BHS Confessional: Food Service Cheaters

Readers of my weekly column in the Waterttown Daily Times, and no doubt you Big Hungries right here as well, are acquainted with my general disdain for restaurant dishes made entirely from processed items from the food service truck rather than from scratch. There are several reasons for this aversion, but the most important one is that, in 99 percent of cases, cooking that begins with fresh, whole ingredients just tastes better.

But this is a new year, and we should be honest with each other, don't you think? I have a confession: there are a few food service processed products that I quite like. 

In college, the SUNY Geneseo food service dept was very fond of serving "Brew City" fries, which are allegedly a beer battered frozen fry. In no way do these fries seem beer battered to me, mind you. There is no lightly crunchy, airy, beer-flavored coating on them. But they are crispier than conventional frozen fries, and more flavorful, too. And they remind me of tuna melts and carefree times on that campus with friends. If I have to consume a frozen French fry, this is my choice.

Also in my college days, I worked at the Chesapeake Bagel Bakery in Watertown during school breaks. We made a surprising amount of the food served there from scratch, including the bagels and the heavenly cream cheese frosting, but our soups were frozen Campbell's, mixed with water and simply heated up. The broccoli cheese was surprisingly good, and I used to love a cup of it with a pesto bagel toasted and smeared with garlic butter for my lunch during a shift. It wasn't the best broccoli cheese soup I've ever had, but the cheddar flavor in it was good, and through some alchemy of food science, the broccoli was never totally overcooked in it.

When I first moved to the Southern Tier, the guys who had previously run the Vestal Steakhouse briefly opened a really great place in the old farmhouse just over the bridge between Vestal and Endicott. They had my favorite ever version of escargot there, dressed with Gorgonzola cheese sauce instead of garlic butter and herbs. I once asked for the recipe, and they informed me that the sauce was straight from Mains Food Service. Thud. That sauce was supremely savory with just a hint of sweetness to take the edge off the umami funk of the blue cheese. It was also fabulous with a well-caramelized ribeye steak. Mm.

My final confession is available today from Art's Jug, in Watertown. I order them every time I go: Red Hook Ale Shrimp. These are pure junk food of the highest order: the beer batter on these babies is legit, with sweetness that echoes the sweetness of the shrimp, which stay juicy due to their protective batter blanket. A squeeze of lemon counters the sweet, and I can eat an entire order on my own, if allowed. They are seriously delicous. I want them right now.

Well, I feel better now that I've gotten that off my chest! Do you have any New Years food confessions to share?

Stay tuned this month for a review of a soul food spot in Binghmaton, a new online food purveyor I'm digging, and more! And as always, my Watertown Daily Times reviews continue every Sunday,a don I'll be here with you on Wednesdays. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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