Overcoming the current Restaurant Challenge??? How can you eat out when all the restaurants are short-staffed and you know you are going to have to wait an extra-long time for a table? And take-out doesn’t always work either because it’s not as good by the time you get home.
My goal for this article is to give you some ideas of how you can make and enjoy Restaurant Quality Meals in your home using restaurant products you can buy at the grocery store or put on your Grocery Delivery Form and let Grocery Concierge deliver to your vacation beach home!
You may not have noticed, but there are lots of items in the grocery stores now with Restaurant names on them? Everything from Chick Fil A’s Polynesian sauce to Olive Garden’s Italian Dressing, plus lots of frozen products to reheat are now available for you to create some of your favorites.
So where would you like to go to dinner?
Famous House Salad and Bread Sticks. This is easy to replicate at home.
Items needed: Iceberg garden salad mix (in a bag), sliced Red Onion, whole Black Olives, Mild Pepperoncini, sliced Roma Tomatoes, Croutons, and Olive Garden’s Italian Dressing. Toss all items together and sprinkle freshly grated parmesan cheese and black pepper on top! Ta-dah Olive Garden’s House Salad is served.
*I like to add a few extra items like more grated carrots and sliced radishes and sliced cucumber, but if you want to make it feel just like you are at Olive Garden, stick to their list of items.
Garlic Bread Sticks-several varieties can be found in the freezer section and there are several good Marinara sauces available for dipping.
Looking for a soup to add to that salad? Most stores now carry fresh soups from Panera Bread. I know it’s a little like sneaking food in from another restaurant, but I promise not to tell. 😊
For an entrée, you could make an easy Fettuccine Alfredo (multiple canned sauce options) and use either Rotisserie Chicken breast (pull off and slice) or fresh sautéed shrimp. If you do not want to spend time over the stove checking if the pasta is done, cook a frozen lasagna in the oven.
*One reason I like frozen lasagna on vacation is that the hour-plus time it takes to cook is plenty of time for everyone to get showers after being at the beach all day or out hiking, kayaking, fishing, or any other favorite activity.
I immediately think of Lettuce Wraps (the best use of Iceberg lettuce ever!). A few years ago, I found a really good recipe for these online—and easy. The flavor comes from the sesame oil and hoisin sauce.
PF Chang’s also has a salad dressing for sale at the grocery store. Sesame Dressing with a recipe right on the label. And of course, there are frozen appetizers and entrees from PF Chang’s available to purchase and cook at home.
Another option would be to stop by the fresh sushi counter (most grocery stores have these now) and pick up fresh sushi or fresh dumplings to enjoy! And fresh egg rolls are also available in the deli or salad area of the store (check out ones from Van’s kitchen—made in Dallas, TX and sold across the country, a family business, and personal friend)
Navarre and Pensacola Beach have the pleasure of enjoying authentic Cajun cuisine at their 2 restaurants. And many more products are available on their Bayou to Table items. Items like Andouille sausage, Boudin, Boil in Bag entrees, Crawfish pies, and seafood gumbo base.
The first night of vacation can be difficult to plan. Not sure when you will arrive or how hungry you will be but ready to start your vacation. My suggestion…a couple of bags of seafood gumbo and minute maid white rice. All you need is a couple of pots to boil water—drop the bags in and within minutes you have what tastes like a restaurant meal. Of course, the restaurant is going to serve toasted garlic bread with the gumbo, so be sure to purchase either a frozen garlic bread loaf to heat and enjoy or pick up a fresh loaf of French bread from the grocery bakery.
Playing cards with friends and in the mood for “bar food”? Bar food includes things like Chicken Wings, Potato Skins, Crispy Green Beans, Spinach & Artichoke Dip with pita bread triangles, and Chili’s famous Queso and Chips. I promise you can duplicate these items right at home very easily.
Winn Dixie has a Hot Wings bar with a variety of flavors. Pick up a few of your favorite flavors—add blue cheese dressing or ranch dressing (buy the extra rich stuff in the fresh produce section), fresh carrots, and celery sticks.
TGI Friday has potato skins in the freezer section to heat. Add sour cream and chopped chives for a more authentic taste.
PF Chang’s and Bird’s Eye both have Crispy Green Beans you can reheat in the oven.
You can find fresh Spinach & Artichoke Dip and Fresh Pita bread in the deli section. Heat the dip in either the microwave or spoon into a baking dish to reheat in the oven and cut the pita bread in triangles and heat on a cookie sheet.
Did you know that Chili’s famous Queso is nothing more than Velveeta Cheese with canned Chili (no beans) and a few spices (paprika, cayenne, chili powder, and cumin)? Be sure to serve with thin and crispy tortilla chips or my personal favorite—Fritos Scoops.
I don’t know about you, but the Arby’s Beef & Cheddar has always been a favorite sandwich of mine. I didn’t realize how easy they are to make.
Beef & Cheddar Sandwiches: Warm Onion Rolls, Thin Sliced London Broil Roast Beef, Cheddar sauce (melted American Cheese slices with a little milk to thin and some garlic powder), and Arby Sauce (also known as Catalina Dressing)
Arby’s Curly Fries are available in the freezer section. Without a convection oven, these will take longer to get crispy than the package instructions recommend.
I know that you can’t duplicate the Chick Fil A chicken strips, but Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips are rated the best of the frozen products available and when you top them with CFA sauces (found with other condiments in the grocery store), you have something that is pretty close. Of course, you will need, frozen Waffle Fries too from the freezer section. Again, you may have to cook longer to get the really crispy fries like the ones you get from the restaurant. Lightly spraying the fries with Pam or other cooking spray seems to help them get crispier and the salt to stick better.
Although you may just call and order delivery if you want to upgrade your frozen pizza, here are a few ideas.
Other ideas to make your “eat at home” lunch items feel more like eating out:
Use different breads and rolls—instead of typical sandwiches on sliced bread, pick up freshly baked rolls (onion rolls, Hawaiian rolls, or croissants) or try some flavored wraps.
Have lots of toppings—various condiments like spicy brown mustard, or different bottles of ketchup and BBQ sauces also, pick up an oil & vinegar dressing to make it taste just like the deli sandwich! Purchase jars of sliced pepperoncini, and sliced olives, along with fresh pickles (sweet and dill). Enjoy lots of fresh vegetables like spinach, red or green leaf lettuce, red onion, sliced tomatoes, avocados, sprouts, cucumbers, and bell peppers.
Combine all the above with assorted cheeses, various meats, and some bacon and you’ve got the makings of a delicious lunch without leaving home or the vacation home (if you are lucky enough to be enjoying a vacation).
Restaurant items are also available for breakfast (coffees and iced coffees, Krispy Kreme donuts, Cinnabon cinnamon rolls). And you can make yogurt parfaits with vanilla yogurt, fresh berries, and granola (use clear plastic cups for an easy clean-up and to look like the ones from McDonald’s).
In the bakery, you can also find different sliced sweet loaves like banana nut or lemon poppyseed and if you are lucky you may be able to find ready-to-bake quiche as well. Don’t forget to check and see if the bakery is offering fresh bagels or loaves of bread that you can toast and enjoy!
One of my favorite things to make for breakfast reminds me of a trip to San Francisco—a smoked salmon bagel. A toasted plain bagel topped with cream cheese, thin-sliced smoked salmon, fresh chopped red onion, capers, and chopped hard-boiled egg. And if I can enjoy with a glass of champagne, I am immediately transported back to the streets of San Fran!
Finally, let’s talk about dessert! Maybe you are traveling, or you don’t want to bake, but you want something more interesting than just ice cream or Oreo cookies.
Go ahead and start with the best-refrigerated cookie dough: Click Here
Everyone loves hot fresh cookies.
Or you can use fresh items from the bakery in a whole new way—
Strawberry Shortcake is made from glazed donuts. Slice the donut in half, spoon on fresh sliced strawberries (no need for more sugar with the glazed donut), and top with fresh whipped cream (even Reddi Whip will work).
Fresh or Frozen Cheesecake topped with a chopped candy bar, and a drizzle of chocolate and caramel syrup can look just like a dessert from a restaurant (but cost a fraction of the amount!)
If fresh pies are available and in local flavors, I suggest picking up one to enjoy. Of course, Key Lime is always popular in Florida, and then locally the Bushwacker (it’s a very boozy frozen drink from nearby Pensacola) pie is a favorite.
As I mentioned all these items are available in the grocery store—you just need to look for them (or have us look for them for you!). And more items are being developed by the large chains to distribute into the supply chain to help retain customer loyalty as we continue to emerge from the epidemic and the current staffing situation.
If you have a favorite restaurant salad, entrée, or dessert, you may be able to recreate with a little online research to find the recipe and some of the key ingredients at the grocery store.
Bon Appetite Y’all!