Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

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Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby Jenise » Thu Sep 28, 2006 1:54 pm

In another thread, Bill Spohn said: It drives me a little crazy when waiters wielding enormous pepper grinders ask me if I want pepper. I feel like telling them to send it back to the chef, and ask him if the food was sent out with insufficient pepper, and why. I don't do that, for fear that it might return with more than pepper added.....

That struck a nerve with me.

When offered pepper in restaurants, I generally turn it down. And it's not because I don't like pepper, I do. I like it mixed into the dressing, if indeed pepper would complement that salad. And I would like a lot, and I would like it very coarse and chunky and I would prefer a good-tasting pepper like Tellicherry. If they were offering me that, I'd take it. Bring it on! But what, in fact, they're offering instead is one super fine grind, tiny squirt of cheapest pepper money can buy from something the size of a fire-hydrant. On the rare occasions I do accept pepper I have to warn the server that once they start grinding they're going to be there awhile.

They sneer at me, and I sneer right back.

In general, I think it's an outmoded tradition, a holdover from the 60's hey-day of showy, flambe-cart 'Continental Cuisine' and a time when most diners didn't have pepper mills at home. Nowadays, even though those of us who buy pepper by name are still a relatively rare breed, I think most people do have pepper mills at home, and more of us resent having to patiently wait while the server advances from plate to plate with his fire hydrant than appreciate it. A small, discreet pepper mill left on the table would be just fine, and let the server use the time he saves on personal attention wiping it clean between seatings.

Rant over. Anyone want to take the other side?
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby Bob Ross » Thu Sep 28, 2006 2:13 pm

Pepper mills are fundamentally a self defense device for restaurants -- restaurant patrons will steal anything, and often do.

I'm quite a bit more forgiving than you are Jenise -- Janet loves pepper since she doesn't [can't] use salt, and she makes good use of the fresh pepper on offer at almost every restaurant here. It's easy for me to say no.

I enjoyed your rant very much, though. Thanks for a smile.

Carry on. Regards, Bob
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby ScottD » Thu Sep 28, 2006 3:09 pm

Jenise wrote:Anyone want to take the other side?


I take advantage of a (very seldomly offered anymore) pepper mill for 2 things... Caesar salad and baked potatoes, both of which I enjoy with a hearty amount of pepper. Generally what you get from a grinder is exponentially more coarse than anything you can get from a shaker.

And I always warn the server that they're going to wear their wrists out before I'm ready.

I guess, to me, it's kind of like hot sauce. I prefer things spicier than the "average" patron, so if they make it hot enough for me it's going to blow the roof off most, so it's up to me to adjust tastes to my preferences, not that of the chef.

Of course, that raises the question--if they offer a peppermill why not a saltmill?
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Sep 28, 2006 3:23 pm

Jenise wrote:Anyone want to take the other side?


I won't take the other side, because I usually reject the mill when offered. Wearing my restaurant hat, though, I do understand why it's popular: Lots of folks love it. It makes them feel pampered, and it's a cheap substitute for tableside service.

Interestingly, I've been working on a cover story for the local alternative newspaper in which I spent an entire evening shadowing a waitron at a local upscale Italian eatery, hoping to end up with a "reality show" rendition of a day in a server's life, and just within the past hour penned this segment ...

<b>7:05 p.m.</b>

<i>She keys in the first table's appetizer order, then returns to perform the pepper-shaker ritual over their soups, brandishing a wooden peppermill the size of a Louisville Slugger. The trio is ready to order now, and they've got a few special requests. One would like spinach in place of green beans. Umm ... remember, there's a spinach crisis going on? "Oh! I forgot," she says. Deb suggests an asparagus option, but no, green beans it will be. A few more substitution requests prompt Deb to whisper, once she's out of earshot, "Let's just make up our own dishes," but she doesn't really mind, and the computer system makes it easy. </I>
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby Bob Ross » Thu Sep 28, 2006 4:01 pm

One other thought, Jenise -- freshly ground pepper really is much better than pepper that sits in a pepper shaker. There are cost effective ways to provide freshly ground pepper -- little spoons and bowls, for example -- but theft is a real problem even with them.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby Jenise » Thu Sep 28, 2006 4:30 pm

Bob Ross wrote:One other thought, Jenise -- freshly ground pepper really is much better than pepper that sits in a pepper shaker. There are cost effective ways to provide freshly ground pepper -- little spoons and bowls, for example -- but theft is a real problem even with them.

Regards, Bob


Oh, agreed about fresh ground--note that I suggested a small mill for the table, not a shaker. Those are fine at the Denny's level, but not much more.

Interesting about the theft angle, I hadn't considered that at all but sadly, you're right that they'd have a tendency to disappear. I'd like to think that the type of restaurant I usually dine at wouldn't have that kind of patron, but that's naive.
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby Hoke » Thu Sep 28, 2006 6:47 pm

Oh, agreed about fresh ground--note that I suggested a small mill for the table, not a shaker. Those are fine at the Denny's level, but not much more.


Yeah, like you spend at lot of time in your local Denny's.

Uh huh, I can see you now, hunkered down at the bar, elbows on the table, nursing your chipped white enamel mug of acrid black coffee with a little oily sheen on it, waiting desperately for your plate of eggs and ham and hashbrowns...

Eh, I don't get upset over the pepper mills. At least it's better than dry, old, dusty, flavorless pepper in the pepper shakers. God knows how long that's been there, and who's handled it.

At least the grinder means the berries haven't been cracked yet.

But I agree that the pepper base in the grinders is often substandard...i.e., not as fresh and as good a quality as they should be. Me, I prefer a five peppercorn blend (and yeah, yeah, I know they are not all "real" peppercorns, all you puristas out there). And I throw in a little bit of Allspice with the mix. Been doing that for years, and I'm hooked on it now. Adds a real lively zing to the pepper.
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby John Tomasso » Thu Sep 28, 2006 7:18 pm

Please advocate the placing of a peppermill on every table. The replacement sales will boost my commissions, and I'll be forever grateful. And yes, there are thieves among diners no matter how classy the joint. I am amazed at what people will steal - salt and pepper shakers, table lamps, flatware and china - if it's on the table - people will take it home.

One that takes the cake: one of my customers had some nice photo prints, poster sized and framed, decorating the restroom. During cleanup one night, he discovered the frame had been taken down, the print removed, and the empty frame hung back on the wall. The print was evidently rolled up and secreted into the thief's clothing, and removed from the restaurant.
Sorry to hijack the thread.

On the subject of waiters bearing pepper, I almost always wave them off, with one exception. At the Hitching Post Buellton, they have these cool, battery operated ones with a flashlight on the end. So the server presses a button and the salad is illuminated while the pepper is milled onto it. It's always good for a laugh or two.
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--plus a pink peppercorn question....

Postby Karen/NoCA » Thu Sep 28, 2006 8:57 pm

I don't mind the pepper grinder coming by for a shot at my salad, but I have wondered why they do not mix it into the dressing. I have friends who do not like pepper and do not use it on anything. I also had a friend who was a nurse and she told me she stopped eating pepper after seeing an autopsy. She claimed the pepper was accumulated in the gut and was massive. I don't know if this is true but it never bothered me.

I have some pink peppercorns from Penzey's and wonder if I can grind them. It seems to me I was told they are soft and do not do well in grinders. Is this true?
If not, what type of grinder should I use with the pink?
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--plus a pink peppercorn question....

Postby Bill Spohn » Thu Sep 28, 2006 9:24 pm

I suppose one could always carry one's own pepper grinder, perhaps a nice sterling silver one like Henry Crabbe in "Pie in the Sky" on PBS.

Where would it end though. Bring your own cutlery? Show up with a can of Sterno and a small sautee pan in case they didn't get it just right?

FYI, my favourite restaurant has both small pepper and salt grinders at each table so that these condiments may be self-administered. I have not asked the owner what the attrition rate might be....

I shall be watching Jenise tomorrow to see if she has a grind (or a bump)
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--plus a pink peppercorn question....

Postby Niki (Dayton OH) » Thu Sep 28, 2006 9:28 pm

Karen, I've just used my spice grinder to grind pink peppercorns, because my peppermills are larger than my pink pepper use, but I think they'd be fine in a regular pepper mill....
Cheers,

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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--plus a pink peppercorn question....

Postby Harry Cantrell » Thu Sep 28, 2006 10:53 pm

When asked if I want pepper-always just when the dish is placed in front of me-I always say "Why? Does it need it?" This takes most waitstaff aback, and a few will mumble something about up to the individual's taste (At this point they start to feel the trap closing.) So I say "Well, wait here while I taste this to see if it needs pepper." You should see the looks I get! The longest I've had someone wait was almost a minute-internally laughing all the time.
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--plus a pink peppercorn question....

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Sep 28, 2006 11:00 pm

Harry Cantrell wrote:When asked if I want pepper-always just when the dish is placed in front of me-I always say "Why? Does it need it?" This takes most waitstaff aback ...


Funny, but you're violating a very important rule: Never make fun of a person who will be handling your dinner while you're not looking.
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--plus a pink peppercorn question....

Postby Carl K » Fri Sep 29, 2006 11:07 am

Robin Garr wrote:
Harry Cantrell wrote:When asked if I want pepper-always just when the dish is placed in front of me-I always say "Why? Does it need it?" This takes most waitstaff aback ...


Funny, but you're violating a very important rule: Never make fun of a person who will be handling your dinner while you're not looking.


Kind of reminds me of one of Robin Williams stand up routines in which he explains how making fun of the waiter at the Chinese Restaurant can end up with a strange taste appearing in your Egg Drop Soup.
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Thread drift...

Postby Barb Freda » Fri Sep 29, 2006 3:11 pm

I have the same complaint about grated cheese for my pasta...No, I don't expect them to leave me the hunk o' parmesan and the microplane, but how about a nice bowl of freshly grated cheese that I can spoon from?

Two scrapes of the parm over the grater doesn't cut it for me.

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Re: Thread drift...

Postby Hoke » Fri Sep 29, 2006 3:25 pm

Barb Freda wrote:I have the same complaint about grated cheese for my pasta...No, I don't expect them to leave me the hunk o' parmesan and the microplane, but how about a nice bowl of freshly grated cheese that I can spoon from?

Two scrapes of the parm over the grater doesn't cut it for me.

b


The trouble with that bowl is you don't know when it was grated, or what it was grated from.

But, hey, I don't have any trouble when the cheese grater comes around. If he/she tries to get by with a couple of perfunctory swipes, I just call 'em back again. And if they mouth the usual "Say when...", I just don't say when until I see enough cheese to keep me satisfied. :)
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Re: Thread drift...

Postby Doug Surplus » Fri Sep 29, 2006 7:07 pm

At a business lunch we had smart-a__ waitrperson. Approaching us with the peppermill she inquired if any of us would like pepper for our salads. Receiving some affirmative replies, she reached to the center of the table, picked up the pepper shaker and plopped in front of the nearest person. "There you go!" she said.
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Re: Thread drift...

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Fri Sep 29, 2006 7:41 pm

LOL Doug!!!! To be honest, all the Grills offer fresh ground pepper. The pepper on the table is not as fresh as from the mill in the servers hands. It`s that simple!!
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby Jeff Yeast » Fri Sep 29, 2006 8:30 pm

I understand the theft problem, but I would prefer a mill be left on the table for my discretion, especially if I am at an Italian place that has olive oil on the table for bread dipping.
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Sep 29, 2006 8:50 pm

Mezza Luna in Allendale does that -- salt and pepper shakers and then the waitstaff comes around with a pepper mill.

Maybe Italian restaurants in northern New Jersey don't have the theft problem. :-)
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--plus a pink peppercorn question....

Postby Jenise » Sat Sep 30, 2006 12:31 pm

Karen said:
I have friends who do not like pepper and do not use it on anything.


So do I, but then what they're rejecting is supermarket peppers like ground Schilling. Fresh ground tellicherry usually converts every person who tries it--I should get a commission from Penzey's for all the customers I send them.

Hoke, you're right, I've been in Denny's once in the last 20 years. That was when I moved three years ago. I discovered that once I bought an iced tea in a travel cup from Denny's, where I'd stopped for a clean restroom, they'd refill it gratis. So I Denny's-ed from California to Washington, even ate there once, too. I remember getting a very good grilled cheese of roast beef and tomato on sour dough. I could have done a LOT worse!
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby Carl K » Sat Sep 30, 2006 4:17 pm

Jeff Yeast wrote:I understand the theft problem, but I would prefer a mill be left on the table for my discretion, especially if I am at an Italian place that has olive oil on the table for bread dipping.


There was one neighborhood Italian restaurant in Jeanette that I used to go to now and then when I was working as a paramedic in the Pittsburgh area that used to leave the pepper mill on the table when they brought out olive oil for the bread and then took it back to the kitchen when they cleared the bread and oil off to make room for the main course. Unfortuneately they were the only place I ever went that did that, and I'll be d#$@% if I can even remember the name of the place anymore.
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Re: Pepper mills in restaurants--a rant

Postby Bob Ross » Sat Sep 30, 2006 5:21 pm

Carl, that seems like a really elegant resolution. The waitstaff could take the peppermill back after they ask each diner how the entree is.

I wonder how that would work in practice.

Regards, Bob
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