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Culinary Musings

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  • Chef John Politte

There are a lot of good things to say about dining out in a chain restaurant, and there are a lot of dreadful things as well.  Let’s start with the good.  Let me think…oh yeah-average, lackluster food and automaton service.  Now don’t get me wrong, the service is great in some of the chains, but it is usually because the server is brand new with a personality that hasn’t been tarnished by the banality of the job, is passing through to better things, or is a company drone with a 401(k) and is biding their time until they can retire; and can one day reprieve themselves from serving the same dull food day after day after day-like a beat cop waiting for the day his pension kicks in.


And then there is the food.  You can’t blame the cooks and chefs for the dreary fare that is taken from box to plate and prepared with all the imagination of a factory worker on valium.  They bake, broil and grill whatever the corporate goons sitting behind desks 300 miles away decide.  And it is usually a trend or three behind the culinary curve.  If anyone remembers the great pesto obsession of the early 90’s then you know what I am talking about because it is probably on some chain restaurant’s menu right now..  They don’t create food trends they just copy and paste them, and the chef should not be blamed for that. 


Most chain restaurants are a great training ground for those just starting out in the culinary field, a boot camp for those out of culinary school who believe they will be an executive chef in Switzerland with a six figure income at a 5 star hotel when they graduate.  I know quite a few that ended up at Applebee’s or Denny’s to learn how the real world works because it wasn’t explained to them in school that there are long hard hours, and you might just get your chef coat dirty while waiting for a phone call from the Food Network.

I recently moved to an area in Minnesota that has one of the largest malls in the metro area, and there are chain restaurants far and wide.  My wife and I have eaten in our share of them, because it is difficult to find a unique restaurant or bistro, and convenience is always a huge factor.  But we are bored and almost in tears to find a place that will excite us and make a distinct impression.  After eating breakfast at a place that must have had a job fair at the local trailer park, we both said “enough” and are on a quest to find decent digs at which to eat.  Hence I am writing this piece to exorcise the demons.

Please let me find a chef driven restaurant that uses local produce and out-of-the-box ideas. Give me a pony tailed line cook with tattoo sleeves and a lip ring that respects the art of the mise and has figured out a new way to prepare calamari or braised ribs, and can build flavor and create a derivative sauce without looking in the storeroom for the #10 can or the recipe in a standardized corporate cookbook.  Give me a chef that has worked 12 days in a row, but still comes in to work because this is where they belong, not because of the money or title.  Give me a server that loves their customers and can do their job well without the benefit of the company manuals to show them how; that labor for their tips out of love for the industry and the processes of great customer service


All of us would benefit greatly.  Especially the culinary field!

  • Chef John Politte

Long before Emeril, Giada, The Neely’s and Bobby Flay picked their produce and sharpened their knives to perform culinary magic in front of the camera, there were other famous chefs that have not gotten the respect they deserve for bringing the joy of food to the magic of television.

Here is a top 10 list that will bear witness to their greatness for decades to come. Top Ten Greatest Television Chefs:


#10: Aunt Bea from “The Andy Griffith Show”. Nobody was better at feeding the family on a tight small town sheriff salary than that beloved domestic goddess in the frilly apron. She even had her own TV cooking show until artistic differences interfered.

#9: Alice from “The Brady Bunch”. Cooking for a large family, back before dysfunction became the norm was no easy task, but Alice showed that she could handle the task with her signature Pork Chops and Applesauce.

#8: Igor from “M*A*S*H. Taking constant criticism for all the meals you prepared and served in a war zone, and not killing anybody? That really is dinner impossible.

#7: Cpl. LeBeau from “Hogan’s Heroes”. Whether he was cooking for the Third Reich or making pastries for his bunk mates. He was the stereotypical perfectionist in the kitchen. And being French most likely used more butter than Paula Deen. No wonder the German’s lost the war.

#6: Sue Ann Nivens from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. Just like Sandra Lee, she put the “happy” in “The Happy Homemaker”. I thought nobody could upstage Mary, but Sue Ann stole the scene when she strolled into the newsroom and rubbed Murray’s bald head. And she made one hell of a Veal St. Olaf.

#5: Mary Ann from “Gilligan’s Island” . Long before Survivor captured our attention and Rachel Ray annoyed us with her perky cuteness, Mary Ann was baking coconut cream pies, all without an oven. Just keeping the Skipper fed was work enough.


#4: Arnold from “Happy Days”. He was the first owner operator of a restaurant on television and a brilliant marketing genius as well. Who else would have served chicken wings at a motorcycle jump in his parking lot? And were there even chicken wings in Milwaukee at that time? The very first Diner Drive In and Dive.

#3: Hop Sing from “Bonanza”. Anyone who could keep Dan Blocker fed and happy had to be a great chef. He also led the way for the employment of immigrants, who are the backbone of the food service industry. Without him, Arnold may have never had the chance to open his drive in. And he made more sense than Aaron MCCargo Jr.

#2: Jack Tripper from “Three’s Company”. When he wasn’t frolicking with beautiful roommates or hanging with Larry at the Regal Beagle, Jack was fooling his landlord and attending chef school, where his grades were good enough for him to graduate and eventually own his own Bistro. Sort of the first Tyler Florence, but Jack was much smoother with the ladies.

#1: Mel from “Alice”. Another successful owner/operator. Everybody made fun of his food and he was abusive to his customers and wait staff long before Bobby Flay , but Mel had a heart of gold and became a father figure to Tommy and gave each of the waitresses $5000 when he closed the diner.


Honorable Mention:

*Granny from the “Beverley Hillbillies” *Mr. French from “A Family Affair” *Uncle Charlie from “My Three Sons” *Frank De Fazio from “Laverne and Shirley *The Swedish Chef from “The Muppets” *Mrs. Livingston from “The Courtship of Eddies Father” *Mrs. Krause from “Benson”

  • Chef John Politte

Opened in November of 1977 on the property that used to be The Sandpiper Restaurant, Kozlak’s Royal Oak Restaurant is one of the premier family owned eating establishments in the Twin Cities.


Emanating a 1980’s mood with its opulent crown molding, plastic plants, high ceilings and bay windows allowing a look onto the patio and garden, Kozlak’s takes you on  a trip back in time to the supper club days before chain restaurants and hip food trends spoiled the pleasure of dining out.


The service is top notch, attentive and knowledgeable of the menu, wine and chef specials.  The dining room is spacious but lacking an intimacy that couples may be looking for.  The tables are draped in white linen, set properly, and carefully displayed for the sequential tour through the meal.


The appetizer of bruschetta is a bit of a disappointment.  The tomatoes are a bit oxidized and flavorless, and for a cold first course, curiously served on a hot plate.  The house salad is remarkable, somewhere between a garden salad and a Caesar, tossed with a salty sweet mayonnaise-based dressing refreshingly created by the chef.  The twin medallions of beef are tender and perfectly cooked; the mashed potatoes are real potatoes, and are wonderfully whipped, seasoned and piled high alongside the entrée.  The vegetables are fresh, and not a frozen boxed variety that are delivered to restaurants these days. The risotto cakes were boring, bland, and undercooked, lacking the enjoyable crunch that accompanies something grilled with Panko bread crumbs.  The White Zinfandel was a good choice to match the earthiness of the beef, and paired along with the seasoning in the vegetables quite well.


The dessert choices are fresh but limited. The apples, caramel, and whipped cream served Neapolitan style in a small chimney glass is elegant, simple, and a wonderful way to end the meal.


Kozlak’s also has banquet space, on and off-site catering and an outstanding New Orleans Jazz Brunch on Sunday’s.  Too find out more, visit kozlaks.com.


When searching for a pleasant, uncomplicated meal, with a menu that has a proven shelf life and a staff that treats you like a customer and not a number, then you will enjoy Kozlak’s Royal Oak Restaurant.

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