Would Any Real Food Still Left in Restaurants Please Stand Up?

by Sarah Healthy LivingComments: 96

the all American restaurant

Real Food is continuing its disappearing act from restaurants across America. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the restaurant is a franchise or boasts 5 stars.

At a franchise restaurant like Applebees, Chilis, or Bob Evans, you would expect that cheap, processed food dressed up with a gourmet presentation would reign supreme. Food in these types of restaurants is only a small improvement over fast food in most cases and will make you feel just about as rotten shortly afterward (unless, of course, you already feel so rotten from eating processed food much of the time that you don’t notice).

But a 5 star restaurant?

I recently learned that Bern’s Steakhouse, one of the premier 5 star restaurants in my metro area, uses bouillon cubes (aka MSG cubes) to improve the flavor of its signature french onion soup (source: Bern’s waiter). I was devastated! This was one of the few restaurants I thought I was safe to order soup!

Who cares if Bern’s serves organic baby green salad and grassfed steak sourced locally if you still get a migraine from the MSG laced bowl of soup?  It makes you wonder what other corners are being cut that you don’t know about yet despite all the lip service being paid to high quality.

Earth to Bern’s:   Bouillon cubes are NOT high quality and should NOT be in your french onion soup.

Just sayin’.

I was also disappointed recently when I enjoyed an evening out at one of my favorite restaurants, Boizao, a Brazilian style restaurant also considered very high end for my Mom’s 80th birthday bash.   One of my favorite dishes at Boizao is heart of palm with a special dressing. While serving myself a second helping that evening, the restaurant manager happened by and I took the opportunity to ask if it were possible for me to get the recipe for the heart of palm dressing. He then told me that they buy the dressing from a food supplier and that it came in “big bottles” (translation:  cheap, rancid vegetable oils included).   I was shocked speechless. Even more amazing, the manager didn’t even seem embarrassed by telling me this!

Didn’t know you were talking to a Real Food blogger, eh buddy?   Oops!   Secret’s out now!

Am I wrong to expect a high end steakhouse to mix up its own dressings fresh with quality ingredients like extra virgin olive oil? Is this too much to ask anymore?

I have reluctantly come to the sad conclusion that pretty much all restaurants have gone to the dogs in America. The only exceptions I come across anymore are tiny little restaurants where the owner is also the chef and simply will not allow these low quality substitutions.

5 star or no stars, the American restaurant dining experience has been relegated to a processed food affair regardless of the size of the tab.   Even if the meat and veggies are decent quality and prepared fresh, little effort is expended on the condiments, dressings, soups, and other extras that round out the meal and make a huge difference to the digestibility and overall nutrition of the experience, not to mention whether you will feel terrible the next day!

Bye Bye Maple Syrup

Another insidious trend taking place is the disappearance of real maple syrup from restaurants serving breakfast.   In a related story, Food Renegade wrote about the disappearance of butter from restaurants in a recent post.

Well, the maple syrup has disappeared too I’m sorry to add!    It used to be when my kids were begging for pancakes when we were traveling, I could at least ask for real butter and maple syrup to cover the bromated, bleached, synthetic vitamin enhanced white flour, garbage pancakes.

Not anymore!   My husband was at a Conference recently at a 5 star resort and when the kids and I joined him for breakfast one morning, I was shocked to discover that only fake, corn syrup sweetened syrup was available with the pancakes or waffles.

You would think that $8 for a plate of pancakes that probably cost the restaurant about 25 cents to make could get you some real maple syrup!    Of course, there was no butter to be found either.

Gotta pay all those property taxes for the golf course view, don’t we?

I saw the disappearance of maple syrup coming a couple of years ago when my family and I were eating at a fantastic little breakfast nook in downtown Sarasota FL.    Upon asking for some maple syrup, I was informed that it would be a $3 additional charge per 1 oz bottle of maple syrup that was provided.   Of course, the high fructose corn syrup sweetened ersatz maple syrup was free.

We paid extra for 3 tiny bottles of real maple syrup but I commented to my husband that it wouldn’t be long before even that option was no longer available.

Sure enough, here we are some months down the road and I haven’t been able to find maple syrup anywhere for quite some time.    I realize the price of maple syrup has gone through the roof, but is that really an excuse?

For IHOP?   Maybe.

For a 5 star resort or a specialty breakfast nook that prides itself on quality?  Most definitely not.

Maybe I should start bringing my own maple syrup to restaurants tucked discreetly into my purse.   But, then I would have to bring some butter and maybe some sea salt too.

Oh, forget it!   How weird and OCD would that be?    I’ll just eat at home!

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Photography Credit

Comments (96)

  • Erica C

    I find it sad that Cracker Barrel states that their decision to only use partly maple syrup now instead of 100% pure maple syrup because there has been a shortage of “sap.” This is absolutely not true. In Vermont, where they get their syrup from, we have had a bumper crop the last 2 years.

    July 3rd, 2015 5:24 pm Reply
    • Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      It’s about money and cutting costs where a big corporation is concerned!

      July 3rd, 2015 6:30 pm Reply
  • Helen Hall

    Even if you did find a restaurant that used quality ingredients, your food is still probably cooked in Teflon pans for the sake of easy cleaning and nice presentation of food. What about the detergents they use? There’s no end…, Traditional society didn’t dine in a restaurant for pleasure either. Consider eating at a like minded friend’s house instead of a restaurant. I’m still searching for such a friend…

    March 8th, 2014 2:03 pm Reply
  • Colette

    In my shop they sell a brand of syrup that carob fruit syrup mixed with maple syrup. Do you know if this stuff is unhealthy. The other ingredient is natural flavouring and when I asked the company what that was exactly I got no reply!

    July 16th, 2013 5:43 am Reply
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  • Bettina

    Hi Sarah

    I was really shocked when I read about the stock cubes used at Bern’s Steakhouse here on your blog the other day. This is terrible! No professional cook would advocate using cubes instead of a proper fond for their sauces or soups. That’s just not real cooking. It’s like using ground pepper instead of freshly grinding the pepper or similar sins.
    Unfortunately I don’t eat out very often, but I guess the next time I will start asking a lot of questions about their food. Only if we as consumers start being a real pain can we actually try to stop this trend.

    June 16th, 2011 6:17 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      I was pretty disappointed too! For a restaurant with such a stellar reputation, it is a huge compromise to use bouillon cubes.

      June 16th, 2011 9:32 pm Reply
  • Allison

    I am new to your blog. A friend sent me a link about your different vaccination posts. I recently opened a cupcake bakery in Jonesborough, TN. All of our cupcakes are made with real ingredients!! I am glad to see that their is a following. It is not important to the people out here but once they try our cupcakes, they are hooked. They all LOVE butter now. Thanks!!

    June 12th, 2011 11:18 pm Reply
  • Randy

    Real food is disappearing at an alarming rate. FYI: boullion cubes also contain GMO corn, soy, canola and cottonseed. The contamination of our food supply is so obvious. Why can’t the masses see it?!

    March 17th, 2011 10:31 am Reply
  • Melissa

    Just a note to everyone: I have recently discovered copycat recipes online for a lot of our favorite restaurant salad dressings/seasonings. If you can locate a favorite of yours, just substitute better ingredients and make it healthier at home :) My latest post is the copycat version of Outback steakhouse seasoning and Tiger Dill sauce- YUM.

    February 6th, 2011 2:57 pm Reply
  • lylah ledner

    I’m new to your blog and I love it. You go girl! Keep shoutin’ it out.

    February 6th, 2011 11:22 am Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Thanks Lylah . welcome to a blog for THINKING people! :)

      February 6th, 2011 3:08 pm Reply
  • mezzo

    A voice from Europe: no fun in eating out in this part of the world anymore either. I have to eat in restaurants quite often and finding something real on the menu can be uphill work. I usually end up ordering a pan-fried steak or a piece of fish with vegetables or a side salad. But I can never be bothered with their dressings – they all contain vinegar which I don’t like. I just order a salad with salt an olive oil. Italian restaurants are a pretty safe bet here. If they don’t even have olive oil available to their I skip the veges and just have some meat. Not a pleasurable experience but sometimes there simply is no other choice. Generally though, all of the above applies to European restaurants more and more. I usually try to walk past the kitchen air vent – you can smell it if they use cheap stuff.

    February 6th, 2011 5:33 am Reply
  • Susan

    We buy a gallon of maple syrup from the farmer’s market once a year and it usually lasts us. We freeze it so it doesn’t get that wierd (but ok) brown film on it.

    We have a condo for skiing and usually divy up the shopping list for food for our week long stay. I put ‘real maple syrup’ on the shopping list and the moron who had that section of the list bought the fake stuff! At least we had real butter….

    February 5th, 2011 4:41 pm Reply
  • mardee

    I think Cracker Barrel may still offer maple syrup for their pancakes…

    February 5th, 2011 2:06 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      HI Mardee, it is a mix of 45% maple syrup and 55% cane syrup labeled “natural maple syrup”. This change was recently made.

      February 5th, 2011 5:05 pm Reply
  • Beth

    And to think, the first lady, as well intentioned as she may be in her attempts to address childhood obesity, is just as misguided as most everyone else and is leading the pack in trying to get restaurants to eschew butter for margarine:



    “Just because you’re not an athlete or a child doesn’t mean that you’re not a target of the food police. First Lady Michelle Obama is prodding restaurants to remove butter and cream from their dishes, use lowfat milk and provide apple slices or carrots as a default side dish on the kids’ menu (news.yahoo. com, September 13, 2010). Nothing wrong with the apple slices or carrots, but in this case the vegetables are serving as a shill for vegetable oil products, which will replace butter and cream when chefs remove them. And where, oh where are the voices urging removal of industrial fats and oils from restaurant meals? The food industry coined the term “solid fats” to refer to both trans and saturated fats, but when it comes to demonization, only healthy fats like butter and cream get the blame.”

    How about this? LET’S START A NEW CAMPAIGN:

    Meanwhile, you can check the restaurant listings by state on the EatWild.com website, which requires grass-fed/pastured to be listed on the menu in order to be listed. You need to ask about the oils and condiments, though. If we ALL ask, repeatedly, maybe some places will take note. If they can afford to, that is. Consumer demand can be pretty motivating, but I just don’t know how it stacks up against misinformed nutrition brainwashing combined with cost cutting and the ease of microwavable, chemicalized, denatured food. Still, what choice do we have? We all have to eat out at some point or another, so let’s speak up.

    February 5th, 2011 12:09 am Reply
  • bianca

    Nice expose by all on the state of restaurant food in the U.S. the unrefined, destroyed
    palates of Americans is heartwrenching. Perhaps we can start an “eat at home” movement?
    I now carry a small container of real EVOO and an organic lemon in my purse if we must eat out…. I order a plain salad and make my own dressing, usually ordering a piece of fish (praying it is truly wild) or meat and some veggies which I also add lemon to…
    http://www.celticseasalt.com website has a great twist top wooden salt box which can be tucked into your purse and carried with you… I give them as gifts. We also pack and ship real Vermont maple syrup to FL where we spend the winter.. This also makes a nice gift …
    Food is not sacred to Americans. For all of you who are aware of ancient wisdom and nutrient dense foods, keep sharing your knowledge !

    February 5th, 2011 12:00 am Reply
  • Pavil, The Uber Noob

    Imagine being able to officially and legitimately brag that your home kitchen is ‘Real Food Certified’ and that dining is ‘Invitation Only’.
    How exclusive is that?

    February 4th, 2011 10:29 pm Reply
  • Lorelei aka Hawaiigirl

    We very rarely eat out since we don’t actually enjoy the food – or can’t afford to eat at the better quality restaurants (we do have a few). The in-laws came to visit for a month over xmas. They LOVE to eat out, and to keep the peace I gave in and did what I could to minimize the effects. Still, after two weeks and as many dinners out, I got a bladder infection for the first time in 15 years. And then, I couldn’t cure it on my own, and it moved into my kidney’s, so I had to take antibiotics for the first time in years and years. I just barely avoided being hospitalized, which I’m sure would have killed me. I’m still recovering from the antibiotics and the effects of all the crap food. I’m against restaurant food more than ever, but hey, just disparage me and call me orthorexic. And oh yeah, the inlaws are sure that I got sick from my “funny” food, not from eating like them (did I mention how they were on antibiotics during the whole visit?)!

    February 4th, 2011 10:14 pm Reply
  • Derek Henry

    Interestingly, I wrote about the same exact phenomena, only with coffee as an an example. With margin squeeze tightening the noose on restaurants, they are forced to either compromise their ingredients, give less food, raise prices, or all the above. I feel for the small business owner for who it is do or die, but places that can afford to eat rising costs and don’t – thats a good way to piss off customers. Continue to watch this trend…its just beginning.

    February 4th, 2011 5:24 pm Reply
  • Sara

    I bring my low sodium tamari to our favorite sushi restaurant. I know people look at me strangely when I pull the bottle out of my purse, but a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do……to eat well.

    February 4th, 2011 4:03 pm Reply
  • Diane

    Hi, Sarah,

    This is off the subject of most of the posts, but since you mentioned it, I feel obliged to say something. Are you aware that to eat heart of palm, the palm trees are killed? Each palm tree has one heart, and in order to get it, the tree is cut down. Even if the tree is not cut down but the heart is cut out, it will kill the tree. There’s a great deal of poaching that happens in order to feed people their palm heart salads. It’s something people should avoid in order not to feed the poaching industry. Whether it’s poached or whether it’s farmed, it kills the trees. Farmed palm hearts may be a better choice, if you must have them, but can you be sure of their origin? Would the restaurant even know?

    February 4th, 2011 3:38 pm Reply
  • Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

    People eat processed foods all the time. They’re used to them. They expect them. They WANT them. They want their restaurant food to be the same all the time (hence so many chains) and they want it to taste similar to the stuff they’re used to eating. They wouldn’t know what to do with real food. And honestly, it might make them sick due to detox! Can you imagine someone on SAD going into a real restaurant and drinking a bottle of kombucha, having a bowl of soup with homemade stock, a fresh salad with real EVOO, and a grass-fed steak? Do you know how sick they’d initially be? And they wouldn’t get it. They’d run back to their processed, “safe” food. It’s extremely sad, but it’s the state of things in this country.

    My daughter has actually learned (and will tell me, often), “We don’t eat fries at restaurants. We only eat fries at home.” It’s the only way to guarantee they’re made organic potatoes and safe oil!! And this is the case with many, many foods. Sigh. I don’t like it, either.

    February 4th, 2011 2:36 pm Reply
  • Arlene

    Even here in Quebec, the biggest maple syrup producing area, and we can’t often get it in restaurants. For Quebecers the other stuff is referred to, as what is loosely translated to, ‘telephone post syrup’ and waiters will often use that expression to explain the only syrup available.

    February 4th, 2011 3:28 pm Reply
  • Tim Huntley

    Seems like this will only get worse as commodity price inflation puts a squeeze on the chain restaurants.

    February 4th, 2011 3:19 pm Reply
  • Tiffany@ The Coconut Mama

    I’m totally OCD! I bring my own sea salt, butter, olive oil with me when I go out! I also NEVER let my daughter eat food at restaurants, so I bring food for her.

    February 4th, 2011 2:56 pm Reply
  • emily duff

    this is a very interesting post sarah. i am a chef in nyc and have been working in the industry since 1988. since then i have seen such a huge change in the way restaurants source ingredients and feed their customers. i have also witnessed what i would call food crimes committed by “celebrity chefs” who feel the need to “change” ingredients in order to play God and feed their egos (when they should be properly feeding their customers). in my opinion there are 2 main reasons why these changes have happened in nyc. #1 economic. commercial real estate is so high in nyc that most chefs are cutting back on ingredients in order to pay rent and staff. the smaller restaurants, 40 seats or less, can’t make a dime. it’s really a shame how hard these people work just to break even (huge rent, real estate taxes, small business tax, payroll taxes, etc). I spoke with a friend of mine who owns a successful restaurant and he asked why i haven’t been in with my family. i asked him if he could guarantee that his tortilla chips weren’t made from GMO corn and he said “no. i can’t afford that.” #2 is fads and press. Some chefs incorporate “non-food” ingredients to attract publicity. For example, when celebrity chef Paul Liebrandt beame the youngest chef (24 years) ever to receive 3 stars at Atlas in 2000, he was openly using Cap’n Crunch cereal and MSG in his food. He was hailed an innovator and a genius following in the footsteps of Ferran Adria, “one of the world’s greatest chefs” who built his career on making foam out of everything and denaturing whole foods by bringing forced chemistry into the professional kitchen and bastardizing real food. I find this inexcusable but they call it innovation and theater. because i am a chef we don’t need to eat out very often – but eat out less often these days because after all these years i know the drill. Most coking oil in professional kitchens is a mix (25/75) of olive oil and canola oil. Seafood is mostly farm raised, eggs and poultry are rarely pastured unless noted on the menu and then the entree is at least $30, all bacon has nitrites/nitrates and dairy is unfortunately pasteurized (the occasional raw milk artisinal cheese will find its way onto some of the better menus). Back in 1993 I opened Henrietta’s Feed & Grain in NYCs west village. The menu was seasonal and everything came from local growers that i had relationships with. whatever i kept in my fridge and pantry was also available for sale to my customers. I have not since seen another restaurant like my model and hope to someday open that restaurant again, but not in NYC. the space that i was paying $3,000 a month is now renting for $14,000. those numbers just don’t make sense. thanks again for another thought provoking piece.

    February 4th, 2011 1:05 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Emily, I am completely dumbfounded by your comment. You have hit the nail squarely on the head. I had no idea about all this stuff. Seems my joke about needing to pay the property taxes for the golf course view was ironically on target. Thank you for posting this information.

      February 4th, 2011 1:14 pm Reply
    • Stanley Fishman

      Emily, thank you so much for exposing the truth about what these restaurants are doing. New York used to have the best restaurants in the country. What a shame.

      I could not agree with you more about Adria and these chemist chefs.

      I hope you can reopen your restaurant, it sound just wonderful!

      February 4th, 2011 8:24 pm Reply
  • Sarah Smith

    What a sad state of affairs we are in! We have avoided the chain restaurants for years, and probably only eat out once every other month. But it would still be nice to be able to actually eat real food on those rare occasions! We try to only eat at local places, but like you pointed out, even at little local places there is no guarantee of the food quality. It is very disheartening!

    February 4th, 2011 2:05 pm Reply
  • Linda

    Sarah, this is a timely post for me as my husband and I are going out for dinner to celebrate his birthday. We always like to go out for our birthdays. It’s about the only time we do eat out. I just never know where to go anymore. I look at the menu and try to choose what I think is the best choice, but you know how it is. I had thought seafood was the best choice, but not after reading comments here. Eating out was one of the things I looked forward to as I am home all the time. It really is depressing.

    February 4th, 2011 1:58 pm Reply
  • Orrie

    A bit off topic and yet similar.
    The USDA is at it again. Please see this post from Green Pasture. It’s not even safe now to trust organic labels. I’m so thankful that I know how to cook!


    February 4th, 2011 12:27 pm Reply
  • Jill

    A few months ago I was at a restaurant I’d been to many times before. My sister spread some butter on the delicious bread and took a bite. “It’s margarine,” she said. I told her she was crazy…they’ve always served butter with their bread. Then I took a taste. Yep, margarine. And no, the server was not able to bring us butter. We haven’t eaten there since.

    February 4th, 2011 1:17 pm Reply
  • susan v.

    i really worry about the health of our country, knowing how many people do eat out (and bring their kids) at places like applebee’s and IHOP. it’s encouraging that the weston price movement keeps growing but i think the majority of people in the US are still unaware of these issues (or don’t care).
    i don’t eat out much anymore due to the cost-the high quality restaurants sourcing local organic are just too expensive!

    February 4th, 2011 1:10 pm Reply
  • Tracey

    You know what I think is really sad. The majority of Americans don’t even know what REAL maple syrup is and if they do, they dont know what the difference is. They just know it costs more. I used to be one of those people. I never knew what I was eating wasn’t ‘real’ food. It was all I’d ever known, and of course, why would they sell it if it wasn’t good for you? Now I do know and I am spreading the word about what people are putting in their mouths.

    Thanks for all of your hardwork.

    February 4th, 2011 1:07 pm Reply
    • Linda

      Tracey, I think most Americans don’t know what real food is!

      February 4th, 2011 1:51 pm Reply
  • Audrey

    I’m lucky to currently live in Wisconsin where restaurants are required to serve real butter – we are the dairy state! Can’t say the same about using healthy oils, but there’s always real butter on the tables!
    As for real maple syrup, I do bring my own with me when I have to travel & stay at hotels. I always bought little 1 oz bottles from the Wisconsin Cheeseman company’s outlet store that is located in my town. However they’re unfortunately going out of business. :-( Going to have to stock up on mini bottles of maple syrup before they’re out of them!

    February 4th, 2011 12:29 pm Reply
  • Mike Lieberman

    The best restaurant that I’ve been to lately in the one in my own home. Not only is it made from real ingredients, but it also has that special ingredient mixed in….love. Can’t get that in any other restaurant.

    February 4th, 2011 12:29 pm Reply
    • Stanley Fishman

      Beautifully said, Mike.

      I have a lot of old cookbooks. Many of them would say the the best food was cooked at home, and that Restaurants were only for tourists and the wealthy. People used to sneer at Restaurant food, because the food at home was so much better. I think we are now coming back to that.

      February 4th, 2011 12:55 pm Reply
      • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

        Yes we are Stanley. I sneer at restaurant food already even at 5 star restaurants where the tab for one person is $100 or more. I am proud to be a Real Food Snob.

        February 4th, 2011 1:09 pm Reply
  • Maureen

    The next time you’re in San Francisco check out Flour+Water. I think you would appreciate their homemade ricotta, bone marrow pizza topping, or pork braised in whey. Here’s a review:
    This is listed as one of the top ten restaurants in GQ magazine – lots of WP influences. Am I sensing a trend?

    February 4th, 2011 12:06 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Maureen, you are on to something there. Restaurants will HAVE to move back to real food sooner or later or they will go bankrupt. Folks like us won’t go and others won’t go because they will be too sick and on disability at home. It is an eventual happening that is sure to take place. Restaurants will have to change their ways or become extinct, particularly the garbage franchise ones.

      February 4th, 2011 12:17 pm Reply
    • Soli @ I Believe In Butter

      Maureen, thank you for posting this! I am going to San Francisco this Friday and I will have to check out this place!

      February 6th, 2011 9:51 am Reply
  • Rita

    We USED to bring real butter and real maple syrup to a one-man owned, local breakfast restaurant several years ago. I would always walk out mad, though, because the eggs had been cooked in some greasy, yucking oil, and a heap of margarine had been dumped on something anyway. When you are mad and feeling ripped off walking out of a breakfast place, you might as well eat at home (which we now do!).

    February 4th, 2011 12:04 pm Reply
  • Natasha @ Saved by the Egg Timer

    This post is so sadly true. Right now I cannot think of any resteraunt with all real food except my kitchen.

    February 4th, 2011 11:49 am Reply
  • Lynn Therrien

    I’ve read some good things about Panera, Chipotle and Five Guys Burgers and Fries, but I can’t remember exact details.

    It is sad, isn’t it? I’d like a little convenience once in a while and/or just having someone else make my food sometimes. We rarely, rarely go out to eat. It’s also expensive for a family of 6.

    If you do find good ones, please pass it along. :) We’re heading to New Smyrna, Florida later this month. I’m sure we’ll eat out a time or two.


    February 4th, 2011 11:45 am Reply
    • wanda

      This is just based on how I react to eating in these places:

      Chipotle isn’t so bad…I would choose to go there if I’m out of town and have to find something.

      Panera would be my second choice but only if I’m desperate. They have reasonable breads, bagels, etc… but many of their salad dressings have artificial sweeteners.

      Five Guys always made me sick so I’m sure they use artificial ingredients – I would never go back again.

      February 5th, 2011 1:56 pm Reply
  • Joanna

    My husband would die if I pulled my own butter out of my handbag, LOL! Luckily when we go out to eat it’s usually for sushi and we know the owners very well. If I have a question, I’ll ask her and get a straight answer – she hates MSG too and removed it from all the restaurant’s food (it’s also a hibachi place) when she and her husband bought it.

    February 4th, 2011 11:43 am Reply
  • Jackie

    Fyi, I take a small toaster, and and electric pan on trips with us and we make sure we have a fridge/ microwave in the room. I make whole meals in the room and no one would even know and its healthier AND cheaper!!

    February 4th, 2011 11:42 am Reply
  • Jackie

    I think my husband and I should open a breakfast/lunch restaurant… I can’t believe some of the things that we make for not much money for those two meals that wipe out what the other restaurants serve!

    February 4th, 2011 11:39 am Reply
  • Debbie Hammel

    I am fortunate to live in an area with a small, family-owned restaurant called Soup R Natural where they grow much of their own vegetables and herbs, and source meats, poultry, eggs, dairy, and baked goods from local farms and providers who care about sustainably produced, nutritious food. We frequent this restaurant often — it’s a casual place where you can get soup (homemade) a salad and a sandwich, or a fancier entree if you prefer, for a very reasonable price. When we want something more elaborate, we also have a wonderful restaurant in Baltimore called Woodberry Kitchen. The owner shops farmers markets and has relationships with local farms and small dairies to source the ingredients they use, they preserve foods in house for use during the winter, and recycle pretty much everything.

    February 4th, 2011 11:36 am Reply
  • Lori

    I’ve started bringing butter to restaurants too as well as salad dressing. It sucks, but at least I feel better about what I’m eating.

    February 4th, 2011 11:23 am Reply
  • Lucy

    Real Maple Syrup has been absent from almost all restaurants for my whole life. I think I’ve found it in maybe one restaurant…ever. In fact, most people I’ve ever met have never tasted real maple syrup and would define the fake stuff as ‘real’ – Aunt Jemima or Log Cabin. I first tasted real maple syrup when I moved to Vermont in 1971….it was love at first taste.
    Most people still don’t know that butter is better. I am still able to ask for real butter and some places will still have some little foil covered pads in the fridge. You are right, Sarah, even when you ask for butter many places will bring out a blend or whipped blend. Many waitstaff don’t even know whether their butter is real…I have to taste the suspected substance.
    It is very difficult to go eat out when we are so aware of the junky ingredients. It is nearly impossible to find any restaurant that isn’t using crap industrial oils.
    I read that Square One Burgers on Dale Mabry in Tampa uses beef tallow for their french fries.
    We’ve eaten at the Tampa Refinery and thought it better than average but I believe they use canola oil/veg oils.

    February 4th, 2011 11:05 am Reply
    • Lucy

      Sorry, it isn’t Square One Burgers whose fries are fried in Beef Tallow…The place is called Burger Mongers at 10412 North Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa.

      February 5th, 2011 6:38 pm Reply
      • Lucy

        We tried Burger Mongers and there burgers were not very flavorful…Burger 21 have much better burgers. Burger 21 is a Chef Chris Ponte creation. (but I don’t think they use beef tallow for their fries…yet.

        February 6th, 2011 12:15 pm Reply
        • C

          Lucy, I had read that the owner of Burger 21 is also the owner of another Tampa establishment? Do you know which one? Thanks.

          February 6th, 2011 10:21 pm Reply
  • Connie

    Hi Sarah!

    I laugh as I read this post because *just this morning* I was telling my kids (as I was preparing for their school lunch) that anything I prepare at home will be much more nutritious and healthy for them than anything they can buy at school. I said “it’s because restaurants have to make money so they use cheap ingredients and chemicals to make the food taste good and last longer”. And now, I read that you blogged about this very topic!!! :)

    My husband and I both agree that it’s not worth going out to eat anymore. In fact, a good date is getting invited to a friend’s house for a home-cooked meal and then maybe movie afterwards! Or games!

    February 4th, 2011 9:57 am Reply
  • Andrea

    You know, Sarah, since all these restaurants are so bad, an excellent post topic would be “Eating Healthfully While Travelling.” Just saying… (-:

    February 4th, 2011 9:54 am Reply
  • Kelli

    I guess nothing is safe anymore. My mom always insists on eating out at places like Olive Garden, Bob Evans, and Cracker Barrel. Well, I always assumed it was better than eating at McJunk (which I would never do anyway) so I usually go with her and always wonder why I end up feeling like complete crap afterwards. And I admit that I love Olive Garden food still. Nothing beats cheese-covered pasta baked in tomato sauce. Italian food can be very difficult to fix at home so it was always more convenient to go to Olive Garden.

    February 4th, 2011 12:22 am Reply
  • Jennifer

    I’ve actually taken to bringing condiments with me when I travel. Two to three times a year, we drive 2400 miles to visit my family, and we usually stop at 3-4 restaurants along the way. When I realized that we COULD get good-quality meats, fruits and veggies but COULD NOT get good fats or condiments, I started packing my own. We walk into these restaurants with our own butter, maple syrup, HFCS-free ketchup, raw cream and salt (Real Salt). We take our own milk into the hotel breakfast room. I realized that being able to stay healthy on our cross-country trip was much more important than eliminating any potential embarrassment that might arise. Once I did it on trips, it became pretty easy to start doing so home. Not that we eat out a lot, but when we do, I take along the basics. The best of both worlds – I don’t have to cook, bit I don’t have to put junk in my body either.

    February 3rd, 2011 10:48 pm Reply
  • Melissa

    My husband recently went to a large Cuban restaurant that juiced their own sugar cane for Mojitos. That’s a start! Their menu looks delicious, but I have to wonder if they skimp in other areas…

    At Chili’s, I asked for melted butter and what they brought me looked disgusting- nothing like butter! They didn’t tell me it wasn’t the real thing, but whatever they gave me was definitely NOT.

    It’s a shame that we can’t go out anymore without coming home feeling sick.

    February 3rd, 2011 6:08 pm Reply
  • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

    What’s more, what some restaurants are insisting is real butter is actually “butter blends” which have some real butter in them but are full of vegetable oil fillers to cheapen the mix. Using the Real Food name for a complete imposter is becoming more common. Don’t fall for that one!

    February 3rd, 2011 4:45 pm Reply
  • Katie

    I know what you mean! I was shocked to find that butter was literally not available in some restaurants anymore! Going out to eat has become such a fiasco, we do it only when necessary on the road, and even then, it is a hassle. I try to ask for omelets to be cooked in butter not oil, and I have them bring me olive oil and balsamic vinegar in little cups, so I can make my own dressings for salads. What is the world coming to!

    February 3rd, 2011 4:40 pm Reply
  • wanda

    I’ve been wanting to try the Refinery for ages…let’s have a field trip!

    Here are few places I find that I can eat without feeling sick later, although I haven’t quizzed anyone to check their ingredients:

    Al Gusto on Kennedy (fantastic guac, beans, cheese and salsa)
    Ocean Prime at International Plaza (delicious tomato salad and crab cakes)
    Square One Burgers – South Tampa (wonderful black bean burger)
    Pane Rustica – even further in South Tampa (yummy pizza)

    February 3rd, 2011 2:45 pm Reply
  • Christy

    I recently took my own dressing to a restaurant. I will definitely be doing that more often! It was no big deal and I don’t think anyone even saw me pour it on my salad! I’ve been thinking for a long time how nice it would be to have a small carrying case with vessels for all kinds of items that you might want in a restaurant; dressing, oil, vinegar, maple syrup, salt, honey. When taking all of that it does make you wonder what the point of eating out is, but sometimes it’s unavoidable and would be really handy to have healthier options with you at all times.

    February 3rd, 2011 2:06 pm Reply
  • Julie

    I use to work at a chain restaurant and they also microwaved pretty much EVERYTHING! Looking back now, I am disgusted. They made NOTHING from scratch!

    February 3rd, 2011 2:03 pm Reply
  • Casey

    Sarah… have you seen this place, yet?


    Their website says all the right things… who knows?! I’ve never been, but Amy has and loved it.

    February 3rd, 2011 2:01 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Hi Casey, I have not been there but the menu looks intriguing and they seem to be making an effort in the right direction. There are a number of fried dishes .. I would expect that it isn’t fried in beef tallow and those should be avoided. If it is a one off restaurant that isn’t a chain and owned by a single proprietor, then it could be great. I have been burned so many times by restaurants though that I would have to quiz the chef personally to be sure before I would say it was good.

      February 3rd, 2011 2:13 pm Reply
  • Barbara

    My son is a culinary arts student at Kendall College in Chicago. This college prides itself on being the only “green” culinary school in the country. They learn to cook from fresh, raw, natural ingredients, have a garden on campus, and take courses on sustainability. My son works at a very popular Irish pub, and is highly disappointed that many of the foods they serve come pre-packaged, needing only to be heated up, and are laced with artificial ingredients and preservatives. He has convinced the owner to change over to real, fresh food for some of these ingredients. However, the problem doesn’t seem to be the cost of the food. For the most part, it’s the fact that the fresh items are “labor intensive” and the restaurant owner wants to keep the labor prices down. In addition, he keeps the labor down by hiring people who don’t have the skills needed to prepare the fresh items. How sad! According to my son, preparing fresh, natural foods can actually cost less than the packaged stuffl

    February 3rd, 2011 1:40 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Barbara, I always thought it was the real food was more expensive and that was the reason for restaurants buying the processed foods! The fact that preparing real food is labor intensive makes so much more sense though. Finding/hiring good help is a real headache for employers so if that can be minimized by buying processed food that just needs to be nuked before it’s served makes a huge amount of financial sense the for the business. Thank you for posting this information. I understand this problem much better now and why real foods keep on disappearing from restaurant establishments.

      February 3rd, 2011 1:58 pm Reply
  • Stanley Fishman

    This is so true. Restaurants are no longer worth going to. No matter how famous or expensive, almost all of them use crappy ingredients and chemical cheats, like MSG in all its myriad forms. Cheap factory ingredients mean more money for the Restaurant. And I have yet to find more than one that does not rely on the cheapest factory vegetable oils for dressings and cooking. And so many of them rely on microwaves. Many just cook on one day, store the entrees in a freezer, and nuke them in the microwave when ordered, even several days later.

    The ersatz fake maple syrup is absolutely disgusting.

    I have decided just not to go to them until they clean up their act and serve real food. The only exception I personally know is Che Panisse in Berkeley, which has used real food since the 1970’s and has never betrayed its roots.

    We were eating in a restaurant that we thought used quality ingredients, a family owned place that had become really successful., and always boasted of the local, high quality ingredients they used. They had a very interesting petrale sole entree, which I was about to order, but I was lucky enough to ask if the fish was farmed or wild. It turned out that it was farmed, which shocked me, as I did not think they farmed such an unusual and high end fish. I guess now any fish can be farmed. Which means they are fed GMO soymeal and other unnatural feeds.

    Many Restaurants have now switched to canola oil, because it is “so healthy”. I think they switched to canola oil because it is so cheap.

    This Valentines day, I’ll be making some beautiful grassfed steaks, with sauteed mushrooms in real butter and some other homemade sides. Not only will it be healthy and high quality, we will save a lot of money. And we will feel much better after we eat.

    February 3rd, 2011 1:27 pm Reply
    • Irene

      “And so many of them rely on microwaves.”
      A while back I went to a supposed quality restaurant and ordered a petite steak. When it arrived at the table I could smell the microwave! My husband always though I was strange when I said that when meat has been nuked I sooo can smell it. It has a rancid smell that makes my stomach turn. I spoke with the kitchen and yes they heated the meat in the micro. They did bring another and I had my husband smell the two side by side, and yes he too can now smell the difference. Needless to say I didn’t eat anything there that night.

      It’s sad that we are being fed these awful things and paying so much for it, not just with our money either.
      I’d rather have a pot luck lunch/dinner with friends and taste a lot of new recipes from safe kitchens than dining out anytime :)

      February 5th, 2011 12:46 pm Reply
  • Amber

    Haha- this just makes me think of “Elf” where he pulls his maple syrup out of his sleeve after he realized his new family didn’t have any for his spaghetti…lol! That’s going to be you! :) Love it!

    February 3rd, 2011 12:20 pm Reply
    • Tiffany@ The Coconut Mama

      LOL that’s hilarious!!!

      February 4th, 2011 2:53 pm Reply
  • jessie

    I was at a diner type restaurant while on a trip (not too many options) and did ask for real butter. They were able to provide it, which was great.

    I have never traveled with maple syrup, but have considered it. I would advise getting one of the tiny syrup containers that are sold for gift packs and then just refill it as need be.

    I actually know someone who takes her own Brita pitcher everywhere she goes – including restaurants – so a little tiny maple syrup container isn’t too noticable by comparison.

    February 3rd, 2011 1:13 pm Reply
    • Julie

      OMG that is going to be me! I find I can’t even drink coffee or tea out anymore if they don’t, at minimum, use filtered water!

      February 4th, 2011 12:19 pm Reply
    • D.

      A Brita water filter?? An utter waste of money, mostly. Get a home filtering system which uses a ceramic candle to filter the water and then carry THAT with you. I do it all the time. I carry my water in a food-grade stainless steel pitcher (there are many sizes and types available). Brita filters and PUR filters and that type just make you THINK they’re actually doing something.

      February 4th, 2011 1:52 pm Reply
  • Sarah

    I was talking to a friend recently about restaurants and she made a great point. She said that restaurants care about one thing: taste. They do not care about your body, mind, or spirit. It doesn’t matter how fancy or how cheap the place is. I had never thought about it like that until she uttered those words. I think she is absolutely correct and I will never think about restaraunt food the same way again.

    February 3rd, 2011 1:08 pm Reply
  • Maria Rote

    My husband enjoys taking our 3 grand daughters out to breakfast. He started carrying his own real maple syrup for them a couple of years ago. I just assumed the ones in all the restaurants were fake. Yuck! He doesn’t bother trying to hide it. Why would the restaurant care since it isn’t a product they charge for so it actually saves them money.

    February 3rd, 2011 1:04 pm Reply
  • Kali

    I’m pretty sure Crackerbarell still serves real maple syrup with their pancakes. Do you know?

    February 3rd, 2011 12:52 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      I just called and the lady in the Crackerbarrel retail office said they no longer carry the 100% maple syrup anymore. She said it is a blend of maple syrup and the fake syrup.

      February 3rd, 2011 1:07 pm Reply
      • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

        I should also add that the first person who picked up the phone insisted it was maple syrup and the bottle was labeled “maple syrup’. But when I asked to speak to someone in the office, she admitted it wasn’t 100% maple syrup but in fact a blend.

        February 3rd, 2011 1:09 pm Reply
        • Angie

          And their *homemade* fried apples – hello, they sell them out front and the ingredients are listed right there – HFCS. I mean when was the last time you made something homemade and thought “Now where’d I put the high fructose corn syrup?”

          February 3rd, 2011 7:52 pm Reply
        • C

          I was just about to chime in on the Cracker Barrel syrup switcheroo! My family loves to go there for breakfast and have for a long time. They’d always served real maple syrup in small glass bottles. One day we were there, I happened to look at the bottle and instead of saying 100% pure maple syrup, it said 100% pure natural syrup! Upon closer inspection, it says 55% maple syrup and 45% cane syrup (which would still be slightly better than corn syrup?) I was floooooooooored! I immediately asked the manager about it, and he said that Cracker Barrel is one of the largest maple syrup buyers in the US and there is a shortage of maple syrup, so this is their answer! (Answer to not depleting the supply, or to keep costs down?) I told him I didn’t like the change!

          That being said, I’d still rather have their 100% Pure Natural Syrup in tiny glass bottles than ANY syrup (most definitely fake!!) at any other breakfast place!!!!!! The second they switch to chemical syrup, we will stop going there!

          And speaking of carrying your own condiments, the times when I let my kids have breakfast at school (ugh!!), I have brought the small glass bottles of maple syrup for them to use on their ‘french toast sticks’… Not that they are great to begin with, but I just couldn’t let them eat the syrup when I can clearly read what’s in them!!

          February 4th, 2011 9:45 am Reply
          • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

            Hi C,

            What a SCAM! Putting it in little glass bottles and calling it “Natural Maple Syrup” does not make it REAL maple syrup!! At least there is no corn syrup in there.

            February 4th, 2011 11:43 am
        • Dorothea

          How do we get truth in advertising?

          February 4th, 2011 2:08 pm Reply
          • C

            Hi Sarah,

            I just looked in their bottles in my fridge (we reuse the bottles!) and it’s called “100% Pure Natural Syrup”. At least they don’t call it Maple Syrup when it’s not 100% Maple Syrup!

            February 6th, 2011 10:18 pm
    • Penny

      Last we visited Cracker Barrel, they served a blend of fake & real in the little glass bottles.

      February 4th, 2011 2:47 pm Reply
  • Teresa

    Most of the time it is not worth the effort of having a nice dinner out when all you get for the high price of food is “nonfood” that will kill you! I found out that the butter seasoning that Outback puts on their steamed veggies has Msg.. Yet they claim their steaks. etc dont have it. Go figure that one out!!! But their “Vegetables” do.

    February 3rd, 2011 12:30 pm Reply
  • Heather

    I bring my own butter without hesitation. Syrup is a little messier, haven’t found a great way to keep that in my purse yet. I should start bringing salt. If you are thinking of the same little breakfast nook in Sarasota I am, you can still pay the up charge for real maple syrup. At least in their Palmetto location. Sad to hear about Bern’s. Guess we won’t be heading there for our anniversary. I appreciate the heads up.

    February 3rd, 2011 12:26 pm Reply
    • Suzanne

      What were you talking about when you mentioned Bern’s? Do you mean the steak house? I used to love it when I lived in Tampa. The two couples who I know who have been there in the past almost 30 years are straight SAD eaters.

      Here’s an idea on syrup. The morning you are going out, pour some in a little travel bottle that you put shampoo in when you go away.

      February 5th, 2011 11:57 am Reply
  • jennifer Zint

    I also thought I should bring my own sea salt ,butter and maple syrup when eating out–I look to see if they have butter instead of margarine -and at times -YES!

    February 3rd, 2011 12:11 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Jennifer, I need to move to your neck of the woods!

      February 3rd, 2011 12:13 pm Reply
  • Cindy

    I really can’t believe you don’t already keep sea salt,real milk,butter, and Kombucha always in a cooler when you travel or jaunt about town!!!;)

    February 3rd, 2011 12:09 pm Reply

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