If You’re Gonna Sell Beer…

Various beers

If yours is a dining establishment that offers beer, make sure your servers know what the story is.

That means they should know what beers you have, which ones are on draft and which ones are in bottles. Even if your waiter/waitress is underage and another employee has to physically deliver the beer to your table, the server should have the proper info.

If your list is longer than just a handful, print it out. If it changes frequently, have your servers write it down. Also, if you’re out of a particular beer, your server should not have to go to the bar then come back to the table to tell a diner, “We’re out of….”

Even if your servers personally detest beer, they should have some idea of the nature of various beers. And with brewers offering multiple brews, they should have some familiarity with the styles and names.

I recently went to a restaurant which offers 7 or 8 beers on draft. Bud, Bud Light and a few craft beers. I checked at the bar before I sat down at a booth and knew which one I wanted. When I told the waitress the brew I desired, she asked, “Large or small?” I inquired, “What sizes are those?” She replied, “I don’t know. I just know the large is a dollar more.” Sigh.

Even if your restaurant is known for wine and/or cocktails, some of us may prefer a beer. If you’re going to sell beer to diners, please care enough to get it right. Thanks!

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National Pizza Day!

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Happy National Pizza Day! Some pizza memories…

When I was a kid we got carryout from Pasquale’s in the Norwood section of Birmingham. One night when I was 9 or so, my dad let me go in and order and pay and bring the pizza to the car. In those days, Pasquale’s put the pizza in a paper bag to be carried home horizontally. I, however, carried it vertically.

The pizza toppings all slid to the bottom of the bag into a greasy lump. Happily, my dad only chuckled at my mistake and the pizza was easily repaired when we got home.

My first gig after college was at KSTT radio in Davenport, Iowa. We had a station basketball team that would face off against area high school faculties. After each game, we would go to Pizza Hut where we had trade and would order lots of pizza and beer. I pigged out often on Pizza Supreme and Budweiser. Good times!

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I became a fan of deep-dish pizza when visiting Chicago in the 70s. In the 80s, Chicago deep-dish joint Pizzeria Uno went national. I enjoyed their pizzas in Philly and Dallas and later in St. Louis. Nowadays, my favorite deep-dish pizza comes from St. Louis’s own Pi Pizza. (Love Pi’s cornbread crust, too!)

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When we moved to St. Louis in 1988, a neighbor sent over an Imo’s pizza as a welcoming gift. I recall we were all curious—especially my son Mark—about this thin crust pizza with the strange tasting cheese.

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In time, we came to embrace Imo’s and Mark went on the cook and deliver for them. He worked at a number of pizza joints around Ballwin and learned every subdivision shortcut and cut-thru in west county.

He excelled at “hot selling.” If a pizza joint had no lunchtime orders, he would cook a few pizzas and drop by area businesses such as banks or car dealers. He’d say, “Hey, we made too many pizzas today. Would you guys like to buy a couple? Five bucks apiece!” Sold.

When I was a country DJ at WIL, I learned that singer Vince Gill was a huge Imo’s fan. He makes a habit of delivering an Imo’s shoutout from stage anytime he performs in St. Louis. Around 1994 or so, I took him and his band and crew several Imo’s pizzas when he was performing at Six Flags. His gratitude was overwhelming.

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In the early aughts, I saw a Travel Channel show about Best Places In the U.S. To Pig Out. Among the suggestions was Poynter’s Pizza in Richmond Heights with their enormous Poyntersaurus pizza. There’s an eating challenge connected to the Poyntersaurus—if two people can finish it in thirty minutes without bathroom visits, the pizza is free. We talked about them on WIL and—voila!—they dropped off a Poyntersaurus. Although I’d never try the challenge, I can attest that their pizza is good.

A few years later when I was doing the morning show at KLOU, my producer Aaron and I were chatting casually about favorite pizzas and the phone lines lit up. I learned then the level of passion that people have for pizza. Of course the Imo’s lovers chimed in, but many other independent local pizza joints were also mentioned including Pantera’s, Fortel’s, Elicia’s and Black Thorn Pub.

In 2012, I had my first visit to Slice in Birmingham and had their Soul Pie (pictured below), which is topped with turnip greens, black-eyed peas, Conecuh sausage, red onion, bacon and pepper jack and cheddar cheeses. Not for everyone, but I love it.

Slice

In 2013, I took my grandkids to PW Pizza on Chouteau. It immediately became their favorite and is a go-to spot whenever I take them out to lunch or dinner. I like the Pulled Piggy pizza (shown below) with pork, sweet BBQ sauce and slaw. A great beer selection at PW, too! (Named for owners Paul and Wendy Hamilton.)

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I have long thought that pizza joints should jump into the breakfast market but that hasn’t happened. Although last night’s pizza leftovers continue to be a breakfast staple for many. Remember when ESPN-2 had a morning show called Cold Pizza? QuikTrip markets introduced breakfast pizza a couple of years back and it’s decent.

Pizza love continues to grow around St. Louis with numerous new joints popping up everywhere, especially over the last five years or so. It’s understandable. People like pizza. And the raw material costs versus the menu prices can be favorable to operators. Plus, all the new pizza ideas keep the pizza world ever evolving.

My National Pizza Day suggestion: Avoid the “commodity level” pizza as much as you can. Enjoy the good stuff.

16 Thoughts For Sweet ’16

  1. Sorry, but I don’t get excited about ramen.
  2. Since many recent openings in St. Louis have been either pizza or barbecue joints, please note you can combine the two with the Pulled Piggy Pizza from PW Pizza. It is delicious. (Pictured with slaw atop the pulled pork and sauce.) Pulled piggy pizza
  3. We are blessed to have a wide choice of grocers in my neck of suburbia: Schnucks, Dierbergs, Shop’n’Save, of course. Also, Lucky’s, Fresh Thyme, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Global Foods, Sam’s Club, Costco, Walmart, Target. Still haven’t made it to Aldi.
  4. Want to be happier in 2016? Eat more avocados.
  5. I like this memorable quote from Tom Colicchio (pictured below) in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal: “Calories are cheap. Nutrition is expensive.”Colicchio
  6. Even if you’re a Starbucks hater, you have to admit that their national presence over the past two decades has helped “raise all boats.” Almost every place that sells coffee has improved their product.
  7. Chain restaurants are not inherently bad. I can name chains in St. Louis whose quality varies from pretty good to abysmal, from location to location. In most cases, the reason is good or bad management.
  8. Is it okay for a restaurant to brag about using local vendors whenever possible… via a release from an out-of-town PR firm?
  9. Sweet and savory do not always go together well, but when the combination works, the results can be pretty amazing.
  10. I’m not a fan of the “best nine” tic-tac-toe format on Instagram. Most of the nine tiny pics are too small. (Or maybe it’s time for me to get a new phone with a bigger screen.)
  11. The crew at a local Breadco did not know what to do last month when I ordered a mocha and asked them to stamp my 90s era Cappuccino Club card.
  12. I enjoy Urban Chestnut beers but the 500 milliliter bottle size (just over 16 ounces) can be confounding. Sometimes one is not enough but two are too many.
  13. How many waiters have their own business cards? Our server at Fleming’s last week included his card in the check holder. Nice touch.
  14. If you’re thinking about going paleo or trying Whole 30, you should know that cauliflower makes a great rice substitute and sweet potatoes are wonderful.
  15. Recommended book: A Year In Provence (1989) by Peter Mayle. Among the joys he and his wife experience are numerous eating and drinking occasions. Loved the book. When I read it last spring, I laughed out loud many times.
  16. My favorite meal of 2015 was at Singleton’s Seafood Shack in Jacksonville, Florida, on the banks of the St. John’s River. Fried fish, fried dill pickles, a cold Bud Light and memories of the years we lived in the Big J.

I wish you and your family a Sweet (and Savory) ’16! Roll Tide!

A Bad Review Can Be A Good Thing

Earlier this month both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Riverfront Times reviewed a recently opened suburban restaurant/bar. Each review, posted within a couple of days of each other, was generally negative. But there are upsides to these reviews!

  1. Readers are now aware that a new restaurant/bar is open in a space where another restaurant had been located for many years. The descriptions of what’s happening now in the space may attract new diners.
  2. Photos accompanying reviews often present a more positive example of the restaurant that the words do.
  3. The simple fact that the professional reviewers felt they should share their opinions with readers indicates that the restaurant is worth a full review.
  4. Each reviewer found a few things to like about the food, the drinks, the décor and the staff.
  5. Constructive criticism can be useful to a restaurant owner/manager. He/she can evaluate what was written, determine if it is valid and, if appropriate, remedy the shortcomings.
  6. Negative online postings on media websites can elicit comments from friends and partisans of the restaurant who may share their own positive thoughts about the place.
  7. If the restaurant had been a complete and total mess, the publications would likely have not run reviews. In such a case, the presumption is the place will not survive long, so why bother? (Remember: these media outlets exist to sell advertising. If they trash a restaurant mercilessly, the industry may avoid placing ads with the outlet.)
  8. Not all who read these reviews accept them at face value. Some folks put more stock in user reviews on Yelp, OpenTable, etc.
  9. A relationship has been established with the media outlet. When the restaurant has a new menu, special event, major new hire, etc., the outlet may be more likely to give notice to the news.
  10. If handled correctly, these reviews can be used to motivate staff to deliver better performance and to create a better team spirit.

I’m not always a “silver linings” guy, but I encourage everyone in the local food and beverage scene to work to make the “less than positive” feedback you receive into something useful.

Waino, These Are Bueno

Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright posted these words on his Twitter account (@UncleCharlie50) Sunday night:

Making the most of my DL time. Enjoying stl’s sneaky great restaurant scene! Tonight, @vindeset Wow! Last wk Stone Soup Cottage! Any Rec’s?

As a matter of fact, Adam, I do have a few suggestions! (FULL DISCLOSURE: Some of the places listed below are past or present PR/Social Media clients, but my comments here are from a diner’s perspective not that of a consultant. If that’s possible.)

I know that you get to visit America’s great restaurant cities like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, etc. every season. I’d guess that you have visited all sorts of places from the funky joints to the exclusive high-end restaurants.

You are known to be a fan of Pappy’s BBQ here in St. Louis. I’ve heard that you’ve been known to visit Bogart’s as well.

You mentioned Vin de Set and Stone Soup Cottage in your tweet. Both work hard to make the entire customer experience memorable, just as much as they focus on their food and drink.

Since you like those, I’d recommend Paul and Wendy Hamilton’s sister restaurant to Vin de Set, 1111 Mississippi which has a different feel and a different menu, but a similar pronounced emphasis on great service. The Crossing in Clayton also delivers wonderful service and great food. Because The Crossing is a smaller place—though not as small as Stone Soup—the kitchen and serving team are able to match your particular wants and needs.

Another fine dining experience I’d recommend is Cielo at the Four Seasons Hotel. As you likely know from your travels, some hotel restaurants are good and some are embarrassingly bad. Cielo is top-notch.

During the 90’s my wife and I dined many times at Cardwell’s At The Plaza at Plaza Frontenac. Not sure why we haven’t gone there in a long while, but our meals there were always enjoyable. (Plus we sat right next to Big Mac once in ’99 but we didn’t bother him.)

Haven’t been to Annie Gunn’s in the valley in a few years either, but dinners there were very good and chef Lou Rook, Jr. is a good guy.

Since you are a Georgia native, you’d likely enjoy the food at Highway 61 Roadhouse in Webster. They feature favorite foods from New Orleans, Memphis and St. Louis. I recommend the Smothered Catfish. And you must try their Mac’n’Cheese.

In the BBQ realm, for pulled pork, try Super Smokers in Eureka. Your BBQ buddies Mike Emerson and Skip Steele both worked with Super Smokers’ Terry Black back in the day. The pulled pork is always smoky and tender and comes un-sauced, as I prefer. A good assortment of sauces is available.

Like burgers? 5 Star Burgers in Clayton and Kirkwood is a new favorite. Seamus McDaniel’s in Dogtown never disappoints. And I’ve always enjoyed my burgers at P.J.’s Tavern in Kirkwood.

Enjoy the St. Louis dining scene during your time on the DL! And be sure to share your impressions of local restaurants on Twitter. We’ll be following. I hope your rehab goes smoothly and that you’ll be back on the mound for the Cardinals in great form in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diner’s Dilemma: Something New or The Old Familiar?


Michael Pollan’s great 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma asks the basic question: What should we have for dinner?

Ominivore

The St. Louis diner’s dilemma is: Where should we go for dinner?

(Caution: baseball similes and metaphors ahead.)

Often the choice is between a place that’s new or a place that has been in your restaurant rotation for some time. Actually, there are two kinds of new places.

First, places that have only been open for a few days/weeks/months. Second, restaurants that have been open for a while that you’ve never visited. They are new to you, like that unfamiliar shortstop for the Padres who makes a great play and when you look him up online you find he’s been in the bigs for 7 years.

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With the place that’s just recently opened you take a huge risk. The kitchen crew and the wait staff may not yet have their acts together. Employee turnover can be an issue in those early days. Even if the chef and/or owner has a good reputation, a new joint can be like that rookie outfielder just up from Memphis—3 for 4 with a home run one day, 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and an error the next.

The big upsides of patronizing a spanking new restaurant are: you’re supporting a new business at the time it most needs your support and you may discover a true gem whose virtues you can boast about to both online and IRL friends. Not unlike buying a Randal Grichuk jersey at the Cardinals team store last summer.

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With a place that’s a few years old but new to you, you can sift through online reviews and talk to chums to get an idea about what are “must try” dishes and which ones have been less than successful. A restaurant that has been open for a couple of years or more must be doing something right and making enough people happy to keep rolling, even if it’s not always getting attention from the foodie media. Comparable to that manager whose career record is right about .500 even though he’s never taken a team to the postseason.

The familiar place that you’ve visited numerous times over the years has much to offer. You know your way around the menu, you may be familiar with many staff members, you know which table or booth you prefer. But, like at Holiday Inn (supposedly), there are no surprises. (Okay, maybe the manager will surprise you with a free sample of a new dessert or wine, etc.) Generally, you know how things are going to go. Kind of like Yadier Molina—you marvel at his defensive prowess, his hitting and (lately) his improved base running, but you are no longer surprised by his abilities.

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4)

A downside of the familiar restaurant is that it, like Yadi, it can be costly. (You should note that, in some cases, the newer spots—especially those that have spent big on design and fixtures—can also be pricey.) Even at $15 million a year for Yadi, you know that you are getting value for your dollar. Similarly, a long-running old familiar place can require you to pony up some bucks. But you know it’s worth it.

Would you rather drop $70 for a dinner for two that’s just a bloop single or $110 for a dinner for two that’s a tape-measure homerun?

Typically, younger folks are the ones who crave new, fresh things in life while older people prefer to stick with things they know and love. This is why a 25-year-old will prefer today’s hits on radio to oldies. (Although even most 25-year-olds must surely be getting sick of All About That Bass by now. And most 60-year-olds have surely heard The Joker a sufficient number of times for this life.)

I encourage older folks to try something new when you get the chance. Enjoy the familiar places that consistently make you happy. But take a chance every now and then on something different. It’s like when the Cardinals play at an American League ballpark and use the designated hitter—you may or may not like it, but at least you’ve had a change of pace.

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At the same time, I encourage younger diners to patronize restaurants that have proved their mettle and delivered year after year. Like Yadi or Miguel Cabrera or Andrew McCutchen, these places have achieved a level of consistency that assures you are unlikely to be disappointed. They may cost a bit more. The other patrons may be older than you. But, like when Adam Wainwright starts for the Cardinals, you will be witnessing greatness.

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Photo credits…

Yadi: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27003603@N00/5886771536, http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Cioppino: http://www.flickr.com/photos/69655432@N00/6566610871, http://photopin.com, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

McCutchen: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27003603@N00/7185728251, http://photopin.com”>photopin, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Wainwright: http: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27003603@N00/14871796562, http://photopin.com, photopin, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

 

Cards in Playoffs Can Be Tough Time for Restuarants

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When you hear all the news touting the economic benefits to St. Louis of having the Cardinals in postseason play, remember your local independent restaurant.

When the Cards are on TV in the postseason, business is impacted. For sports bars and places within walking distance of Busch, there’s a huge upside. But for others, the damage can be significant.

What should a restaurant owner do? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Let your patrons know it’s okay if they check scores on their smart phones. Not that they wouldn’t anyway, but if you and your crew sanction such behavior, they are likely to feel more comfortable about doing it (and may return during future playoff games).
  2. Have at least one TV in the joint. You may not want to position it so every diner can watch, but for those who may want to keep up, an occasional glance can make them feel in touch. (I attended a beer dinner at PW Pizza during game 1 of last year’s World Series. A TV in the room allowed us to check on the game from time to time while enjoying the pizza and beer.) (Make sure you can get the Fox Sports 1 channel for games 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7.)
  3. Keep your servers aware of the game score so they can share that info with diners who are interested. (I recall a server at Bookbinder’s in Philly providing frequent updates on a Phillies-Astros NLCS game when we dined there in 1980.)
  4. Offer special catering packages to your patrons who want to throw playoff parties in their homes!
  5. Look for additional business on open dates. I’m not sure where the Giants and their traveling party are staying in STL (Westin? Ritz?), but they may want to go beyond their hotel and its environs for dinner this Friday night (and next Friday if the series goes beyond 5 games). Make sure the concierges/front desk crews at all major hotels know you’d welcome the business.

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For diners, a Cards playoff game may result in less demand for tables, even on a generally busy Saturday night.

In the long run, having our Cardinals in the NLCS and, maybe, in the World Series is a great thing for our city. Despite that silly Wall Street Journal piece last week, many people around the U.S. genuinely like the Cardinals. And because of their affection for the team, they are more likely to embrace our city and the entire region. And, as Martha Stewart might say, that’s a good thing.