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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Eat at Mongo's

At some point in my childhood, I had decided that I wanted to open a pizza parlor.   I believe that desire to pursue that career lasted all of about a week, somewhere between piloting the Millennium Falcon and wanting to be a fire truck.  I still think about that early business venture as I drive past a pizza shop on my way to work to earn my $0.50 after taxes.  The name on the shop has changed about four times in as many years.  Not sure why no one is successful in that location.  It's highly visible on a major road from one highway to the next.  For all I know, it's the same people changing the name on the front to entice people into trying a "NEW" slice of pie. 

Besides pizza shops, I've noticed a lot of restaurants and the like that have changed over the past years.   Nearly eight years ago, my wife and I used to make a special trip to just Cranberry Township to get Krispy Kremes.  It was an accidental discovery while going to visit a cemetery in Evans City, PA, the famed cemetery from Night of the Living Dead.  On the way back through to the PA Turnpike, we happened upon the Krispy Kremes there.  Every so often, we'd let people know we were going, take up a collection, and come back with about six dozen donuts.  Shortly thereafter, a location opened in Greensburg and we didn't have to drive an hour to get them.   Suddenly, the Greensburg store close without warning and now it's a Chik-Fil-A.  The same thing happened to the location in Monroeville, equal in distance to us as Greensburg is.  I can't say I'm all that disappointed because it's not like I need to eat them.   It's just odd that a business whose arrival is highly anticipated folds up shop less than four years later.   Unrelated to the food industry, The Loews Multiplex in North Versailles closed after only two years in business.  Again, another business that was highly anticipated but failed to have staying power.  Think back to poor Chi-Chi's.  After nearly 30 years in business, a Hepatitis A outbreak caused its demise.  Actually, Chi-Chi's filed for bankruptcy several times, the last just a month before the outbreak.   There's also an old diner in Irwin, PA that had been around for years.  Since the diner closed, it's been in and out of business a few times.  It's in an even better location than that pizza shop, sitting smack dab on the edge of Route 30 near the Irwin Turnpike exit. 

Looking at all these defunct businesses, I can see that my unexplored childhood want to open a restaurant was better left that, unexplored.   My family has sat around the table during holidays discussing what would be a good gimmick.  My Mother actually has a little side business catering.  She's done a few small weddings and dinners for local groups.  Nothing extravagant, but she's well organized and keeps detailed books on her work.   We all jokingly call her little venture Studda Bubba's the phonetic spelling of the Slavic term "Stara bara," which means "old woman."  Being of Slovak descent we made it a running gag.  We have no plans to actually open any restaurants or shops because none of us have the capital or experience to do so.  Although, I still complain about the lack of certain establishments in my area.  I would kill for an IHOP.  The closest one to me is in Boardman, OH.  That's three hours of driving and almost ten dollars in toll road charges for pancakes.  Fun if you have a reason to go to Ohio, but who purposely has a reason to go to Ohio? 

A few talks with my Mother-In-Law got me to thinking, though.  If I were to open a restaurant, how would I do it?  In college, my girlfriend at the time shared a dream of one day opening up a little cantina on the Pacific coast of Mexico.  I wanted to name it "La barra de Los Jinetes" or "The Horsemen's Bar" after the name of a group of friends I ran with at Cedar Point during my summer job phase in college.   The inspiration came from a Pitt Campus bar/restaurant called Med Mex.  They offered students half of meals late at night.  Great food, a little loud, but the decor was exactly what I imagined in my place on the beach.  Ultimately, I would want a place that reflected my personality, something unique and different.  You can have you T.G.I.Fridays with a canoe on the wall and you can have your Quaker Steak and Lube with a stock car rear-end affixed above your booth.  I think I could offer a family friendly atmosphere while providing a unique experience.  I'm sure I could go through my house and fill the walls with movie posters and toys and all kinds of stuff from my life.  In fact, my wife would probably support the idea of putting all that junk to good use, as long as it is out of the house.  Hopefully, I wouldn't end up with a hodgepodge of dislike items that would be the restaurant equivalent to Homer Simpson's ill fated "The Homer."

Let's talk about menu.  When my wife had her wedding shower she received a cookbook with a whole bunch of recipes submitted by those invited.  This was a handy little thing as neither one of us has any real cooking expertise and could use a few ideas besides Mac and Cheese night or Spaghetti-O surprise.  Some of the greatest dishes I've ever had the pleasure of tasting have been family secrets from both mine and my wife's family.  The running gag in my house is that I only married my wife to get her Dad's chili recipe.  That's not so much the gag but the fact that they put it in the cookbook which was also given to everyone in attendance at the shower.   There are a lot of recipes in the cookbook and I'd like to have a place that doesn't just serve the normal dishes.   Yes, I want to have pasta and steak but I'd also like to serve a lot of home-style dinners that most people don't get out at a restaurant.   Let's take a look at some others.


Agnes Dressing - My Father in law has a few other recipes tucked up his sleeve.  His mother made a great dressing for salads that consisted of Hellman's, sugar, cider vinegar, and half & half.

Granny Stephens Dressing - My Mother in law also has a few great family recipes. This one contains, Hellman's, chili sauce, sugar, half & half, cider vinegar, and hard boiled eggs.   It's a lot like Thousand Island dressing but with eggs.  You serve it over a wedge of iceberg lettuce.

Waldorf Salad - I don't know how it's made but I love it.  I know it contains apples, celery, raisins, walnuts, cream, and mayonnaise. This goes great with breakfast items. 


Italian Sausage and Tortellini Soup - Another trade secret, but yummy.

Broccoli Cheese Soup - Just because I love the stuff 


Steak and Potatoes Mullin - This is actually a friend's recipe that he cooked for us on vacation.  First off, I'll never, ever cook steak again without Montreal Steak Seasoning.  Great stuff.  Do a rub with that, meat tenderizer, and black pepper.  Grill it.  Get some canned whole potatoes and add parmesan cheese, garlic, and butter.  Grab a bag of Green Giant cheese and broccoli and you've got a great meal.

Chili - This is the one.  I am not going to give away the secret ingredients; however, I will tell you that the chili is best when cooked the day before it is served.  The next day you just throw it back in the pot. 

Deserts I'm only adding two unique deserts outside of the usual.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie - This was an experiment by my wife.  Cooked chocolate pudding with a little less than three cups of milk, add peanut butter and pour into a crust.  Cover the pie with cool whip and add shaved chocolate bar.  

Pudding and Ice Cream - It doesn't sound like much but man is it good.  My Mother used to make this for us as kids.  Cook chocolate pudding.  Cover a bowl of ice cream while the pudding is still hot.  Simple. 

Sticky Bun - Not really a desert but decadent all the same.  Mix syrup, walnuts/pecans, brown sugar, and butter into a sauce and pour some into pan.  Take Pillsbury Hungry Jack flaky biscuits and put them around an angel food cake pan and cover with the rest of the sauce.   Bake and serve.


French Toast - Not that anyone doesn't already have a French toast recipe, but I like mine the best.  Eggs, sugar, milk, vanilla extract, mix.  It's that simple.

Blueberry French Toast Casserole - Another M-I-L recipe that consists of day old bread, cream cheese, blueberries, corn starch, sugar, butter, maple syrup, eggs, milk, and water.  It's another secret so I won't divulge the preparation but it cooks up like a quiche or omelets.  Cover with blueberry sauce made from the syrup, starch, and blueberries.

While, I'm sure that there is nothing spectacular about any of these recipes I still think the personal touches are needed to be successful.  Simple things like an actual tea cup and saucer for tea instead of a mug could give you that uniqueness that drives customers to you in hordes.  If anything else, I'd have a place to get something good to eat and I wouldn't have to drive to Ohio to get it.

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