Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Philly's Worst Cooks Unite

The Food Network show Worst Cooks in America is coming to Philly and wants all who dare to make grilled cheeses in a microwave to come and try their...luck?
I think those with college roommates will find ease in nominating someone for the show. 
That dude who burned down your kitchen last semester by preheating the oven with plastic tupperware inside? Yeah, he would probably qualify.
But all is not lost for those cooking challenged souls, for the contestant not only gets to hone some cooking skills with elite chefs like Anne Burrell of Mario Batali sous chef fame and now Secrets of a Restaurant Chef fame but also a grand prize of $25,000. Think of how many Greek Lady take out gyros that could get you!

So the lowdown for those cooking deficient:

When: Saturday, April 10th from 10am to 3pm
Where: Loews Philadelphia Hotel, 1200 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19107-3788
To Apply: Those interested in attending the casting call can e-mail worstcooksphilly@gmail.com. Tell them why you  (or the person you are nominating) are the most disastrous cook in the country. Include name, age, hometown, occupation, contact phone number, and a recent photo of the hopeless cook.

Good luck to to all of Philly's worst cooks! We need to show America that the Tasty Cake is a perfectly acceptable post meal choice.

For more information on applying: http://worstcookscasting.wordpress.com/

Photo credit: Foodnetwork.com

Sunday, March 28, 2010

California Burrito Love

For one of my history classes, this week’s topic was the allure of the West. Reading of the promise of California, of the hope it instills in those that travel there, and often the eventual upset once they arrive, got me musing about my beloved native state. John Muir can speak in near rhapsodic tones about the wonders of Yosemite but I, devote my praises to a different sort of California landmark – the burrito.

I went home for Spring Break and found, between the sunlight and mass consumption of avocados and grapefruit, myself healthier for it. And for lunches home, there would only be one choice – El Tapitio Taqueria. My love of this taqueria began in high school and has since been the place I long for most when eating kale, yet again, in the Philadelphia December cold. El Tapitio has, on numerous occasions, been my first stop on the drive home from LAX. No time to put away luggage! Must have carne asada super burrito!

I never fathomed this loss would feel so detrimental to my every day. But it has.
And while you East Coasters will whine and plead that there is a burrito place here that is comparable to ones you find in Mexico or LA, you will be sorely mistaken.

For only in LA, can you find these wrapped mounds of joy.
I have yet to pinpoint what makes them so distinctly delectable in LA. The freshness of produce available in California undoubtedly plays a part. But it seems more complex than that.
Perhaps the standards are higher, the expectation greater, that taquerias must deliver in order to survive.

I struggle to convey how uniquely wonderful these burritos are. And yes, my mouth is watering in trying to conjure up the, now lost, taste.
It is the blending of succulent meat, marinated, dripping with flavor, mingled with mashed avocado, smothered in lime and cilantro, doused in pico de gallo, sprinkled with cheese, globed with sour cream, and sparingly given rice and beans (true burritos have no room for such wasteful items but the lesser kinds use these as filler). Folded and wrapped in aluminum, presented to you, and then devoured. These are the joys I no longer know, and yet yearn for every day.

You may find my longing laughable, trivial, unfound, but if you were raised on such wrapped perfection, you would be feeling my pangs of pain too.
To the Angelinos, a burrito is one’s lifeblood. One was raised to seek out carnitas and cilantro. The rational plays no part. And I must bite my tongue and wait, till May to return home to enjoy yet again my wrapped lifeblood.

Photo Credit: http://www.kats9lives.com/

Vietnam Cafe

If you're ever in the mood for pho or just something different, skip the trek to Cafe Saigon or Chinatown, head over to Vietnam Cafe at 47th and Baltimore. Vietnam Cafe remains rather unfamiliar and untouched by the Penn community. Might I just say, pho lovers, you are missing out.

Vietnam Cafe has the perfect combination of great food, cheap prices, good service, and a soothing ambience. The menu boasts a variety of familiar items, like spring rolls and pho, but also offers special items like sea bass. They use fresh ingredients and serve generous portions. The broth used for noodle soups isn't MSG-laden, which should satisfy your conscience. For dessert? Green tea ice cream.

The restaurant was also recently renovated. Now it has a fancier, more sophisticated interior reminiscent of an island bungalow, filled with fountains and lanterns. The prices are still extremely affordable. Dinner entrees are about $10 depending on the dish and extras you order, and lunch is even cheaper.

But the one feature you definitely don't want to miss isn't even served at your table. It's affixed to the wall in the restrooms, the Dyson Airblade hand-dryer. Trust me. 

Photo credit: eatatvietnam.com

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Best of ... Bubble Tea

Choice can be difficult. With this in mind, we bring you the "Best of" series, a weekly evaluation of the culinary establishments that stand above the rest.

This week on "Best of"... it's gummy, chewy, and refreshing. It's Bubble Tea, a delicacy with origins in Taiwan. For those of you not in the know, you are missing out on a delicious concoction of a milky tea with a treasure trove of sunken tapioca. This is not your ordinary tapioca pudding. Rolled into orb-like gems, the tender treats form a platform engulfed in succulently sweet tea.

Right down to business, then. For the bubble tea enthusiast, there are three choices near campus that aim to satisfy your tapioca tastes. But how do they "bubble up" against each other? We've done the grunt work for you – here's our take, from best to worst:

1) Bubble Tea House, 34th and Sansom. 3.5/5. Skip the trash and head straight for the treasure. Though admittedly not the best bubble tea in the universe, it's some of the best near campus. The tapioca are usually fresh and firm, rarely grainy. Freshly shaken and made to order, the tea component is available in all sorts of varieties – from Taro to Thai. However, some consistency would be appreciated. The quality of their product can vary greatly from day to day.

2) Koreana, 36th and Chestnut. 3/5. This Korean joint churns out more than just your standard Bibim Bap. They also serve bubble tea, a perfect après-dîner to ward off the spice of the Doo Boo Kimchi. Interestingly, they blend their bubble tea with ice and milk into a not-so-traditional sucrose-heavy frothy amalgam available in comparatively limited flavours. The quality of their tapioca is what holds these budding boba buddies back the most. Glopped together in conglomerate form, their tapioca is often grainy and leaves much to be desired. Try to get that through a straw! Oh yeah, their buy-five-get-one-free card makes it easier to swallow that their tea is the most expensive of the lot.

3)Ph Café Saigon, 44th and Spruce. 2/5. This Vietnamese establishment offers a twisted take on bubble tea. The slimy slop that is their tapioca fails to impress. The tea, however, shows some promise. Available in a triumvirate of flavours – red bean, green tea, and regular milk tea – the tea is creamy yet not overbearing. Certainly acceptable in a pinch. Go for the food, not the Boba.

Tim Sakhuja and Jordan Kay.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


cute food photos

cute cupcake photos

cute bento photos

For these and more, check out Epicute. The Cute Food Blog.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cheesy Steve Jobs

In honor of Apple's latest new creation, the iPad, one foodie has taken it to the extreme and created an expertly crafted Steve Jobs head out of cheese for his iPad launch party. "You ARE going to have an iPad launch party, aren't you?" he asks.
We here at Penn Appetit are working on it.
If only it wasn't so creepy...

He used mozzarella to sculpt the head, explaining that it has "the right consistency, is pliable when melted slightly, and its pasty-white color matches the skin tone of many a computer geek like Steve and myself."
He spooned some ground pepper onto the sculpted cheese block for the beard but warns the future Steve Job sculptor to be careful with this step because "it's a pain to remove specs of pepper once they've stuck to the cheese."

This foodie even surrounded the head with some iPad Thai (get it?) to finish it off.

Though his sculpting skills are no doubt impressive, I don't know how I feel about this.
While I write this from my MacBook, I still don't love Steve Jobs just quite enough to eat his mozzarella head.

Photo credit: Ken from thecooksden.com
Thanks Olivia for the link.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Granola Bars: A Jumping-Off Point

At first glance, "granola bar" might signify only one thing: a bar made of granola. A closer look at the snack aisle in your local grocery store, however, shows that this "bar of granola" can be chewy, crunchy, made with dried fruit, drizzled with sugary glaze, coated in condensed milk (to create a cereal bar), or chock full of chocolate chips, to name just a few options.
As big-time granola bar companies continue to come up with new and adventurous ways to reinvent the granola bar, they have to be careful not to stray too much from the essence of it: granola and all of the other ingredients of varying shapes, textures, and sizes that complement it. Luckily, this is not a hard thing to do. Granola is, in many ways, the perfect base off of which to build a snack.

It was with this idea in mind that I tried out a recipe for homemade granola bars. The recipe is easy to manipulate and an ideal base for experimentation; once you have the essentials, you can add or omit whatever you choose. As it was my first time making the bars, I stuck to the recipe for the most part, occasionally changing the amounts of each ingredient that I used and adding a little extra brown sugar to prevent the honey from overwhelming the flavor of the bars. The result? A unique, homey, and oddly rustic blend of flavors compacted into each 2 x 4 inch bar. No high-fructose corn syrup necessary.

Recipe (courtesy of Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa):


  • 2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
  • 1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.
Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dates, apricots, and cranberries and stir well.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.

link source: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/homemade-granola-bars-recipe/index.html

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Scottish Feast

My sister and I were extremely close growing up. Less than two years apart in age and sharing nearly all the same interests, we did everything together. That is until, after an unhappy year of college here in the States, she moved to Europe. She lived in Milan, Italy, and then the Netherlands, spent summer in Switzerland and has visited more European cities already than I will in my whole lifetime. But for the past two years, she's lived in Edinburgh, Scotland where she attends the University of Edinburgh. And for the past two years, I've visited Edinburgh on a semi-regular basis.

Modern technology and a dedication to communication allows us to talk nearly every day. We update each other on our lives, giggle at facebook pictures, share new music obsessions, and even virtually browse our favorite clothing stores. But one of the few activities we can't share over the internet is eating together. Trying to fit months worth of splurging on dessert and trying out new restaurants together is no mean feat and so almost as soon as I finalized my plans to spend Spring Break with my sister, she began making detailed plans of everywhere we had to eat.

Since I've been to Edinburgh before, there are certain spots I remembered and had to experience again. After all, I might not fly all the way across the Atlantic just for the decadent, skip-lunch-just-to-splurge-for-this weeks-worth-of-dessert-in-a-bowl hot chocolates at Chocolate Soup, but if I'm already going to be there, it makes the cut.

Certain foods qualified for our week of epicurean indulgence just for nostalgia's sake - like pasta and pesto which is what we had nearly every week night growing up - or because she wanted to show me what her life is like - her favorite breakfast spot, Elephant and Bagel, sells the most incredible sandwiches all served on the best bagels I've ever had. But when I told her I was writing this blog post, she became adamant that I try "real" Scottish food.

"Don't eat breakfast," she warned as soon as I woke up on the day that we had decided to immerse me in Scottish cuisine. I obliged - having heard the rumors surrounding the meal I was about to partake in. Around 11 am we headed out for brunch at Kilimanjaro, a cute, unassuming coffee shop along the main drag. My sister ordered for us at the counter while I claimed a table. After a short wait, two of the largest plates I have ever seen emerged from behind the counter and headed our direction. Aside from the quantity of food, I had been given one warning about the traditional Scottish breakfast - apparently, the Scots only know of one food group: meat. A traditional Scottish breakfast - which is not so much a category as a specific dish, served at pubs and bed and breakfasts throughout the country - consists of: a poached egg, sautéed mushrooms, a single roasted tomato, toast with marmalade, a potato cake, bacon, sausage, and either haggis or black pudding. The food is arranged across the plate without any obvious indication of how to put the different items together. "You're supposed to get a bite of everything at once," I was informed by my culinary tour guide but for the sake of research (and a strong suspicion that I couldn't fit everything into one bite if I tried), I sampled each thing separately.

The poached egg was exactly what I was used to, but exceptionally well done with the whites fully cooked and the middle still runny. The mushrooms and tomato were good but unspectacular and seemed slightly unnecessary. The toast was surprisingly remarkable - thick and hearty with sweet orange marmalade that cut the heavy taste of meat. The potato cake was not at all like the latke or giant hashbrown I was expecting. It looked like a pancake and had the same smooth texture and vaguely potato taste as the inside of a french fry. The bacon was not at all the fatty strips of salty meat idolized in American breakfast culture (those are called "streaks" she tells me, but they're still not quite the same). It's more like Canadian bacon, except meatier, with less of that processed taste. The sausage also had a more "natural" meat taste - as much as sausage can. Although in this instance, the lack of seasoning to mask what is, when you really think about it, not the most appetizing of culinary inventions made me long for the the diner version from back home - with some syrup to dip it in.

Our order came with haggis. The paragraph break represents a chronological break in the writing of this blog entry during which I debated googling haggis to include in this description. I decided sometimes ignorance really is bliss. If you're a Philly local - or you've been at Penn long enough to know what I'm talking about - haggis (and, I believe, black pudding as well) is a lot like scrapple. You know, the meaty scraps that didn't even make the cut to be sausage all lumped together with enough starch and binder to keep in a general lump that you can then fry up in slices.... yeah, I think it's something like that. For those of you who have had scrapple, haggis is distinguished by larger.... chucks. But don't let my description deter you! In fact, if you ever find yourself in Edinburgh I highly recommend finding an enthusiastic local who will force you to try haggis because the results might surprise you. I know mine did...

I ate almost everything.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sang Kee Part 1: Chinatown

Sang Kee Peking Duck House started out as a small, 20 person restaurant, but over the past 30 years has grown to include a stand in the Reading Terminal market, an Asian bistro in the suburbs, and a new noodle house on Penn's campus. The restaurants serve a Hong Kong style cuisine that has proven to be a winner with both Philadelphians and critics, as the main location has been voted one of the best Chinese Restaurants in Philadelphia multiple times.

Visiting the Chinatown location, a friend and I decided we definitely needed to order something with the namesake Peking Duck, but also wanted some variety, and so we decided to order the Peking Duck dinner for two. The dinner consists of three different courses: first, a wonton soup with vegetables, then traditional Peking Duck, and finally shredded Duck with vegetables in an XO sauce and "Special" fried rice.

The soup and vegetables itself were flavorful enough to hold their own but the broth proved delicious and the vegetables crunchy. I didn't try the wontons because I don't eat shellfish but my friend, eating all of the shrimp and pork wontons, let me know they were quite good as well.

The Peking Duck arrived next and did not disappoint. The ducks go through a special process, being cleaned, hung up to dry, filled with sauces, and cooked at high temperature until their skin is brown and crispy. Fast forward to the duck on our plate--the skin was brown and crispy, but not too fatty, and the meat inside was moist, tender and flavorful. We had Peking doilies on which to put the meat, and hoisin sauce to spread on the doilies. Scallions finished off the DIY roll.

They fried the rest of the duck meat left after carving with crisp string beans, green peppers, and other vegetables in a fairly spicy XO sauce. It came with a large side of fried rice, which was not overly fried and so was a nice, light complement to the stir-fry.

Overall, the food was better and more unique than any Chinese food you can get on campus (the Sang Kee on campus gets its duck from the one in Chinatown) and was reasonably priced. If you want duck and a meal, this is a great place to check out.

Article by Richie Stark
Photo by Sika Gasinu
This is the first of a series that will explore the various Sang Kees in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Carl Warner's Foodscapes: Nature's Beauty in Yummy Miniature

"So, you see, there was this grape juice river in the woods, with berries swimming in it, and ice cream ALL around! The trees, the bushes, the rocks! And chocolate mountains in the distance! Sooooo yummy..."

This will probably sound less like the dreams of a desperate dieter when you are introduced to the work of the British photographer Carl Warner, who takes the label "food connoisseur" to a whole new level. Rather than ransacking random markets for exotic ingredients or footing four-digit bills at world-renowned restaurants, he literally turns fresh produce into works of art, creating stunningly lifelike landscapes meant to promote healthy eating.

His food landscapes, also known as "foodscapes", feature ingenious combinations of fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, cheeses, cold cuts, bread and sweets. They are painstakingly stacked, sprinkled, tucked and arranged to form dazzling images of huddled mountain huts, stormy seas, colorful countryside, even urban skylines.

In the picture you see here, the sea is salmon fillets, the boat - a pea pod, the dark rocks - brown bread, the seaweed-covered light rocks - potatoes and parsley. The overhanging seaside foliage is a bunch of dill. You can even eat the sky: it's the strongly lit side of a salmon.

To achieve such mind-blowing likeness, Warner spends a lot of time simply staring at foods and contemplating their resemblance to larger objects: broccoli and trees, parmesan lumps and rocks, mushrooms and wheels...

Most of a foodscape's production time is spent planning and choosing ingredients, while photo shoots are comparatively short. When using fresh produce, the production team makes each layer of the foodscape separately to avoid having wilted food by the time they have finished constructing an entire foodscape. Sadly, most of the food is inedible after being glued and pinned to a working board, but all leftovers are either donated or shared between team members.

Carl Warner always uses organic, sustainable produce for his food masterpieces, and tries to include only wholesome foods to raise awareness of healthy eating - although, he admits, so far he has not managed to convince his teenage kids to eat more veggies. He has been involved in the marketing campaigns of several food and drink companies, where he features highlights of his delicious still life works: fruity hot air baloons, breadstick houses and crunchy windmills. A Good Food Channel commission is responsible for his latest achievement - an edible London skyline featuring the most popular sights of the city.

You can enjoy all of Warner's foodscapes on his website, where it is also possible to order prints of various sizes. For some insider information, hear him talk about his work in these videos. And for those of you who already adore his work, the hardcover compilation "Carl Warner's Food Landscapes" is going to be released in October this year by Abrams Image.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Crazy for Chifa

I don't know if it's all the horrible weather we've been getting lately but, I've been feeling pretty down these days, and this has translated into disappointments in food . So, I wasn't expecting much when I dined at Jose Garces' Peruvian-Asian spot Chifa. To my delight, my expectations were not just met but completely exceeded. This was one of the best meals I'd experienced in a long time in terms of taste, presentation and atmosphere.

Like Garces' other tapas eateries Tinto and Distrito, the interior of Chifa is modern, colorful, and suffused with dim lighting. My party and I were seated in a cozy booth cushioned with silk pillows and orange lighting, an appropriately exotic ambiance to complement the exotic cuisine we were about to enjoy. While waiting for our food to come out, we chowed down on the complimentary bread balls with spicy guava butter. With little hesitation, I would say the bread itself is worth a visit to Chifa. The bread was chewy, savory bursts of deliciousness. We ordered another serving before half our meal was done.

The main dishes themselves deserve just as much credit, as they were all flavorful, well-portioned and beautifully plated. The first dish, the crab empanadas, was served with a chile reduction. The empanadas were crispy on the outside and tender on in the inside, with a generous amount of jumbo lump crap - simply perfect.

Next up were the fried scallion pancaked with braised beef. Definitely yummy, but greasy, so the small portion was just enough. The Peruvian ceviche that our server recommended featured corvina fish, sweet and flavorful, and paired great with the side of corn nuts that came with it. The ceviche was a refreshing contrast to the other fried dishes and served to cleanse my palate for the next round of dishes.

The lobster noodle bowl embodied the fusion element of Chifa, with a combination of flat rice noodles, lobster, bacon and a rocoto (a chili pepper native to Peru) cream sauce. The dish was sort of like a spicy, creamy Chinese fettuccine and was one of my favorites of the night. The succulent chunks of lobster paired with the rich, red-peppery sauce and the smoky bacon made for a creative, flavorful mix of ingredients.

The star of the night though was the pork bao buns. The soft, airy buns stuffed with tender glazed pork belly were flavorful and perfectly balanced. The hoisin glaze was tangy, but not too sweet and doesn't overpower the dish, allowing the rich pork belly to shine - a  melt-in-your-mouth kind of deliciousness.

I really can't rave enough about my meal at Chifa, so I'll just let everyone go and experience the food for themselves. I promise you won't be disappointed; and if I can say that after trekking through the heavy snow and icy winds just to get there, then there's little doubt that you will love Chifa too.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Muffin or Cupcake?

Growing up, there are so many similar foods to distinguish between, it can drive youngsters, and even adults, insane! You’ve got the sweet cookie and the salty cracker; the green broccoli and its white counterpart, the cauliflower; the Coke and Pepsi twins; the celebrity cucumber and its zucchini lookalike; the cabbage and its leafy lettuce impostor; and of course, the classic sweet potato and yam doppelgangers.

Thankfully, as time goes on, most of us can differentiate between cucumbers and zucchinis. And for others like Coke and Pepsi, sweet potatoes and yams, you just nod and pretend you know the difference when asked, and everyone believes you.
There’s still one final mystery that has pestered me since the age of six at Molly Greenberg’s birthday party, and hopefully, for the sake of my post’s relevance, it’s been bothering you, too (even if you weren’t invited to Molly’s birthday party, which by the way, wasn't all that great).

The muffin and the cupcake. What really is the difference?
As it turns out, nowadays, there isn’t much.
Cupcakes, called fairy cakes in some parts of the world, were first made by bakers because they required less time in the oven than a standard cake. They were originally called cupcakes because of the way bakers measured the ingredients for their preparation. Whereas the ingredients for “pound” cakes were weighed, “cup” cakes were made of ingredients measured out in cups. These tiny delicacies were also once called number cakes, 1234 cakes, or quarter cakes, because their recipe originally called for one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs.

Muffins, on the other hand, are a very different species. These baked goodies are typically much larger than cupcakes and are meant to be less sweet. In fact, muffins were once the pioneer healthy snack choice, laden with various vegetables and grains. However, for these healthy choices to withstand their shelf life, muffins were soon baked with lots of sugar. This, of course, was pretty counterintuitive, and contributed to today’s muffins tasting a lot like cupcakes.

But wait! The convergent evolution is even stronger than that! With the growing market for baked goods, cupcakes have increased in size dramatically, resembling their muffin cousins more and more. Today, it seems that there’s really only one deciding factor: frosting. If your mushroom-shaped goodie’s got it, it’s a cupcake; if not, you’ve got yourself a muffin.
For those of you still confused, just eat it and don’t ask questions.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Through the Eyes of a Server

It was OCR season. Time to pull out the starchy suit, slap on a smile, and impress potential employers. Yet as many of my peers obsessed over interviews and callbacks, I deleted every “OCR info” email in my inbox without giving it a once-over. I didn’t participate in on-campus recruiting because I already know what I’ll be doing this summer. I’ll be doing the same thing I did last summer, the same thing undergrads and grads across the nation do every summer (except, it seems, at Penn): serving tables.

Serving initially proves to be more difficult than most people would expect. For whatever reason, most restaurants thrive on drama, although it might not be apparent to clientele. Psychotic customers, out of control kids, screaming in the kitchen, clam juice spills, work-cest—all are parts a server’s typical week. After a month or so behind the scenes, employees begin to view the dining-out experience in an entirely new light—from a server’s perspective.

It begins from the moment your table is seated. The hostess hands out the menus, and the ball’s in your court. Some servers opt for the general, “Hi, can I start you off with some drinks?” while I prefer a more personable touch. “Hi, I’m Deven, and I’ll be your server this evening. Tonight our specials are…” There is some debate as to the level of cheesiness a server should exude at this part. In general, I keep the cheese to a minimum with middle-aged people and teenagers. They’ll throw it right back at you with a “Hi Deven! I’m Doreen, and this is Bob, and we’ll be your customers this evening.” The awkwardness that ensues is worth avoiding. 

Now it’s time to take the order. One table of 3 elderly couples insisted that I take their orders in reverse-height order, forcing me to choose the tallest. Then there’re the parents who try to order for the kids, and the kids who just want macaroni and cheese. After a three-minute shouting match, the mom orders fried shrimp, but the six-year-old mouths “mac n’ cheese” at me with a sly wink. How am I supposed to say no to that? 

45 minutes go by and your order still isn’t up. You go scream at the kitchen to get moving. In my case, you find that the guy in charge of the frier is out back having a smoke, so he never saw your order. You pray this won’t affect your tip, because honestly, it wasn’t even your fault. Of course, your table doesn’t know that, and they take it out on you anyway. “The server’s always the scapegoat,” one New Deck Tavern waiter explains.

Sometimes you just crack, like Jessica from the Bubble Tea House. At a Middle Eastern place where she formerly worked, an impatient customer got the best of her. “The guy wanted bread with his meal, just like they used to do back in the 80’s, and I tried explaining that our menu had changed since then, and I’d have to charge him an extra buck.” He couldn’t take no for an answer, so he stomped back to the kitchen demanding bread. The kitchen staff took him literally, tossing some bread at him. Enraged, the man filed a complaint with the manager for being “pelted with bread.” He also implied that it wouldn’t hurt to let some of the staff go either, making sure Jessica could hear. When he told her she shouldn’t expect any tip, she lost it. “I told him exactly what I thought of him, spared no details.” When his family tried to offer her a tip upon leaving, she wouldn’t take it. “I didn’t want their money, just some kindness.” she concludes. 

The stories don’t stop with ordering. I’ve had more trying experiences once the food is actually delivered. In one such instance, I misunderstood a little boy’s order, thinking he’d ordered a chicken filet. Much to my horror, it was supposed to be a filet mignon well done. When the steak did emerge about 20 minutes later, his parents told me to take it off the check. This resulted in a free filet mignon, a much smaller bill, and the resulting much smaller tip. And he didn’t even like his meal—said it had too many onions. 

Food complaints are obviously a common occurrence, but much harder for servers to handle after the food has been, well, eaten. Some customers still insist, even after their plate is clear, that the meal be taken off the bill. “They only notice if is beer is flat after they finish half of it, or that the burger is overcooked once it’s all gone,” the New Deck server explains. Jessica also says that some customers, especially students, complain about the high prices only after they’ve eaten. “In a few cases, we’ve even seen the classic ‘dine and dash,’ where the server ends up paying the bill. People just don’t want to face the financial aspect of dining out.” 

And it’s for this financial aspect that anyone becomes a server in the first place. The entire time you serve a table, the tip sits in the back of your mind. It’s almost like a little scoreboard in your head, keeping tabs on when you screw up or make someone happy. Most times, the mistakes tip the scales. At one table, everything was going great until my first big spill. The old women loved my jokes, my recommendations, even my accent (which is rare), until the point where I spilled steaming clam juice in their laps. I can usually balance four plates at once, but the dish of the 18 steamers got the best of me. The worst part was that I did it twice—once when I brought the plate out, and next when I took it back. Needless to say, my tip was small. They walked away still smelling like clams. 

While serving tables is obviously an interesting experience, it also changes the way you dine at other restaurants. Even when something’s really wrong, you always make an effort not to be that customer. Sure, sometimes it really is the server’s fault, but you also have an idea of what may be going on in the kitchen, things that are out of the server’s control. And yes, we always, always tip highly. 

Photo and Article by Deven Parker

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