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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Eat In or Carry Out?

February 15, 2016

Families fall into one or two categories: Dining-in families or dining-out families.

I grew up in a dining-in family. My mother, a widowed schoolteacher, was able to accomplish everything she did during the day and then get home in the afternoon to prepare supper for my brother and me. Her specialties were seafood gumbo, pot roast, and stuffed peppers (the latter being my favorite and is still the go-to meal on birthdays these days).

My wife, daughter, son, and I are a restaurateur’s dream. We are a dining-out family. We eat out a lot. It’s not something that I am proud of, as I firmly believe that families should sit around their dining room table at home and share a meal. But the nature of what I do for a living takes me, and luckily my family, out on the road often. I like to stay on top of what is happening in the restaurant world and the best way to do that is— not sitting at home reading restaurant trade magazines, but— going out and eating at other establishments in other cities and seeing what’s happening in the food world.

There are several independent restaurants in town that we frequent on a very regular basis, in addition to our restaurants where I can find out how we are doing compared to others in town and around the region.

Going to a restaurant was a treat for me when I was a kid. If it were my birthday I would choose a place that prepared fried shrimp. That was the pinnacle of restaurantdom for me as a kid, still is a lot of times. You know why kids like fried shrimp? Because fried shrimp are good.

Restaurant visits are old hat for my family these days. We crossed the pond a few years ago and nomadically traversed the European continent for several months, just the four of us. Almost 95% of the meals we ate during that six-month stretch were in a restaurant, café, bistro, or trattoria. That probably solidified our habit of dining out. Though when we returned to the states, I craved the foods of my youth— fried chicken, mashed potatoes, English peas, and pot roast. I also looked forward to sitting down with my family at the dining table in our breakfast room at home— still my preferred place to eat.

Being a dining out family, we have gone through many stages. My wife and I dated for five years and then were married for five years before our first child was born. We spent a decade traveling the country dining in, and researching, restaurants. When our daughter was born we never really slowed down. She was the perfect restaurant customer— even as a baby. I can remember a meal in Commander’s Palace in New Orleans where she, not even a year old, never made a peep and never dropped a morsel. She was a born restaurant baby. She ate clean, looked immaculate while she ate, and afterwards there was nothing on her face, nothing on the table, nothing on the floor.

As a new father, and a restaurateur, I took a lot of pride in this, and assumed that my being a “restaurant guy” in addition to an “awesome father,” was the reason my child was a perfect restaurant customer, and the screaming child across the dining room throwing food and causing a ruckus must have been the child of a person who probably wore a tie to work everyday.

Then my son was born, and my wife and I quickly learned that we had nothing to do with the first child being the perfect restaurant customer. Her ideal behavior must have been something embedded deep in her DNA, and through the luck of the draw, our first was well behaved. He, on the other hand, was THAT kid— the one across the dining room that drew the ire of other fathers. I knew that look. For the first six years of his life, if there was a ruckus in a restaurant, he was likely the root cause.

Today’s shameful fact I hate to admit: After the first few visits, I stopped taking him into our restaurants, and only dined out in my competitor’s restaurants during a three-year streak in which he reined terror throughout the Hattiesburg restaurant market.

It wasn’t that he was a bad kid. He has never been that. He’s a great kid who is full of life and is 100% happy, positive, and upbeat all of the time. It’s just in those early days it was hard to damped that enthusiasm and energy. He went trough a two-year period where he spilled a drink at the table almost every meal. His personal record was four drink spills at one meal. It was never intentional. By the time he was around six-years old he settled down and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.

Today, I am proud to say that both of my children are model restaurant customers, well behaved, and have good manners. I give their mom the credit on that one. Though given the choice, I’d take a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, eaten at home, just the four of us seated at our breakfast room table, over a steak dinner or fine-dining meal, every day of the week.



Vegetable Beef Soup

3 Tbl                               Olive oil

1 1 /2 lbs                         Ribeye steak trimmings (cut into 3/4-inch cubes)

1 1 /2 tsp                        Salt

1 tsp                                Pepper

1 cup                               Onion, small dice

1 cup                               Carrot, small dice

1 cup                               Celery, small dice

1 Tbl                                Garlic, minced

1 /2 tsp                            Dried Thyme

2 tsp                                 Steak Seasoning

1                                        Bay leaf

15 oz can                         Tomato, diced

1 1 /2 quart                     Beef stock

1 cup                                Corn, fresh, scraped from the cob

1 cup                                Potato, peeled and diced to ¾” cubes

1 cup                                 Zing-Zang Bloody Mary Mix

1 Tbl                                 Kitchen Bouquet

1 Tbl                                 Worcestershire sauce

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over high heat in a large skillet. Season the meat with half of the salt and pepper. Brown the meat in olive oil. Do not overload the skillet. Over loading the skillet will cause the beef to steam instead of brown. Brown meat in batches, add more oil when necessary then place cooked meat in a large stockpot.

Add one tablespoon of oil to skillet and sauté the onions, carrots, celery and garlic for five minutes over medium heat. Add thyme, steak seasoning and bay leaf. Deglaze the pan by adding the canned tomatoes (with the juice) using a wooden spoon to remove any stuck-on proteins. Cook five minutes on high, and add to the meat in the stockpot. Place beef broth in the stockpot and cook over low heat. The soup should just barely simmer. After 1 hour, add Zing Zang, corn and potatoes. Continue cooking another 45 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining salt, pepper, Worcestershire and Kitchen Bouquet. Yield: approximately one gallon


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