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Steak House

Only in America. At least once every 10 years, you will be swamped with statistics showing that “Beef is back.” I have yet to learn where beef has been. I grew up on fried hamburgers. I graduated to something called “country fried steak” which was a cheaper cut of round steak that could be cubed. Cubed is code for breaking down the gristle and toughness factor. Once floured and salted, it usually was fried in lard. Early truck stops all over always menu-listed country fried steak because it was a cheap cut and any frying mistakes could be covered up with a white flour gravy.

My lifetime steak favorite was once prescribed by a doctor. The Salisbury steak. Not my doctor, but a 19th-century English physician, Dr. J. H. Salisbury. He once complained that all English beef lost something in transit when it was boiled and served in his private club. He instructed the kitchen to grind the beef parts, mix a patty with lots of minced onion, salt and pepper before being fried.  At least that sealed in some of the seasoning. The doctor started prescribing such a steak for various ailments. His patients without teeth found it palatable, understandingly so. Possibly because of the close kinship with mere hamburger, today's Salisbury steaks are not considered haute cuisine. For taste insurance, they should be covered with beef gravy made with pan-drippings, never flour gravy.

Salisbury steaks became popular in this country when New York's Coney Island food concessions learned to cook huge pans for quick service. Today trade writers refer to such places as QSR - Quick Service Restaurants. They became standard fare as Coney Island's major contribution to cheap eats, the Blue Plate Special. Carnival workers could get the Blue Plate for a quarter. The Salisbury supposedly lost favor in England when it was learned some cooks used mutton instead of beef.

This country became aware of eating a huge slice of beef when the beef side was butchered into named cuts, Porterhouse, T-bone, filet mignon, and for lasting memory, the New York strip. Study the dining habits of Diamond Jim Brady. Brady's 300-pound girth was a tribute to red meat. His nightly Porterhouse was a retail cut from the large end of the short lion. The bone-in contained meat from both the top loin muscle and the tenderloin. Diamond Jim could afford such excesses. No doubt about it, a beefsteak has flavor in overkill doses. The Diamond Jim story led me to campaign for beef, actually all meat, to be used as a flavoring or seasoning condiment. Chalk that up as another of my culinary defeats. My idea: A seasoning as in stews, soups, salads, as when bacon is fried and chopped into scrambled eggs. My favorite example of beef as a condiment: The Yankee pot roast of beef using an overcooked brisket that was first browned, then braised to go with the potatoes, carrots and onions. My ratio is one part brisket to five parts vegetables.

Steak as marketed in America today is wretched excess. But, who would want to give it up? My favorite remains the 16-ounce filet mignon served at Ruth's Chris Steak House, the thick round cut with a patty of killer butter on top. Only in America. A toast of burgundy here to the late and wonderful dining companion, Ruth Fertel. I repaired to her bar to puff a Churchill while she finished off parts of six cigarettes.

Americans increase their lust for beef: In 2001 when beef consumption numbers were last compiled by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, I knew the jig was up. Steak sandwiches in casual restaurants and bars jumped 41.9 percent. Prime rib and roast beef orders jumped 40.2 percent. I credit the Clinton economy - but starting restaurant writers should never take such an opinionated liberty. Stick to the grease factor. The nation's most popular sandwich, the hamburger, already in beef command, upped the popularity by 13.7 percent. The burger still holds 71 percent of all beef servings. The beef tenderloin is America's favorite cut in restaurants. As the Clinton economy cools under the current administration, learn about alternative beef cuts: Hanger steak, skirt steak, and flank steak. 

smith & wollensky                         

A Japanese cuisine never to be consumed out-of-sight of the certified sushi chef (males only), never to be boxed-to-go, never to be in packed lunches, never to be doggy-bagged, never to be leftovers or next day's lunch, and certainly never to be considered a supermarket prepacked delight.

Famed for cheeses, invented brine, but let Italians steal and market it as their Parmesan.

Next time you enjoy a pasta with Parmigiana Reggiana, tip a toast across those Alps north of Verona. Most noted Swiss cheese is the large-holed Emmenthaler. Others not stolen by the I-Talians: Gruyere, Appenzeller, Vacherin, and Sap Sasgo.

Credit my cheese monger, Mike Kast, for this information beyond Velveeta.

Szechuan Provinces
Anything hot to the point that it makes everything taste alike; blistery in the USA, but doesn't have to be.

Usually some altered foodstuff originally found in old Mexico; usually smothered in spiked ketchup, usually taken with some watery Texas light beer in cab of a pickup truck.                            

Thailand is a smorgasbord of regional cuisines and the fare is quickly becoming the most popular/acceptable pan-Asian style in USA.

Phad Thai is a national favorite snack or meal across the country. Fried noodle dishes are common in many Asian countries (such as Singapore noodles), but phad Thai is perhaps best known, with its thin, quarter-inch-wide rice noodles stir-fried (phad means fried) in oil and fish sauce with a mix of vegetables -  at times with shrimp or chicken. Many restaurants and food stalls  prepare phad Thai with a fried egg stirred in. Tiny dried shrimp (called bay shrimp in USA) is another almost universal ingredient, with bits of red chile peppers. Phad Thai is served with crushed peanuts, usually on the side. So, be alert to allergy factors of readers.

Another popular topping - bean sprouts. Some noodle shops include lime slices to be squeezed on top after all ingredients are mixed. In Thailand, note regional distinctions as well as distinct variations from one restaurant to the next. The old woman in the food stall in the alley next to Bangkok's main post office puts in extra dashes of sugar plus a big helping of dried shrimp.

Phad Thai at the nearby Oriental Hotel might have more flourish, but certainly costs more than the 40 cents charged in the alley stall. (By Brian Williams, correspondent for The Nation, Bangkok.)

Many times an improvement over original Greek preparations.

One opinionated observation - Greek eateries have cooks catering to their own; Turkish restaurants are more ornate and cater to a broader patronage as if bragging about their refinements.

As for the food, one Greek basic is the touristy gyro of rolled and compressed mix of lamb, beef, always disguised under layers of onion and iceberg lettuce overflowing a pita. Whereas the Turks slice and pack upright with lamb fat layers to lend taste, tenderness and juiciness in a seasoned serving called doner kabob.

Don't tell the Greeks, but Turkish enhancements for their serving of doner kabobs never get the low-rent treatment with a layer of iceberg lettuce. One food writer (G. A. Benton) used this explanation, "doner kabobs are to junk gyro meat as Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine is to Mr. Pibb soda pop."

(Noah Webster:  A vegan is a vegetarian who eats no animal products.)

    Vegan restaurants are hard to find. Vegans, on the other hand, are numerous and, frankly, under served. Vegans come in two classes: Health practioneers and political types. The latter tend to blame you, the reviewer for daring to write about all foods and for not campaigning against Big Mac and all meat and poultry purveyors.

    For some legitimate restaurant reviewers, a mark of success comes when they are picketed by sign-toting vegans - always in time for the 11 o'clock news. One prominent Italian restaurant operator in Columbus pleads with me to write about his baby veal, his idea of an invitation to vegan pickets.

    Merely being a “vegetarian restaurant” does not cut it with vegans.

    The average vegan holds all public eateries suspect. The exceptions are small chef-owned operations run by professed vegans, usually those in a commune open to the public or places near major college campuses such as the University of California, Berkeley.

    For the vegan world, The New York Times has pinpointed a true vegan eatery. Albeit a bit far for any writer west of the Hudson river, Susty's Cafe, Northwood, N. H., could be a training school for reviewers seeking broader food horizons.

    Times writer Sandra Ballentine says Susty's “serves strict vegan fare to loyal locals.” That works for me. Certainly, Susty's survives on repeat patrons. The one recipe with the story was for tofu tomato focaccia....a block of tofu, olive oil, tamari sauce, yeast, and grated soy-Parmesan cheese. Makes me want to go. Co-owner Sandra Koski says that is the most popular dish on the menu, “around five dollars with tax,” which is 8 percent in New Hampshire for food.)   

Where: Susty’s Cafe, 159 1st New Hampshire Turnpike, Northwood, N. H., 603-942-5862;’ seats 20; all nonsmoking, of course. Open four years ago.

Suggested reading: Go to; search out “vegan,” thence to writer David Rolsky’s story, A Vegan Primer.

The USA vegan regional opportunities:

Only when all else fails; consider a pitchfork and bale of hay.



Waffle House
Waffle House is a cuisine.

If the Italians can call egg-water-flour noodles a cuisine when they douse it with tomato sauce, I can quantify supporting numbers: How many times annually I breakfast in Waffle House No. 1504; against the 932,400 other quick-fry lovers do the same each day in 1,504 stores. Each spends an average of $6. This very private comfort food chain rings up $5,794,400 each 24-hour day.

Multiply by 365 days ...

Best measure Waffle House popularity on the egg count. Each store fries 75 dozen daily. Each store sunny side ups or scrambles 27,275 dozen annually. They break fresh shells on order, 24 hours daily, and all holidays. Waffle House moguls must reason correctly that people have to eat daily and that they keep different hours. I am a breakfast person with vital day-start-up times around 2 p.m. Each to his/her own.

Waffle House hasn't changed much since it started in 1955. The menu then was waffles, eggs, grits, raisin toast, hash browns, sausage, bacon and Smithfield-like salt-cured ham. Today the menu offers steaks, chili and pies. The only menu addition I've noted in 20 years is Waffle House's version of a cheesesteak sandwich - 6 ounces of chopped ribeye, grilled with onions and cheese on thick white bread, $4.04, served with hashbrowns, add $1.15. That fits my description of using good meat as a condiment.

Best of all, grill cooks use rubber sanitary gloves and servers keep their flowing hair locks under tight cover. Everything on the menu is fresh--save the mushrooms that cost 65 cents extra when grilled with hashbrowns. Avoid the sh'rooms. Otherwise, this menu is very American. So, if I want to classify Waffle House as an offbeat cuisine on my website, get with my act.


White Castle
 I live in a city with a cult hamburger. Corporately over half the United States, this hamburger is called “White Castle.” If there are no White Castle eateries in your town, chances are good they are sold frozen. I discovered frozen White Castles in a Walnut Creek, California supermarket. That makes them a national culinary delight. They fit my definition of a “cuisine.” Food as cooked in a restaurant.

The cult part stems from all the people who frequent White Castle, but never admit to liking the little “belly bombers.” The Castles are open 24/7. That fits my writing schedule. They are now legally known as Slyders, but that never appears in corporate advertising. Years ago a Castle public relations head, Gail Turley, convinced this very private company to protect the cult-inspired usage of “slider.” For some legal reason, “slider” was not available for registery protection. Slyder was. Thus, we'uns as cultists prevail.

What is a Slyder?  At times they sustain my midnight life when writing. Six Castles and a half bottle of good Burgundy can produce a readable 750 words. Six White Castles constitute health food in my hamburger world. There's good reason.

A White Castle is not as pretty as a TV Wendy's with edges of red tomato flopping over the meat patty. Castles are not visually appealing as a Big Mac with limp iceberg and its required 285 tasteless sesame seeds to clog my colon. I've long contended the only people who like sesame seeds on a bun are photographers who give them visual texture.

Texture, no taste.
Since I am addicted to America's FAVORITE food...the hamburger, I opt for one that is almost greaseless, steamed while grilling, not fried, and not overloaded with a lettuce that could never make it as mulch. This little White Castle is simply adorned with my favorite condiment - a tad of grilled onion,

    aol users must click to see slide show

judging the white castle recipe contest

crave time cookoff
Wanna' have some fun?
Watch the Grumpy Gourmet help judge the White Castle "Crave Time Cook Off." Click on the photo to view the movie. Download time could be lengthy, depending on your online connection. You will need "QuickTime" installed, to view the movie.

White Trash
Eat'in - Moon pies, Mountain Dew and a dry toothpick; 'Mail Pouch optional.

Wraps, Finger Food
Admit it. All of us like to eat with our fingers, mostly out of sight of others. Mankind has been eating with fingers since they were invented as utensils by cavemen. Only within recent memory has it become vogue - acceptable in polite society. Partial credit goes to such food chains as Baja Fresh for making the burrito socially correct. Back a few decades much credit goes to the pizza industry. One expects to goggle slices of pizza with fingers. Only in time zones where pizza is sliced into squares or rectangles - known as party slices - does pizza come in contact with a fork.

Wraps today are popular in all levels of restaurants. Lettuce wraps have become popular, partially because an iceberg leaf is cheap. Before reinventing
stuffed grape leaves
the sandwich machine, follow the bouncing ball of wrap evolution. Credit writer Karin Welzel, food editor, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Here’s her explanation:

Every ethnic cuisine has a form of wrapped sandwich or treat: In Mexico, a soft tortilla surrounds a meat or bean filling to make a burrito. In the Middle East, lavash is used for the popular jellyroll-style aram sandwich. In Greece, it’s the stuffed grape leaf. And in the Philippines and Indonesia, the flour-egg-water dough called lumpia encloses chopped raw or cooked vegetables, meat, shrimp or a combination.”

Left Out
Tearooms, and Jewish delis, it was with intent.                            


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