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I Get Smacked Hard on One of My Reviews

Rebuttal to Culinary Circle Frozen Pizza Review

I seldom get comments on this site, and I welcome that.  Often my reviews are reposted on other sites, and sometimes they do get feedback at those locations.  Such is the case with reader “Dwayne from Maine”  who took exception to my opinion on Culinary Circle (a store brand for Albertsons and other stores) frozen pizza. (My original review appeared four years ago).

Everybody has an opinion, and as I often say in my reviews, “this post reflects my personal taste, and the product may be perfect for you.”  You are entitled.  And you are welcome to respond to any reviews here, or post your own.   I’m happy for Dwayne that this is the perfect pizza for him, however, he made a number of assumptions from my review that were’t/aren’t true.  And that’s ok, too.

Dwayne from Maine, sez:

HAHAHAHAHAHA YOU IGNORAMUS! You’re review is a joke. Actually, YOU’RE A JOKE! First off, if you’re deciding to buy pizza based on how many ounces it is, right off the bat, you’re already a gluttonous retard in my book. Then, your DUMB ASS mocked the instructions on the back of the box – which EVERY frozen food product shares the EXACT same instructions for legal reasons, because of retards like you as a matter of fact! I don’t understand the motivation to your need to mock these instructions, like you have never seen the same instructions on every other frozen food product. Your ignorant ass also doesn’t even know how to use a pizza stone, and to boot PIZZA STONES ARE NOT MADE FOR COOKING FROZEN PIZZAS YOU STUPID F***! FROZEN PIZZAS ARE DESIGNED TO BAKE UP IN A REGULAR OVEN THE SAME WAY THAT NON FROZEN DOUGH IS SUPPOSED TO COME OUT ON A PIZZA STONE! HOW STUPID CAN YOU BE?!! The CC pizzas are basically the BEST frozen pizzas on the market. They have the best topping/crust combinations and options, and the best final product on the market. I pay $4 for these pizzas when they are on sale, and $5 normally. Your complaints about the price and size are absolutely invalid and retarded beyond understanding. I will NEVER EVER EVER be able to EVER take any sort of culinary review or advice from you. EVER. For ANYTHING. It’s REALLY REALLY bad when a person ruins their review “career” only with ONE single review. HAHHAHAHAHA what a JOKE you are!!! I’m certain that any other reviews you have made are likely garbage and not worth 1 minute of my time to read it. I have never seen a single food review in my life that has been so stupid, and so unanimously disagreed with at such an extreme (basically, 0-42 – ZERO people agree with you, and FORTY-TWO think you are an ignorant jer*off!) BAHAHAHAHAHAH!!

 

 

 

culinary circle frozen pizza review

New Orleans, LA – Cafe Degas Review

(From our archives) I’ve intentionally shied away from the Café Degas, because it’s one of those places that many natives find absolutely thrilling. That’s usually my first clue to avoid it like the plague.

I frequently find that my view of “outstanding” varies widely from my native friends, but that’s largely due to the fact I’ve been exposed to restaurants outside of the area, and have a base of comparison. When my native buddies talk about a local restaurant as “outstanding,” I realize it is because they are comparing it to the Tiffin Inn.

Desperate to find something nice to say about the Café Degas, I come up empty. It is tied with my visit to the Café Adelaide a few weeks ago, for worst overall dining experience in New Orleans.

We could start with parking, but there is none. At that corner of Esplanade, with Whole Foods and a few other shops, parking is non-existent. The Café could well use a valet service, but service doesn’t seem part of their vocabulary.

I had made a reservation and arrived promptly on time. One enters the Café thru the bar, and walking into that space, four employees were busy talking about everything under the sun, but none asked if they could help me. I wandered into the dining room alone, where a single waiter was waiting on the one couple that had arrived before me. The waiter DID ask if he could help me, but it was more the kind of “are you lost” type of inquiry. I told him I had a reservation, and he told me to go back up front and see the hostess. She was nowhere to be found, so I returned to the dining room, and the waiter did show me to a table.

The place did fill up over the course of the next few hours, and “fill up” is an understatement, as they have crammed far too many tables into the small space, claiming an “authentic French bistro” ambiance. The owners and I must have visited different bistros during our journeys to France. Certainly the French buy more comfortable chairs, anyway, so that if space is at a premium, at least your personal space is enjoyable. Dega’s chairs are patio furniture.

The menu (“French with a Creole accent”) (geez, why does EVERYTHING have to have a “Creole accent?” – why can’t one get simple classical French cuisine in this town?) is short, with a few nightly specials.

As restaurants, like everyone else, struggle with increased energy and supply costs, they look to cut costs, and Café Degas has done it on two fronts – wait staff and ingredients.

In short, the service was lousy, the food worse.

The house salad with Dijon vinaigrette was bad enough (btw, add gorgonzola for a buck extra); I ordered “parmesan encrusted veal with caper lemon butter” for an entrée, and the first bite cried out “chicken fried steak!”

Some portions of the meat were inedible.

Service was nearly non-existent, again, probably due to cut backs, the room is noisy and crowded, and a peculiarity with the air conditioning causes the vents to drip water on diners. A woman at the table next to me, having had enough to the drips alternating hitting her plate or her shoulder, asked the waiter to do something about it. He asked her to stand up, whereupon he stood on her chair and wiped the grill above her with a towel.

Let’s not talk about what color the towel was after a single wipe.

Or the look in her eyes as she glanced at the chair that she was supposed to sit back down on.

Café Degas is a disaster. Another in a series.

The good thing about the evening? I got to leave at the end.

Café Degas on Urbanspoon

 

Cafe Degas Review

Duluth, MN – Tavern on the Hill Review

Tavern on the Hill Review

Junior High Demolished

Due to an anticipated major shift in the demographics of school aged children, the city of Duluth, MN went through a significant reorganization of the public schools several years ago, closing some, modernizing some, and repurposing others.

Part of this plan was demolishing one of the two junior high schools (grades 7-9) in the eastern portion of the city, Woodland Junior, which is within spitting distance of the University of Minnesota’s Duluth branch.

The resulting large piece of vacant property and the adjacent woods, so close to the University, proved a lure for potential developers, who envisioned a large mixed use development similar to the Main U campus’ Dinkytown.

Apartments, retail, services, and restaurants are at the center of the plan, with the first couple phases now open.

The first full service restaurant to open is called “Tavern on the Hill,” and is part of the local Blackwoods hospitality group. The debut also marks the opening of the first full bar within staggering distance of the campus.

Tavern on the Hills ReviewThe restaurant touts its locavore connection, sourcing as much locally as they are able to, (which really doesn’t explain items like ahi and North Atlantic Salmon) and offer a very diverse menu of sandwiches, pizza, flatbreads, full plates, tacos and “sushi” (designed for the Duluth palate). Several menu items are new to the area, including fish tacos and dishes with bison meat.

A small ‘market’ just inside the door of the restaurant offers take-away menu items, prepared and packaged to go.

The Kawika and members of the Duluth burger posse hit the restaurant on 11/18, and reported having ‘one of the best tasting burgers’ they had experienced in a long time, crowing about the quality of the meat. Servers offered the burgers in one of two modes: “pink” or “not pink,” and the kitchen obliged.

Craft cocktails and beers are available, and the restaurant is open daily at 11AM, closing at 1 AM, except Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 AM.

Tavern on the Hill Review

Cheeseburger with Fries

Tavern on the Hill Review

 

Photos, with exception of “Junior High Demolished”  copyright 2014 Kawikamedia.com, used with permission.

 

 

Tavern on the Hill Review

Tennessee Pride Sausage Reviews

Today part of ConAgra, Odom’s Tennessee Pride was started in the mid 40s by two brothers whom combined their knowledge of the meat business and home delivery (from earlier jobs). Headquartered in Madison, TN, with plants in Tennessee and Arkansas, Tennessee Pride makes sausage in rolls, links, pre-cooked, and packaged sausage gravy. They have recently expanded into the heat and eat breakfast sandwich segment, with sausage biscuits, turkey sausage biscuits, and chicken biscuits.

Today I’m cooking up their 1 pound hot sausage roll, sliced into patties, on a cast iron skillet. Their websites frequently features recipes and coupons. Ingredients are straight forward:  Fresh Pork (including fresh ham and tenderloins), seasonings, water, sugar, salt and MSG). Nutritional information is not on the site, but I found this elsewhere:

Country Sausage : Per 2 oz – Calories: 200 kcal | Fat: 17.00 g | Carbs: 0.00 g | Protein: 9.00 g.

I often buy fresh ground pork and season it myself when I’m in the mood for breakfast patties, but once and awhile, I prefer getting it from the pros, like Tennessee Pride.  It’s a lean, fine grind, nicely seasoned, with a little bit of kick in the ‘hot’ variety.  Need some Odom’s sausage or sausage gravy shipped to your house?

Tennessee Pride Sausage

Cookin’ Up

 

 

 

Tennessee Pride Sausage Reviews

Fried Onion Burger Recipe

Every year, in El Reno, Oklahoma, they hold the Fried Onion Burger Festival; they’ve been cooking up their special recipe burgers for nigh onto fifty years or more.  Local favorites include Robert’s Grill.

I had a fancy to whip some up at home recently, with mixed results.

In Oklahoma, a handful of fresh ground is placed on a flattop, smashed, smother with onions, and cooked until crispy.  That was my intent as well.

I started with freshly sliced white onions, sweated in butter in a cast iron skillet, and took a course ground 1/4 pound of 85/15 and smashed it on the onions.

Fried Onion Burger Recipe

 

Fried Onion Burger Recipe

 

I over cooked them, intentionally, trying to get the crispy edges and crust that the Okie burger purveyors serve up, but wasn’t successful.  I dressed them with mustard and house made pickles, and achieved a close proximity to the OK version.  I think a hotter skillet from the onset would have made the difference.  Very tasty, nonetheless!

Fried Onion Burger Recipe

fried onion burger recipe

Send Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Disgusting Food Pix

We can’t be everywhere, obviously, but we’re sure interested in everywhere.   We welcome your contributions, reviews, raves, pans, and pix.   Send us a pic of your food, the place, the menu if you can, along with your pithy comments about your experience.  Tell us whether you want to publish it with your real name or alias (and tell us what that would be).  While the focus has been hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza, you’ll note that many different types of cuisines have been discussed here, and will continue to be.  Join us!  Here’s where to send your dope.

Barrington, IL – Sergios Pizza Review

Sergios Barrington ReivewSome years ago, we relocated from Los Angeles to this Norman Rockwellian idyllic Chicago suburb. It was for our daughter’s benefit, we wanted her to have a great education in a safe environment, and grow up with midwestern values. For the most part, it was a successful move. At the time, after local exploration, (and my previous choice burning down, not my fault), my “go to” pizza became the thin crust at Sergio’s. They’ve moved a couple times since then, and changed owners, but they are still grinding out great pies for the past thirty years.

Passing through the burbs this summer, on a mission to look at some horses for sale, it was appropriate to re-sample Sergio’s, and see how my memory compared to reality.  While most people identify Chicago with “Deep Dish Pizza” (except Jon Stewart), the thin crust pies are really excellent, cracker crusts, mounds of real cheese, excellent sausage, and square cut.

This is the 16 incher. They have larger, smaller, thick crust and stuffed – a full menu of other goodies, too, sandwiches, ‘cue,  pasta, salads, and small bites.

Sergio’s crust is flaky, the sizable  hand-pulled sausage chunks are flavorful, and the pie has spectacularly high quality cheese.  You’ll also notice a distinctive difference with the tomato sauce; all of their sauces are made in house, and the pizza sauce is very hearty with a full tomato flavor.

Another upside with Sergio’s is they charge 15-20% less than local competitors.  A welcome respite.

Here’s the Sergio’s menu.  Got a craving or miss Chicago foods?  Here are some companies that ship pizzas, dogs, and more.

Sergios Pizza Barrington Review

 

Sergio's Pizza on Urbanspoon
Sergios Pizza Review

West Dundee, IL – Chubby Bullfrog Bar & Grill Review

Chubby Bullfrog ReviewI’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to bars and restaurants in strip malls.  I guess it’s perfectly fine to younger generations, but the idea of trying to squeeze “ambiance” into a former yogurt shop or dry cleaner just seems a stretch to me.

The Chubby Bullfrog sees itself as a sports bar, with the usual memorabilia perched on the walls, and a couple dozen NHL jerseys hanging from the ceilings.  Five TVs ring the bar, and four video poker machines are perched in the corner.

The owner has decided there is no local lunch crowd, so they open at 3 PM  most days.   With the exception of there being alligator bites and frog legs on the menu, it’s straightforward standard  Chicago bar food.

It will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that I had a burger, which are hand-formed patties in your choice of 6, 8, or 10 ounces,  on a fresh ‘pretzel-like’ roll, and topped with Spanish onion, tomato, lettuce, accompanied by a kosher spear.  I say “pretzel-like” as it has the appearance of a pretzel roll, but not the cloying sweet taste most buns of that ilk possess, which I find unpleasant.

Fries or chips are standard, upgrade to tots, rings or a salad for a buck.  About $11 in all for the 8 ounce, with bacon and blue cheese.  The bacon was very flavorful, and while the blue cheese was a chunky sauce, is was very “blue,” strong in flavor, which was a delight for me.

At some point in every burger experience, I strip everything away to taste just the beef, and this is a nice grind, very flavorful, natural  beef flavor, with a slight char.  The deep fried tots were exceptional.  Pepsi soda products and a gajillion beers in bottles.

Worth a stop in the Northwest burbs, and they are periodically on restaurant.com with a $10 coupon. (Active as of the date of this post). Want some fantastic blue or goat cheese for your home burgers?  Check these out.

 

Chubby Bullfrog Review

 

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Chubby Bullfrog Bar & Grill Review

 

 

 

 

 

Vienna Beef Corned Beef and Pastrami

vienna logoIf you’re even an occasional reader of this site, you know two things for sure –  I have a diminishing interest in purchasing most ‘deli meats’ because of real or perceived notion they aren’t ‘real.’  By that I am generally referring to two things –  ‘roasts’ that are formed from meat and other ingredients into a shape that is easy for uniform slicing and appearance, and also the growing trend to enhance weight and flavor with injections of brine solutions, which I personally feel just ruins the texture of real meat muscle.

The second thing you would be aware of as a regular visitor here is that I am fond of the products made by Chicago’s premier hot dog manufacturer, Vienna Beef.  They make  great hot dogs, sausages, and a compliment of condiments.  So I thought I would try out their deli corned beef and pastrami.

In the deli counter, the roasts appeared to be whole muscle briskets.  The price currently exceeds $14 per pound.  Examining the ingredients, there does not appear to be any fillers or brine, and it looks like  a whole roast, when sliced, as the slices are not uniform in appearance, as far as both shape and fat content.  I inquired of Vienna about the composition and ingredients of these two deli products, but they did not reply.

I’m gonna guess, and hope, that they are whole muscle cuts.  My only reservation is the price, but all meats are stupid priced these days.  If you’re making an overstuffed sandwich, with 8 ounces of meat, it breaks down like this:  a pound each of pastrami and corned beef, roughly $31.  One half pound of cheese, $6.00.  Rye bread.  $3.  Sauerkraut $0.00, as I make it myself.   So $40 /  4 sandwiches?  $10 a pop.  Wow.

Course go to any large city deli, and the same serving will cost between $17 – $27.  Wow even more.  BTW?  You see the ‘iridescent’ quality in the top slice of meat below?  Over the past 20 years, I must have asked dozens of people what causes that, and never received a satisfactory answer.  Do you know?

Look for Vienna Beef products in your favorite grocery deli counter;  we have some great corned beef  whole brisket or slices from Omaha, and pastrami from the Bay Area’s favorite meat company, Saag, in our little store; for something a little different, try Montreal Smoked Meat.   Appreciate your reading and business.

 

Vienna Corned Beef Review

Pastrami (top) and Corned Beef Slices

 

Vienna Beef Review

Corned Beef & Pastrami Combo Reuben

 

 

 

 

 

Vienna Beef Corned Beef and Pastrami

@RedLobster, In a Pinch, Clawing Its Way to the Bottom

Red Lobster AcquisitionDarden, the restaurant operator (Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Yard House, Capital Grille ) sold Red Lobster a few months ago. The acquirer was / is Golden Gate Capital, a private equity firm based in San Francisco, that also holds California Pizza Kitchen. Eddie Bauer, Zales and other consumer facing businesses. Golden Gate was formed by ex-employees of Bain.

The published price was $2.1 billion, of which approximately $1 billion was outstanding debt, which must be retired.

Various publicly stated reasons for the sale included 1) activist investors belief the company could perform better, and 2) the company’s desire to focus on its more profitable brands. But one can’t help but thinking they just wanted to cut a loser loose, as their other brands perform so much better than the Lobster.

The last financial figures I was able to find put the Lobster’s revenue at $2.62 billion for 2013, about $3.5 million per store, although per store sales on a year to year basis have fallen for several years. Darden claims a profit margin of 5.7 % across its entire line of brands.

(BTW, want giant lobsters delivered to your home?  Try the 5 and 6 pounders here).

Optimistically, if the chain in fact did turn in a 5.7% margin, or $148 million, the sale price reflected a valuation of 15x profit. In reality, the multiple was probably higher than that, as Darden has publicly stated that other portfolio brands perform better than Lobster.

Coinciding with the closing, Golden Gate spun the real property of the company, at least over 500 locations, for $1.5 billion, to American Capital Realty Partners, seemingly resulting in a net purchase price of $600 million for the restaurant chain.

On the surface, the sale / leaseback seems like a brilliant move, bring the acquisition value to only about 4x profit, with the previous margin assumption.

But behind the scenes, it is a recipe for disaster. Chain restaurants, especially in the fast casual segment, aim for profit in the 2% – 5% range; in other words, the segment is a very low margin business.

Prior to the sale, Red Lobster’s operating expenses did not include rent, as they owned their buildings. Now they will add a rent expense line to their P/L, reducing the margin even more.

The restaurant chain says it has suffered from a couple of different circumstances – during the downturn, most every restaurant’s performance was diminished, and the Lobster in particular suffered from dramatically increasing prices in fresh seafood. (Particularly a shrimp blight in Asia – personally I’d be happier and a potential customer if Lobster made a commitment to buying only wild caught American shrimp).

So there are two paths to private equity investors receiving a substantial return over the life of this deal: dramatically increase revenue or profit. In the fast casual segment, it’s unlikely a rapid rise in revenue will come, unless the parent spins off a majority of restaurants as franchises, and books those sales as revenue. With over 700 restaurants in the portfolio, and supposedly near a “50% share’ of the seafood restaurant segment (according to some sources), it’s unlikely they will be adding a significant number of new company-owned outlets.

That leaves increasing profits as an option, and that means cutting costs either with suppliers or layoffs. By some accounts, the former appears to be happening.

In one of my other business interests, I regularly hear from restaurant diners who report on their experiences. Over the past two months, Red Lobster diner reports have increasingly received poorer marks, particularly for the quality of food.

One diner was indignant that the ‘melted butter’ served with seafood wasn’t butter (nor was the spread served with the biscuits) (nor upon asking was any real butter available), another complained of the “fresh fish” tasting “old,” while still another talked about fish filets being prepared and served “untrimmed” giving diners an appearance of receiving a larger portion, even though the edible portion was less than the restaurant previously served. The biggest complaint I have heard is that the size of shrimp in dishes has grown increasingly smaller, with one diner saying “they looked like 30-40s.”) A quick glance at some Yelp reviews this morning confirms there quite a few disenchanted customers.

As I wrote about the Burger King takeover a few months ago, Red Lobster is in peril if they don’t focus on the three things that bring customers into a restaurant: food quality, experience, and value.

Apparently those points are concepts that have eluded private equity.

When prices get so out of whack that diners can chose fast casual at the same price point as McDonalds, and likewise, some fast casual diners can hit full service restaurants for the same price point, clearly something has to change.

(And please dear god, don’t let the changes include selling crappy product with your name on it in the frozen food aisles at grocery stores).

I’m not omniscient (darn it), but I don’t see the Red Lobster transaction ending well for investors. Just my opinion of course.

(Red Lobster began as one seafood restaurant in Lakeland, Florida in 1968 and is now the world’s largest casual dining seafood restaurant company, with 47 percent market share in the seafood specialist segment, over 700 restaurants in the United States and Canada and more than 58,000 employees)

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