bread

Panera

by Anne Maxfield on July 31, 2017

My Panera PaniniWhat is it about Panera?
If you think you’re going for good food–fuggedaboutit!
Ditto an Internet connection.
Seriously, why does anyone eat at Panera?
The food is terrible.
The service is thoughtless.
It’s drab, if not dirty.
And the promised wifi is more of a concept than a reality.
Could I be the only person in America that’s never had a good experience at Panera?
The first time we went, it was in Connecticut for breakfast. I don’t even remember what I had, but Frank ordered a bagel with lox and cream cheese and got something that was unlike any bagel he’d ever seen (and not in a good way).
More recently, I met my partner in HudsonValleyEATS.com in the one in Poughkeepsie near Adams. There were three people standing behind the counter. One man helping a customer, the other two chatting.
I waited.
When the man was finished, I went up and asked for an iced tea. “$2.91.” I handed him the money, he handed me an empty plastic cup.
“It’s down on the end.”
“Nice profit margin.”
Took a walk down to the end, found the iced tea, ice, lemon and sugar. Grabbed a lid and a straw, did all the work. Took a sip.
Not happy.

Yesterday, I got suckered into another Panera rendezvous, this time at a different Poughkeepsie location.
The place is crowded and none of the vacant tables have been wiped down. Ugh.
Grab some napkins, wipe down a table, get in line to order food (none of which sounded appealing, but I’m really hungry).
The guy behind the register has to look up the Frontega Chicken panini I asked about.
Smoked chicken, mozzarella, tomatoes, onions, chipotle mayo, basil. This is from the photo on Panera’s site:
Sounded about as interesting as the others so I ordered it, “no onions,” and a cup for a drink (see, I’m learning).
The top photo is what I got.
A mud-grey plastic plate with cheese glued to a piece of corrugated paper, LOTS of onions and a couple pallid bits of chicken.
There were black stripes on the bread to make it look like it had been put in a panini press, but the corrugated paper made me think the panini press was more like a microwave…
Because I was hungry, I ate the half-sandwich, hating myself for putting this absolute junk in my mouth.
And the so-called wifi? The whole time I was trying to eat the sandwich, we could not pull up a single page from the web.
We left totally disgusted. The place was dirty. The food was inedible but I was starving. The iced tea once again needed a return trip for more ice, but I just dumped it.
Never again!
“Food as it should be.”
Please, let’s hope not!
If you are a Panera fan, please tell me what it is that you like about it. It won’t bring me back, but I am really curious.
Update: Found this in my bag afterwards:
Accidental Locavore Panera Check So sad that I missed my free treat…

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Fondue Chez Hubert

by Anne Maxfield on May 9, 2016

Accidental Locavore Fondue Fork and CheeseWhen was the last time you went to a fondue party? If you were around in the 70’s or maybe even the early 80’s it was almost de rigueur and everyone had a fondue pot. It died a sudden death shortly thereafter and wasn’t seen again until Artisanal made it chic when they opened.

The Accidental Locavore and Frank were invited for a fondue party at the home of one of our chef friends, who happens to hail from Alsace. Now, when you’re from Alsace, you take your fondue very seriously and Hubert was no exception. The invitations went out two months beforehand and when we arrived Chez Hubert, there were two giant tables put together to make seating for twelve. At each place was a bound folder “The Fondue Party” with the history of fondue, the evening’s recipes and wine pairings all in both German and English.

Accidental Locavore Fondue FolderAnd then there was Chef – Hubert, manning a flock of pots with masses of his special cheese blend, bottles of Pinot Gris and kirsh. While we tried not to nibble too much on pre-fondue cheese and other hors d’œuvres, glasses of Crémant d’Alsace were poured as we all watched Hubert going from pot to pot stirring, tasting, adding and tasting.

When everything was done to his satisfaction, three huge vessels were placed on the table along with baskets of various types of breads. If you think fondue is just gloppy cheese and soggy bread, you’ve never had it made by an obsessive Alsatian chef. Many miles were traveled in search of the right cheeses – a blend of Gruyere, Appenzeller and Emmental, perfect loaves of bread and complimentary bottles of wine (remember the pairing and tasting notes from the folders?).

Accidental Locavore Fondue Chez HubertWe were happily munching our way through hundreds of cubes of bread (2 cm by 2cm according to the recipe) and kilos of cheese, when Hubert switched into host mode and started pouring the wine selections. First up, an Alsatian Pinot Gris in small (almost) shot glasses. Then, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he whisked out a bottle of Kirsch (cherry eau de vie) from the freezer. Pouring shots for almost everyone, he proceeded to down his and insist everyone else did the same. After they finished the second bottle, they moved on to a bottle of Poire William. At this point almost everyone was fairly inebriated, the fondue pots were close to empty and we were all about to learn a very cool trick.

Accidental Locavore Scrambled Egg FondueHubert took the almost empty pots, beat a couple of eggs, added them to the pot, mixed them into the last of the fondue and handed Frank a spoon (possibly because a fork might have done damage in his state). After almost cleaning out the pot, he agreed to pass it around. The combination of scrambled eggs with the last of the fondue (including the browned bits) was incredible! Something to remember for the next fondue party.

Accidental Locavore Fondue DessertThere was dessert – a walnut tart. And with it? A couple of bottles of cognac, followed by two different bottles of Armagnac. Believe me when I say that I’m one of only a couple of people who even remembers what was served. The fondue was memorable and everyone had a great time (if they’re still not sure how the night ended)! Now we all have something to look forward to when the weather gets cold again.

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Restaurants Cutting Corners: Do Patrons Notice? Oh Yes!

by Anne Maxfield on March 28, 2016

Accidental Locavore Restaurant WorkersDo you notice when restaurants start to cut corners? The Accidental Locavore and my editor started talking about things restaurants do to cut corners, thinking that patrons won’t notice or won’t care. But I don’t think they’ll ever really know, because people simply stop going. It really doesn’t just have to be cutting corners – ask any chef what happens when you change a menu item and you’ll get a quick reaction!

Accidental Locavore Bread BasketThe post in question mentioned that the bread came to the table and was slightly stale, appearing to have been cut before service, so that the waitstaff could just grab it and go. Which makes sense, especially since it was an extremely busy room. As the old saying goes, you only have one chance to make a good first impression and bread is usually that first impression. When your average check is in excess of $100 per person, don’t you think you could hire someone (at $15/hour, please) to slice bread during service? If you needed to monetize that, charge for the bread, like many places are doing. On second thought, don’t!

The restaurant at my golf club is another case in point. When the new owner came in, free refills on soda and iced tea became a thing of the past. Having done financial consulting for a bakery, I know what the costs (and margins) are on drinks, so having to pay an additional $2.00 for another hit of iced tea or  soda is simply ridiculous.

That sort of mean-spiritedness really backfires and shows up in the food. We used to blow through our minimums by the beginning of July and be into the restaurant for a lot of money by the end of the season. Now, we struggle to use it up, because the food is mediocre, and what used to be a pleasant place to hang out loses its charm when the owner is standing around glowering.

A reason that places like Billy Joe’s Ribworks are so successful, is that Jonathan, one of the owners, is always on the prowl. His mission: to give everyone a great time, and his energy and enthusiasm are contagious. You’ll see his staff firing up grills and handing out hot dogs when the spirit moves them. Not that you’d have any room for them since you’ve probably stuffed your face with their great ribs and even better smoked wings! Want a refill on that soda? Not a problem.

Accidental Locavore Billy Joes CrewOwning a restaurant is a tough business, so let’s support local eateries that go the extra mile and don’t try to put one over on their patrons just to save a couple of bucks. It costs them in the long run. What’s your pet peeve about a restaurant’s short cuts?

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Bread

by Anne Maxfield on February 15, 2016

Accidental Locavore Croissant and Coffee To GoEating my morning croissant, the Accidental Locavore was wondering — why is it that there is so much fuss about being gluten-free in the US and it’s never mentioned in France? Here, every day starts with bread, continues with bread and often ends with bread. But do a Google search for gluten-free in France or celiac disease and there’s little there. And the results you find are mostly Americans wondering how to eat in France. To be fair, I know a few people who actually have celiac disease and like a severe allergy, they can be extremely ill from eating gluten.

Accidental Locavore TartineBut in France a typical morning starts with a croissant (or two) or a tartine, made from toasting a leftover baguette (if there is one) and spreading it with butter, jam or a mild cheese.

Accidental Locavore Croque EatenLunch could be a classic croque monsieur, a sandwich made with a baguette, or pizza. Even in a restaurant, there’s always a basket of bread. And any decent bakery has at least a dozen different varieties to choose from, ranging from tiny ficelles to giant sourdough loaves known as miches that could feed a family of ten.

Accidental Locavore Bread and TapenadeAt a recent dinner there were three different breads on my solo table – pain d’épice (a local spiced bread), slices of toasted baguette and regular baguettes. With my soupe de poissons came more toasted baguettes and the tart I had for dessert had a flour-based crust.

Accidental Locavore Lemon TartThink about this: how does a population with almost 300 million people (vs. 60 million in France), that annually eats less than half the amount of bread as the French, end up with five times the number of patients with celiac? Is it the flour and/or the way the bread is processed? It’s an easy bet that a loaf of Wonder Bread isn’t as good for you as an artisanal baguette. Wheat has evolved from having 14 chromosomes to currently having 42. Luckily, GMO wheat hasn’t made it into the market yet, but that doesn’t mean Monsanto isn’t working on it.

Accidental Locavore Lunch With OlivesMeanwhile, I’m off to grab a baguette and some cheese – it’s lunchtime!

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