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What restaurant foods have declined over the years and why?

There are certain foods prepared in restaurants (generally--not in every instance) that are no longer as delicious as they used to be, often due to laziness, the cooks' preference for a preparation which takes less time, is less expensive to make, where the ingredients required to make the dish are difficult or near impossible to find (but were not before), or due to supposed health considerations.

A few examples of these sorts of decline are pizza, gyros, and McDonald's french fries. Pizza has declined because cooks used to incorporate spices into the pizza. Then people started asking for them to (for example) leave out the oregano, or garlic, or basil . . . Pretty soon cooks decided to omit all these spices and others from a pizza and just leave oregano and garlic powder on the table to be added afterward. Hence, in your average pizza place, you now get an incredibly bland pizza. And, no, adding garlic powder later does not cut it.

Gyros used to be marketed (by the Parthenon Restaurant in Chicago which set up a separate corporation to do so) with a gadget that played a gas flame along the entire rotating length of the spicy formed pork/lamb/beef(?) cylinder.

This was essential to the preparation of the dish because its essence required that the dish be prepared from thinly sliced pieces of CHARRED AND CARMELIZED meat about two to three inches wide, sawed off the very edge of the rotating cylinder of meat. By design, the gas jet supplied an endless amount of charred and carmelized meat. Now, restaurants just order the meat cylinder and warm up the meat in an oven (I am guessing) or microwave it, resulting in no charring or carmelization. It tastes like glorified meat loaf.

The famed McDonald's fries are a shadow of their former selves. They are no longer anywhere near as crunchy on the outside and tender-soft on the inside as they used to be, since McDonald's stopped frying them in beef fat.

I attribute the pizza and gyros declines to laziness, speed and cost. The McDonald's fries decline is primarily a chimeric quest for health. Whoever heard of a "healthy" French fry? But I will bet you that the liquid oil now used is cheaper than beef tallow, as well.

Can you think of other restaurant foods which have declined over the years and cannot generally be found in their once superior forms?

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  1. Regarding gyros, they are a Middle Eastern dish and are cooked thusly:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyro_(food)

    Regarding pizza, I think they are gazillions times better than they used to be. The restaurants I frequent are making great dough, Italian wood fired ovens, top notch sauces, cheeses, meats, etc. I'm sorry you're not having these experiences with these dishes.

    2 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      I agree about the pizza. I hate a spiced sauce, please no oregano or garlic powder. Most high end pizza restaurants, ie pizzeria Mozza, use uncooked sauce, good quality drained canned tomatoes passed through a food mill mixed with olive oil and salt, some add garlic, basil or grated onion. Too many restaurants use a marinara sauce with tons of tomato paste garlic and oregano which is cooked for a long time.

      1. re: c oliver

        I agree about the pizza! Growing up we had two places with decent albeit basic pies. I have not romantic nostalgia about them.

        Give me my local brick oven pizzeria with homemade sauce and fresh, delicious toppings any day.

        In regards to gyros-if you are buying them in food courts or chains, yes those are pretty bad. But if you can find a good middle eastern restaurant or even greek diner you would rejoice. Thick and chewy house made pitas, fresh veggies, flavorful lamb and house made tzatziki.

        Honestly if you can't find good pizza or gyros I say it's not that the food is declined its about where you are living/eating. For generations there have been good and bad versions of all foods.

      2. Bacon in Mexico used to be thick, smoky, crunchy, and delicious. For decades. Now everywhere it is some sort of processed tasteless crap that seems to have been made in an Arby's plant. Growl.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Veggo

          <seems to have been made in an Arby's plant.>

          That is funny.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            A friend of mine hates any kind of "loaf cured" meat, and says the meat has gone through "bitter Arbytration."

          2. re: Veggo

            I also have thought about how hard it is to find bacon these days that seems anywhere near as good as when I was younger. I did find a local place recently that smokes their own, and it's quite good, but even still....

            Makes me wonder if aging tastebuds are a factor.

          3. When I saw the headline, my first thought was McD fries. Besides the fat, they used to be made with fresh potatoes, twice=fried in house. I know because it was once my job to par-fry the day's batches. Also the limited menu (hamburgers, cheeseburgers, doubles, big Macs, fries) along with strict timing limits meant that the food was served much fresher.

            4 Replies
            1. re: mwhitmore

              I agree about McD's freshness. The first time I had one of their high priced angus burgers with swiss cheese and mushrooms I must have got lucky with one right off the grill, and it was quite tasty. My next and last one, and I was quite hungry, was inedible.

              1. re: Veggo

                Actually, Veggo, when I was thinking through what I was going to write in the posting above, I considered skipping the French fry comment and talking about McDonald's burgers. When I was first introduced to McDonald's burgers in the early 1960s, the burgers were cooked to order. If it was lunch time, I imagine what they did was just start cooking burgers because the demand was greater than they could keep up with. The burgers, I agree, were superior.

                Sometime in the 1970s, McDonald's expanded its menu and, to maintain its fast food reputation, stopped cooking burgers to order so that it could continue to be fast. The quality of the burgers plunged.

                1. re: gfr1111

                  Actually in 1968, when I worked there, burgers were ordered up by the manager by the dozen ("One dozen ham, half dozen double cheese..."), them kept for a *very* limited time before being thrown away. AFAIK they were never cooked to order except for special orders. Some customers placed a special order simply to get freshly cooked food.

              2. re: mwhitmore

                I've worked at several McDonald's (admittedly long ago) and we never par cooked the fries.

                And burgers were cooked by the dozen on a flat top and the condiments were applied with these weird stainless steel gadgets.

                My favorite shift was fries and shakes

              3. Your basic premise is flawed. There are excellent pizzas and gyros to be had nationwide. You need to visit better restaurants.

                12 Replies
                1. re: ferret

                  Second this. If you're talking chain slop pies and gyros, yeah, Pizza Hut is a butter spray revolting mess. And zero-prep presliced gyro bologna strips are an abomination. But this site is a great help in finding coal fired/wood fired alternatives and Greek/Turkish/German places serving real gyros/doner kebabs.

                  1. re: ferret

                    I've had gyros at any number of north side Chicago hot dog/gyros stands. I've seen those premade strip things, but it's pretty darn rare!

                    1. re: ferret

                      Yeah, the OP is wrong on several levels.

                      Not even sure it merits a substantive response, or any response. But whatever.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        It's usually a more productive dialogue when the OP participates but I think most of us agree that, at least regarding gyros and pizzas, there's not been a decline. As for McDs fries, isn't that really a Chains discussion?

                        1. re: c oliver

                          They used to call the theater "the magnificent invalid" because it's been in a state of perpetual decline since Ancient Greece. I'm starting to think of cuisine in the same terms. Everything, everywhere was ALWAYS better "back in the day." And 30 years from now, they'll be saying the same thing about the lousy food they're serving today.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            C Oliver,

                            Okay, I'll participate. Re: gyros. I stand by my statement that once gyros were marketed widely and you could buy them at any diner selling hotdogs, hamburgers, taco, tostadas, the quality plummeted. The key here is whether they have the money, time and patience to char the meat and cut it thin. Bad gyros are so ubiquitous that I am surprised that there is even a debate about it.

                            Regarding pizzas, I will concede that there has been a parallel and contrary development of excellent pizzas in the big cities, mostly. Artisanal pizzas did not exist until 25 years ago and they have spread like wildfire. (I particularly love Wolfgang Puck's pizzas at Postrio in San Francisco.)

                            But if you move out of the big metro areas, the quality of pizza has declined, primarily from cooks eliminating even the hint of all herbs and spices and then telling you that you can replace these at the table.

                            Okay, further waffling: I may be wrong about the East Coast, primarily New York and New Jersey. I don't live there and they have a strong Italian population base, so maybe the spices have stayed in the pizzas there. But the midwest, the great plains states and the south are extremely disappointing, outside of some big cities.

                            1. re: gfr1111

                              Others have commented on good gyros so perhaps your experience(s) is different. That's fine.

                              Regarding pizzas, we live in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area which is small and probably NO Italian population to speak of, yet we have great pizza. Again, I wonder if your experience is different.

                              I'm sincerely sorry that you're having these experiences. I haven't looked to see if you've posted where you live. I hope it gets better.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Hi, C Oliver:

                                Please see my comments to Ferret below. You asked where I live. I live in Tampa now, formerly Sarasota, Ft. Myers, and Naples, all in Florida. Before that, Bloomington, Indiana, and a half a dozen small towns 30-40 miles outside of Chicago. I mention all this to establish my small town bonafides.

                                Reno/Lake Tahoe is more like a big city because of the draw the area has, due to the beautiful Lake Tahoe. Don't many Italian East Coast people have summer homes in Lake Tahoe? Anyway, I will certainly make it a point to try some of the Reno/Lake Tahoe pizza! Thanks.

                                1. re: gfr1111

                                  I have two CH-friends who live in Bloomington and they seem to do fine. One became a vegan a couple of years ago and has found places to accommodate her.

                                  Unfortunately, no, East Coast Italians don't come here. Most of the second home owners are from CA and I call the food at Tahoe LCD food. Lowest common denominator, designed to feed the affluent but not scare them. Reno, however, outside the casinos, is turning into quite the vibrant scene, in food and other areas. Here's my fave place:

                                  http://www.camporeno.com/

                                  Their pizza is amazing and their burgers look great. (I don't order burgers in restaurants cause we grind our own meat and that's in another realm entirely.

                                  )

                                  I wish you well in your food quest :)

                              2. re: gfr1111

                                Again that's a really unbased generalization. CAN you come across some small-town pizza place that makes and sells lousy pizza? Of course. On teh other hand, my brother-in-law, who is as outside the "big metro area" as possible briefly owned a pizza place in his community and they made a hell of a good pizza. I've stopped at many places in my travels that are outside of urban areas and there are plenty of good pizzas out there. Plenty of bad pizzas in urban areas as well.

                                Again your premise is flawed (and a little condescending, as if only big metro area establishments can understand what good food is). I think, on the average, that more care goes into food preparation these days than decades ago, simply because people are more motivated and have greater exposure and access to good ingredients, recipes and methods.

                                There are good and bad examples of any food these days, but that was also true 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago (when the options were much more limited).

                                1. re: ferret

                                  Hi, Ferret:

                                  Thanks for your comments. (The auto gyro slicer in your comment above was really interesting to watch in action.)

                                  Here's the problem: sure, in any set of locations you can find small numbers of places that do pizza well. I understand that this is what the scientists call "anecdotal evidence." But I am talking about trends, about overall statistics, about the average pizza place that you stop in randomly when you are on the road. They just aren't making very good pizza anymore.

                                  I have nothing against small towns. I grew up in Highland, Indiana; lived in Ft. Myers, Florida; and worked in Elgin, Illinois. Small towns have much to recommend them, but their pizza places have stopped putting oregano, basil, garlic, and allspice on their pizzas. (And sure, I am certain that someone from these towns can name a pizza place--anecdotal evidence, again--that does still use these spices. But the number of pizza places that do is statistically insignificant, in my opinion.)

                                  1. re: gfr1111

                                    Your entire premise is based on anecdotal evidence. The issue is can you fairly generalise about the state of food these days from anecdotes? I don't believe so but you apparently do. I would never start a thread about how "restaurant food has improved over the years" because no matter how many great meals I've had, its hardly indicative of the general state of restaurants any more than the number of bad meals I've had.

                        2. I'll jump on the McDonalds fries comment and opine that most fast food has gotten much worse over the years. I remember when (I feel like a grandma telling stories about the war) Arby's roast beef was juicy, Wendy's burgers were the best fast food ever, and Burger King actually flame broiled the meat - and didn't put it in a microwave afterwards. Most fast food beef is kind of loose and bland now. Wendy's fries went from great to terrible to the worst. McDonalds fries not only don't taste as good, but they don't even seem to cook them anymore. The idea of healthier fast food, more cost-cutting measures, and time-savers have destroyed the flavors. And don't get me started on Wendy's "new and improved" nonsense - I miss the Dave Thomas days.