Saturday, January 31, 2015

Have you checked our events calendar today?

Are you tired of having to go from site to site and publication to publication to find out the latest information on cooking classes, wine dinners, beer dinners, restaurant weeks, specialty food events, grand opening festivities, tasting events ... and then only finding bits and pieces?

We long ago solved that problem. Join the people who have been taking advantage of our Capital Region Food & Drink Events Calendar, arguably the most thorough and linked compilation of events involving, well, food and drink.

If you're not already regularly 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.


Update: Druthers tops 17th Saratoga Chowderfest

The decentralized Chowderfest.
UPDATE (1/31/15): The local brewpub Druthers won the People's Choice, Best On Broadway and Most Chowder Served awards at today's Saratoga Chowderfest. Other award winners included Most Chowder Served Under 1,000 Bowls (West Side Sports Bar and Grille), Best Off Broadway (Seven Horse Pub), Best Non-Downtown (Longfellows), Best Newcomer (Three Vines), Best Dessert Chowder (TC Paris), and the canine segment known as the Dog Chow Down (Lazy Dog Cookie Company).

(Originally published 1/26/15)

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Blustery weather goes well with chowder, so the timing of the 17th annual Saratoga Chowderfest couldn't be better. It's set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, right after a predicted series of snowstorms hits the region.

This is a decentralized event, with dozens of participating food providers serving at the City Center, on their own premises, and at other venues. You can access a map online.

The individual restaurants and food providers, and whether they will be serving on their own premises or elsewhere, can be found here.

The public can vote on favorite chowders by picking up a ballot form at any participating venue, visiting as many as they like, then dropping off the completed form at either the City Center, 522 Broadway, or Saratoga Visitor Center, 297 Broadway. Food samples will sell for $1 per three-ounce cup.

This event will, for the seventh year, include a "Dog Chow Down" component beginning at 1 p.m. at the Saratoga Downtowner Motel parking lot, 413 Broadway, where businesses participating in making chowder for dogs will compete.

Friday, January 30, 2015

NYS board recommends $2.50 raise for tipped workers

ALBANY -- The New York State Labor Department's Wage Board, meeting here today, recommended by a 2-1 vote a $7.50-per-hour minimum wage for tipped workers in the food and hospitality service industry by the end of the year. That would mean a $2.50 increase.

The decision came after a series of four public hearings around the state in the fall of 2014 that allowed factions on both sides of the issue to make their case to the board.

The board's recommendation now goes to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has the power to approve an increase without permission from the State Legislature, and Acting Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino.

Cuomo has said he is in favor of an increase, and in a statement released by his office today said, "For far too long, wages for tipped workers in New York State have been too low. Today, the Wage Board has recommended a course that begins to rectify that, equalizing wages into a single tipped wage and recommending an increase to the highest-ever wage for all tipped workers. I thank the board members for their service to the State of New York and I look forward to action by the Commissioner of Labor on this important matter.”

An increase would apply to such customarily-tipped positions as tasting room staff, waiters and waitresses, bartenders, food delivery workers, and the like, although in some establishments they already are paid over the current minimum. As just one example, Brad Rosenstein, owner of the 102-year-old Jack's Oyster House in Albany that frequently hosts state lawmakers and officials, said his staff who bus tables average $20 to $26 an hour, while servers make an average of $26 to $34. In addition, all receive tips.

Agitation has come from a number of segments of the workforce to increase that minimum -- such as the worker coalition calling itself Raise the Minimum Wage -- saying the $5 hourly rate is not a living wage. Some opponents say there is no guarantee tipped workers regularly report all of their tip income and, thus, would be getting an unfair advantage, Others say the result may be higher prices for customers, some of whom would include tipped workers, thus canceling out wage hikes. And, still other opponents point out that paying higher minimums may result in some employers cutting jobs to balance their budgets.

Board chairman Thomas Grippen and board member Peter Ward, president of the New York Hotel Trade Council, voted in favor of the increase. Board member Heather Bricetti of the Business Council of New York voted against it.

As far as non-tipped workers are concerned, on April 1, 2013, Cuomo signed legislation to increase the state minimum wage over a three-year period, a move that eventually will raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour. The rate rose by 75 cents to $8 an hour on January 1, 2014, and another 75 cents to $8.75 per hour this year. The final step would be a 25 cent increase to $9 an hour in 2016.

California will become the state with the highest minimum wage -- $10 -- in the country in 2016. A state-by-state comparison of minimum wages is available online from the federal Department of Labor.


Pro-hike protestors take to the streets.

An anti-raise graphic popular on Facebook.

5K to kick off Troy's Kilt Fest on March 7

TROY -- If you're in the mood for a wintertime fun run, you have a few weeks until the Collar City Kilt Fest.

The Downtown BID (Business Improvement District), organizer of the event, is encouraging people to dress in appropriate costume -- kilts, plaids, etc. -- and take part in the untimed 5K Kilt Run through the city. It will end at the party tent in Riverfront Park where food, music and other entertainment will be available. The festival will run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 7.

Runners and non-runners alike will be able to purchase a City Pass that will give them access to get VIP treatment, such as food and beverage samples throughout the city, as well as be eligible for prize drawings. Passes are available online. Kilt Run registration also may be done online. The website pages contain the full schedule.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Today's ride on the Capital Region foodie-go-round


Taco Bell has cut sodium levels across its menu an average 15% percent over the past five years, according to a report this week in the Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal newspaper. That is part of the chain's ongoing effort that began in 2008 to reduce the amount of salt, fat and calories found in its menu items along with those of its sister brands KFC and Pizza Hut. All three are owned by Yum! Brands Inc., which is headquartered in Louisville. In 2013, Taco Bell officials announced a goal of bringing about 20% percent of combination meal options at or below about one-third of the recommended federal dietary guidelines for the daily intake of sodium and fats, including saturated and trans fats, by 2020.


• Pastry chef Rachel Bradshaw is hoping to get by with a little more help from her friends. Bradshaw, known for supplying toothsome treats for Lucas Confectionery, Provence, Taste and Yono's, and now for Penthouse Catering, which is what's left of the restaurant Taste, has put together an online fundraising campaign seeking to raise $10,000 to help her create her own pastry shop, to be called Starla’s Apron. Starla is her nickname. Bradshaw was the beneficiary of a fundraiser in 2013 to help her in her battle with breast cancer. Details of the business fundraiser are available online.


• Earlier this week I posted a note that the co-owned restaurants Milano in Latham and Provence in Guilderland are bucking the Super Bowl party trend by offering 20% discounts for anyone dining there on Sunday. Now, Reel Seafood Company, located at 195 Wolf Road, Colonie, is extending its usual 3-6 p.m. weekend happy hour through the end of Super Bowl Sunday: $1 oysters and clams, $3 draft beers, $5 well drinks, $6 wines, plus some bar snacks. Questions: 458-2068.

Struggling McDonald's hopes new CEO is a burger flipper

The seemingly endless string of bad news that has rocked the onetime impregnable McDonald's empire reached a peak on Wednesday when the global fast-food giant named a new president and CEO.

Steve Easterbrook will succeed Don Thompson, who announced his retirement after 25 years with the brand just days after McDonald’s Corp. reported a 0.9% decline in global same-store sales in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Steve Easterbrook
The company is facing problems in virtually every corner of the globe, with shrinking sales, tainted food supplies and increased competition. Its problems are most troublesome in the U.S. where it reported a 1.1% decline in domestic system sales for 2014, the first such decline in at least 30 years. That may not sound large, but it translates to an $11.5 billion falloff.

Easterbrook, who had been McDonald's branding chief, will take over the top job on March 1, according to a company announcement made Wednesday. Pete Bensen, the company’s senior executive vice president and chief financial officer, has been promoted to a newly-created role as chief administrative officer. He will oversee several functions supporting the company’s operations.
Kevin Ozan, currently senior vice president and corporate controller, will succeed Bensen as executive vice president and chief financial officer.

If you want to check out my postings on McDonald's problems, here is a rundown of some of them:
• Update: McDonald's expanding 'Create Your Taste' test
• Update: As sales fall, is McDonald's number up?
• McDonald's, feeling the pinch, is experimenting
• Consumer Reports: McDonald's among worst on 2 fronts
• McDonald's has worst sales month in a decade+
• Update 2: China fast-food scandal costs 340 jobs
There are more, but this should give you a satisfactory grounding.

Epicurean cartoonery

Cliff's on lakeside becoming Carson's Woodside Tavern

MALTA -- Renovations began on Wednesday on the former Cliff's Country Inn, part of the process of transitioning it into a new enterprise called Carson's Woodside Tavern.

Cliff and Kathy Barlow ran the original restaurant for 37 years at the 57 Route 9P location on Saratoga Lake. New owner William Carson is promising to keep the public in the loop as the restaurant undergoes massive changes. The "before" photos of the now-closed Cliff's are available online, and the "after" pictures will be posted there as they take place. Carson says he is hoping to have everything completed in time for a late February opening.

"We've been having a blast planning all the cool stuff we're going to do to welcome this great place into 2015," Carson says. "Now, here we are at last, getting to put that plan into action. From new technology to a new color palette, furnishings, bar, and more."

No specific menu has yet been announced, although the Carson's website displays a typographically-appealing jumble of words such as steaks, wraps, prime rib, chicken wings, fish and chips, steamers, nachos, sliders, reubens, salads, mahi mahi, burgers, shrimp, salmon, wine, craft beer, foo foo drinks, pork chops, soups, desserts, pasta ...

A suggestion: Tighten it up. Many a well-intentioned startup menu has gone off the rails by offering everything in the world of comfort food and having difficulty maintaining the quality of everything.

There's a sort-of-new restaurant in Albany

ALBANY -- The Barrel Saloon has decided to evolve -- into The Barrel Saloon & Texas BBQ.

The change is meant to emphasize the refocusing of its menu to Texas-style barbecue, put together by Lou Legros, perhaps best known for his work with restaurateur-chef Carmine Sprio. Legros and his crew are smoking most of the meats in-house.

The new menu offers a wide variety, such as smoked turkey legs, several kinds of sausages, St. Louis ribs, beef brisket, BBQ smoked chicken and a marinated cowboy steak. It also offers a trio of mixed-meats entrees -- the Double Gussy ($17) which includes two meats and two medium sides; the State Highway 3 ($20) which includes three meats and two medium sides, and the Texas Longhorn ($27) which includes four meats and two large sides. The sides include collard greens, mac 'n' cheese, baked beans, candied sweet potatoes, chili, green bean casserole, cream corn pudding, cole slaw, apple sauce, potato salad and "Texas caviar."

To accompany the Texas dishes, the restaurant's bar is offering 10 more tequilas than had been available.

The Barrel Saloon is located in the Warehouse District at 942 Broadway, at Pleasant. Hours: From noon Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday. Phone: 694-0670.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Today's ride on the Capital Region foodie-go-round


• The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing the restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday Inc. on behalf of male job candidates. The suit claims the chain discriminated against male employees when hiring for “coveted” temporary assignments in the resort town of Park City, UT. It is alleged that in spring 2013, Ruby Tuesday posted an internal announcement within a nine-state region for temporary summer positions in Park City, with the company providing housing for those selected. “However, the announcement stated that only females would be considered and Ruby Tuesday in fact selected only women for those summer jobs, supposedly from fears about housing employees of both genders together,” the EEOC said in a statement released with the lawsuit. The agency says that is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from giving more advantageous terms and conditions of employment to one group of individuals based on gender.


• Super Bowl-themed parties will be in abundance on Sunday, but Daniel Darves has a different take on what has become an American holiday. The owner of Milano, in the Newton Plaza on Route 9 in Latham, and Provence, in Guilderland's Stuyvesant Plaza, is going anti-Super Bowl by offering a 20% discount to patrons at both restaurants on Sunday. Milano (783-3334) will be open from 4:30 p.m. and Provence (689-7777) from 11:30 a.m.


• The former Vanilla Bean Bakery building at 214-226 Fourth Street in Troy may be converted into a banquet hall, pizzeria, retail store and culinary school if Rocco DeFazio's plans come to fruition. The owner of the DeFazio’s pizzeria and retail store is seeking city permission for a $1 million to $2 million redevelopment of the former bakery. DeFazio's store, which was founded in 1951, would be sold if the project is OKd. It is located at 264 Fourth Street, several blocks from the bakery building in the Little Italy neighborhood which DeFazio has been instrumental in helping create.


• Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration (SHA) is offering a free six-week massive open online course (known as an M-O-O-C) in February titled "Introduction to Global Hospitality Management." It will be led by four members of the school's faculty and feature experts from the industry. According to Cornell,  "the hospitality industry employs one in every 11 people worldwide and boasts growth well over double that of global GDP (gross domestic product), making hospitality management a red-hot opportunity for those with the desire, ambition, and keen interest in the business of service to make a career of it." Go here to register for the course.