Why Choose Gracie's on West Main?
- Category: Foods
- Published: Monday, 23 September 2013 14:46
A look at restaurant trends and why choosing local and homemade matters.
Julia Child debuted in 1963 on American television with "The French Chef". She didnt know how to cook, so she spent a decade in France, became self-taught, and introduced American house wives to an upgraded culture of food. Suddenly Susie Homemaker was substituting boeuf bourguignon for the family pot roast and mousse au chocolat for apple pie. Fast forward 50 years- today being a chef can mean big time celebrity. (Don't believe me? I had to wait in a line behind 25 other women all waiting to get their picture with celebrity chef Curtis Stone at a Bravo TV Top Chef Masters tasting event in NYC this past summer. Dude was popular!)
Food network TV channel can be seen in nearly 100 million homes, and most nights Food Network TV commands millions of viewers- more than any of the cable news networks. According to Nielson's numbers, Americans over the age of 2 watch an average of 3 1/2-4 hours of television per day. In contrast, according to the New York Times, the average American spends only 27 minutes on food preperation per day. That's less than half the time they spend watching a single episode of "Top Chef" or "Chopped". We're just not eating at home or cooking for ourselves anymore.
Slate.com, and online daily magazine from the Washington Post, had this to say about eating out- "In 1970, households spent 34% of their food budget eating out, compared to almost 50% today."
And, according to Chicago's Daily Herald, "despite the popularity of food shows and cookbooks, fewer meals are made from scratch (59% in 2011- down from 72% in 1984)"
So we're only spending half our money eating at home, and even then only half our meals at home we're actually making ourselves!
Well guess what? The same trend happened in the restaurant business with companies like Sysco and Ettline. Sysco is a national company based in Houston, and started in 1970. Ettline is a bit more local. They actually started out as a grocery store in Philly in 1889. But by 1970 as well were offering frozen products wholesale.
For those of you who have never heard of either of these companies, or the hundreds more like them across the country, let's talk about how the restaurant business really works. Almost every restaurant in America orders the pre-packaged, pre-made, mostly frozen, processed foods. From tastes-like-chicken pre-formed "breast" to french fries, from soups to pasta- almost every meal at the restaurants you eat at (and the ones you haven't eaten at yet) are from some sort of wholesale food vendor. Sysco, the company we just talked about, services over 400,000 restaurants in the United States. From Applebee's to Wendy's, from Robert Redford's 5-star Tree Room Restaurant to the cafeteria at the infamous Gitmo--- it's cheap and convenient!
It also means that 80% of the Italian wedding soup you've ever eaten out there are actually the same soup (ok, I made up that last statistic!). But think about it: every one has the same uniform mini-meatballs, same frozen spinach, same pasta. Because it comes in a big bag and the "chef" dumps it in a pot and heats it up.
Even high end restaurants do it. I'll give you an example. My husband and I had heard of an amazing appetizer from a friend of ours at the Penn Grille in the Marriott in downtown Lancaster. It was a slab bacon. We eventually did get a chance to try it, and it was good. Five thick cut pieces of bacon, grilled up and served on some micro-greens to make it look fancy. But I mean, it's bacon. How hard can it be to screw that up? Well, in the process of figuring out where we wanted to get our food from to serve here at Gracie's, we found out that the slab bacon at Penn Grille is from a wholesaler called Feezers, who service PA, NJ, DE, MD, and VA. They're local, based out of Harrisburg. But that slab bacon wasn't anything special. It was the same bacon that Feezers sells to all their customers. It was just sliced a little thicker.
Like I said, it's hard to mess up bacon, but think about it in terms of pasta dishes, soups, chicken fingers, and fries. There's a really good chance you're eating the same food over and over and over again. We recently ate at a local diner, they were new and we wanted to try them out. I got your standard eggs with homefries and toast. The potatoes were pretty good, but there was this strange after taste after a while, and then it dawned on me: They were using prepackaged potatoes that have been pre-sliced and cooked so that when you open the bag, and throw them on the grill, they're all a uniform size. And they had been cooked with a product called Phaze. It's sold in big gallon jugs and it's a fake butter product that's really just oil with butter flavoring and an un-natural orange color. (I've seen it with my own two eyes, and I'm telling you that almost every diner and cafe you've ever been to uses this stuff!)
And the thing is, this stuff is terrible for you. Most breaded chicken breasts are pre-made, frozen products and contain things like monocalcium phsphates, sorbic acid preservatives, and oleoresin in tumeric. I don't have a clue what any of those things are, but they don't sound natural.
And don't think it's just appetizers and entree's- it's desserts too. Almost all desserts are frozen products they just defrost. I've had friends who work for other food service places. That muffin or scone you grabbed at Starbucks for breakfast yesterday was pumped full of preservatives so they could freeze it for 180 days and then let it sit out on a counter for a couple hours when they're finally ready to serve it to you.
THIS IS WHY GRACIE'S IS DIFFERENT.
Every day, Jim makes our soups from scratch. Puts a turkey carcass or a ham bone in a pot and starts from scratch to make our soups. Our smoked turkey on our lunch sandwiches comes from a Mennonite guy on Farmersville Rd. named Sherwin Weaver. You can see the turkeys in their little houses from the road as you drive by. The turkey you eat in our store was alive on Tuesday, killed Wednesday and smoked here for your sandwich Thursday. No preservatives. Never frozen. Our ham is bone-in (NOT processed with water added lunch meat!), it's a real piece of meat with a bone and Jim gets it from a butcher in the southern end of the county and smokes it himself. Our eggs come from Martins up in Lititz. We don't used processed egg products with additives and preservatives like other diners (I'm sorry if you thought your eggs at other places were real. They're not, they're egg beaters...). I bake every single item in our case from scratch. I use real butter, and real sugar, and my grandmother's recipes. No high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. I could go on and on with any menu item...
And guys, I get it. We're busy. We're working moms and dads with soccer games and bellet classes to get to. Picky eater 6-year olds and moody teenagers on a chicken nugget and cheeseburger kick. It's hard to eat local or homemade anymore. The drive-thru or the Stauffers frozen lasana beats out the hour or two it would take to prepare a meal like you see Gordon Ramsey or Rachel Ray prepare on TV.
But I think it's important to think about where you're spending that 50% of your food budget when you're eating out. It's your hard-earned money, are you spending it on good food choices? Everyone is eating somewhere, feeding their families someone else's food... where are you and your family eating? Give Gracie's a try! You won't be disappointed!