Thursday, June 05, 2014

This Weeks UpDate

The weather forecast for the weekend is looking awesome!

Last night's prix-fixe was quite successful, and we were quite busy, thanks in part to several of our regulars having dinner before heading off to one of the many concerts being held in conjunction with the National Music Festival, currently going on around the area.  

We've been offering this prix-fixe menu as a Wednesday special since the anniversary of our first year in business - May 28th, 2008.  Just about every Wednesday since then we've been serving a three course menu for the price of whatever the current year is - right now it costs $20.14.  It's a serious value for our guests, and it is also a serious playground for Kevin, where he can fool around a bit with new recipes or products.  He often comes up with a dish that suggest a possible place on the regular menu, but this is something that actually rarely happens, for some unknown reason.  What ever.  It's our Wednesday special, and has been for six years.

That being said, why then would another local restaurant do the exact same special, on the exact same night of the week?  Here's the publicity for last night's menu as advertised by our friendly competitor:



(In Addition to Our Regular Menu)

This Week, Wednesday June 4th


Tossed Caesar Salad


Chicken Pasta Saltimbocca

Linguine, Prosciutto, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Sherry Cream, Mozzarella ~~~ Chocolate Mousse

Sure,  there's no law that says a restaurant can't do any special they want.  But really?  In a business community as small as ours? Why would you?  And why would you charge half the going rate?  When we were coming up with our weekly specials, we never would have chosen to do an "Oyster Night" on Thursday, because Jeff already has a handle on that.  We wouldn't choose to hold wine tastings on Tuesday evenings, the same night everyone goes to the Imperial for that.  And Burger Night didn't become a BT thing until after Andy's closed up shop and ended their hold on that weekly special.  Economics are tight for all of us and we all are struggling for pretty much the same business, so I can't imagine choosing to step so obviously on another restaurant's toes.  And since it is only $10 for all three courses, my mind goes "Wow, Brooks Tavern charges twice as much for the same thing".  Yeah we do.  And it's delicious too.  Our first course alone last night was worth $10.  We won't be changing our weekly specials, and we also won't be practicing any behavior commonly considered to be odious within the Hospitality Industry, like poach another restaurant's employee or copycat a competitor's special on the same or any other night.  You just don't do those things.  You don't.

Okay, that's over.

We had a few guests who had some complaints last night too.  I sat far too many tables at too close intervals, and next thing you know, the board is lined front to back with tickets.  We were all hopping to make things happen; even Charlie was up to his ears with drinks at the bar.  I'm sure more than one table was a little concerned that things weren't moving along at the usual rapid clip - especially if they were trying to get to a 7:30 show - but we only got one actual complaint.  A pair of ladies left a note on the credit slip saying service had been too slow, and they showed their disapproval with the tip as well as with the printed word.  Ashley was the server, and she couldn't have felt worse about it.  She explained to me the guests' issues with timing, and it seemed nothing worked to her advantage; even when they ordered decaf, there was none brewed and so they had to wait for that too.  It was unfortunate, and I can only think of two things that might have made the situation end on a higher note.  If we had known earlier in their meal that their evening was progressing too slowly, we could have helped speed things up.  And secondly, if the woman who wrote the comment on the credit card slip had left her phone number along with her complaint, I could have reached out to her and maybe make amends some other way.  Unfortunately, neither of those events occurred, and we are left with a disgruntled customer who will most likely proceed to tell anyone who will listen about the poor service she experienced at Brooks Tavern. 

A bad bottle of wine was the other negative scenario.  Whenever a guest returns a bottle of wine because it has gone south, we don't disagree with them.  We just get them something else.  If the wine really is bad, we can send it back to our distributor; if it is just a case of the guest not liking it, we can offer it by the glass or even (!) drink it ourselves.  Kevin is my go-to wine taster - his palate knows no challengers - and in my opinion, his reaction is solid.  He tasted said bottle last night, decreed it fit for drinking, and so when the guests asked for another of the same, I suggested that no, maybe they should try something else.  However, while I was opening the new bottle, when the customers asked me didn't I find the other bottle to be corked, I said, well, actually, no, that Kevin would probably be drinking it later that night.  They were amazed and sort of surprised, but we left it at that.  

You guessed it.  Later, when Kevin had a real glass of the stuff, he remarked "You know, I think this wine is a little off".  What?!?!  We tasted it against a different bottle of the same wine, and yes, there was a difference.  Corked maybe, but definitely not as fresh tasting, definitely not as good. This morning I sent an email of apology to the regular whose wine it was, and she was quite gracious in accepting it. (And you know, in my excellent 20-20 hindsight, knowing that this guest has consumed this same wine with several meals over the past months, perhaps having Kevin taste the wine was really unnecessary...)

Part of the this whole problem could have been prevented if the server had insisted that the host at the table actually take a taste of the wine before the entire table got poured a glass.  This eliminates the possibility of everyone suffering through a nasty flavor, and also leaves enough wine in the bottle to return to the distributor, if need be.  But this situation, with the guest having had this wine often enough in the past, the ritual was skipped and a bad time wine was had by all as a result.  The lesson learned: taste first, drink later, especially if a cork is involved.

Despite the obvious disappointments these two customer relation experiences held for us last night, it was overall a fun and action filled Wednesday night, with a solid buzz throughout the somewhat noisy dining room and lots of regulars to chat with.  The food wasn't too shabby either.

The first course was one of those prix-fixe starters that guests took an immediate liking to and several requested that it earned a place on the regular menu.  A chick-pea cake was deep fried and then garnished with fresh mozzarella and marinated roasted red peppers, with a little bit of the vinaigrette from the marinade splashed over top.  The marinade was made from a chive blossom vinegar that Kevin has been macerating for several weeks, ever since he harvested a big handful of freshly opened chive blossoms.

The entree was chicken cacciatore,  Marcella Hazan style.

Chicken legs roasted with tomato, carrots and celery, and savory herbs.

The end result was served with its sauce over a mound of linguine and a dusting of Parmesan cheese.  Looked good enough to eat.  And we sold out.  The dessert that ended the night was a creme caramel, just the right amount of sweet after the robust meal preceding.

In other news:

 ...the head cheese has been progressing nicely.  As soon as someone orders it, I will post a picture.  It looks stunning, in its cloak of gelatin, and I'd love to try it, but Kevin is being very stingy.  After all, it was quite a labor-intensive production.

Knowing how to repair small appliances is quite important when you own your own business.  Here's Kevin trying to figure out how to put the Kitchen Aid mixer back together.  Oh, did I mention that knowing how to put small appliances back together was also important?

We entertained a father-son pair on Friday night last week - David Bowman and his son, Flyn, were on a Dad Date together, and opted to spend their evening at the kitchen table at Brooks Tavern.  Their entire evening actually, as David was still sitting there while the cooks were sweeping and mopping.  That's because 10 year old Flyn had taken over the restaurant.  It began during dinner service when he became my helper on the salad station - I was on the salads because there was no one else who could cover the graduating senior's shift - and I was happy to have the help.  He started out putting strawberries on the shortcake and eventually learned how to use his diaphragm to call out "Pick Up!" at the top of his lungs.  Next thing you know, he was breaking down trays and bussing tables.  I had to tell him not to circle the diners too ardently with his tray, since that might make them think we were rushing them...of course in Flyn's mind, he wanted to rush them because he just couldn't wait to clear the table.  The last table of the night might have been a little confused, I think, when this small boy started telling them about dessert.  "Well", he began, "we ran out of strawberry shortcake.  But we have tropical paradise ice cream.  I think it has peanuts in it".  We all fell in love.  Meanwhile, Dad's sitting at the tall top, while Flyn says "Just two more minutes Dad, two more minutes".  He had such fun, and so did we!  We'd love to have a tiny guest worker again, as long as I can get my insurance agent to agree.  And the labor board, eh?

I only have two more shots of food, and this is from one of those "Chef's Dinners" that we do for donation gift certificates.  This was Friday, when I was on the salads, so I wasn't always free to use the camera.  I got one shot of the shrimp on kale, above, and the scallop below.  It was about six small courses overall, put together by Jay and Kevin on the fly, and which, I gather, was well received on the dining end.

I have almost forgotten what the winter was like.  The strawberries from Redman's did a lot to erase those memories - I think they were the best ever this year - and the steady supply of crab meat lately, sweet Maryland meat, has helped as well.  It's one of the things I love best about life on Maryland's Eastern Shore - the change of season.  Winter may have overstayed its welcome a bit this year, but we knew it would end eventually and spring - followed quite rapidly by summer - would soon take over.  Four distinct seasons with four distinct eating plans.  More than likely, the one we are headed into is the favorite for many of us, but they each have their reasons for being.  I mean, when you think about it, would you want to chomp on an icy slice of watermelon in December?  or attack a sweet potato casserole in July?  Even crabcakes lose their appeal in January, when you know  they are being made with out-of-season, or worse yet, imported crab meat.  Why bother, when the real thing is coming soon to a kitchen near you?  Cooking and eating with the seasons is what food is all about.  Sure,  it's partly about supporting local farmers and growers, it's partly about avoiding thousands of miles of carbon footprints, but it's also a lot about eating really good, really fresh, real food that is not the same every week of the year.  It's what Kevin and I have been all about for the past 28 years in Kent County, from serving Mrs. Kelly vegetables and Marietta's eggs in 1986, to Kim's pork and Cathy's asparagus in 2014.  The only thing that changes is that it just keeps getting better and better!

Peace out!


  1. I love, love, love this! It is in our blood to have you guys train us Bowmans!

    1. He really was the cutest thing. He did not want to stop working!!