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Formaggio Kitchen-Experiences Beyond Cheese?

Chrispy75 Dec 17, 2009 03:41 AM

Hi All,

I was wondering if anyone has any experience with ordering anything besides cheese at Formaggio? I was looking at their holiday menu and there's a couple of things on it that might fit the bill for a Christmas gathering. I was thinking of the beef stew and maybe the smoked salmon canapes or fig medallions with gorgonzola. Has anyone used them for catering or for a Thanksgiving/holiday meal? I've gone through the threads, and while I see a lot of recs for them, I don't see many reviews for their foods. Thanks in advance.

  1. MC Slim JB Dec 17, 2009 04:29 AM

    I haven't ordered from their catering menu online, but if it's any indication, their prepared foods that they sell on premises (sandwiches, salads, roast meats, etc.) are very good, if rather expensive. (They can't serve food prepared to order, as they don't have a common victualler's license.) In addition to cheese, I've regularly bought various salumi, charcuterie, deli-case items like anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers, cookies, petit fours, candies (salt caramels, yum), fresh produce, bread, dairy products (they carry Chip-In Farms eggs), oils, vinegars, dried legumes, dried pasta, wine, beer -- all kinds of gourmet groceries. Same comment: quality is impeccable, but you pay a premium for it. I'd wager that the same would hold true for their online catering menu.

    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

    5 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB
      k
      katzzz Dec 17, 2009 05:41 AM

      While the meats are as superb as the cheeses and are well-worth investigating, I have to say that I've always been underwhelmed by the prepared foods I've bought: the various cold salads and sandwiches. While the ingredients are undoubtedly high quality, nothing has knocked me out taste-wise. I'm guessing that the philosophy is to let the ingredients speak for themselves without a lot of added spice, sauce, whatever, but to my palate, the results are on the austere side. Heck, just some more salt and pepper would help. I'd certainly do a taste-test before ordering any catering to see if whatever you're considering is to your liking. If anyone does absolutely love any of Formaggio's prepared dishes, please do tell!

      1. re: MC Slim JB
        Tir_na_nOg Dec 19, 2009 11:15 PM

        If they can't prepare foods to order, how do you explain their BBQ on the sidewalk in the summer?

        1. re: Tir_na_nOg
          MichaelB Dec 20, 2009 06:55 AM

          I think the prohibition on made-to-order food applies only to the Boston location - in addition to doing the summer sidewalk barbecue, the Cambridge store will heat up sandwiches in their panini press. Not sure whether they have a different kind of license or if Cambridge has different licensing restrictions/requirements from Boston.

          1. re: Tir_na_nOg
            r
            RTM Dec 29, 2009 08:04 AM

            When is the sidewalk BBQ? I have been a few times to formaggio and loved it/spent way to much money on cheese/meats/oil/vinegar/pasta/wine/fruit/etc etc. Possibly my favorite shop I have been to in town. Havent been to Boston location yet though.

            1. re: Tir_na_nOg
              MC Slim JB Jan 2, 2010 10:30 PM

              MichaelB is correct: I was referring to the Boston location, which as I mentioned is a food retailer but does not have a restaurant-type license. This means it can pre-make sandwiches and such in advance of opening and sell them, but can't make them to order. The original Cambridge location must have a different license or different City of Cambridge rules to abide by.

              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          2. hotoynoodle Dec 17, 2009 05:46 AM

            smoked salmon canapes and fig with gorgonzola are an inexpensive snap to make. why buy?

            their cheeses and meats are outstanding. why not just get platters of those, with cool condiments? i bought slices of spanish ham there once (thin, like prosciutto) -- the pigs had been fed on grape must. i still dream about it. it was also $25 a pound, lol.

            i have bought take-away sandwiches there, just ok. especially for the money.

            1. Chrispy75 Dec 17, 2009 07:07 AM

              I realize that I can make the canapes and the fig app easily enough but my wife and I want a complete break this year. Believe me, at $10 a head for beef stew, I am still thinking of it.

              The main reason for looking at Formaggio to begin with is because I will be getting mezze items and such from Arax and Sevan so it's in the general area. Also, cheese and sliced meats are on the list too so it would knock those off. It's not a place that I normally go to. Russo's is my usual spot for this type of stuff, but thought I'd try something different this time.

              Maybe the lack seasoning (I'm envisioning WF prepared food section) just might be the thing for some of our flavor shy relatives since we'll be getting a few items from Dok Bua too. Basically, it's going to be a mix of things that 10-15 people can snack on over the course of a couple of days.

              Thanks for the replies. I will post a follow up after Christmas as to what I thought. Enjoy your holidays!

              2 Replies
              1. re: Chrispy75
                StriperGuy Dec 17, 2009 07:22 AM

                Heck, Ask the Arax folks to cater the whole thing for you. I am sure they would do some special orders, a beef stew, etc. That said, for cheese and charcuterie I would definitely go with Formaggio.

                1. re: Chrispy75
                  hotoynoodle Dec 17, 2009 08:15 AM

                  catered food, just like hotel food, is seasoned "safely'. generally undersalted and not highly flavored, looking for mass non-offense.

                2. s
                  Splendid Spatula Dec 17, 2009 08:37 AM

                  Can't speak to the prepared items - but the cheese, salumi, and pate trays that I've gotten from them for parties and events have been terrific. And that grill party they have on Saturdays smells heavenly! I say give them a try - I would surprised if it was not good.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Splendid Spatula
                    j
                    jjbourgeois Dec 17, 2009 09:37 AM

                    I've never had a problem and have always enjoyed the meats and cheeses from Formaggio. I also enjoy some of the cookies they import from time to time. usually during the holidays. One of my favorite diet cheat items is the little house made chorizo's.

                    1. re: jjbourgeois
                      jvish Dec 17, 2009 10:03 AM

                      Their homemade sausages are some of the best around..as are any other house made charcuterie and pates....their baked good are excellent as well..

                      1. re: jvish
                        pocketgarden Dec 18, 2009 05:57 AM

                        any platter is going to be high quality ingredients that speak for themselves, smoked salmon, cheese platters etc. the case salads are occasionally under seasoned or underwhelming, but the holiday menus deliver! Eduardo the head chef does the bulk of holiday menu catering himself, and his beef stew is really delicious, the epitome of good home-cooking. Eduardo's food (daily dinners, soups, and holiday menus) are how you always hoped your grandmother's cooking would taste. not cheap, but you won't be disappointed.

                  2. Chrispy75 Dec 29, 2009 05:24 AM

                    Thanks all who replied. We ended up going with the beef stew and Bûche de Noël from Formaggio as well as some chorizo and a variety of cheeses. The beef stew was excellent and a big hit. It contained large pieces of very tender/well seasoned beef that were about the size of a small fist that were marinated in both armagnac and wine but neither overpowered the wonderful flavor of the beef. It was very hearty and a great winter food.

                    The Bûche de Noël was done very well too. It was individually made unlike a lot of the ones that I've had in the past that look like they've come off a machine. The frosting and cake were very rich, not overly sweet and had a hint of espresso which was a nice touch. I usually don't like coffee mixed with chocolate but it worked with this cake.

                    I was a little worried because when I placed the order they only took my name and number. They said that they couldn't guarantee that it would be there if I didn't get there early enough to pick it up. I found that a little strange because I was ready to give a credit card to hold it. I was more nervous when I arrived and they couldn't find it. Luckily, the order turned up and was in and out in about 20 minutes.

                    1. f
                      FoodDabbler May 15, 2010 12:04 PM

                      FK's Saturday barbecue is a significant plus. The hot dogs are superb, and the brisket and pulled pork, although uneven, are frequently first rate. The pulled lamb, when they have it, is
                      also good as are various other occasional items. I have one beef, so to speak, with the bbq operation. It's very, very slow. I know that some of it is inherent in their having to prepare things (or, at least, reheat them) to order, and some of it is the inherent slow vibe of the 'cue experience, but there's an extra layer of slowness that can be quite frustrating. I've seen people give up and leave the line. I did so myself today and got a lobster roll at the neighboring Fishmonger instead.

                      As for the other prepared foods, anything made by Eduardo (as observed by another poster as well) is usually excellent, especially when fresh. They tend to hang on to food a little too long at FK, both out of refrigeration as well as in the refrigerated case. That can get a little scary, and may account for some of the less enthusiastic comments in this thread on their prepared foods.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: FoodDabbler
                        beetlebug May 15, 2010 06:23 PM

                        re: the slow bbq. It's because this set of bbq guys can only single task. Even if you are with another person, but you place the order separately, they will only finish your order before moving on to your DC's order. The menu hasn't changed all that much over the years, just the cooks. It's really frustrating and I don't think it's worth waiting in line for over an hour to get lunch.

                        1. re: beetlebug
                          f
                          FoodDabbler May 15, 2010 07:46 PM

                          Yes, I was just thinking tonight that the single-tasking is a major cause of this problem. They could easily take orders three or four deep in the queue.

                          1. re: FoodDabbler
                            Tir_na_nOg May 16, 2010 10:06 AM

                            Personally, I've been there many times for BBQ and never had to wait for more than ~20-25 minutes, so I think 1 hour would be very unusual, but I do agree they are inefficient and could easily speed things up. Too much gossiping with the customers, but I guess that's part of the stichk. The customers are sometimes pretty lame too. Good grief, you've been in line for 20 minutes and still don't know what you want to order?

                            I think it is good, but it's not the best BBQ around like some people say. I had the pulled pork (my BBQ touchstone) and the 1/2 chicken last time. The pulled pork was mediocre, the chicken better, although overly burned on the outside.

                            The first time, several years ago, I had this amazing smoked pulled chicken sandwich with a sweet not spicy sauce. It was the best BBQ I've ever had, with great smoke. Unfortunately, it's never been the same since and I've stopped ordering it in the hope that it will be.

                            Off-topic, but I took the BBQ class at Lester's in Burlington a couple of weekends ago, taught by the "Meet@Slim's" competitive BBQ team. They made a smoked chicken thigh that was the best chicken dish that I've ever had, BBQ or not. $58 for a 5 hour class, with all you can eat and plenty of leftovers to take home (we cooked 9 racks of ribs, 2 large brisket and ~40 chicken thighs two different ways for a class of 15), is a pretty good deal (beer was extra).

                            1. re: Tir_na_nOg
                              muscles_marinara May 16, 2010 11:45 AM

                              That sounds like a cool class.

                            2. re: FoodDabbler
                              muscles_marinara May 16, 2010 11:41 AM

                              This is interesting, having worked for a long time in the service industry, the last several years of that being a cook then chef, I immediately spotted couple of bottlenecks in their setup. They may be intentional.

                              First bottleneck: people can talk to the cook and the cook will respond. When you're cooking in any sort of volume, focus and mental organization are critical components to doing it quickly and efficiently. There's a reason why even when you're in a restaurant with an open kitchen, it's pretty obvious that you aren't supposed to go up and start talking to the line cooks. When the customers at Formaggio start asking things like "ooh, what's that?" or "What kind of mustard is this?" it can break the train of thought and potentially lead to an extra minute or two delay for every order on the grill. If they really wanted to speed things up, the cook wouldn't interact with customers. it seems like the best way to handle a situation like that would be to smile politely and nod towards the cashier for questions. I think this conflicts Formaggio customer service ideals though.

                              Second bottleneck: There are no tickets. When you're making several orders at once there needs to be a way that you can double check something on the order without having to ask the person who took the order. Here's the scenario "Hmmm... I think there was something special about this hot dog... what was it?" With the current setup, the cook has to wait for the order taker to finish their interaction with the current customer, ask what it was that was special about it, the person taking the order (who has taken other orders since then) needs to ask the customer who then feels obligated to justify or maybe tell a little story about why their dog needs to be extra well done. If he had a ticket that said "1 dog, EW" then he'd have saved a good 45 seconds. Also, if there's a fairly complicated order, he's got no way to easily check to see if he's got everything without having to ask someone. Simply trying to remember how many orders of beans someone needs turns into a conversation rather than a quick look at a piece of paper.

                              Third bottleneck: The grill just isn't all that big, and they don't run it very hot. Those huge webber grills seem to have a ton of work space, but what they've got is a hot spot in the middle that gradients out to relatively cool spots on the outside. In the kitchen at my restaurant, we've got a grill with about the same amount of work surface but it's easily got twice as much usable space because the coals are close to the grill, and you can evenly distribute coals throughout the entire grill surface.

                              Why might all of this be on purpose?

                              1) They probably want to try and maintain a back yard BBQ feel. When you're running an efficient food service operation, there's a certain amount of impersonality that's necessary. The person behind the counter needs to be friendly but keep interactions with the customers short (but sweet,) and the cook needs to not talk to people. That seems to be contradictory with they mood that they're trying to set.

                              2) Lines are great advertising. You could take the most boring, run of the mill place on the side of the road, get 40 people standing in line in front of it, and suddenly people are interested.

                              3) Facilities and Payroll. The obvious solution would simply to hire another cook, get another grill and split up the duties into 2 stations. There are probably some very real permitting issues involved with how many grills they can have going at once (as it is, you'll notice that they have a fire detail perpetually hanging out a few cars away while they're grilling).

                              and the most important reason...

                              4) They know that people will (usually happily) wait, and they'll sell out of everything they have anyway without changing a thing.

                              1. re: muscles_marinara
                                f
                                FoodDabbler May 16, 2010 01:36 PM

                                Very nice analysis. Thanks.

                                You're probably right that from the FK pov it ain't broke -- they have customers who'll wait (mostly happily), and they pretty much sell all their food -- so there ain't nothing to fix. Still, I'm hoping someone from there will see this discussion (a separate thread on their bbq rub elicited a response from one of their bbq guys) and think about a way to speed things along just a little. They could still keep the personalized FK experience and a line, yet have things move along just a little bit quicker. Competition might help. Perhaps the Fishmonger should sell grilled fish and fish tacos at the corner. It certainly was no coincidence that they had a big sign yesterday right where the tail end of the FK line usually is advertising lobster rolls that were "ready to go".

                                On the FK experience, it's true that friendly staff who'll talk to you is part of the FK ethos, just as snooty staff who won't talk to you is part of the Hi Rise ethos. But efficiency is also part of the FK style. Things move fairly quickly in the store. If a line piles up near the cash registers they notice it and move to fix it, sometimes (if they can) by opening a new register. It's the personal style of the owners, Ihsan and Valerie Gurdal, who move briskly and don't dawdle, and it's always been a mark of the store. The slowness of the bbq line undercuts that image.

                        2. tatsu May 15, 2010 06:03 PM

                          Oh, beyond cheese. Ok. I'd just get a whole leg of Jamon Iberico Bellota for Xmas and call it a holiday party. It runs about 3000 dollars, sure to impress. (How's your carving skills, better practice on some smoked salmon first, eh?)

                          Unfortunately the FDA no longer allows the actual foot of the pig in the US, for some odd reason. So they hack them off in Spain before shipping. This is very very sad, because the black hoof of the pig is what I always look for, and was a bit of a souvenir for me.

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