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 Roadfood Sleuthing

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  • Total Posts: 1286
  • Joined: 11/29/2005
  • Location: South FL
Roadfood Sleuthing Sat, 01/16/10 5:08 PM (permalink)
It's bound to happen eventually, especially in today's economy.  That roadfood or restaurant that serves up that special something that you've craved, reserved for a guilty pleasure or a treat for special occasions is gone. That entrée or restaurant has become your reference standard that you realize you compare everything similar to. It's now gone, perhaps unexpectedly. You've taken for granted that it's been there forever or wouldn't change and now the reality and disappointment sets in and begins the nostalgia that you forever yearn for. You wish you could find out how it was made, you wish you paid more attention to remember the simple details. Everybody now seems to have a different recollection of the menu, the entree’s, the ingredients.
Nothing is forever and things change for a multitude of reasons. What if anything have you done to attempt to recreate this treasure if at all possible ? Signature sauces and dressings are one thing, but there's still plenty of things that you could have done. Ingredients, assembly, weights, amounts. Simply taking a few take outs or asking for example for a sandwich be made and asking for no dressings or not finished with heat so you can take it home and disassemble and independently weigh out and measure the size of the ingredients. Perhaps doing this several times and create an average. How about your visits? What around you do you notice? When you go to the rest room, any glimpses of stored items? Who's truck delivers the supplies? The bread or bakery delivery? What's done out in the open? Notice the temp settings? The equipment? Do you time the fry or the duration and flip of the burger? Served directly or held? How? What temp.? Any telltale sounds from the kitchen? Pressure cookers breaking pressure ? Char broiler searing meat? How many squirts of a condiment or spatula swipe? Any indication of brands?. #10 cans or gallon bottles anywhere around? Are the ingredients room temp or chilled? How many times has your cell phone videoed the sandwich artist surreptitiously assembling your favorite sandwich for later review? If you're a frequent guest, what strategic questions do you innocently ask after doing copious research. Amazing how a generous tip or a few accolades can loosen a favorite server's lips. Amazing too what a few bucks can reveal from an ex employee. Notice anything in the dumpster? What's on the physical plant ? Cords of wood stacked up ? What kind? Smokehouse in the rear ?  Lots of raw data. Internet searches on restaurant equip., the supplier's inventory lists and similar recipes, gain valuable inferences and formulation of one or two strategic questions that don't raise any suspicions or attention the next visit. Chances are the kitchen stocks everything from the same supplier. Dumpster full of supplier home labeled rather then national brands speaks volumes of what to look for. Unlike a chain, you have a fighting chance to discover a lot about the restaurant's supplies and ingredients rather then commissary and stock pre-prepared foods that were formulated in a laboratory.
You're doing nothing more then a potential competitor with knowledge of the process would do including sitting in a car across the street counting the amount of cars/patrons per hour or period to determine business flow.  Often, there's tremendous amount of information just for the observation. You may not learn the exact details, but probably enough to come close and even better. Independent, small restaurants no longer have the time or can afford very detailed recipes or food preparation at today's wages. Chances are the potato salad you love started out life in a 5 gallon bucket and is augmented with additional ingredients. The sauce started out from a gallon bottle or can. The meat is frozen or portion packed. Then again, maybe not if it's critical to the identity of the establisment.
Just wondering what if anything any of you do to hedge against the loss of something that you'll miss and long for that once it's gone, it becomes a treasured memory.

    • Total Posts: 7740
    • Joined: 7/24/2008
    • Location: Bayonne, NJ
    Re:Roadfood Sleuthing Sat, 01/16/10 5:42 PM (permalink)
    I love the way you wrote that. It is so much fun  to crack the code and  I appreciate it so much more when it does not come so easy.
    How many things do you discover and learn along the way...even when you NEVER find exactly what you set out to accomplish?
    The thing that is the most challenging for me is when I have an idea and I need some specialized unique pan mold gadget that does not exist or I cannot find. I can see what I need (in my head) complete (or maybe just the fisished food)...but I am not exactly a handy dandy at assembly. I have EXCELLENT helpers but they often need a drink when I try to describe the structure. I try to draw it the best way I can or give them the trail of this with that.
    I am currently driving myself crazy about a mold for New England style hot dog/lobster buns/rolls. I need HELP!!
    <message edited by CCinNJ on Sat, 01/16/10 5:45 PM>

      • Total Posts: 1948
      • Joined: 7/30/2005
      • Location: Hinton, VA
      Re:Roadfood Sleuthing Fri, 01/22/10 8:06 AM (permalink)
      Hello All,
      Dawn, I've had a few drinks...and wow... you have a passion
      that made my head swim.  You captured how I have felt about
      some local Food Jewels that have went out of business, and
      I miss their treasures.
      And I welcome the intense insight you write with and the
      love you have for your subject.
      Reading your entry...I mourn the meat and bean burrito with
      a hot cheese sauce that I ate at the Fiesta Cantina in Harrisonburg,Va
      in the 1970's.  I have sought to imitate it, but to ....ahh
      Oh, the Fiesta Cantina in H'burg was a family place...not like the one in CA.  Not that
      there is anything wrong with the other one.
      Take Care,
      <message edited by Fieldthistle on Fri, 01/22/10 8:12 AM>
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