Thursday, November 19, 2009

Recession Smeshmession - Eating Out (Well) On A Budget

We've all seen those commercials for Chili's or Applebee's or pretty much any one of those chain, casual dining restaurants, advertising their 2 for $20 menu. Basically, for $20, you get to split a crappy, previously frozen appetizer with your dining partner. Then you get to choose an entree each (choose from deep fried meat or deep fried meat over lettuce) and then you share another previously frozen dessert. Oh. And you have to drink water, unless you want to run that bill up to $40 by ordering a few of those "big" beers. Now. I hate to knock these chains. They appear to be successful so obviously they're doing something right AND people are eating there. But when you live in a town full of fantastic Mom & Pop restaurants, all struggling with a down turned recession, I'd prefer to give my hard earned money to the little guy. Unfortunately, the little guy doesn't have the cash to pay for a commercial full of good looking, thin, 20-somethings, laughing and carrying on while they pretend to enjoy their variety-plate of artery clogging fried food that you know they would never normally touch in real life. But that doesn't mean that the little guy isn't offering good deals...or even GREAT that make the 2 for $20 menu look like pig slop. The hubby and I recently tried out two such deals in Philly and I'm happy to report that you CAN still go out to a nice meal, with good quality food (made with love and care) for around $20 a couple. Like I said. Recession Smeshmession - with the right info you can still afford to go out and have a good time - and not worry about diving into the kids' college funds to do it.

The $10 Burger at Butcher and Singer:
I know what you're thinking. $10 for a burger doesn't seem like a good deal. But folks, $10 for the BEST burger you've ever had, in a ritzy steakhouse, with a side of the most amazing french fries that ever accompanied a piece of beef IS a good deal. I'm talking about the Butcher and Singer $9.95 burger. Butcher and Singer, another one of Stephen Starr's Philadelphia gems, used to charge almost $20 for this lovely hunk of meat. Then one day they put the word out that they would be running a special where you could get that $20 burger for $5...yes...$5. The hubby went running out of work at noon the day of the special and made a b-line for the steakhouse. He and his co-workers were seated amongst a veritable sea of burgers, and, the rest is history. They dropped the price to $9.95 permanently and I'm happy they did. The hubby and I went to lunch a few weeks ago to enjoy the Butcher and Singer 10 buck burger again and let me tell you, I think they must be losing money on this burger, because the quality of beef they use, combined with the fries and the bakery fresh, buttery roll that it sits on is certainly worth more than $10. Add the atmosphere, the pleasant (not to mention perfect) wait staff and you get an experience worthy of a three-piece suit and a top hat. If you go be sure to look somewhat presentable. This IS a really nice restaurant. I'm not talking gold lame'...perhaps just non-holy jeans and a nice sport coat or sweater. The best part for me was not feeling bad about just ordering the burger and a glass of water. The wait staff treated us the same as if we had ordered the petit filet and a bottle of wine. And the restaurant was filled with "suits" ordering the burger. So please give it a shot. Order it as you would a piece of filet mignon. Medium rare. The quality is amazing. The texture is pure meat-butter that begs to be eaten with a knife and fork. The flavor is rich and earthy. Even the damn garnishes are top notch. I couldn't decide whether it was more like steak tartar or a rib-eye on a bun. Either's worth way more than $10...but don't tell Stephen Starr that...I fully intend on getting my Alexander Hamilton's worth for a long time to come.

Gnocchi - 2 for $25 steal of a deal:
The hubby and I don't go to many Italian restaurants. I mean, don't get me wrong, we love Italian cuisine (ahhh, such a general term, Italian cuisine, Mario Batali would hunt me down and beat me if he knew I used it so broadly). We, unfortunately, don't often leave an Italian restaurant feeling satisfied, regarding both money and quality. So many places throw $2 worth of frozen shrimp over ten cents worth of dried pasta and charge you $20 for shrimp fra diavolo. Not on my watch folks. The other day we heard about this small Italian restaurant near South Street called Gnocchi that was offering a 2 for $25 deal. With further inspection we found out that for $25 (for the two of us) we could get a salad each (from a choice of 3) a pasta each (from a choice of around a dozen...FRESH...HOMEMADE! gnocchi and pastas), two desserts and two cups of coffee. Oh. And the's a BYOB! We couldn't get to the liquor store fast enough that Wednesday night. We picked up a bottle of wine that was on sale and walked to Gnocchi. It was a slow night for Gnocchi and I think if more people knew about this deal it would have been packed. The salads were lovely. I had the house salad topped with a hearty helping of roasted veggies and the hubby had a mixed green with goat cheese salad. We both ordered their namesake gnocchi. The hubby had the tomato basil and I had the special, a plate full of pumpkin gnocchi in a creamy white wine sauce. A loaf of bread, two salads, a bottle of wine and two wonderful plates of moist, pillow-like, homemade gnocchi later and we almost didn't have room for dessert. But who can say no to homemade tiramisu and a good cup of coffee? Not I my friends...not I. They offer this special Monday - Thursday and if you're looking for a romantic and cheap date night, look no further. We will certainly be back to Gnocchi...soon. Next time I'll try one of their pastas, unless they offer another Gnocchi special like the fresh pumpkin balls of wonderfulness. You know what? For $25 a couple, we'll just keep going until we've tried everything.
Gnocchi 613 E Passyunk Ave (215)592-8300

Now, I know that not everyone lives in a big city and sometimes you might think that all you have in the way of recession proof menus is the chain restaurant, 2 for $20 deal. But just look around and I'm sure you'll find plenty of good deals at your local mom & pop feeding trough. My Mom called me a few weeks ago and said that her local diner (in a small township in central jersey) was offering a ridiculously good fish and chips deal. I can't remember the price but I do remember listening to her run down the list of food that came with it and it was so extensive that it's probably why I can't remember the price. And when I lived in Richmond, I remember going to Cafe Rustica's ( "Sunday Supper" and wanting to tell the world about it. For $15/person you got a three course set menu that rotated weekly AND they had great deals on wine ($10 or $12 bottles). I just looked it up and they still offer the Sunday Supper and I'm sure it's as good as ever.

I know we're all pinching pennies these days, but there's no reason why you can't go out and enjoy yourself and still put money aside for a rainy day. Live in another town (or philly of course) and know about a great "recession proof" deal? Leave a comment, and help a fellow bargain hunter out!

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