Monday, September 15, 2014

As its sales fall, is McDonald's number up?

This is a case of very interesting numbers that may presage a major change in the fast-food world.

Last week, McDonald's, long the epitome of successful fast-food companies, reported that globally its same-store sales fell 3.7% in August, its worst monthly decline in a decade.

Today, main competitor Burger King reported same-store sales increases of 3.7% in North America and 2.7% globally for July and August.

Also, the Canadian chain Tim Hortons, which Burger King is buying, reported same-store sales increases of 3.6% at its Canadian restaurants and 7% U.S. locations.

Even Wendy's recently reported same-store sales for its second quarter ended June 29 rose 3.1% at franchised locations and 3.9% at corporate units. Wendy’s does not report monthly same-store sales.

McDonald's officials blamed sluggish industry growth in a highly competitive marketplace in the U.S., but Wall Street analysts interviewed by Nation's Restaurant News "pointed to lingering problems with menu complexity, slowing average service times, and the continuing impact of a Monopoly promotion that ran through August 12 last year. Other observers questioned whether McDonald’s is losing its appeal among young people.

"According to market research firm Technomic Inc., families with a child age 12 or under accounted for 18.6% of McDonald’s customers in 2011. By mid-2014, those families have dropped to 14.6% of the chain’s domestic visitors, according to a report in Crain's Chicago Business."

Herb Fair set for Thursday in Westchester County

KATONAH -- Herbs are a staple of home gardens, farmers markets and the like. For people who want to really immerse themselves in the wide variety nature provides, a quick trip south this week may be worthwhile.

The 66th annual Herb Fair is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Thursday at the historic John Jay Homestead in this Westchester County community. It is sponsored by the New York Unit of the Herb Society of America.

The event includes plant and craft demonstrations, food sampling, and many varieties of herb products available for purchase. Admission is free.

The venue, which was the home of the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is located at 400 Jay Street. It also is home to a Saturday farmers market that runs from mid-June to late November. Site phone: 914-232-5651.

Update: Jimmy John's gourmet sandwiches may sell itself

UPDATE (9/15/14): Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches is considering selling a major stake in the company, according to Reuters, which cites unnamed sources

(Originally published 7/7/14)

 LATHAM -- The closest Jimmy John's gourmet sandwich venue to the Capital Region is in the Syracuse area. That situation soon will be changed.

A Jimmy John's is under construction as part of a sprawling Route 9 project that recently saw the opening of Bellini's Counter and other businesses just north of Newton Plaza. Projected opening is late summer.

The company was founded in 1983 when Jimmy John Liautaud opened his first shop in Champaign, IL, a venture that would evolve into today's 1,936 locations in every part of the U.S. except, curiously, the six New England states.

The company history is an interesting one. To wit: "With a handful of cookbooks checked out from his local library, Jimmy perfected his award-winning bread. After creating four sandwiches, Jimmy tested them on friends and family, receiving praise he needed to press on. With no hesitation he opened the very first Jimmy John's. Paying a whopping $200 a month in rent, he could afford only used equipment consisting of a refrigerator, a chest freezer, an oven, and a meat slicer.

"The first Jimmy John's served soda with no ice (there was no room in the budget for an ice machine). As any good business story goes, things were not easy in the beginning. So, Jimmy John Liautaud did what any young entrepreneur would do – he took to the streets with armfuls of free sandwiches. College kids loved his irreverent attitude and dirt-cheap prices. The fact that he delivered was icing on the cake."

The sandwich menu runs the gamut from simple ones such as "Plain Slims" ham and cheese, tuna, turkey, etc.), "8-inch Subs," "Giant Club Sandwiches (such as the Italian Night Club cold cuts, Hunter's Club roast beef and Ultimate Porker smoked ham and bacon), all topped by the "J.J. Gargantuan (Genoa salami, smoked ham, capicola, roast beef, turkey and provolone with onions, lettuce, mayo, tomato and Italian dressing on housemade French buns). The chain also offers catering services.

I've never had a Jimmy John's creation, but he won me over with this message under a picture of one of his sandwiches: "Let's be honest, my sandwiches ain't gonna look this pretty, but they will be tasty!" Considering how many places offer sorry excuses of what they show in their ads with no apologies, that's refreshing.

Hudson Valley Garlic Festival coming back to Saugerties

SAUGERTIES -- Planning for the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival is in full swing with the annual two-day event less than two weeks away.

The Kiwanis Club of Saugerties and the Garlic Festival Committee are offering tickets online for the festival, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, September 27-28. The prices are $7 for adults 12 and over, $5 for seniors, and $10 for everyone at the gate. No pets are allowed.

As always, the festival will offer speakers skilled in garlic cultivation, tastings of all sorts of garlic-based foods, live music, children's activities, crafts, food vendors and more. You can view a four-page brochure online containing the schedules and locations.

The venue is on Washington Avenue Extension in the Village of Saugerties.

Have you checked our calendar today?

The Capital Region Food & Drink Events Calendar is arguably the most thorough and linked compilation of events in the region involving, well, food and drink.

If you're not already in the habit of checking it out on a daily basis, it might be helpful to acquire the habit so you're always fully informed on upcoming events of all sorts.

And, if you're part of a business or organization putting together an event, don't forget to let us know well in advance so we can publicize it.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Multi-price point Troy Restaurant Week begins Sunday

TROY -- The city's annual Troy Restaurant Week begins Sunday, and it offers a bit more than many similar events.

Rather than all participants offering prix fixe three-course menus at one set price, here there is a variety of promotional prices -- $5, $10, $20 and $30 -- for the event that will run through September 21. That means more opportunities for people who can't afford, or don't want to spend, a higher set amount.

Here's the rundown with participating establishments, according to the sponsoring Downtown Business Improvement District (BID):

$5 Lunch Price Point

The Ale House -- Guinness Float: A pint glass with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and a 10-ounce Guinness poured over it.

Famous Lunch -- Four loaded hot dogs and a soda, $4.50.

The Flying Chicken -- Sandwich or salad option.

The Grocery -- Speck & pesto sandwich or hummus and roasted piquillo peppers with a choice of San Pellegrino or a small bag of chips.

Illium Cafe -- Grilled chicken Caesar wrap with Parmesean, tomatoes, romaine and creamy Caesar dressing.

Muddaddy Flats -- Eggplant Parmesan quesadilla or black bean burger quesadilla.

$10 Price Point

The Ale House -- Double Play Slider: One-house smoked pulled pork with cole slaw, one grass-fed Angus with sharp Vermont cheddar on a toasted brioche bun; Daley Dogs: 2 Helbmold hot dogs topped with creamy mac & cheese, crumbled bacon and tequila chipotle sauce; Caprese Salad: fresh mozzarella marinated in extra virgin olove oil, garlic and herbs with ripe tomato and sweet balsamic reduction over baby arugula.

Beirut Restaurant -- Large mezza platter, includes all of its veggie appetizers.

B-Rads Bistro & Catering -- New England-style lobster roll on a toasted New England roll with kettle chips and a pickle.

The Broadway Cafe -- Lunch Combo Pack: sandwich of the day, chips, cookies and a beverage.

The Flying Chicken -- Fried chicken plate with a side of cinnamon biscuit balls.

Illium Cafe -- Crab cake melt on grilled italian bread, avocado, arugula, tomato, chipolte aioli.

LoPorto's Ristorante Caffe -- Choice of one appetizer and one house red or white wine.

Lucas Confectionery Wine Bar -- Ham or tomato  tartaine plus choice of red, white or sparkling wine.

Muddaddy Flats -- Any quesadilla, chips, cheese, drink and a brookie.

O'Brien's Public House -- Two small plates.

Spill'n the Beans -- Tuscan chicken panini with garlic mayo, fresh mozzarella, roasted red pepper, sauteed arugula on focaccia with a soda; Salad: spring mix, spinach, smoked turkey, cheddar, honey pecan, apples, tomato, cucumber, red onion, croutons; Caprese Burger: fresh handpacked burger, mozzarella cheese, tomato, basil.

$20 Price Point

The Ale House -- Rib & Wing combo: quarter-rack of applewood smoked ribs and six wings served with celery, carrots, blue cheese and cole slaw; Beef Osso Bucco: Shank of grass-feed angus beef slow braised in Guinness Stout with parsnips, turnips and fresh rosemary, atop roasted garlic mashed potatoes with crispy carrot ribbons. Homeade Butternut Squash Ravioli: roasted butternut squash-filled whole wheat ravioli over wilted Swiss chard in a creamy sage butter sauce. All include choice of soup (Manhattan clam chowder or Caribbean black bean chili) or small tossed salad and dessert (chocolate fudge macadamia cake, carrot cake, Guiness float, draft root beer float, chipwich or peach cobbler).

The Greek House -- 3 courses of authentic Greek cuisine.

Infinity Cafe -- Rattlesnake chicken, homeade alfredo sauce with fresh diced jalepeƱos tossed in penne. or a house-smoked sirloin with bacon and smoked bleu cheese; Each meal comes with small tossed salad and dessert.

Jose Malone's -- Choice of soup: chicken white chili, charred tomato, or black bean, all made with local ingredients. Choice of entrees: grilled chicken torta, chicken posole, or sweet potato enchilada. Choice of desserts: apple crisp or jorchata flourless chocolate cake.

$30 Price Point

The Ale House --Lobster Carbonara: Maine lobster, caramelized cauliflower, crisp pancetta, peas, lobster cream, egg and Parmesan tossed with housemade pappardelle; Stuffed Pork Chop Cubano: pan-roasted double thick bone-in-pork loin chop stuffed with smoked ham, dill pickle and gruyere cheese with a chipotle-spiked whole grain mustard cream sauce and roasted garlic mashed potatoes.  All include choice of soup (Manhattan clam chowder or Caribbean black bean chili) or small tossed salad and dessert (Chocolate fudge macadamia cake, carrot cake, Guiness float, draft root beer float, chipwich or peach cobbler).

Bootlegger's on Broadway -- Choose one appetizer from among potato skins, mozzarella sticks or beer fries with queso and cheese. Choose one dinner option from among veal Parmesan, surf-and-turf, bourbon half-chicken. Dessert choice from among Bootlegger's Bananas, strawberry pound cake, or brownie sundae.

Illium Cafe -- 1st course: sliced pear salad on artisan lettuce, blue cheese crumbles, candied macadamia nuts, balsamic vinagrette or soup du Jour. 2nd course: stuffed chicken bruscetta, ricotta- and spinach-stuffed chicken topped with tomato, mashed potato bruschetta, pesto alfredo , or seared salmon over jasmine rice with orange beurre blanc or veggie lasagna. 3rd course: choose from among daily dessert specials.

LoPorto's Ristorante Caffe -- 1st course: tomato and basil bruschetta, imported and domestic cheese plate served with NYC gourmet crackers, New England clam chowder, spinach- and cheese-stuffed ravioli topped with leek cream sauce, or rice flour-breaded shrimp finished with sweet chili dipping sauce; 2nd course: eggplant rollatini, shrimp Gorgonzola, braised bone-in prime pork chop; chicken spinaci; herb-crusted salmon, broccolini and sausage-stuffed ravioli topped with pesto cream sauce, or coulotte steak. 3rd course: Key lime pie, mini chocolate chip canoli, spumoni, peanut butter bistro pie, mini chocolate bundt cake.

FOOTNOTE: As a reader service, I've corrected as many spellings and other errors as I could spot on the original list. However, if you're one of those who appreciate the humor of a  truly poorly-written menu, go here for a fun read.

Taste restaurant shaking up what it offers

The main dining room at Taste.
ALBANY -- I don't know if it will succeed, but an upheaval in the way meals are offered at the restaurant Taste certainly is outside the norm.

Beginning Monday, the restaurant will stop using the normal a la carte menus most establishments have always employed in favor of offering a fixed three-course menu that changes each week. Each week's menu will offer four options for the first two courses and three for dessert. A five-course, $37 option will be available on Friday and Saturday nights. Wine flights will be offered at $15 per person.

If you want to get an idea of what will be available, Steve Barnes has the first two menus at his Tablehopping blog.

Taste is located at 45 Beaver Street, opposite The times Union Center. Phone: 694-3322.

Nominations open today for 2014 Rising Star Chefs

ALBANY -- It's that time of year again. The 6th annual Albany Chefs Food & Wine Festival is in the planning stations and one of its more interesting components -- the selection of Rising Star Chefs -- today began accepting nominations from the public.

Today through October 3, nominations are being accepted online at the Times Union Table Hopping blog. Nominees must meet any two of the following requirements:
• Chef/owner of a restaurant in operation for less than two years.
• Uses innovative techniques (i.e., molecular gastronomy) in food production.
• First-time executive chef or executive sous chef.
• Has demonstrated a commitment to community service.
• Demonstrates originality and creativity in menu design.
• Promotes and utilizes local produce and ingredients when possible.
The top 10 finalists chosen from among the nominees will be announced on October 15 at a Palace Theatre press conference. Voting will begin online that day, and continue through November 9.

Each chef will be subjected to an unannounced tasting and interview during the balloting period and those activities will become part of their final score. The festival directors will review the finalists and announce the six winners on Wednesday, November 12. Those six then will be paired with a mentor from the festival's Signature Chef Team. The Rising Star Chefs will be featured in the Rising Star Chef Pavilion, three per each grand tasting.

The festival itself, a major fundraiser for local arts organizations, is scheduled for January 15-17 at the Hilton Albany. It is expected to bring together more than 70 chefs, wine and spirits and craft beer companies. Tickets will go on sale online on October 15. In its first five years, the festival has raised and donated $406,000 to various arts organization in Albany.

Hunting edible plants -- in the streets, alleys of Hudson

Herbalist Lauren Giambrone
HUDSON -- Foraging in the woods and countryside for edible plants and fungi is nothing new. Doing it in the streets and alleys of a small city is another thing altogether.

Herbalist Lauren Giambrone, founder of Good Fight Herb Company, will be leading such a venture throughout Hudson this Saturday, winding up at the Verdigris Tea & Chocolate Bar at 135 Warren Street at 2nd Street. On the walk, she'll be helping participants search for edible and medicinal plants and discuss how to use them. At Verdigris, participants will sample herbal iced tea and continue the conversation about medicinal herbs and how they can support health and wellness.

Reservations, priced at $15, are required by visiting or calling Verdigris (828-3139). A 15% discount on Good fight Herbs is included in the price of admission.

Verdigis Tea & Chocolate Bar is located at 135 Warren at 2nd Street.

Oktoberfest set by Kinderhook Memorial Library

oktoberfestKINDERHOOK -- The Kinderhook Memorial Library's 5th annual Oktoberfest is set for 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, September 27. Last year's event raised in excess of $5,000 for the 21st Century Library fund.

Georgia Ray's Kitchen again will handle catering chores, with a spotlight on German tastes. Each adult ticket covers two drink tickets and a door prize giveaway chance.

For those who won't be able to attend the event, a "Festival of Raffles" and silent auction now is available in the library. Raffle tickets can be purchased at the library for $1 each, six for $5.

Oktoberfest tickets, priced at $30 for adults and $7 for children, are available at the library, 18 Hudson Street in the village. A Tuesday, September 16, deadline for reservations is requested. Phone: 758-6192.