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Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Robin Garr » Wed Nov 01, 2017 9:56 am

The House-Made Tale

By Marsha Lynch

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Almost anyone who enjoys dining out has a whole range of places they enjoy, from fast food chains to casual stand-alone restaurants to (if cash flow permits), the occasional splurge at a high-end fine dining establishment. If you're a reasonable person, your expectations of what gets brought into each restaurant pre-made, versus what's made from scratch, should be on a sliding scale. No one could realistically expect that their favorite dive bar has a minimum wage cook in the back making veal demiglace in that tiny kitchen to pour onto an open-faced roast beef sandwich that sells for $8.99.

Most restaurant chefs use at least some pre-made products. Of the ones that do, the good ones gussy them up with sauces they make themselves, or church them up with additional ingredients to make them better.

Truly upper-echelon fine dining places make nearly everything by hand from start to finish. The cooks who work there make their own stock, roasting bones and simmering them with mirepoix (carrots, onions and celery) and herbs until the liquid is rich enough to strain and cool, after which it becomes nearly gelid. The result is something that can be used a dozen different ways, to make soups, sauces, and braising liquids. (Funny story: I once asked a couple of culinary students to strain a gorgeous stock that had taken most of two days to make, and they did. Right down the drain of the sink, leaving behind only the stuff you're supposed to discard – used bones, limp herbs and vegetable mush.)

The chefs who run these places either hand-pick their own produce at farmer's markets or off the back of actual farmers’ trucks that pull in behind the restaurant with this week's haul. They might, however, purchase their bread from a rock-star bakery that delivers excellent products, proficiently executed with consistent quality. And that's fine! As long as they don't claim to be making it themselves.

But diners can't always know a menu item is “house-made” simply because it says so in the menu description. To the unscrupulous menu writer, “house-made” could justifiably mean “We heated it up here in the microwave. Right here, in house.”

Experienced diners may not care whether a dish is house-made or not, depending on its price point. But nobody likes to be lied to. Is your “house-made” burger exactly, perfectly circular? No rough edges at all? Seasoned well but mushy in texture? It was probably brought in frozen, already formed into patties. Is your “house-made tortellini” sheer visual perfection, every single one completely uniform? Not unless that plate of five tortellini cost upwards of $28 and they have their own pasta expert in the back, slaving away morning, noon and night. (Some places do, though, and if you ever have actual fresh made pasta, you'll be able to tell the difference).

If you're at Denny's and the biscuits are just a little too exactly all looking like clones and the gravy's a little floury? Eh, who cares. But then Denny's isn't putting “house-made” in its menu descriptions. And they have photos on the menu!

Not long ago my long-suffering fiancé and I were at a solidly blue-collar establishment and I was pleasantly surprised by the mashed potatoes on my plate. “They made these here, themselves!” I said. He asked me how I knew. I told him it was because there were a few lumps in them and the redskin potato skins were still in, and they weren't overcooked, mushy or grainy, as they would have been had they come frozen from a bag or reconstituted from dried.

Now, believe me, a high-end restaurant wouldn't have lumps in their potatoes either because they would have taken the care to put them through a food mill or a a potato ricer (cool utensil, everyone should own one at home), but this wasn't the kind of place that would pay someone to take the time to rice as many potatoes for mash that they were slinging. And a fancy place would call the side “potato puree” anyway. Nope, this was just the result of a practiced cook cooking potatoes until they were perfectly done but not overdone, adding milk, butter, salt and pepper and going to work with a hand-held potato masher like my grandma did.

I wanted to take my Sharpie to every menu in the place and write “HOUSE MADE” in front of the words “Mashed Potatoes” on each one.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.

Read it on LouisvilleHotBytes:
http://www.louisvillehotbytes.com/house-made-tale

Read it also in LEO Weekly’s Food & Drink section today:
http://www.leoweekly.com/category/food-drink/
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by RonnieD » Wed Nov 01, 2017 11:24 am

I once had a guest ask if we had "real ranch" dressing.

I said I wasn't sure what she meant.

She said, "is it real ranch dressing or is it something you made."

:shock:


Sometimes housemade isn't looked for or appreciated I guess.

For the record we buy in our ranch dressing, but we make most of our other dressing in-house. I guess she got lucky.
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Andrew Mellman » Wed Nov 01, 2017 11:41 am

I remember going to a famous deli in Chicago - and another one in NYC - that advertised that they made their own corned beef. Had wonderful sandwiches, and afterwards made a quick trip to the lavatory. Among the plaques lining the walls in the back was one from the Vienna Beef factory, giving each deli an award for "38 (and 43) consecutive years of purchases!" I figured that the 'house-made' must mean they actually boiled the beef themselves to heat it up! Maybe they actually added a carrot to the water to boost their claim?
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Mark R. » Wed Nov 01, 2017 8:13 pm

Andrew Mellman wrote:Among the plaques lining the walls in the back was one from the Vienna Beef factory, giving each deli an award for "38 (and 43) consecutive years of purchases!" I figured that the 'house-made' must mean they actually boiled the beef themselves to heat it up! Maybe they actually added a carrot to the water to boost their claim?

Andrew, I'm not sure what delis you are talking about but I have a couple good guesses. Both of the ones I'm thinking about truly do make their own corned beef. Yes they both purchase items from Vienna Beef, but it's not corn beef, as a matter I'm not even sure if they even make corned beef the primary products they make are sausages of various varieties. You know they also sell brisket to be made into corned beef etc. No telling what those delis buy from them but I certainly believe they do make their corned beef if they advertise that fact.
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Andrew Mellman » Wed Nov 01, 2017 8:35 pm

Mark R. wrote:
Andrew Mellman wrote:Among the plaques lining the walls in the back was one from the Vienna Beef factory, giving each deli an award for "38 (and 43) consecutive years of purchases!" I figured that the 'house-made' must mean they actually boiled the beef themselves to heat it up! Maybe they actually added a carrot to the water to boost their claim?

Andrew, I'm not sure what delis you are talking about but I have a couple good guesses. Both of the ones I'm thinking about truly do make their own corned beef. Yes they both purchase items from Vienna Beef, but it's not corn beef, as a matter I'm not even sure if they even make corned beef the primary products they make are sausages of various varieties. You know they also sell brisket to be made into corned beef etc. No telling what those delis buy from them but I certainly believe they do make their corned beef if they advertise that fact.


You may be right in that they buy other items, but Vienna's largest seller is their corned beef, seasoned and cryovac'ed ready for cooking. If you guessed Manny's and Carnegie you are right!

When we're in Chicago, we periodically pick up some corned beef brisket, pastrami, tongue, whatever at the factory on Damon!
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Mark R. » Wed Nov 01, 2017 9:06 pm

Andrew Mellman wrote:You may be right in that they buy other items, but Vienna's largest seller is their corned beef, seasoned and cryovac'ed ready for cooking. If you guessed Manny's and Carnegie you are right!

When we're in Chicago, we periodically pick up some corned beef brisket, pastrami, tongue, whatever at the factory on Damon!

Those are definitely the 2 I was thinking about. I didn't realize that you could buy directly from the factory.
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Jay M. » Wed Nov 01, 2017 9:56 pm

OK, so you mention my pet peeve so-called "house made" dish, which is pasta, and specifically: ravioli. I make ravioli with fresh pasta and fillings all hand made in my kitchen. It's a b**ch to make and I have not mastered it, but it is much better than 95% of the so-called "house made" versions I have had in restaurants. Local exceptions include The Italian Table where everything is ruthlessly authentic and a lobster ravioli dish special I recall at Varanese, which was the real deal. Otherwise, I am usually disappointed and have stopped ordering it. Good article, Marsha, thanks.
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by GaryF » Thu Nov 02, 2017 3:21 am

Mark R. wrote:
Andrew Mellman wrote:You may be right in that they buy other items, but Vienna's largest seller is their corned beef, seasoned and cryovac'ed ready for cooking. If you guessed Manny's and Carnegie you are right!

When we're in Chicago, we periodically pick up some corned beef brisket, pastrami, tongue, whatever at the factory on Damon!

Those are definitely the 2 I was thinking about. I didn't realize that you could buy directly from the factory.


Alas! Carnegie no longer sells corned beef, or anything else for that matter. Their chopped liver (truly house made) was wonderful.
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Andrew Mellman » Thu Nov 02, 2017 10:30 am

GaryF wrote:
Mark R. wrote:
Andrew Mellman wrote:

.


Alas! Carnegie no longer sells corned beef, or anything else for that matter. Their chopped liver (truly house made) was wonderful.


The Carnegie was the only place I know that I could order a $22 corned beef sandwich and when it came thought I was getting a bargain! (and yes, their chopped liver was house-made and wonderful)
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Marsha L. » Thu Nov 02, 2017 11:55 am

Jay M. wrote:OK, so you mention my pet peeve so-called "house made" dish, which is pasta, and specifically: ravioli. I make ravioli with fresh pasta and fillings all hand made in my kitchen. It's a b**ch to make and I have not mastered it, but it is much better than 95% of the so-called "house made" versions I have had in restaurants. Local exceptions include The Italian Table where everything is ruthlessly authentic and a lobster ravioli dish special I recall at Varanese, which was the real deal. Otherwise, I am usually disappointed and have stopped ordering it. Good article, Marsha, thanks.


I can tell you that Harvest makes their pasta from scratch. All of it. Beautiful hand made ravioli and tortellini and even the noodles. I used to work there, so I know none of it is brought in dried or frozen.
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Leah S » Thu Nov 02, 2017 2:34 pm

I think the "beautiful stock down the drain " happens every semester. I know it did in my class. (I didn't do it!) Also had to look up gelid. Cool word, pun intended.
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Andrew Mellman » Tue Nov 07, 2017 3:16 pm

Had lunch today at Cheddar's. This was possibly one of my least liked places in the city (chain, obviously prepackaged foods reheated on premises, etc), but it was there and we were hungry after time in half-price books.

Their name has been changed to add a tag that all food is made in-house, the menu features that, and we pressed the waitress who said that about 18 months ago they started to shift, and now everything is "home made" in the kitchen. While I believe the breads and rolls do come in pre-fab (likely frozen dough), the food is demonstrably better and provides a significantly better experience than the last time I went (many years ago).

While it's still not a favorite, I don't think I'll be doing anything possible to avoid going, as I did before!
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Re: Marsha’s Industry Standard: The House-Made Tale

by Robin Garr » Tue Nov 07, 2017 3:34 pm

Good to know, Andrew. Thanks for the report. When I reviewed Cheddars - a decision I made because it is indeed so popular - I went back twice, hoping that my first experience had been a bad day. It wasn't. :cry:

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