Quick Bites: From the Mailbag

Over the years that I’ve been writing for Ocala Style and Lake & Sumter Style, I’ve received numerous comments and questions in e-mails and in person. Editor-In-Chief Dean Blinkhorn has asked me a number of times to do a Q&A of all that has been sent to me or asked during my travels.

“But, Dean,” I’d write back in an e-mail, “do you think the readers will really enjoy reading a question-and-answer column?”

His answer was always, “You won’t know until you do it.”

Due to limited space, I could only include a few of the questions. But here’s a sample to enjoy!

Do you know of any restaurants that serve gluten-free food?

This e-mailed question opened my eyes to those who are intolerant of gluten, a protein that remains when starch is removed from grain. Some eateries that are familiar to everyone and offer gluten-free items are Outback, Boston Market, Carrabba’s, Chili’s, and P.F. Chang’s, just to name a few.

What is your pet peeve when it comes to restaurants?

I can handle late food, over-cooked food, and even bad service from an apologetic server, but I can’t tolerate poor sanitary practices. Some examples? Seeing a server wipe down the chair or booth seats and take the same towel and wash the table tops. Seeing patrons cough and sneeze on their hands, or after handling tongs, throwing them on top of the buffet food instead of in its holder—shame on restaurants that do this, especially with flu season upon us. Seeing employees in the restroom whiz by me and out the door without washing their hands and servers who sweep or vacuum close to my table while I’m eating are also pet peeves.

How did you get started in the restaurant business?

My parents owned a bakery in New York. After school I’d go in the back and sprawl my school books and myself on top of 50-pound bags of flour or sugar and do my homework. When I tell people I was raised in the back of a bakery, I’m not kidding. My parents eventually bought a diner, too. After both places were sold, my parents worked for Publix as a baker and cake decorator. My older brother is a chef, and my younger brother installs fire and hood systems in restaurants as well as other businesses. As you can see, it really is in my blood! I’ve tried to stay away from the “hands on” portion of it, though, and just stick to writing about restaurants.

I read your review. How can you say good things about this restaurant I had a terrible experience in? Is it because they advertise with you?

For the most part, I write more about the business part of the restaurant; what’s going on behind the cash register. Most of my reviews come from comments made by fellow diners, who I think are the best critics, in addition to my own thoughts on items I’ve eaten. I have been known to disappoint some restaurateurs when I express to them a not-so-satisfied opinion. I don’t feel I need to publish it, though, once it’s been addressed privately. Instead, I move on to items that pleased my palate and focus on the positive.

Nibbles: Where can you find the best cheesesteaks in town? Many say Dukes Original Cheesesteaks.What’s the fuss about Grandma Rie’s Bodacious Biscotti? What is Stacy Atsides up to now with Stella’s Modern Pantry? More on these restaurants in the next issue!

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