Matters of the Heart
It has been a long time since we last communicated. For those not aware, I had a temporary hiatus from the restaurant to tend to some medical issues in December and part of early January. It all began on December 1st when I had a calcium score test. It was a lousy time to be in the 90th percentile. Wynne and I talked about the lab results and its recommendations and had planned to see a cardiologist very soon as a result. Lucky for me, I ran into an old friend and neighbor at the grocery store the next day who just happened to be a cardiologist. We shared the usual pleasantries one normally swaps in these brief encounters and then I mentioned that I might need a consult. After explaining my test results, the appointment was set for the next day. After the meeting and only days later, I was ordered an echo stress test. It was determined that I might benefit from a catheterization, which was scheduled two days later with the promise of maybe insertion of a stent and a quick return to work. Well to our surprise, I continued to excel in the high percentiles and became a candidate for triple bypass less than 10 days after my chance grocery store encounter with my friend. The good news is that I was very healthy, so there was no damage to the heart. Even better news: the surgery was textbook, the recovery equally smooth, except for my impatience, and was back at work at Ridgway for a few hours each day in a matter of weeks.
My thanks to all who guided me through the process including the doctors and staff at the Schick Heart Center at NCH. They were truly fabulous. Obviously, during my absence from the kitchen, others had to pick up the slack. My business partner Sukie did her usual outstanding work and kept everyone up to date on my recovery and the restaurant on its toes. I also want to recognize Alec, my right and left hands in the kitchen, and to each of the staff who performed so admirably during my recovery. And finally my thanks to my wife, Wynne, who faced all of this with the most positive attitude I’ve ever seen. I learned so much from her these past weeks about the power of positive thinking.
The bakers in Tony’s are having fun producing Naples freshest and best bakery items each day. The gluten issue is one of great discussion. We all know that there are very few who truly suffer from celiac disease, but there are many more of us who have determined that less gluten in our lives is beneficial. The addition of a few items in the bakery is my contribution to the trend.
The garden is beautiful, the Ivy Geraniums gracing the railings along Ridgway Bar & Grill and Tony’s Off Third have never been more beautiful.
I am grateful and humbled by my recent health experience. I have been and continue to be a very lucky man; doing what I love each day.
On a scale from 1 to 10…
I love the kitchen.
I love the safety of its boundaries.
I love the pace, the flow, the certainty of the actions.
I love the quiet bedlam that is fully evident during peak service. I love the food… that is my bottom line in any restaurant, whether it is mine or anywhere in the world.
So if those opening words are my philosophy, why am I offering the following statement?
I strongly believe that service is more important than food in a dining experience.
I read a lot and found this quote that speaks of what, for me as a true food lover, might seem like a blasphemous departure from my life’s work. In an article from the Chicago Tribune on May 15, 2008, food critic Phil Vettel addressed my topic for today: “An attentive and friendly front-room staff can cover a multitude of culinary sins, or as New York restaurateur Danny Meyer says in his book, Setting the Table, ‘The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled.'”
Did you ever think you would hear me say that service is more important than food?
As a kitchen person I have my passions and never-ending commitment to great food; however, my dining experiences in the past few years, and especially this past summer, have tipped the scale.
Keep in mind, I will never not love food. I love to grow it, love to cook and, yes, my stomach may finally be proving it, I love to eat it. All styles, most cuisines – just do it well.
Cooking is funny. The cooks and chefs may have their quirks and personality traits that we deal with every day, but basically food is a simple commodity, that when nurtured during growth, when the “mise en place” is precise, the cooking skills are exact, and the plating is done with care, the food from the farm, the sea or the garden will show well. Yes, a lot of care in planning and executing make the process better for all.
Yet unlike the world today where our Supreme Court has intimated that corporations are people, a plate of food is still just plate of food. And for that we can all be grateful.
A good team in the kitchen can get the work done and the plate will never suffer from the personality aberrations of one cook or another. A great leader and task-master in the kitchen can help that greatly.
However, the service aspect of the dining experience is so very different. The following is a litany of issues/questions that I think/worry about when I dine:
- Did I select the right restaurant?
- Did I get the time I wanted?
- Did I get the table I wanted?
- Did I get a server on his or her game?
- Did I get the server with the great personality and attitude or simply the order taker?
- Does my server know the menu, the wines, the specialty drinks so well there is never a hint of hesitation?
- Do I sense that I am special and that tonight will be a great treat for all involved?
- Was I greeted well at the front door?
- Was I quickly spoken to at the table?
- Did I sense that all was right?
As I have matured, many of these issues have become less important. I’ve become significantly less worried about the right time and right table. I’d happily take knowledge and attitude over place and time.
There was time that I thought only about the food quality. I’m not sure, nor does it really matter to me, why my dining personality has changed. In my dining experiences over the past yeas and especially this summer: I’ve had great food. But, more importantly, such superlative service or even simply properly paid attention that it is impossible to dissect the details, and moreover not even that important. What I know is that Wynne and I, and our family on occasion, had a great time and that is what counts. Dining needs to be fun. Dining is personal and that is where we take the next step.
Dining out should be fun and include great service, food and a prominent beverage list. Dining out is filled with expectations and my goal this year is to raise our entire staffs awareness of that very complex word — expectations. We’ve been meeting since October 3rd 2014 and will continue to meet every week for the foreseeable future. The good news is that we have technically well-trained staff. And in many cases, a staff that fully appreciates the nuances of providing exceptional service.
My list of issues, referenced above, is the basis for my expectations. The bottom line is that our goal is to make our guests feel even more special by increasing the attention our staff offers. We all recognize that if you treated very well, every other element is perceived in a better light. This attitude is pervasive from me, Sukie, David and George and will make its way to EVERY staff member, whether they have direct customer contact or not.
So what changes are being made in the kitchen. The Ridgway Bar & Grill dinner menu has only a few substantive changes. I made 18 tweaks to individual items. Some will be noticeable; all are to make the dish slightly better. The big changes are on our Courtyard menu, available from 4pm – close. I made some really superb additions to it and hope you check it out next time you visit us.
I am also hard at work in the bakery, as well. I hired two very excellent bakers to augment our already very capable staff.
Enough for now, time to get back to work and meet with our service staff to talk about how to make everyone that walks in our doors feel special.
A Found Farewell To September
I love baseball movies. Dennis Quaid stars in “The Rookie,” where a 38-year-old becomes a rookie all over again. It’s based on fact! Jimmy Morris (played by Dennis Quaid) enters the locker room and says, “you know what we get to do today Brooks. We get to play baseball.”
Well, I’m no 38-year-old rookie, but I know his sense of joy and can paraphrase his quote by saying, “You know what I get to do today? I get to think about food.” Thinking about food is what I do. There are business issues as well, but food is the priority, especially during September, when I write the fall menus. It’s the month when the pace of business is at its nadir. You have to hit bottom sometime! The staff gets a little cranky. Purveyors try to sell you anything. The high and low temperatures drop by one degree. The European visitors have gone home. September is the time when Friday night local football can take precedence over dining. This must be what February feels like in Chicago.
So I read and absorb every food article I can find. I’m constantly amazed at the vast array of cuisines about which I know nothing, balanced by an equally vast array of cuisines about which I want to know nothing! The chefs and I talk in detail about taste, texture and food combinations, always looking for that magic ingredient or technique that makes something chef-prepared and worthy of our menu. In September, I sit in my office and think. There is no greater luxury. Well, maybe sitting by a fireplace in Vermont reading a good book for hours is better! This is the time when I truly know that food is my passion. I find nothing boring.
We’re experimenting with a pasta carbonara-like entrée with a baked julienne of either duck or ham prosciutto. I’ve got a need to use the eggs and fries dish we had at The Publican this past summer. Thinking of adding some cubed Foie Gras and sautéing potatoes in that. The organics cooking class made me think- more about buying local. We’ll have lots from Rabbit Run this fall. I sense at least one item that you pick up and eat with your hands! I’m working with Emily Duncan to complete the Tony’s Off Third bakery-to-pastry shop transition. Emily has superb skills. She is unbelievably organized and her cake decorating skills have little equal in Naples. Emily and I are collaborating on bringing some classic ideas in a current style, enhanced by her culinary skills. We’ll have pastry tastings on Saturday mornings, starting in late October. We’ll move the deli cases in the bakery to make it one huge pastry display. Former Truffles customers will rejoice at the magnitude. Perhaps our combined efforts will be a result of Truffles meets Fauchon.
The fall menu for Ridgway is well underway, and I like it a lot. I know there will be tweaks and that the staff will have their say as well. Like a good soup, the menu is simmering to fully develop. Top Chef is over- a little disappointing this year. Hopefully the dessert spin-off generates excitement.
See you soon and let’s talk food and pastries.
What I Read on my Vacation… and Restaurant News Too
I read two books while on vacation. Stones Into Schools, by Greg Mortensen and Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw. I was amused by Bourdain’s tales, somewhat offended by his constant use of profanity and very impressed by the fact that he does know good food and appreciates the hard work required to make a restaurant successful.
Greg Mortenson’s sequel to Three Cups of Tea affirms my strong passion for education. In my restaurant world training is an ongoing process. Skilled, caring and passionate cooks are limited in our industry, so daily training and mentoring is now our way of life.
At first one might think these two books are polar opposites- certainly their authors are. I am certainly different from both authors.
At my peak, my level of cynicism never came close to Bourdain’s. I wonder if my total lack of drug use, moderate drinking habits and total lack of fooling around with the staff kept me from going farther in our industry! Those traits certainly seem to have been in evidence among many of our finest and most successful chefs.
Greg Mortenson’s altruistic life came from his failure to climb K-2. That failure took him to Afghanistan, a place where education did not exist. He saw the need and his inner being not only asked him to be involved but perhaps forced him to take that path.
There are pieces about each book I loved. We’ve all struggled to climb the figurative and literal mountain that Greg Mortenson refers to.
His failure led to levels of success and accomplishment unknown to most. What I am constantly reminded of and do enjoy thinking about is how the goal of climbing that peak, though perhaps unattainable, is still worth it. I still have not reached the top of Ben Nevis in Scotland!
I love the part where Greg refers to his dad’s accomplishments and his dad’s full belief that the locals near Mt. Kilimanjaro would be in charge of the hospital project in ten years and in Greg’s own case that his in-country staff would ultimately be able to do the nuts and bolts without him.
I’ve always believed that premise is not only true, but also necessary. The thinkers and visionaries need to eventually yield to the doers. We, who are control freaks and I am one, sometime hate to admit that others are not only necessary but can and often do outshine us.
I take great satisfaction in seeing young professionals grow. I take equal satisfaction in knowing that their growth allows me to look at my role differently. I loved my time as the working chef in the kitchen. Loving the days when the sales reps would see me while I cooked lunch. We’d talk, I’d send them off to the walk-in to check on something, the order would be completed and we’d both continue our days.
Bourdain’s path went from a hard partying, hard working and somewhat successful restaurateur to food celebrity. Mortenson’s path took him from abject failure in his eyes to the development of 131 schools. My path followed a route from the apple orchard and vegetable garden of Northbrook, Pennsylvania to The Wurst Place in 1971 to the present. No culinary superstar, no world known educator. I am a cook, a restaurant owner and operator. And I often feel as if I have succeeded equally.
The new fall menu goes into place on Monday October 18th. The minor physical changes with Tony’s Off Third bakery cases commence that same week. Each day for the next few weeks we’ll see Tony’s bakery come to life. Still lots of mountains to climb, only now I have a superb crew of doers and the journey seems easier.
Pork IQ: Not the “other white meat”
We debuted the new menu last week and are getting excellent reviews about the many flavorful new items to taste, especially the new pork dishes.
I’m not sure if pork in moderation is good for your heart — medically. I do know that it is good for your soul and therefore must be good for your mind and body. The pork additions to the fall menu are not of the lean variety. I’d be hard pressed to call them the “other white meat.” They taste great and that is the bottom line at Ridgway Bar & Grill. We serve pork three ways on the new menu. Pork belly, brined and braised, is served as an appetizer. The plated dish is crisply seared and complemented by a slaw of fennel and apple. A cider reduction and a balsamic reduction finish the plate. The portion is small, and remember, there are no carbs in pork.
EJ, one of my sous chefs, baked some thinly sliced prosciutto slices this summer. Simply there for the kitchen staff to eat. I loved it and his idea is now the headliner of Linguini “Almost” Carbonara. We’re taking a few liberties with the classic preparation. The crowning touch is EJ’s thinly sliced, roasted prosciutto strips as a garnish on the pasta. The question is: How will you eat it? I’m pretty sure the first thing I’d do is pick up a piece with my fingers and taste. The second would be to tell my neighbors to keep their hands off my prosciutto.
Guanciale is pancetta cured from the pig’s jowls. Very famous in Italy and much more flavorful that the typical pancetta we all use. Cubes of the Guanciale are sautéed and tossed with penne pasta, confit of garlic and a marinara sauce. A little red pepper flake adds some character. The dish is adapted from the classic from the village of Amatrice in Italy and therefore named Penne Amatriacana.
We made it through one more summer. They can be pretty painful. At least we didn’t worry about major storms this year.
If you think the summer heat of Naples is brutal, trying being a small business person. I think the oil scare may have kept some visitors away. But the people we talk to are quite positive about the upcoming season and we’re going to ride that wave for all it has to offer.
See you soon, and let’s talk taste.
Diary of a gas line break
I was working a small dinner off property for The Conservancy last Thursday when I received a phone call from EJ, one of the sous chefs in the Ridgway kitchen. EJ said we have a problem at the restaurant. We have no gas. I immediately remembered a time when a line cook said to me years ago, “Chef, we’re getting low on gas.” My response was short, I’m certain, and hopefully not too filled with foul language. I did swear a little in those days. We did run out of gas. But our provider raced to the restaurant and got us back on line immediately.
The correction was not so simple this past week. I called my wife Wynne and asked for phone numbers for TECO. I called John Everding at Bayside to see if they had gas. He said yes, but he was talking to a restaurant a few doors east and they were out. I think Bayside ran out while we talked.I love to solve problems. It’s a challenge I’ve never been afraid to face. This time I faced it from afar. What I saw from my perch while catering the dinner were young men and women in whom I have placed great trust doing their jobs to perfection.
Michael, my executive sous chef at Ridgway, raced back to the restaurant, quickly analyzed our cooking capabilities and edited a menu with my business partner Sukie. We’re lucky because Ridgway has lots of electric equipment in the main and prep kitchen. We also have lots of catering gear that is easily adapted to emergency restaurant cooking.
Here is a list of great things that occurred in the next hours and days.
* John Everding could not reach TECO so he called the Naples Daily News. At that early time they knew nothing of the outage: Sharp thinking on John’s part. * The continued reporting from the NDN became my most current source of information. I read the online paper almost hourly. * I awoke at 3:33 a.m. Friday morning. Not an unusual time for me when stress is high. I call it the devil’s halftime. I’m sure others can relate. My first stop was Commercial Glass to pick up five cases of butane canisters. My first call was to Taylor Rental. We do a lot of business with them and we were lucky enough to get a gas griddle. * I emailed Mayor Barnett, City Manager Bill Moss and Assistant Manager Roger Reinke, and they communicated with me thereafter every day. I was speaking for all restaurants. We had all gone through 9/11, Charlie, Wilma and, oh yes, this last recession. The weekend of the gas line break was the first time we could all breathe that collective sigh of relief! * Bayside had no option Thursday night but to close. Abel Gonzalez, the executive chef for Bayside, improvised shift by shift and by Saturday had a very good menu. * Tony’s Off Third bakery found they could cook some fresh items in small electric convection ovens. Curtis, our overnight baker, was patient and provided Tony’s morning customers with their usual fresh product. * The bakery overall was in pretty good shape. Like most bakeries we prepare the base cakes early in the week for the busy weekend and have them available. We ran out of carrot cake Saturday night. * On Friday morning, Emily Duncan, our pastry chef, sat with us and we planned an open house for Tony’s. We went forward with the planning, gas or no gas. The event was a huge success. We’ll do it again for those who missed out. * I had good communication with Jason Parsons, the new GM at The Naples Beach Hotel. * By Friday night we had created a gas outage menu and it was terrific. We served no fried foods. We might want to visit that option with some frequency for our own good health!
What is the bottom line for me? I had the opportunity to watch some young and very capable chefs and managers perform up to and beyond expectations. I never saw panic. I did see enthusiasm, willingness and passion for their jobs. I did a little planning and thinking, but for the most part the work was accomplished by the next generation. They did it well. Sukie and I are fortunate to have these wonderful people work for us. I know I’m grateful and happy to see others earn their stripes.
My wife Wynne always reminds me to be happy with what I have. I have a lot, starting with Wynne, my kids and our extended family at the restaurants. Wynne has completed the planting in the garden and the holiday decorations for Ridgway. We are in full swing for the holidays. Ridgway and Bayside will be packed next week. And I expect many will discover that Tony’s now has unbelievably high-quality pastries.
This feeling of completion and joy is what the spirit of Thanksgiving is all about. I hope this feeling never goes away. I love what I have.
My Favorite Things on the Menu
Every day, at least once, I am asked, “What’s good on the menu?”
Now, my mind works in odd ways. If someone asks what’s good, does that infer that I think there’s something bad? Regardless, my answer is always the same. “Everything is great!” And then I review what the table has already ordered or is in the mood for, give a few suggestions and hopefully add to their culinary curiosity. In reality, I can tell you why each item is on the menu and why it is good. That’s often more than the inquirer wants to know. So, since my menu is rather broad, I’ve honed my favorites to 10, in no particular order, and with some major omissions.
1. Pan Roasted Shrimp – The tasso ham gravy is great, the pink shrimp perfectly sautéed. The sweet corn grits cake and the fried green tomatoes bring it all together.
2. Chicken Paillard – I love the black bean, mango and avocado salsa. I love the crisp skin with the Ancho chili crusted on. I eat the wings first!
3. Togarashi Seared Tuna – We serve it rare only. We cut it thick so it can be cooked rare and still well seared. A little spice – well balanced by the fruity and buttery Yuzu butter sauce.
4. Veal Chop – When I want meat and I want to eat carefully. A good portion size – not too large. I love the grilled, crisp vegetables and the garlic confit demi-glace. I do chew on the bone.
5. USDA Prime Burger – I love a good burger and this is a great burger. Freshly ground USDA prime beef, hand packed. Why 10 ounces? It cooks best that way. It is pan-seared and finished in the oven. A perfect medium is my goal. Full red-pink from top to bottom. I love it medium rare as well, but perfection for me is medium my way. I add very little, as I love the meat flavor.
6. Chicken Pot Pie – My cold weather standby. It sells well year-round. We stew fresh whole chickens so the meat is fresh. There is both white and dark meat. It’s rich and creamy. Need I say more?
7. Pork Belly – I am a chef; of course pork would be on my list! It’s crisp, flavorful, meaty and fatty at the same time. I love the cider reduction and the apple and fennel slaw.
8. Clam Chowder – Chowder at its simplest. Pancetta (our answer to fatback), shallots, thyme, finely diced potatoes, clams, clam juice, cream, salt and pepper. No flour, no gooey mess. The taste of each ingredient is present.
9. Pan-Seared Salmon- When I’m being health-minded. Love the accent from the lemon confit vinaigrette. I also love my salmon cooked medium rare.
10. Pan-Roasted Mussels – A long-term classic. Garlic, lots. Butter, lots. Flavor, tons. Garlic and butter-crusted Focaccia bread to soak up the tomato sauce. It does not get any better. Oh, by the way there are Prince Edward Island Mussels in there too.
So when you come in and ask, “What’s good on the menu?,” these are the personal favorites you’ll probably hear about – and more, depending on the level of your culinary curiosity and virtuosity. No matter which, we need and want all of you. Hopefully, you won’t ask which of our customers is best. That would be a large book, and quite funny, too.
See you soon, and we can talk about food.
Food is my Aromatherapy
A sous chef was searing a large piece of meat encrusted in salt, pepper and herbs in preparation for a party. My nose took notice. Being the ever-diligent chef, I touched the meat to check its cooking, and then reflexively tasted. The smell had been terrific, the taste even better. A tiny sample of juices, herb essence and fat is all you need.
During a cheese class last summer, the first hour was spent simply inhaling aromas and tasting tiny samples, allowing the cheese to melt on the tongue so that the flavors could truly develop. Chocolate, too, should not be chewed quickly. Take time and let it melt. Savor the richness and complexity of flavor.
In almost every cooking class a discussion of taste arises. Some of the new chefs who specialize in molecular gastronomy and the 30-plate meals believe one taste is enough. I’ve not had that experience. My food world says that if one taste is good then several might be better. Our palates are complex, but our sense of smell is primitive. When food hits the tongue, taste takes a direct route to the brain, and the computer kicks in and tells us if the smell and taste are balanced. In other words, does it taste just like it smells?
If the food lacks salt, the taste will seem flat, perhaps non-existent. The sense of sour and bitter are pleasant to some, but not to others. We all love sweet, some more than others. Salt is the key in this balancing act. Each of us has his or her own level of salt preference. I try to taste with my sous chefs to calibrate our salt taste buds.
Some of our smell preferences go back to the days of foraging, when we instinctively avoided noxious foods in order to survive.
In my food world cooking is about developing taste. Whether through seasoning, adding a unique culinary twist or simply by perfect technique, optimal taste is the goal. It does not have to be difficult. A perfectly sautéed piece of fish with lemon can be as good as it gets. Remember the opening scene in Julie and Julia? Julia Child was swooning over a perfectly prepared sole meuniere. I love to walk through the kitchen and smell. The aromas of the bakery are also special. Chocolate cooking creates a very rich perfume. Caramelizing onions and vegetables is another facet, and meat and sautéed fish yet another. If I could live off of the aromas, weight would not be an issue. Years ago, we had a steak that was glazed with Gorgonzola Dolce. The tables by the kitchen complained so vocally of the foul aroma as the servers walked by that we took the item off the menu. Taste and smell are often the first step toward a great culinary experience. I’ll see you soon and let’s see what aromas are wafting throughout the Ridgway dining room!
Memories of a Season Past
I asked for a busy year and that is exactly what we got — and what we needed! The hectic pace began in October and peaked from mid- February to the end of March. My staff did a great job (I’m amazed how easy they make it look) and we were glad to serve more new customers than ever before!
My wife, Wynne, has created a beautiful garden that was much in demand this season. Wynne’s garden was much in demand and deservedly so. Even the few disagreeable guests could not put a damper on the positive effect created by its beauty. Someday I’ll write the real chapter on those unique individuals.
I keep trying to convince everyone that hard work is fun. It certainly can be productive. Being the workaholic that I am, I already miss the March pace. BRING IT ON!
I watched Sanjay Gupta on CNN news this past Sunday. He had a piece on Nathan Mhyrvold and his culinary antics. He is the latest to buy into molecular gastronomy. He has written a five or six volume tome on the subject, which he proudly sells for some $600. By sheer weight it is worth it.
The specific piece talked about preparing the perfect burger – a subject dear to my heart. First they dipped the burger in liquid nitrogen to create a crisp shell on the outside and then cooked it sous vide to finish with the perfect pink center. Not sure Wynn’s, Fresh Market or Whole Foods has a liquid nitrogen isle. Sous vide cooking has it’s place. It can do wonders for rare duck. My method is simple. Use a black iron pan, season well, sear it hard and know how to cook!!!! End of subject.
I did something that I’ve never done before. I took the rack of lamb off the menu because availability and price became a serious issue. Both Australia lamb racks, which I like and New Zealand lamb racks, which I don’t like, have become so scarce they are not even available. That shortage pushed the price of domestic lamb to a frightening level.
I’ve had some good meals out on the few nights off these past months. I finally got to Angelinas in Bonita. I like my restaurants a little more fun and the menu a little more interesting. It is beautiful and the food is good; just not my personal style.
I also visited KC’s American Bistro. Excellent entrées. I had a good talk with Chef/Owner Keith Casey. Nice to see another independent restaurateur who knows good food and makes it work.
I had dinner at Roy’s at Bayfront; appetizers were good, but nothing separated them from anyone else. One entrée was simply over-cooked, the other was unrecognizable relative to what was ordered.
My executive sous chef, Michael Voorhis, and I and other Naples Originals’ independent restaurants cooked for the trustees of the Naples Winter Wine Festival last Sunday. That was the day they distributed the funds from the Wine Festival to the children’s charities. I made an Apple Galette, and Freddo Gelateria made cinnamon gelato to accompany.
Business is good, our health is good and life is wonderful.
Leaving Room for Dessert: The Benefits of Smaller Portions
There has been a lot of discussion lately about portion size. My doctor is a very good friend and a very good customer as well. He thinks I’m a terrible patient. Despite this, I still consider him a good friend! We’ve had numerous conversations over the years about restaurant menus and portion sizes. His belief is simple – eat whatever you want – including dessert, just keep the portions under control. Of course he can eat just one bite of dessert! My philosophy has also been simple – put the best quality and best image on the plate and calories and fat levels be damned. Wisdom must certainly come with age because I finally have been convinced by my good friend, the doctor, and even more so by the many visits I make to other fine restaurants, that portion sizes need to be and are indeed smaller. Putting wisdom to practice, I have gently adjusted the Ridgway Bar & Grill menu to reflect the reduced and therefore healthier portions. The plates still look great, the quality of the product is still great – just the volume has changed. As a side benefit and not an insignificant one, many of the prices on the menu have been reduced too. The problem we faced is that big portions required an equally sizable price tag. Now, when you dine at Ridgway, you can splurge for dessert (you saved on both calories, fat and dollars). The familiar lazy days of summer have hit once again and it seems everyone is out beating the bushes trying to scare up more business. We’ve found the downtime lets us reconnect with some of our yearlong customers. We’re constantly talking to friends we used to see frequently and would like to see more often. Almost each day, I see someone in the restaurant or somewhere else – perhaps even the Wellness Center –who I remind to come visit us at the southern-most end of town.
Hope to see you soon and we’ll talk about food.
It’s all about the Roullie
In the mid 1980’s I was in the south of France visiting friends who took me to a wonderful restaurant that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea called La Pinede. We sat outdoors, shaded by tall trees and dined on “Friture” (small fried bait fish), Soup de Poisson and whole grilled local fish. It was a spectacular day.
I ate too much of everything, especially the Soup de Poisson and suffered a “crises du foie” for several days. Soup de Poisson is a soup comparable to the broth for Bouillabaisse and one that can be oh so tempting to overindulge.
A few Saturday nights ago, I had the pleasure of preparing my own version of Bouillabaisse as part of Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar’s first Cook It Up event, a BouillaBASH. Alongside Bayside’s executive chef, Abel Gonzalez, we prepared two diverse and equally delicious versions of the dish and then let guests sample and compare them. This event allowed me to delve into Rouille, the classic sauce prepared with garlic, red pepper, red pepper flakes and garlic and oil, which accompanies most fish soups including Bouillabaisse. Older recipes use potato or bread to bind and originally were made by hand perhaps even in a mortar and pestle.
The Rouille is typically stirred into the soup, but can be slathered on crusty bread or used as a dipping sauce for the pieces of seafood in a Bouillabaisse. I drizzled mine over every sample and provided a small piece of sautéed bread on the side.
The flavor and richness of Rouille enhanced and transformed the dish. Rule number one when cooking; fat carries the flavor. Rule number two; our taste buds love fat. So when rule one and two meet… We’re generally happy campers.
Today’s specialized tools make the process simple. I use a high-powered Vita Mix to puree the roasted peppers and to incorporate the red pepper flakes. I then make a good lemon garlic aioli and fold in the red pepper mixture, being certain to season to taste. (Note: I use the term season to taste. Ten people will certainly have ten levels of seasoning tastes!)
If you’ve never made a Rouille or created homemade mayonnaise, it is a basic and easy process to learn, and yes the outcome is superb! An easy way to observe the basics of emulsions can be witnessed at Ridgway through our simple vinaigrette. The vinaigrettes we serve are not emulsified. They coat the lettuce more easily and require less volume and therefore you consume fewer calories and less fat. There I go again talking about healthy eating (see my last blog entry).
Regular vinaigrette is a suspension and separates. That’s why we have to shake it each time to ensure even dispersal of ingredients. By turning the vinaigrette into an emulsion you can eliminate the need for shaking each time. Simply add a teaspoon or two of Dijon mustard to the recipe and whisk it in. Voilà! Instant emulsion.
See you in the kitchen! – Tony
Busting the Blues with Berries
This can be a roller coaster time of year. The ebb and flow of hurricane threats, the daily showers that can last for days play havoc with our attitudes and make us yearn even more for season. The European visitors who dined often this summer are fewer each day and priority number one is to prevent the gray sky malaise from winning.
At Ridgway, we fight boredom by working on the myriad tasks still on our plates. Getting ready for season is exciting and fortunately counteracts the grayness and lack of customers. So we’re busting the blues by having the kitchen repainted and new carpet installed in the main dining room. We’re changing things around to make the Courtyard Bar more appealing and more functional. A sure sign of our progress was realized, as the garden just received a major haircut. We’ll be weeding and getting ready to plant in early October. We’ve got lots to do and now not much time to accomplish all of the goals.
I am working on new menu ideas and drafting lots of memos for the kitchen staff, outlining the minute details necessary to help our cooks understand techniques and excellence. Amidst all this, a quick trip with the family to Vermont will provide me with an opportunity to do some serious menu research. I’ll be trying out new dishes like Vetri’s Spinach Gnocchi, fresh ricotta with Piperade accompanied by well-grilled and slightly charred Crostini while looking out over Lake Champlain.
We’ll be experimenting with cinnamon beignets, a fresh fruit compote and sauce anglaise. I will make a few large pots of chili for some colder days and to remind us that even in Naples we have a few chilly days. And hopefully, my blueberry bushes were not ruined by Hurricane Irene because I love that first fresh pie with home picked berries. We’ll pick fresh apples and create so many dishes with them too (apple pie first of course). The dinner table, whether at home or in a restaurant, needs to be an integral part of life for everyone. Of course I’d like to see more restaurant diners! Sitting with family and friends and having serious discussions about serious subjects is one of the great luxuries in life. There are some luxuries that need to become more like staples and dining and talking, as a family, is certainly one of them. We see so many families in our restaurant – it is joy to see the multi-generational groups interacting. It is not unusual to have three and even four generations at one table!
I’ll talk to you soon. – Tony
Reflections from Vermont
I’m back from my three-week trek to Vermont with the family and have much to report. Maybe it’s because I knew I was going to write about my experience, but during this trip I saw dining from two very different perspectives. First, I cooked a meal at home almost everyday and was reminded of just how arduous and expensive the process is when you are trying to create excellent food and serve excellent wine for six or seven people! The flip side of this is that we also made it a point to visit some of Vermont’s better restaurants and this helped me develop a better understanding of food quality and preparation from a guest’s perspective.
Here’s my tale: I cancelled one reservation at a restaurant I really like because I did not want to dine at 8:45pm. I cancelled another reservation because the restaurant simply was not worth the major outlay of cash. At other establishments, I found myself being nit picky and critical of minor details. This all led to my vowing to cook a better meal at home the next night. Then I’d cook at home and get exhausted and we’d go out again! At home, we experimented with Spinach Gnocchi twice. I learned more each time and will set out to play with the recipe again as I think it needs another attempt. On the other end of the food spectrum we made doughnuts completely from scratch, hand kneading and all. I’m considering making them available at Ridgway and Tony’s courtyard in the evenings. These are yeast doughnuts, not cakey ones. A perfect late-night snack.
Vermont is a great place to eat lots of wild mushrooms. We tasted and cooked with several variety including Chanterelle and Hen of the Wood. I was constantly reminded of my obsession with the perfectly cooked plate of food. I’m not talking what was on the plate, but how the food was cooked. Reflecting on a previous post I made, a chef can plan a great plate, but it takes a great cook to prepare great food. Whether it was a grilled burger, grilled haddock or a perfectly roasted local organic chicken – perfection in cooking was and is my goal. The Misty Knoll Farms free-range chicken yielded the most beautiful crisp and brown skin I’ve ever seen. I could have simply peeled the skin off and dined on that! In my last post I told you I was looking forward to the blueberries. Well I’m happy to say we hand picked blueberries and purchased Cortland and Honey crisp apples from a local farmers market. One of the most memorable evenings was when we made pasta and hung the noodles to dry on upside down stools. (Yes we cleaned the Vermont mud from the stools before we used them.) Homemade pasta and fresh roasted local chicken with local garden veggies and natural juices, what a treat! Unfortunately, I have to mention that I ate the worst risotto in my life. It came with a two-ounce piece of Salmon on a salad that appeared to have been cooked some days prior. (I’ll tell you in person where this was if you want to know.)
Alas, we ate at The Hen of the Wood’s in Waterbury where I devoured the corn fritters with honey. I also love their little bites of baby Chioggia Beets simply blanched and served with a citrus pesto made from the beets’ own greens. Bottom line, I came back fully charged and ready to make Ridgway, Tony’s and Bayside even better. And from my perspective they are already good. I love the idea that my motor is fully running and not necessarily with that many new ideas, but to improve on everything we do and to select a few choice treats to complement an already good menu. Any chef can plan a good menu. Only a great restaurant can cook the food well every time. Cooking… that’s what it’s all about.
What I Learned After 40 years
Some celebrations are better than others.
On November 2nd – 5th, 2011, the community came together to join us in celebrating our 40th Anniversary in business. Over this busy four-day period, I observed something in action that I have been observing for years – but until now, I’ve kept it to myself.
Over the years we’ve seen the passage of time take some of our best clients and are always searching for our next best clients. The perks for our best customers are myriad. There are no initiation fees, no dues, no minimums, just great food and wine with friends and the feeling that you are special.
First of all, I must give kudos to where they are deserved. The celebration exceeded all of my expectations. The live music at our finale street party was terrific, thanks to Patrick and Paul for a wonderful performance. Justin from Neapolitan made certain that we had plenty of power for the band. Gia had her bar and restaurant staff fully primed and ready to go. They all performed perfectly. The kitchen staff was in full season rhythm. I love it that way. Maryanne and her crew did not miss a beat in the bakery and Tara had a beautiful cake for all to see. Wynne’s garden is more spectacular than ever. Sukie has both Ridgway and Bayside in perfect physical shape. Thanks to all.
We began with a private reception at Ridgway on Wednesday. We then proceeded to a sold out wine tasting at Bayside on Thursday and to a scone and cake tasting at Tony’s on Friday and the finale, The Street Dance, on Saturday. Mollie, our PR specialist, who was so good, what more can I say, all four days went off without a glitch. While we had plenty of public treats planned, it was our private events that warmed my heart most.
Did our customers get preferential treatment? YES, deservedly so!
Our best customers have many traits in common. Some go back almost forty years and by shear longevity are favorites. Some dine with us 50-100 times per year. Some buy wine from Sukie in vast quantities. Some simply love great food and wine and choose to dine with us. They all have one common thread: They love being at both Ridgway and Bayside. They love the idea that Tony’s Off Third has wines that are hand selected. They love the fact that the restaurants are owned and operated by hands on and passionate people. John Everding, Jennifer Landon, Andrea Eastman and Chef Abel Gonzalez personify what Sukie and I believe in, as they watch over Bayside every minute of the day.
For those who are not at the top of our lists, there is always hope. The common theme of the week was one of celebration and more important of being able to see and celebrate with old friends. One of the realities of being in business for so long is that we have great clients who go back almost to day one.
Many guests said it was so much fun to see old friends. Old and new friends are truly what a great restaurant is about. I was once again reminded that a restaurant is not just a place, a physical structure as it is a gathering of individuals. Some nights are so special because there is that sense of personality that pervades.
We can provide a perfectly fine establishment, and both Bayside and Ridgway offer that. We can offer a well thought out and well-executed menu, and Bayside and Ridgway do that as well. The magic comes from the guests. The multiple personalities that make up each night, the generations that cross our paths each day, the various backgrounds and beliefs that we bring create the aura, the sense of personality and excitement.
Many of our clients bring fascinating and sometime exhilarating backgrounds. Some are reticent to talk, some gush forward.
I sometimes think that for a few minutes of each lunch and dinner, these disparate people come together in a dining and social environment and share the common bond and forge into an agreeable synergy that can transcend polarizing issues.
The fond memories you shared with us at the 40th Anniversary was the inspiration that led Sukie & I to open the new Courtyard Bar. For those of you that miss the casual atmosphere and great food at Truffles- you are going to love the Courtyard Bar. Walk up, sit down, enjoy a Truffles Tuna Caesar. No reservations necessary and along with a light-fare menu, you can enjoy pastries perfect for those nighttime sweet tooth attacks. We’re telling people “Sandy Feet Welcome,” which means it’s as casual as you want to be when you arrive by foot, bike, car, golf cart or off the beach. The Courtyard Bar is open past midnight on New Years Eve. Can you imagine a more beautiful place to celebrate the night?
Many thanks to all who attended and celebrated with us, thank you to our staff who created the Orchid Garden in the Garden at Ridgway Bar and Grill. And thank you to those of you out there who are saying I’d like to be the next best customer. We’re welcoming applicants with open arms. It can begin simply with a single drink at the new Courtyard Bar at Ridgway or talking with Scotty at the Upper Deck Bar at Bayside.
Hope to see you all soon as we begin to build more memories in anticipation of our 50th anniversary in 2021!
Happy Holidays – Tony
Making History… One Generation and Dinner at a Time
The first days of 2012 are continuing to support the optimism generated by a record setting holiday period for Ridgway Bar & Grill. Not only was the level of business terrific, but the performance by the entire staff was remarkable. Thanks to all and I mean everyone. The first rule a restaurant operator must learn is to believe in others and ask them to perform. That maxim has never more evident than in the beginning weeks of 2012.
Borrowed from the Past
While my eyes are constantly fixed on how to stay creative in the kitchen and keep palates from all generations happy, I must admit that regardless of how many new items or atmospheres I debut, it always comes back to one thing: That we’ve been able to create a consistently joyful dining experience for over 40 years.
How? I believe it’s because we remain focused on not just the quality of our ingredients and attention to preparation, (and our wine selections) but also on making sure the ambience enhances the occasion. Sukie and I were just talking about how important the little details are: like making sure our tables enjoy a little elbow room, ample mood lighting and music, accommodating for breezes, glare and temperature, and of course that every seat enjoys a good view. While other eateries may fail to pay attention to the details, we believe they are the hallmarks of staying competitive. In fact, I believe our ability to provide a dining experience that stands above the rest in ambience and cuisine is the biggest reason we enjoy such a great repeat customer base.
A History of Charity
January will be busy for Sukie and I as we are the Honorary Chairs for this year’s YMCA of the Palms Sneaker Ball. The event is the largest annual fundraiser for the Naples YMCA. The YMCA staff and Sneaker Ball committee are working hard to make this year’s event memorable with amazing and rare auction items and stellar entertainment. In addition to encouraging support and attendance, Sukie and I are also catering the Ball.
An interesting fact about the YMCA and Sukie and myself is that we’ve all been a part of the community for a long time. Over the years the Y has been guided by many of Naples preeminent leaders. Sukie has been directly involved in several leadership roles at the Y for over 22 years, and both of us have supported them through a variety of in-kind donations.
Strong leadership drives the Y’s success. Its programs strengthen families through its leadership. In addition, it supports thousands children through childcare, sports and after school programs. And while the tepid economy has affected charitable giving goals, the Y continues to enjoy commitment from leaders that are steadfast to see it remain a valuable asset in our community.
Our message to those who have been leaders or anyone who has enjoyed the Y’s services or programs is to please STEP UP. Sukie and I are happy to contribute and happy to work with Brandon Dowdy and his staff at the YMCA to hopefully regenerate tons of local support and moreover to renew that feeling of being involved in a local project at its grass roots.
With that in mind, we felt a strong connection with the Y during our recent 40th Anniversary celebration this past November, and will present a check to the agency at the Ball from dinner proceeds we collected from you over those four days. Proceeds from the Sneaker Ball support the YMCA scholarship fund.
On the restaurant front, we have so many good things going on right now. Each night we see our most valued long-term customers and get a chance each day to meet our new guests, some of whom will become our best new customers. I look at the history reports each day and love seeing the repeat visitors. I also look at the new guests trying to discern who will be that next best customer.
Our friend Jonathan Foerster, an editor at Gulfshore Life Magazine blogged last month about young diners of Naples often being spurned by Naples fine dining restaurants. I hope we are not on that list and for all the young of Naples – we’d love to have you learn the nuances of fine dining at Ridgway Bar & Grill and Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar.
I tend to notice when groups in their late twenties or early thirties dine with us. Those that young do skew our average age, but great food is a fabulous way of life. I remember introducing well-prepared food to a group of first year college students a few years ago. The room was quiet and the attention span was tenuous at best until they tasted the first item. After that it was “Let’s eat all we can get,” and then they wanted to talk about nothing else but how to prepare good food.
Of interest to our younger clients will be the new Courtyard Bar. If you’ve visited us lately, you’ll see that the courtyard area in front of Tony’s Off Third has undergone a minor transformation. We’ve installed a state-of-the-art surround sound system that allows us to select different genre of music based on the time of day and clientele preference. We also officially built a real full bar and are now offering a very casual menu starting at 5pm, and just in the courtyard. The menu can be found.
In early January, we hosted the Ferrari Club of Naples’ first event of the year. Over a dozen pristine and beautiful Ferrari’s and their owners took over the street parking on 13th Avenue and enjoyed fresh pastries, Mimosas & Bloody Mary’s at the Courtyard Bar. We were also busy that morning replenishing coffee & baked goods at our booth in the Farmer’s Market on 3rd Street.
It’s true! There is a rumor that the Truffles Tuna Caesar is on the new Courtyard Bar at Ridgway menu. We invite you to come check it out. Another thing about the Truffles Tuna Caesar salad: the dressing is better that ever. I worked with Gary to take the flavor profile up a little. The Tuna Caesar is available ONLY IN THE COURTYARD. We’re dangling that carrot under your nose to get some of you out there.
The bar is totally outside and subject to vagaries of the weather. It’s open 6 nights a week (closed Mondays). Sukie and I look forward to having you join us there some evening. No reservations, no pretense and just a simple light-fare menu. Sandy feet welcome and shorts and flip flops appear to be the style of the day.
Another new development worthy of note are the brioche donuts. Have you tried my brioche donuts yet? Perfect and light enough for a late night snack. They are the best and available at Ridgway in the evening and in the Courtyard.
Come by and say hi to our courtyard bar staff and sit under the starts and talk with you friends. Hope to see you soon and to talk about food and fun.
Bake Mine with Lots of Style & Taste
Baking has always been a part of my life. Apple and peach orchards were my childhood playground. Picking strawberries or walking across hills in search of wild blackberries were my summer camp activities. And while other children were busy collecting bruises from tackle football or bicycle mishaps, I was busy tackling thorny branches to gather fresh blackberries, an activity that also stained my fingers purple – a testament to a successful harvest! Family parties were my sock hops as they provided me a chance to dance in delight over the fabulous cakes and pies made fresh by my aunts. Aunt Mabel made the best German chocolate cake. And our neighbor, Mrs. Taylor, made a wonderful cake with a lemon filling and boiled icing.
When I was 8-years old, I baked my first apple pie. I soon advanced to lemon meringue pies and chocolate cakes and cookies and then éclairs. I vividly remember the first time I made the chocolate orange mousse at The Chef’s Garden on Fifth Avenue. It was the fall of 1972. The technique, which today is a basic for me, seemed so advanced and took forever. Great baking is more than an ability to read a recipe. Take the carrot cake recipe given to me by a co-worker in the USAF. I have prepared it for over 40 years. Yet over time, I changed the level of spice in the recipe adding some All Spice and Ginger. It took baking thousands of these cakes to get this recipe perfect. FYI: The original recipe is framed and hangs in Tony’s Off Third. With the advent of Truffles, a new door in baking opened for me. The bakery cases were filled with wonderful sweet delights. Young and old stood in front of the display case each day to pick out that one special treat. Those moments are my Norman Rockwell images. I will confess: I LOVE desserts! And even though I’ve reduced my personal consumption (Wynne likes a fit man), the sweet end of the meal is still my favorite part. To those of you who remember the baked goods from Truffles, please listen up.
Tony’s Off Third is a significantly better bakery than Truffles ever was. Every one of the items reflect a lifetime of stained fingers and thorny obstacles to get what I think is a perfect mix of style and taste. The secret ingredient: It’s not the location as some might think. Our secret ingredient is a fabulous team of bakers and finishers. Maryann is in charge of the bakery and boy does she love to bake. Always ready with a smile and helping hands are Curtis, Martin, Juan, Lynn and Santos. To our advantage, Elenides has become a great finisher of cakes. And Tara, our new specialty artist, has a refreshing flair for creativity. A bakery is a place where flour, sugar, eggs, cream, chocolate, and the whole glossary of baking products come together. And YES, we do use lots of fresh cream and butter. What we don’t use is shortening. Baking is both an art and a science. Techniques are critical; measurements are precise. But one must have the ultimate touch to know when the process is perfect so the result will be tempting. We have that with our team at Tony’s Off Third! Case in point: We recently uncovered the apple peeling machine from years gone by. It is a fabulous instrument of black iron machinery with manually calibrated gears and blades. With baking, there are no shortcuts. In our bakery, there are no preset buttons or computerized assembly lines either. I’ve tested so many new kitchen innovations over the years that promise results, but none compare to what we can accomplish with a team of skilled human hands. But the joys of a bakery are not fully realized unless we can share our creations with others.For this reason, we continue to survey our best customers and have responded to many requests.
The Zebra cake is back and we have a huge new Red Velvet cake fan club. Our list of freshly baked items continues to grow each day. To keep the pace, our bakers begin the day at 11pm the night before. I want to remind you that we also enjoy baking your custom creations including wedding cakes, holiday treats and large party orders.
On a final note, I want to answer one question that I hear often and surprises me: Question: Where are these pastries made? My answer: Everything you see or purchase from our bakery and all items on the dessert menus at Ridgway Bar and Grill and Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar are prepared and baked right here in two rooms behind the retail store in Old Naples.
Your Friend, Tony
Seasonal Hibernation is Over
The goodbyes are almost over. I’ve said those words too many times these past weeks. In protest, I think I’ll turn my back on the next car-carrier leaving town; that ritual is inevitable and one of the surest signs of summer’s arrival. A more fun signal is welcoming back many year-round guests who simply stay away during the seasonal crush. I’ve seen many faces smiling as they reclaim their beloved village of Naples. I miss the crowds, but fully appreciate the sentiment and am thrilled to see our long-term supporters returning in good numbers. As a restaurant that achieves much of its success from a large base of loyal and long-term customers, I had been talking about names that had formed that very base several decades ago. Wow was I surprised this past Monday evening. Friends who had been frequents guests from years ago were everywhere. It was great fun for them and me too, as we both had the opportunity to socialize with friends whom we had not seen in some time.
Wynne and I were out of town the last week of April. We had dinner with my daughter Caroline in Philadelphia at Talula’s Garden on Washington Square. The food was terrific, with lots of local fresh vegetables beautifully and flavorfully prepared. We dined there twice within a week and pretty much ate our way through the menu. It was a truly wonderful experience and reminded me of why I love what I do. I love listening to our guests discuss their dining experiences. They love our menu and wine programs knowing that our quality of food, level of service and ambiance and level of consistency have a very high standard. Someone once said, “I love your restaurant because your performance in the restaurant generally exceeds my expectations.” I aspire to doing that for you every day.
I am going to work on new menu items this summer rather than wait until the fall. It works better logistically for me and will keep my mind and hands active, energize the kitchen staff and more important, give our local supporters a first look at the new items; with mid June being the goal for the first new tastes. We purchase a lot of beautiful greens from a local farmer who delivers several times a week. His growing season ended a few weeks ago and he thanked us for our business by not charging us for our last order! Can’t wait until next fall to see him.
Until next time, your friend Tony
An Inconvenient Truth
While sitting at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in front of a computer/iPhone charging station a few weeks ago, I began to feel angry at the realization that the airline had few options for getting me back home. Moreover, they were unapologetic about the inconvenience. I succumbed to my situation and began reading the Naples Daily newspaper online. One particular headline hit me very hard and made me realize that all of my personal angst meant nothing. Things could be worse, and eventually I would get back to Naples and my life, as I know it, would go on. But my feelings toward United Airlines may never change, however. That simple moment made me evaluate the state of customer service. Being inconvenienced is not fun. It can do great damage to a reputation and those hurts run deep. A few days later I called a meeting with my management team to discuss plans for the fall. On top of the list was how to improve our customer care processes.
Specifically, how we take reservations. It was agreed that Ridgway would promise to provide a reservation for exactly what the customer wants. We’ve always done our best to accommodate diner requests, but it doesn’t go without saying that this process often has glitches. Regardless of technicalities, we agreed to do the following: When you call for a side porch table reservation, you will be reserved for just that. However, if no side porch table is available at the time you specify, then we’ll let you know when one will be available or provide additional options. You will not be promised something we can not deliver when you arrive!
Our priority is simple: The customer should be treated not only with respect, but also catered to so as to avoid inconvenience. A Fresh Face for Fall For those who have been to Third Street and Ridgway in the past few days, you’ve seen some major construction going on. Our building is undergoing some much-needed work. The garden and side patio will be complete by weeks end and the front porch by early next week. By the time you receive this post, all the construction will be complete. These renovations are providing Wynne, me and some of our staff with some new fall planting work in the garden. It is a very exciting time for all of us. We will be working with a very clean slate this year, so much to accomplish. When done, it will be one of our most popular dining atmospheres for sure! A few last minute items to the Ridgway dinner menu will be available by October’s end. I am very excited about some of the new offerings.
Our brunch is a very popular Sunday tradition so we decided to add another day! Starting this Saturday (November 3rd), Ridgway will offer its special brunch on both Saturdays & Sundays from 10am – 2pm!
In addition, we will create a Coffee Bar in the outdoor Courtyard Bar on Saturday & Sunday mornings for guests that want a quick cup of regular or decaf coffee. Specialty coffees, breakfast items including quiche, scones and pastries made on site are available in Tony’s.
A Time for Wine
For those of you who love wine do you have any idea what an asset we have and therefore you have in my partner Sukie Honeycutt? Sukie’s wine knowledge is superb. When she talks about the winemakers and the owners, it is because she knows them. Sukie gets excellent allocations because of the long-term business relationships and can help you with those very hard to find wines. Even more important, Sukie is bringing excellent value wines to Tony’s Off Third. Everyday wines that you will be proud to pour and where will find great value. Sukie is happy to work with you on your special purchases and her staff at Tony’s can help you as well. Tony’s Off Third wine selections are not the deeply discounted wines you see all over. They are simply the wines you want to drink at good prices! If you are a Pinot Noir lover, stroll through the store and seek out the more than 80 labels specifically selected for you. The fall looks to be great and as I write this, the first morning low is under 70. Life is good and my priorities are in order.
Your Friend, Tony
Holiday Musings & a Burger to Boot
You can feel the holiday spirit at Ridgway. Wynne and her elves decked our halls, reservations for Christmas dinner are pouring in, and there’s a holiday party happening every night.
Thanksgiving week was wonderful. The night of the Festival of Lights had perfect weather. Santa, Mayor John Sorrey and the beautiful Snow Queen paraded down Third Street to the Christmas tree in front of Tony’s Off Third, officially kicking off the festivities; many thanks to Wink TV for their continued support of Third Street. We set a record for Thanksgiving with 720 dining guests. It was fun for all of us. The entire staff did a wonderful job, but a big shout out to Gary Sharp and his prep crew for all they did.
The beep. beep, beeeeeeeeeeep of the construction lifts around our building has gone silent. The renovation work looks terrific and the construction crew did a great job, causing fewer problems than any one would have imagined; a good job done by all. Thanks to all of our customers who came in during the construction process. We have lots of events and special happenings coming up in the next few week. Sukie’s very special Champagne and Sparkling Tasting is tonight. We have over 100 guests registered to attend. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by, we can make a little more room. Gia, our general manager, is preparing a Captain Morgan party on Thursday, December 13th at The Courtyard Bar. The “Coast-to-Coast Shipwreck Party” kicks off at 5:30 pm and will go until The Courtyard Bar closes that night. There will be lively Caribbean music and giveaways!
Tara, our specialty pastry chef at Tony’s Off Third, has Gingerbread Houses in full production. Priced at $45.00 and $60.00, you can also talk with Tara to get one customized. We have cute hand-made sugar Santa and Reindeer pieces that can be added to your Gingerbread House scene as well. Heck, we can even create an entire Gingerbread Village if you wish. But don’t wait too long as we have a limited number we can construct, so call quickly. Tara is happy to consult with you on any special requests. There is a picture book that displays many of her creations available for perusal at the counter in Tony’s Off Third. The bakery team is also busy making – from scratch – all your favorite holiday pastries, which will be on sale in the pastry case or by special order starting Friday, December 7th.
Employees of Ridgway Bar & Grill, Tony’s off Third and Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar will once again be celebrating the holiday together at Tony & Wynne’s home on Tuesday, December 18th. We have done this for several years and it is a great family occasion. All three restaurants will be closing a little early that day so all our staff can enjoy the party. Christmas Eve reservations are going quickly. We have so many extended families that join us that evening. Hopefully you and you family will begin a Christmas tradition by dining with us for Christmas Eve or for Christmas Day. We will be open regular hours on Christmas Eve and serve from noon to eight PM on Christmas day.
Every Dish Tells a Story
When asked about my menu, I generally tell someone why each plate is special to me. For example, let me tell you about my burger. I used to spend a lot of time in Lake Forest, Illinois and shopped at Don’s Finest Foods, a wonderful local grocer with a spectacular meat counter. His ground chuck was the best! I wish the store were still open. When I opened Ridgway Bar & Grill in the fall of 2001, I wanted to have a great burger on the menu and set out to do so. I spoke with James at Grand Western, they were at the time and still are today our only meat purveyor. My objective was to replicate Don’s Finest Grocery ground chuck. The basis is USDA prime chuck meat, freshly ground and then hand packed at the restaurant where it gets seared on a flat top griddle. The first mix was 80 percent lean to 20 percent fat. It was good, but not great. My second attempt was a ratio of 70 percent lean to 30 percent steak fat. The burger cooks like a steak and taste as good as any hunk of meat. We pan sear the burger because the open flame on the grill might get a little too active with the fat bursting onto the coals. I also like the more neutral char the heavy grill gives the beef. So that’s my story on why The Ridgway Burger is so good. Thanks to Don for his friendship, guidance and inspiration from years ago. And thanks to Grand Western for knowing that quality and taste are the only way to go. Next month I’ll tell you my Carrot Cake recipe story.
Our building is now filled with a superb collection of retailers. Stop by and say hello to all of them from all of us. The Beach House opened with us in the fall of 1976, Kathy and Annie have been at Tickled Pink for years, Katie and Ted are celebrating a year on the corner at St. Tropez. And two very new stores; Sarah Campbell dress shop and Spruce Home Goods have opened within the past few weeks. We are all getting ready for a busy and celebratory season. Please join us soon and we can talk about food and wine. Your Friend, Tony
The Personal Touch Effect
I was talking with a guest at the inside bar the other night and she hesitated during our conversation to search for the perfect word to describe the restaurant. After a long pause, she finally said “personal.” I liked her choice. It very much describes what Tony’s and Ridgway are all about.
Our wine selections are made by Sukie with her personal tastes as the guide. She is often in Tony’s to personally help wine buyers.
Likewise, my menus measure my personal taste and style views at a point in time. Over the holidays, I had many opportunities to discuss the menus with our guests. I love doing that and our guests seem to as well.
The garden, one of Wynne’s passions, is very personal, needing hours of care each day. When it gets attention, it makes us proud.
The spring season in the garden is showing serious signs of arrival. The Jasmine vine has its first blooms, and the orchids have almost seventy new spikes with the first expected to bloom later this week. But it’s the Queens Wreath, with a few tentative purple blossoms, that is creating the most bloom anticipation for guests and staff! It’s certainly a great time to dine in the garden as the days are filled with cool breezes and the night’s temperatures drop low enough to keep the bugs away.
The garden is the perfect place to celebrate romance. In fact, we were recently honored with a visit from Barbara and John Shafer of Shafer Vineyards, who just loved sitting in the garden during lunch.
It’s no surprise the garden has become one of our most popular seating requests. With that in mind, I will be creating a Valentine’s Day menu to make the day extra special. Details are important and are also what make every dish delicious. In fact, I’m about to give a refresher lesson to the kitchen staff about how to hand-pack our burgers. Excellence is in the details. I hope you agree.
Give ’em What They Deserve
It is not only ownership and family who make things personal around here. Our staff feels the same way and are proud of their work place and what we offer and it shows. Many of our staff love to dine here and they tend to be our most severe critics. Of the record setting days, I’d say that 98+ percent of our guests were very satisfied. That is great, but we’d like to do better. We aim to do our best and recognize that perfection is a goal worth striving for. So what can we do to recapture that last two percent? I think we need to be more watchful of the gaps and encourage guests to freely give us feedback or ask for a problem to be remedied quickly. Sometimes it’s a simple miscommunication or more likely a non-communication. From a man who is surrounded by family that loves to dine out and has very specific wants and needs-a simple and frank discussion with a server or restaurant owner can be very helpful (and is typically very much appreciated). Communicating verbally is the best way to deliver a message – even in this too-fast-paced world we now live in.
Bottom Line: To the 98.5 percent of those who love us, we feel the same way about you. Can’t wait to see you again in the coming weeks and months. In fact, when you do visit make sure you also visit the garden to see the Queens Wreath, orchids and Jasmine come into full bloom. Your enjoyment makes it all worthwhile and so personal.
40 Years to Make One Cake Perfect
Here is the story behind the details of my Carrot Cake. Carrot Cake has been in my culinary vocabulary for decades. It all started a very long time ago when TSGT Jeter, with whom I worked while stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, offered me his wife’s Carrot Cake recipe. I tried it, loved it, and as they say, the rest is history. The original recipe from his wife, well-loved and well-stained, is framed and on display at the counter in Tony’s Off Third. But as most chefs do, I love to be creative, so the recipe has had a few modifications over the years. We continue to use the freshest ingredients including real carrots and butter, but I have increased the volume of spice a little to get a stronger but equally pleasant taste. I have no idea how many thousands of Carrot Cakes we have baked at Tony’s or will continue to make. Our Carrot Cake is just that: no nuts, pineapple or raisins. My favorite way to enjoy the cake is as a cupcake, fresh from the oven and still warm with its spice perfume still in the air. It amazes me how something so simple can be so good. The Carrot Cake slice served at Ridgway is a generous one. It is not some au currant take on carrot cake; it is the real deal. Easy to share with others or splurge for one.
Baking is in my blood and I find great pleasure in exploring new variations on every recipe. This passion is also shared by the bakery staff at Tony’s and in the kitchens at Ridgway and Bayside. Yet above everything, taste trumps creativity and we’ve found that a choice piece of fish or meat needs little more than perfect grilling to win over the critics. Sometimes the best things in life are the things we hold dear from the past – like our loyal dining guests and a simple slice of freshly baked Carrot Cake.
Your Friend, Tony