The Mission: Behind the Scenes

10 Feb

The Mission is located in the oldest church in Syracuse.

Matt Kendall, Manager at the Mission & Steve Morrison, Chef and Owner of the Mission

On how the Mission prepares for Dining Week

Matt: We have dedicated a whole screen to Dining Week on our Micros system [the electronic cash register system.]

The Mission's menu changes seasonally.

We make sure that our winter menu is out and running smoothly before Dining Week, since we take the Dining Week menu from our winter menu.  The flavors on our menu reflect whatever the weather is outside, so our winter menu features a lot of comfort food.  We modify the dishes a bit for the Dining Week menu.  We schedule extra servers during Dining Week, as well as extra kitchen staff.

On how customer feedback shapes the Mission’s menu

Matt: We change our menu seasonally, but always keep about 50% of our menu items – the ones that are crowd favorites.  We listen closely to customer feedback and use it when we create new menus.

The Mission listens closely to customer feedback when creating new menus.

We include a comment card with every bill and get about 15 filled out a week.  We file and save the comment cards and study them when we are putting together a new menu.

On how the Mission began

Matt:  This building is the oldest church in Syracuse.  Steve is a sculpture graduate from Syracuse University and designed the interior of the restaurant.

Steve:  I had owned a wood-fired pizza restaurant in Armory Square called Movino, but I was looking to do something else.  I had always dreamed of having a Mexican restaurant and had always liked spicy food.  I would drive by this building every day on the way to work and one day the light went on in my head.  The space was empty, but when I contacted the owner he told me another business had already leased the space.  I had to wait two years for the space to become available again.  I took possession of the space in the beginning of September 1999 and opened on Valentine’s Day 2000.

Much of the decor in the Mission is from Mexico.

I went on a buying trip to Mexico before the restaurant opened and got a lot of the masks, tiles and other decorations that hang on the walls.  I called the food Pan-American or Latin Fusion when I started to give me a chance to branch out beyond Mexican.  I didn’t want people to hear the food described as Mexican and then expect a specific thing. When I was head chef at Pastabilities, I had gotten a chance to flex my culinary muscles and could experiment a lot with dishes and see how people in Syracuse liked them.  Also, I was a vegetarian for a number of years and had created a lot of Indian, Thai and Japanese dishes, in addition to Mexican, to keep things interesting.

The Mission is one of the 22 restaurants participating in AmeriCU Dining Week.  Visit the restaurant at 304 East Onondaga Street, call 475-7344 for information or reservations or visit www.themissionrestaurant.com for more information.

Byblos: Behind the Scenes

9 Feb

Byblos is located across the street from the Post Standard and around the corner from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Fady Khabbaz, Owner of Byblos Mediterranean Café

Native of Syracuse

On Byblos’ origins

Byblos is the Greek name of the ancient Phoenician city Gebal in what is now Lebanon.  It is believed by many to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.  My father is from Beirut and my mother is from Zahle.  They moved from Lebanon to Australia, where I was born, before moving to Syracuse.  My parents are the chefs at Byblos.  My background is in marketing and research, so I spent a year researching before we opened.

All the pastries at Byblos are handmade daily by Fady's mother.

We looked at the Syracuse area and found that there wasn’t a restaurant in the area serving authentic Lebanese food.  We wanted to appeal to a diverse group in Syracuse.  We find a large part of our customer base is people who are seeking healthy, fresh food, as well as authentic food.

On how the menu at Byblos was created

When we were creating the menu, we put a lot of thought into what people would like and what we could do for lunch.  We are challenged to make homemade food with care in a timely manner to accommodate the lunch crowd.  Quality is our number one priority, so it’s a balance to prepare things quickly, while still maintaining the homemade touch.

The menu at Byblos features well-known dishes like falafel, as well as more traditional Lebanese delicacies.

We started with an extensive menu and planned to give the menu a year to see how it worked, thinking that everything might not stay on.  People have responded so well to the range of our menu that we will be adding new dishes soon.   We have a lot of truly authentic dishes that aren’t on the menu, but can be made to order if someone asks.  One example is the dish kibbeh nayeh, which is a raw lamb dish that is similar to steak tartare.  People that come in to ask for more traditional dishes are usually of Lebanese descent or have been exposed to Lebanese cuisine.

On Byblos’ authenticity

Byblos is the first authentic Lebanese café in Syracuse.  You would have to travel to Utica to find an authentic Lebanese restaurant with the same menu range as ours.  Ingredients are necessary to maintaining authenticity.  A lot of our ingredients come directly from Lebanon.  We have a connection to a supplier there and also get a lot of ingredients from Samir’s Imported Foods on East Genesee Street, as he has a connection in Lebanon, too.

Byblos' dishes feature authentic Lebanese herbs and spices.

Importing ingredients is expensive, but necessary for the dishes.  In the summer, we get a lot of ingredients from my grandmother’s garden.  Her yard in Syracuse has a huge garden where she grows a lot of the herbs and seasonings we use.  She travels to Lebanon once a year to visit her family and brings seeds back with her to plant in the garden.

Byblos Mediterranean Café is one of the 22 restaurants participating in AmeriCU Dining Week.  Visit the restaurant at 223 North Clinton Street (across the street from the Post Standard, around the corner from the Dinosaur,) call 478-3333 for information or reservations or visit www.byblossyr.com for more information.

Pastabilities: Behind the Scenes

8 Feb

Inside Pastabilities

Gabe Angelone, Manager at Pastabilities

Native of Syracuse

On why Pastabilties’ menu frequently changes

We make a major change to our menu every 6-8 weeks to add variety for the people that dine here.  We always want there to be something new on there for people to try.  Changing up the menu also adds something new for our staff to learn and strengthens their base of knowledge.  We always try to have a lot of fresh, high-quality ingredients on our menu, so we also make changes based on what’s fresh at that time of year.  In the fall, you might see more root vegetables on the menu, while in the winter, there might be more comfort foods or in the summer, there might be lighter ingredients like berries.

Pastabilities' menu always features an array of crowd-pleasing pastas.

There’s a few old standby dishes, some of the salads and some of the pastas, that always stay on the menu.  People have enjoyed these dishes for years and we don’t want people to get upset from not being able to have them.

On how new Pastabilites menus are created

Creating new menus is a collaboration between our chef [Shayne Johnson] and owner [Karyn Korteling.]  They might go over old menus to pick out elements of dishes or they might want to try out a dish they had somewhere or something they’ve been experimenting on at home.  Input on menu changes can also come from anyone on staff.  Some of the cooks have knowledge of dish creation and also assist with creating new dishes.  The idea process starts a few weeks before the new menu and goes right up to the day of the menu change, as there are always lots of last minutes changes.

The menu at Pastabilities changes every 6-8 weeks.

They have to take into consideration how dishes will be for the kitchen to prepare, as well as trying to maintain the Pastabilities taste we’ve come to be known for.  Karyn, the chef and some of the floor staff try the dishes before the menu is finalized.  There might be some adjustments made to the menu on its first day, since it’s hard to work on a lot of new menu items while another menu is ongoing.  The day after the new menu comes out, a staff tasting is held to give everyone a chance to try the new dishes so they can know what they’re serving and be able to answer diners’ questions about the dishes.

On creating the Dining Week menu

We try to offer items on the Dining Week menu that will entice people to come in to Pastabilities during the promotion.

Pastabilities' sales during Dining Week increase about 15%, according to owner Karyn Korteling.

We might look over old Dining Week menus to get ideas for dishes or take elements on the current menu and add something new to them.  We also try to add value to the menu. In past years, we have done this by offering dessert or a drink with the meal.  The Dining Week menu contains dishes that we think are good and that diners will enjoy.

Pastabilities is one of the 22 restaurants participating in AmeriCU Dining Week.  Visit the restaurant at 311 South Franklin Street, call 474-1153 for information or reservations or visit www.pastabilities.com for more information.

Dig in to AmeriCU Dining Week!

5 Feb

Get a glimpse behind the scenes of the restaurant industry in downtown Syracuse! Check this blog daily in the week leading up to AmeriCU Dining Week for posts featuring chefs, managers and owners of downtown restaurants participating in AmeriCU Dining Week.

Want more ways to interact with AmeriCU Dining Week? Head to our website throughout AmeriCU Dining Week  to vote in our online poll and  let us know what your favorite AmeriCU Dining Week dish was and where you had it.  Or take photos of your AmeriCU Dining Week dishes and upload them to our Downtown Syracuse Facebook page for a chance to win gift certificates to downtown Syracuse restaurants participating in AmeriCU Dining Week.

AmeriCU Dining Week is almost here, so get ready to dig in!