

      Well…thanks for that I guess. All I have done is support a local restaurant that is trying to provide a better than average product…while still trying to turn a profit and feed his family. Contrary to what you may believe, restaurant owners are not typically rich and super wealthy. We are house-poor, workaholics that constantly try to keep up with the trends and increasingly smaller profit margins. And since I simply pointed out the misconception regarding the math/labor/waste/cost ratio in your ‘side of beef ‘example…AND then apologized that my ‘tone’ offended you… NOW, you hate MY place..???.and are NEVER gonna go there or tell your friends???. Thanks :/ Maybe I shoulda hid behind a fake g-mail name and really stirred the pot. Instead i try to provide an honest opposing viewpoint from my side of the counter.
      POP Quiz…whose quote is this?? “I believe this to be true, we can have diverse politcal and/or relgigious views. We may have different opinions on different subjects, but at the end of the day we can have mutual respect for each other, agree to disagree on certain things and still be amazing friends to one another.”

      hmmmmm…???

      • April 25, 2012 10:29 am

        And Todd, for the record, I don’t think there was anything wrong with your “tone”. Some people are just too sensitive. It’s the internet, you have to cut people slack when it comes to “tone” and other such nonsense that is hard to discern.

  10. April 24, 2012 10:07 pm

    Hi. Allow me to try and settle this.

    Gay: While the side of beef you buy costs you only $2.85 a pound, parts of that beef have a greater value. For example, you would be unlikely to part with five pounds of the rib-eye for $15. If you would, it would be a pleasure to take some of that meat off your hands. I’m [mostly] kidding of course.

    However, I think to Gay’s point, GB24 is selling hamburger and not rib-eye, and the average cost per pound may not translate directly, but it is a useful benchmark.

    Todd: In the post, I recognized the fact that this is a high quality product, and that it is truly a fair cost for what is being put on the plate. Maybe I failed to connect the dots. If you look at the title of this piece, it’s “Off Brand.”

    I think it was a mistake for GB24 to bring in this high of a product if the ultimate cost of the burger didn’t make sense in the setting of the bistro. Maybe lose the “organic” as it’s unlikely the flour or butter in the croissant is organic. Having one organic item in a dish feels like a cheap marketing ploy versus a commitment to more sustainable agriculture.

    If the chef loved this super high quality beef so much, maybe a better use for it would have been as a 4-ounce steak tartare appetizer. That dish goes great with fries, works within the theme, and wouldn’t ring the same alarm bells.

    Chefs and restaurant owners also have to be aware of the marketplace and competition. In the realm of sustainable burgers, Taste in Albany does a good job with good meat in a beautiful environment for $10. Up in Saratoga, Max London’s pays serious rent and is able to put out a local grassfed cheeseburger for $13.

    It may seem like splitting hairs, but $1.50 above Max London’s delicious burger is a lot to ask for a casual restaurant in a strip mall in Colonie. That’s the argument. If Garden Bistro 24 wants to remodel their place and emerge as a restaurant that’s fancier than either of these two, than a $14.50 burger would not be an unexpected sight.

    But they haven’t. So it is.

  11. christine permalink
    April 25, 2012 9:35 am

    I am probably reading the wrong blog… I am not “fussy” about anything, least of all a hamburger. I am compelled to comment on this posting because while I can’t imagine spending $14 on a burger, a simple, unfussy gal like me has regularly seen many $10 burgers on menus like TGI Friday’s or Applebees. I actually spent $11.75 for a “cheeseburger platter” at a local diner (platter… came with lettuce, tomato, onion and a small cup of cole slaw) and nearly crapped my pants at the price! I didn’t even look at the price when ordering the meal and only discovered it when the bill came. After all, how much can a simple burger at a diner cost?

    So, while I will continue to get my burgers at Five Guys or even Burger King (remember, I am not “fussy”) I am not sure it’s fair to slam this joint for charging $14 for their souped up version of the all american hamburger.

  12. Chrystal permalink
    April 25, 2012 10:13 am

    I’m sure the next time I go to GB24 I will try the burger, even at $14 it is cheaper than the rest of the menu. The prices there have really gotten out of line with how they started out, instead of going there every couple months, I now go there every 6-8 months or so. I wonder how the price increases have affected the volume of people he is serving on a daily basis.

    Todd – The plan for tonight is to check out your restaurant, so don’t worry you didn’t offend me with your posts, in fact your attitude to your fellow restauranteurs and how you run your business made me want to eat at yours.

  13. April 25, 2012 10:27 am

    Eh, I still think they’re overrated (especially with the increase in prices) and that burger doesn’t even sound appealing. It’s too damn busy. If the meat is top quality, salt and pepper it and put it on a good bun (bricohe is nice) and call it a day. I won’t look askance at a small amount of cheese and ketchup though.

  14. April 25, 2012 2:26 pm

    Jenh718 and Chrystal…thanks for the support. I often wonder how I offend someone with my ‘tone’ and spend the rest of the day wondering how I could have worded my post better. Thanks again.
    Daniel,
    I now fully understand your title of “off Brand”. I see your point so very clearly at this moment. It is in fact very similar to the conversation you and I had at Professor Java’s. It is so very hard to try to build your ‘brand’ and then stick to it…when you have a plethora of different expectations from your clientele. Part of our business is trying to please and meet the expectations of the customers. And the best places (not neccessarily “THE BEST”) and operators are always pushing the envelope.
    Emerson once said “”Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” Perhaps this can be taken into account in this discussion?

    You make a good point regarding the totally wholesome burger and the maybe not organic and ‘wholesome’ accoutrements. I assure you, that point is not lost on me…maybe more local chefs should read your statement more closely….it is a great point to be made.
    Regardless, GB24 is trying…trying to push the envelope, trying to please customers, and trying to support sustainability. maybe in the not too distant future they will figure a way to bring that item closer to the heart of their ‘brand’ …Trial and error…the best way to get better results.

  15. Dave permalink
    April 26, 2012 11:06 pm

    I have purchased all of my meat (beef, pork, and lamb) from Herondale for five years now. They are 100% pasture raised. They do not finish on corn or grain. They are easily one of the most respected suppliers of beef, pork, and chicken in the Hudson Valley. An area very well known for food and restaurants. The owner has spent years perfecting his craft, down to what type of grass he plants in each section of the farm. To do ANYTHING but applaud GB 24 for making a commitment to this quality level is utterly petty. Could he have gotten meat for less, even grass fed? Probably. But I suspect he went with Herondale because it was the best he tried, and THAT is what he based his decision on. That is what a cook is supposed to do, ideally.

    And being a native Manhattanite, I have eaten a whole lot of burgers at a whole lot of places. Minetta Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Peter Luger. And I will again. The quality of the meat at GB 24 is easily on par with what any of those world class restaurants offer.

  16. April 28, 2012 6:57 pm

    “The quality of the meat at GB 24 is easily on par with what any of those world class restaurants offer.” It might be on par coming in the door, but it’s just too bad everything else about this restaurant sucks.

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