Dine In or Take Out? / by Anthony Michael Contrino

Is it me or are there fewer hours in the day?  The older we get, the more responsibilities we have.  Many of us do what we can to make life easier.   When the to-do list keeps growing, most often the easiest thing to skip is cooking dinner.   As a chef, this makes me sad, but truth-be -told, I do it, too.  When you think about it, if you order smart, it’s really not much more costly than cooking in, and it is nice to have someone do all the work for you.  Now to decide whether to head to the restaurant or pick up the phone. 

I get it, you’re tired.  It’s so easy to go online, check out a menu, order your grub and kick back on the couch (or do laundry) until the doorbell rings.  But, it’s also nice to grab a comfy seat in a restaurant and have someone serve and clean up after you.   As nice as it is to stay home and not have to worry about braving the weather or shuffling the kids to the car, is it worth it? 

When was the last time you ordered take out and were blown away by the quality?  For me, it’s been a while.  Unfortunately, many of the foods we take out are not meant to sit in a styrofoam box, steaming away, while the rest of the food is prepared, jammed into paper bags and then driven to your car.  Even in a best case scenario, your food is probably sitting around for a good ten to fifteen minutes before it’s delivered to your door - it’s just not nearly as good.  (In all reality, it’s probably longer than that.)

The sad truth is, many of us just don’t care.  So what if it’s not as good as it is in a restaurant?  Slightly warm pizza is still good, right?  Well, it is, but not when you need an extra hand to hold the crust up.  

In a perfect world, restauranteurs wouldn’t offer the service if their menu wasn’t delivery friendly, but you know, they need to stay in business.  About half of a restaurants revenue comes via takeout services.  That’s A LOT!  Restaurants, in an effort to be competitive, need to, at the very least, offer a pick-up, take-out option.  

Let’s be realistic, you may agree with me, but it’s not going to stop you from ordering take out.  Here’s a list of what to get versus what not to get.

DO NOT (PLEASE!) order pasta.  No matter how well it’s prepared, by the time you open the lid, the sauce will have drained, leaving the bottom soggy and the top dry, dry, dry.  Oh, and good luck with the whole al dente thing.

Instead, DO order hearty grains or rice.  While they can also suffer the same way that pasta does, they tend to keep their “bite” and also taste good if not piping hot.  You can always add a splash of oil to help hydrate the grains, if necessary.

DO NOT order thin-crust, wood-fired pizza.  The thought of a delicious pie with a perfect, crispy crust sitting in a box, steaming away can bring tears to my eyes.  These pies also tend to go from piping hot to room temperature in record time.

Instead, DO order a New York style pie.  The slightly thicker crust is often topped with a generous quantity of sauce (or is it gravy?) and mozzarella.  If cooked well, it holds up slightly better than it’s thin-crust counterpart.  As the pie steams in the delivery box, it does lose some of it’s crisp, but there’s something about the chewiness it creates that is just so satisfying.

DO NOT order burgers or steaks.  Let’s break this down.  Burgers.  They’re always cold, the toppings are all over, the bun is soggy and the cheese is opaque and waxy.  Steaks.  You want it medium?  After sitting in a tupperware, it’s now medium-well, at best - and cold. 

Instead DO order meatballs and braised meats - really anything in a sauce or broth, including soups and stews.  Since these items are served in a sauce or gravy the meat will stay both hot and moist, and really can't be overcooked.  

DO NOT order anything fried.  It’s never going to hold up.  Have you ever ordered french fries?  One word, SOGGY!

DO order Chinese food.  Almost anything you order will taste as good as it would if you ate it in house since most items are already steamed or served in sauce.  Skip dumplings and noodle dishes, though.