THE FOOD IS MESSY AT BOILER 65, (AND THAT'S GOOD), BUT SO IS THE SERVICE
I was returning to my booth after a quick trip to the washroom when the owner intercepted me.
"So how was everything," he inquired. "How was the customer service?"
"I think you know," I responded without missing a beat. I directed his attention to our table, which was nearly concealed from view beneath a quagmire of plastic bags, buckets of discarded seafood shells, empty beer cans and wadded-up paper napkins, despite the fact that we had settled our tab 15 minutes prior.
The trending seafood-in-a-bag concept, as demonstrated by the freshly minted Boiler 65 and others like it, offers diners a wildly fun, social and atypical way to enjoy seafood, but the table looks like a bloody massacre when you're done. The quicker the table is bussed, the better for all concerned. But our server never bothered — not after we told her that we were finished eating, not after we requested the check, not after we paid it, and not even after some of us washed up in the restrooms.
The owner did, in fact, know. He reported being stymied by the same lack of willing and able front-of-house staffers that seems to be dogging other operators. Then again, how difficult is it to train servers too, well, serve. Here, let me offer some guidance: bring water when it is requested; explain how the unconventional menu works; automatically deliver seafood crackers, forks and wetnaps with food; and for the love of all that is holy, bus the damn table.
Despite the comically amateurish service (also, in truth, partly because of it), our rowdy foursome still managed to have the time of our lives. This concept is trending — both locally and nationally — because it transforms the typically sober seafood-eating experience into a casual, playful and interactive one. Where else can diners don plastic bibs and tear into head-on shrimp, twist the tails off crawfish, and crack into crab legs without the humiliation of entering a Joe's Crab Shack?
For the uninitiated, Boiler 65 sells seafood by the pound, which gets steamed, tossed in a bag with one's choice of spice mixtures, and delivered to the table in large plastic bags. Tables are clad in flimsy plastic toppers, diners are shielded by plastic bibs (and gloves, if they choose), and go to town on items like head-on shrimp ($15 per pound), headless shrimp ($20 per pound), King crab legs ($38 per pound), snow crab legs ($22 per pound), crawfish ($15 per pound) and mussels ($13 per pound). Add-ons like corn ($3), potatoes ($3) and sausage ($5) are a great idea, but appetizers like fried calamari ($11) and fried catfish nuggets ($9) are superfluous, especially when they arrive 50 minutes after ordering and are delivered alongside your mains.
NOW YOU CAN GRAB A DOZEN ANY TIME OF DAY.
OYSTER VENDING MACHINES
At this point, we've seen our fair share of vending machines that really push the idea of a vending machine to the extreme. Paris has a vending machine that sells high-quality raw meat. San Francisco has a vending machine that sells freshly baked baguettes. This spring, New Orleans got a champagne vending machine that sells $20 bottles of Moët & Chandon. Now, on France's Île de Ré (an Island off the country's west coast), seafood lovers can get oysters any time of day from a 24-hour oyster vending machine.
This vending machine was created by Brigitte and Tony Berthelot, oyster farmers who found that customers often wanted oysters well after closing time. Yeah, the idea of eating oysters from a vending machine may make you feel a little queasy, given how long cans of Coke and bags of chips often stay in the vending machines we're familiar with. Thankfully, the Berthelots restock this vending machine every day, and the oysters are sold closed, so you don't need to be too worried about, say, food poisoning.
THE PRICE OF YOUR ORDER OF CHICKEN WINGS MIGHT BE GOING UP
Take heed, chicken wing lovers: Your all-you-can-eat specials may soon be canceled.
Wings have long been an affordable food, and a happy hour staple for restaurants. But chefs and restaurateurs in central Iowa are saying that wings' cheapness is becoming a thing of the past.
"That was an item that (restaurants) used to give away at the bars because they were reasonable," said Phil Barker, owner of Brewer's Wholesale Meats in Des Moines. "(Wings) are going to the point where they're as expensive as hamburger is."
Alexander H. Ware, chief financial officer for Buffalo Wild Wings, recently told The Washington Post “traditional wings were $2.05 per pound in the second quarter, or 6 percent higher than last year. This is a historic high for wings at this time of year.”
Local chefs have seen similar sticker shock.
"We watch all pricing and especially proteins very closely," said Dominic Iannarelli, director of restaurants at Jethro’s BBQ as well as Splash Seafood, where he is executive chef. "But when there was no relief in April, we knew there was going to be a problem."
Shauna Sturdivant, the manager of Gerri's Tavern in Des Moines, buys wings in 40-pound cases and pays $2.61 per pound. "This time last year, we paid $85 to $90 a case," Sturdivant said. Now it's more than $100 per case. "And we are known for our wings. We go through 20 to 30 cases a week, easy."
CHECK OUT THIS NEW GRILLED TAKE ON CLASSIC FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
I love fried green tomatoes! My grandmother made them at the beginning of fall when there were so many tomatoes on the vine that no one minded picking the unripe ones and cooking them before they turned red and juicy.
And later, when I lived in New Orleans, I discovered that fried green tomatoes were available all year at local restaurants. Many places served the fried tomatoes as a side or an appetizer.
I was in heaven!
But the first time I ever had the combination of fried green tomatoes and remoulade was at the long-shuttered, lunch-only institution Uglesichs. Uglesichs was known for its seafood and that day, it was a special. Fried green tomatoes and crab remoulade. Two of my favorite things on a plate together. How could it not be great? Hot-out-of-the-pan fried green tomatoes and cold lump crabmeat with remoulade sauce!
AMERICA NOT IN THE CLEAN-PLATE CLUB
I’ll bet you know families that refuse to eat any leftovers. Instead of saving perfectly good food for later in the day or the next day, the entire assortment of the unfinished meal is dumped into the garbage can.
Maybe it’s because I grew up on a farm in the 1950s and 60s, the one thing we were taught was not to waste food or anything for that matter. There was always plenty of food, and you were expected to eat what mother prepared.
A recent newspaper article reminded me that 40 percent of edible food in the U.S. is wasted, according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. That includes food wasted on farms, restaurants, and retail markets. The figure is 21percent in homes, a staggering 120 billion pounds.
The most food is wasted in the summer. Overall, 25 percent of fresh fruit is dumped, 24 percent of fresh vegetables, 23 percent of meat, 31percent of fish and seafood and 20 percent of dairy products.