Restaurant Managers and Servers Move Toward a Friendlier, Less Formal Environment

Categories: Food Nation

Photo by Ralph Daily
Waiters are becoming less of a blur and more an actual element in the dining experience.
"Treat celebrities like locals, and locals like celebrities, because everyone loves to be made to feel special."

That's the mantra of Gabriel Stulman, owner of six restaurants in Manhattan and featured speaker at the inaugural Welcome Conference on hospitality held in New York earlier this month. He's just one person trying to revolutionize the notion of front-of-house service in upscale restaurants often more known for their stuffy waitstaff than their welcoming environment.

It's part of a trend toward drawing focus to the important work of managers, servers, bartenders and other waitstaff in addition to the food a restaurant serves. Of course, here in Texas where friendliness is a way of life, it's not so much a trend as a return to a more natural approach to customer service.

"I'm glad it's going this way," says Shawn Virene, general manager at Brasserie 19, often considered one of Houston's more upscale restaurants due to its River Oaks clientele. "It's making dining more fun. Some people just want to be served. Others want an experience."

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Using Google Trend Reports to Predict Future Food Trends

Photo by Pamela
Will anything trump cupcakes?
We recently came across an article on the Huffington Post food section (you know, an ideal source for incredibly accurate news), and found an article entitled "According To Google, Nothing Is Ever Going To Trump The Cupcake."

That can't be right, we thought, weary of the cupcake. It's been a very trendy food item for years now, and while most food writers and chefs admit to being so over the cupcake, the Huffington Post claims that Google Trends shows the cupcake's popularity isn't in decline. Unfortunately.

The image above shows the comparisons the HuffPo author made to prove that the cupcake is still going strong.

Disheartened, we made our own chart showing the rise of the cupcake and other similar baked goods.

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The United States of Desserts: New York Cheesecake

Photo by James Yu
Cheesecake from the Carnegie Deli in New York

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.

Cheesecake, like everything else of merit in this world, was invented in America, specifically, New York City.

NOT. (I bet I had you there for a second. Relax (for now) and read on.)

Cheesecake, though not the modern form many of us have come to love, can be traced back to ancient Greece where renowned physician Aegimus wrote a book about proper cheesecake cookery. His confections made use of soft cheeses, were less sweet, and did not always contain a crust.

Later, European versions of cheesecake emerged in Italy and France, which often use ricotta and neufchâtel cheese, respectively to construct the cake's hallmark dense, soft dairy interior. A German variation, also still produced today, uses dough for a crust and quark in the filling--no, the elementary matter particle but rather the sour milk spread.

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The United States of Desserts: Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

Photo by Robyn Anderson
Sugar Cream Pie

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.

Sugar. Cream. Pie. What's not to like about a dessert that combines all three elements?

Residents of Indiana, aka "Hoosiers," have a particular penchant for this amalgamate confection that dates back to the nineteenth century. Quakers from North Carolina who settled in the state made desserts that hearkened back to their European roots such as treacle tarts and cream pies. The sugar cream pie was in a way an American derivative of these British confections and gained popularity among settlers due to its straightforward preparation and simple ingredients. A butter crust shell is filled with a mixture of flour, cream, sugar, and vanilla, then baked until a slightly brown glaze forms on the surface.

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The United States of Desserts: Hartford Election Cake

Photo by Christina Conte
A modern version of Election Day cake.

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.

Baking a cake is not usually what i want to do after casting my ballot, but back in 18th-century America, folks felt differently. Perhaps still giddy from their relatively recent independence from Britain, Americans (then) considered election day an extremely important holiday. In celebration, they often made circular cakes flavored with spices, fruit, molasses, and/or brandy.

Also known as "Training Day" cake, Election Cake became heavily associated with the city of Hartford, Connecticut when in 1830 every man [sorry, gals--we had many more years of disenfranchisement to come] who voted a straight party ticket was given this confection.

The first recorded mention of Election Cake appeared, however, much earlier in Amelia Simmons' American Cookery published in 1796:

Election cake - Thirty quarts of flour, 10 pound butter, 14 pound sugar, 12 pound raisins, 3 doz eggs, one pint wine, one quart brandy, 4 ounces cinnamon, 4 ounces fine colander seed, 3 ounces ground alspice; wet flour with milk to the consistence of bread over night, adding one quart yeast; the next morning work the butter and sugar together for half an hour, which will render the cake much lighter and whiter; when it has rise light work in every other ingredient except the plumbs, which work in when going into the oven.

Certainly not a recipe for those averse to butter and sugar.

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The United States of Desserts: The Black and White Cookie

Photo by Matt Lehrer
Black and White Cookie

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.

Found at nearly every bakery, convenience store, and confectioner in the five boroughs, the black and white cookie is probably the baked good most synonymous with New York City besides the cheesecake.

Although the black and white cookie is generally associated with New York (city), its history is intertwined with another state treat, the half-moon cookie, which originated in Utica. The traditional half-moon cookie supposedly differs from the black and white cookie with regards to the former's base. But all the internet sources I found that made this claim failed to follow up with how exactly one differentiates the cookies' bases.

Oh well. Let it be understood at least the the black and white cookie can be generally defined by the following criteria:

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Italy à la Houston

Categories: Food Nation

Photo by Molly Dunn
Houston does not look like Florence, but it does offer similar food.
Traveling to Europe is expensive, and not everyone has the ability, time or money to make the trip. But, good news. You don't have to! You can actually stay right in Houston and visit a multitude of shops, restaurants and parks just as you would in a European country.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about several restaurants and places in Houston where you could spend the day in France. Now, we are exploring Houston's eateries and shops where you can spend the day in Italy. Buon viaggio and buon appetito!

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The United States of Desserts: The Whoopie Pie

Photo by Emilly Carlin
Whoopie Pie

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections, and desserts associated with certain American states.

First, I should acknowledge that the whoopie pie finds its roots in multiple states. Maine probably has the strongest claim, but there is also strong proof that the dessert originated in the Pennsylvania "German" (Amish) community. According to local lore, the whoopie pie was a treat made from leftover cake batter, and husbands, upon discovering it in their lunch boxes, shouted, "WHOOPIE!."

Furthermore, "whoopie pie" is one of many names for this dessert, others of which include the "gob," "black moon pie," and "BFO" (Big Fat Oreo). I grew up about 20 minutes from Amish Country and have spent significant time in Maine and New Hampshire and I have never heard anyone call it anything but a "whoopie pie." Readers, if you're familiar with "gobs" or "black moon pies" or whatever, chime in in the comments section.

The traditional whoopie pie is composed of two cookie-sized circles of chocolate cake that sandwich a cream, frosting, or marshmallow filling. Many variations, though, exist. Here's a few:
This article continues on the next page.

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Verts Introduces Houstonians to Germany's Most Popular Street Food: The Döner Kebap

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Chicken kebap on the left, veggie kebap on the right.
Schwarma. Gyro. Trompo. Döner.

The popular fast food has many names, but only one of them is taking Houston by storm: The döner kebap, a German street food staple brought to the Bayou City by two Austinites who own the restaurant Verts. Sound complicated? It's gets more tangled.

The Germans claim the döner kebap was invented in Berlin in the 1970s by a Turkish immigrant named Mahmut Aygun. According to an obituary in The Telegraph from 2009, Aygun was born in Turkey and moved to Germany at the age of 16. He opened a snack stall there and sold kebab meat cooked on a rotating spit and served over rice. After noticing drunk people struggling to stumble home with the food in tow or reticent to sit at his counter and eat, he decided to invent a more handy means of edible transport. He stuffed the meat into a pita and sent diners on their merry way.

The Telegraph reports that the first such sandwiches--if you can call them that--was served at Aygun's restaurant, Hasir, on March 2, 1972. Today, Verts Kebap is serving the same sort of meal right here in Houston. The first location on Yale north of Washington opened last week, and the owners are planning on opening at least four more locations in the coming weeks and months.

But Houston has Turkish food. We have trompo and gyros. What's the big deal with the döner?

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2014 International Festival Celebrates Australia...But Hold the Vegemite, Please

Image courtesy International Festival
This year's poster was designed by local artist Carlos Hernandez. You can buy one online!
I'm excited about this year's International Festival highlighting Australia for two reasons: One, it gives me an excuse to post the music video for Men At Work's brilliant 1980 song "Land Down Under" (see the next page), and two, I honestly don't know much about Australian food.

Being that the festival is hosted here in Houston, a number of local chefs will be coming out to showcase their cuisine, but there will also be Australian chefs and vendors introducing Texas to the wonders of food from Down Under.

Hot on the heels of Houston's Second Annual BBQ Festival, the International Festival is hosting a "Texas vs. Barbie Cook-Off" competition on May 1 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Hermann Square Park featuring local chefs and restaurants. The festival will also have a concession area with food from more than 40 restaurants, some of whom will be trying their hand at Australian cuisine.

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