Tuesday, October 14, 2008

To Stiff or Not To Stiff

Chow recently ran a column advising whether or not it is ever okay to withhold a tip based on a bad meal. The general concensus was no, it is never okay to leave zero tip. Chow's reasons for discouraging non-tipping range from logistical (it's probably not just the server's fault) to karmic (it's "emotionally unsatisfying"), but the main point is that refusing to tip won't really fix anything.

As for me, although I have experienced many bad meals, I have never not tipped.

That's not to say I'm a holy beacon of gratuity and every server is blessed by my presence. I don't think I'm much different from anyone else who has worked in the industry (and doesn't harbor an "I got out, why can't you?" complex). For me, 20% is always -- always -- the standard. Do a mediocre job and you're still getting that. Do a stellar job and you'll get more. Do an absolutely crappy job and, well, let's just say that once your standard goes down, so does mine.

It's very rare that I'm driven to tip below 20%, but it has happened, but there are things I cannot excuse, namely, total trainwrecks of attitude or execution that should never be displayed to a paying public.


Example 1 - Blackthorn Pub

(I'm hesitant to write this up for a couple of reasons. One, Blackthorn is a St. Louis institution with truly awesome pizza. Two, the guy involved isn't alive anymore. Perhaps I'm only trying to explain my own actions, but here goes...)

On a Tuesday night, my boyfriend and I go to Blackthorn and sit at the bar. We order a pizza and a pitcher of Schlafly. 35 minutes later, the pitcher is empty and the pizza is nowhere to be seen. Although the bartender wasn't assisting any of the other dozen people in the bar, he was too busy talking on the phone to notice us. Hmmm.

After 10 more minutes pass, he glances over, sighs audibly, and tells the person he's on the phone with to hold on. He walks over, grabs our pitcher, and gives us a look that could be translated to "What the fuck?"

"Another one, please," my boyfriend says.

The pitcher is refilled and the bartender walks away. It's now 45 minutes after we placed our order and still no pizza. At least we've got some begrudgingly served booze, but at this point, we're hungry and he's rude and beer isn't comforting enough.

Once we've been sitting there for a full hour after ordering, we're starting to wonder what the eff is going on. A pizza gets placed on the bar every 20 minutes or so, but the bartender shows no sign of caring and no one is picking them up. We've given up on trying to flag him down, because he seems completely absorbed in his phone conversation.

After an hour and fifteen minutes pass, I think I might explode.

"Excuse me" I say, probably with what my parents would call "a tone" but I don't care. The bartender rolls his eyes and walks over.

"Yeah, so, where's our pizza? It's been nearly an hour and a half."

The bartender rolls his eyes, walks down to the kitchen, and comes out with a pizza. He puts it down in front of us and starts to walk away.

"Pitcher's empty," I add.

I am beyond manners at this point. It's not that our food took forever. It's not that we had to wait for beer. It's that the bartender was so odiously rude and never at any time said, "Hey, guys, pizza's going to take awhile. Sorry." NOT ONCE. This has nothing to do with the general atmosphere of Blackthorn or a crowded house; it was all about a total jackass who barely deserved the $1.00 I tipped.


Example 2 - Shangri-La Diner

My boyfriend and I decided on Shangri-La for lunch because it was on the way to his work and neither of us wanted anything very complicated. Plus there was an artsy pink-painted cow in front, so I assumed the burgers would be decent.

I should have known.

Perhaps the burgers were decent, but I never found out because I don't eat burgers unless they're made of meat. Nothing at Shangri-La is made of meat, not even the "pulled pork sandwich" (calling imitation meat anything resembling the word "pork" is a sin, okay, a sin). We didn't know the place was vegetarian at first, but we're adaptable. We can handle it. They still used cheese made from real milk.

In addition to the Pepto-Bismol acid trip theme and the completely unintelligle server, it took more than 30 minutes to receive our grilled cheese sandwich and cheese quesadilla. We were two of only four people in the entire place.

Look, Shangri-La employees, it's perfectly acceptable to do whatever you want on your own time, but please refrain from smoking massive amounts of marijuana at work. At least, of course, unless you're okay with being tipped a dollar. Dirty hippies.


Now that I've attempted to redeem my non-tip episodes, I hope that Chow and myself have brought some clarity to the issue. Also, at least I've never been driven to this....

Saturday, September 27, 2008

RECIPE - Baked Mostaccioli with Pork Sugo

Until this month’s issue of Food & Wine was delivered, I had no idea what sugo was. I don’t think many people did, but a recent browsing of Food Gawker (a favorite food blog and glo-or-orious source of daily food porn) indicates that the magazine has made the food geek rounds. I should mention that I didn’t actually use the recipe, but I got the gist and below is what I did with it.

For starters, sugo is a thick Italian sauce made with meat and vegetables. It’s actually sort of similar to a Spanish sofrito, but with meat blended into the vegetables. Food & Wine recommended braising the pork for two hours, but like I’ve said before, time is tight. I can’t very well braise for two hours at night, but I can turn on a CrockPot* before I leave for work.

*sorry, I meant slow cooker. I’m clearly not being paid by the CrockPot people.

In addition to a slow cooker, here’s what you’ll need:
  • 1 pork shoulder or loin
  • 1 medium-sized onion, halved and quartered
  • 1 bulb garlic, cloves peeled and ends trimmed
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 2 bell peppers (I used green because they’re a whole dollar cheaper than red or yellow), but into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 ½ cups carrots, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 fistful spinach, stems trimmed
  • 1 large can (umm, 16 ounces?) crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 4 leaves basil
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 pinches dried oregano (I don’t use enough of it to buy fresh)
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 1/2 cups red wine (I used Cabernet, I find pinot noir, malbec, and syrah too berry-like for this)
  • olive oil
  • 2-3 cups dried mostaccioli pasta (I guess it's ziti for non-St. Louisans)
  • grated Parmesan cheese
Because I don’t feel like doing all my prep in the morning, I took about 30 minutes the night before to cut the celery, bell pepper, carrots, onion, and garlic. At the risk of getting all Jessica Seinfeld and being sued for the following sentence, this recipe is an excellent way to jam a lot of vegetables into a dish without it tasting like crap. See?

By the way, you don't need to cut anything precisely. You're going to smash it into a mess later on, so don't bother with bite-sized pieces or with getting everything even.

After cutting the above-named vegetables, place everything into Ziploc bags and stick them on the same refrigerator shelf for easy access in the morning. I cannot be trusted to select from different shelves before I’ve finished Pot 1 of coffee.

The next morning, turn the slow cooker on low and pour a shallow pool of olive oil in the bottom. Season the pork with salt and pepper and throw it in.

Cover the pork with last night’s vegetables, the thyme, oregano, and 2 leaves of basil.

Then pour in half of the tomatoes and keep the other half in a container for later.

Lastly, pour in the vegetable stock and red wine.

*Those purplish things in the picture are cubes of frozen demiglace from a previous recipe. More on that later.

Cover the slow cooker and go to work.

(Work sucks, doesn’t it?)

Two hours of braising in the oven is about the same as 8 hours of low slow cooker time, so turn off the slow cooker as soon as you get home. I took the lid off because it smelled amazing and nothing is sexier than smelling food when you’re changing out of your work clothes.

Once you’ve changed (and possibly cracked open a happy-hour-at-home beverage), use a slotted spoon to get the vegetables and pork into a bowl. Tearing the pork as you go is fine, because you’ll be blending it anyway.

*** Food & Wine also recommended a food processor to fully blend the meat and veg, but I don’t have one. I suppose I could request one as a gift, but my mom rolls her eyes when I request Season 2 of No Reservations on DVD. Guess how successful the food processor will be. I originally planned to use my blender, but it’s difficult to wash and I’m sort of in love with my potato masher. I think it’s an Oxo, but I bought it at Target and it’s freaking amazing. ***

If you decide to use a potato masher like I did, start wailing on the vegetables and pork. Actually, be careful. They’ve absorbed a lot of liquid and could squirt you in the eye if you’re overzealous.

But now you have sugo....

Once you’re done mashing, cover the bowl with some plastic and set it aside. Put some salted water on to boil for the pasta and preheat your oven to 400.

***While you’re waiting for the water to boil, spoon the liquid left in the slow cooker into some empty ice cube trays. This is an excellent way to ensure that you’ll always have some kind of broth, demiglace, or stock on hand. (You may want to store the trays in a freezer bag once the liquid is solid; there’s no need for fatty stuff rattling around in the freezer.)***

Food & Wine's recipe called for orechiette, but this is St. Louis and we rock it mostaccioli-style. Mispronounced, of course. Anyway, cook your pasta until it’s just firm. Anything further will result in mush, and mush doesn’t taste good no matter how hard you bake it. Drain.

Combine the sugo, pasta, spinach, and the remaining basil leaves and pour into a casserole dish. Pour the remainder of the crushed tomatoes on top.

Place casserole dish in oven and leave it there for about 35 minutes. After then, pull it out and top with grated Parmesan. Put it back in the oven for about 7 minutes, turning the broiler on for the last 1 or 2.

I like to let the casserole dish to sit for at least 5 minutes after I take it out of the oven. It’s less likely to hemorrhage liquid and, you know, scald my tongue. Plus all that flavorful porky goodness has a chance to marry with sharp, tangy Parmesan and sweet tomatoes.

The End.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


You may have noticed that STL Delicious has been on hiatus for the past month and a half or so, but hopefully everyone who noticed that also noticed when I wrote about how time is tight and money is tighter at the moment. While I can’t commit to going out every week like I used to, I’ll try my best to at least cook something every now and then.

With this in mind, expect a Pork Sugo and Pasta recipe this Saturday.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Surely You Jest

This is why people continue to resist food "trends" in favor of things like Velveeta and Tang. Designer ice? You've got to be kidding.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't You Recognize Me?

Apologies for the lull. Money is tight and time is tighter.

Chow recently ran a column about how restaurant regulars should expect to be treated. The advice seeker said that he and his wife visit the same bistro about three times per month and leave a large tip. Not only does the staff not comp the occasional glass of wine, they also don't remember if his wife prefers sparkling or still water and show no sign of recognizing them. The advice seeker wanted to know if his expectations were valid.

While the advice giver was diplomatic and correct, as with most Internet forums, I found the comments to be the most entertaining and, more importantly in this case, spot-on. Most Chowhounds (including myself, nerd alert) are either industry or are very familiar with how it operates. Instead of posting a buttload of flames about some silly typo, Chowhounds provide helpful, thoughtful, and honest advice.

You can click-and-read them if you want, but because this is my blog, I'm sharing my own thoughts on the expectation that bothers me the most - that restaurant and bar staff should comp you just because you've been there before.

Okay, so I'm industry. I've spent 9 hours a night lugging cases of beer, reaching into slimy cooler depths, and dealing with drunken idiots who think I'm a waitress, wench, and mother in addition to the bartender. My boyfriend is industry, too. He stands behind a stove in a cramped, 104-degree kitchen. My friends are also industry. They make money by hustling between tables, slinging orders, parking cars, and all other manner of getting stuff down your throat and making sure you have a good night.

We have things to do.

Do not expect us to give you anything for free

No matter how frequent a customer may be, no one should ever enter an establishment expecting free stuff. It's presumptuous, rude, and totally contradictory to the whole commerce thing. Let's not forget Homer Simpson's brain's sage advice about how money can be exchanged for goods and services.
Sure, I might give out a free beer or two over the course of a night. I might not. Depends on my mood and how busy I am. Restaurants are the same way. Your server shouldn't be expected to give you a free glass of wine for coming in (especially considering how most people's booze preferences magically upgrade when they're not paying), but she might if there's only one glass left in a decent bottle. Might.

Tipping is certainly appreciated. But it's also expected. I don't work for free; tipping is part of my pay. It doesn't guarantee you free stuff. Also, an unusually large tip, while nice, is grounds for suspicion. No, you cannot stare at my boobs for money. No, I will not fall all over you with gratitude. No, you do not get top shelf for the price of rail every time. I'm more likely to pour heavily for you than the cheapskate who never tips, but giving away the bar is not in my job description.

I do believe that everyone should be recognized. It's just polite. I know I can't stand it when the power-tripping door guy at the place I go all the time acts like he has no idea who I am. He doesn't need to know my name, birthdate, or waive the cover, but still, dude, say hi like you've seen me before. Be reasonable, though. If I'm slammed and you unobtrusively order a couple of beers before leaving, I may not know your face the next time you come in. Nothing personal.

The bottom line here is that while regulars should be treated as they are -- valued customers -- there's no reason for anyone to expect restaurants, bars, valet lanes, etc. to be transformed into VIP gift suites at the sight of a familiar face.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

DOUBLE POST! The Trade *and* The Fashionability of Bacon

No Douchebags Allowed

It's not on the door of The Trade, but it certainly should be. The Trade isn't the sort of place that accepts douchebags, even the kind that wears a popped collar and keeps its mouth shut. That's not to say it's hard to get in; although the RFT has named The Trade as St. Louis' new rock n' roll bar (perhaps the hammered-together look or poster of Sid Vicious have something to do with it), it's more like a place that accepts anyone who can put their head down, their elbows out, and drink like, well, okay, a rock star.

Finding The Trade takes some doing. It's officially listed at 3515 Chouteau -- the same building currently housing longtime gay bar The Complex. However, it's best to enter from Papin, one block north of Chouteau and home to not much more than industrial buildings and gravel parking lots.

It's called setting the mood.

The Trade doesn't feature rock bands per se. It's simply too small. In addition, the concrete, diamond-plate steel, and haphazardly assembled everything else don't exactly make for ideal acoustics, either. Instead of the thrash bands you'd expect to play under the aforementioned Sid Vicious poster, The Trade plans on hosting a few acoustic acts and DJs and advertising for other local bands for now.

While live music isn't the main draw, the the staff's iPod tastes and drink specials are definitely selling points. Cans of PBR are $1.50 all day every day, High Life specials are $2.50 and under, and the 3 o'clock license is a big boost to an area with not much more than college bars and gay bars (and let's be honest, neither is known for great music).


I've made no secret of my hedonistic love for bacon. The texture, the flavor, the aroma, and the fact that it has felled many a vegetarian engender within me a fetishistic desire that has a tendency to disturb others, especially when chocolate is also involved.

Anyway, Salon reports that in addition to stimulating the appetites of food lovers everywhere, it appears as though bacon is making delicious, chewy waves in the fashion world, as well. I bought my friend bacon Band-Aids a few years ago, but I don't think even I could have predicted the below bacon-printed (and scented!) tuxedo.