Slinging juice: my side hustle at Parlor Pizza


My good friend, chef Tim Labant, and I have ridden probably 15,000 miles together on our bikes the past few years. We’ve had some epic adventures. Tim is the chef/owner of Schoolhouse at Cannondale, a new American spot in Wilton that celebrated its eleventh anniversary this past spring. About three years ago, Tim decided he wanted to bring his fine dining skills to a more casual environment. He loves pizza (who doesn’t?), so he started developing his own dough recipe. He went to Pizza Expo in Las Vegas two years in a row, refining his recipe and researching ovens. As the restaurant was developing, he asked me to put together the wine list and I was only too happy to help.

Everything came together about five weeks ago when Parlor opened its doors. Tim’s dough uses two types of Italian (Caputo) flour and has a multiday fermentation and proofing. The pies get baked in a Pavesi oven that’s fire-truck red. The dough has a chewy mouthfeel that makes you not even want to talk, just indulge in another bite until the pie is gone. The sautéed mushroom with taleggio is one of my favorites; the white clam sees fresh littlenecks steamed open, shucked and then placed on a creamy reduction sauce. The salads and sides are not to miss either.

To complement this simple but tasty menu, we put together a wine list that has something for everyone–but it may not be the exact something people thought they wanted when they came in. For example, a guest came in recently and asked for “a glass of chardonnay.” When I pointed out that we don’t have one by the glass (but we do have the excellent Sandhi chardonnay by the bottle), I suggested an erbaluce from Luigi Ferrando, the celebrated (for his reds, mostly) producer from Carema in the north of Piedmont. I poured her a taste; she liked it and ordered a glass. Then another. So that was my mini triumph of the night, turning a generic “chardonnay” drinker into a two-glass erbaluce enthusiast.

The list has a smattering of fun wines over $100 and a bunch of crystal decanters. But sensitive to the value needs of a pizza place, the list also has ten wines by the the bottle under $30 and ten wines by the glass starting at $8. We have three wines on keg too (lower carbon footprint!) that we serve by the quartino. We have wines from Italy, France, New York, California, Spain and Austria on the list right now. We have orange wine and pet nat. We will rotate wines in and out and have some special pours too. The wine world is a big and exciting place right now and we are happy to show off some tasty portions of it.

Stop by and check it all out! Connecticut is beautiful, especially this time of year.
Slinging juice: my side hustle at Parlor Pizza

Parlor Pizza & Bar
5 River Rd
Wilton, CT
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 5:30 to close.
Lunch hours coming soon. No reservations.
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Slinging juice: my side hustle at Parlor Pizza

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How will “service included” affect wine?

What is the average tip at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group? It is 21%.

This figure comes from John Ragan, who is the group’s Wine Director. It’s also the same amount that wine prices will be rising under the group’s “hospitality included” initiative, which eliminates tipping at the group’s 12 restaurants starting next month with The Modern. The impetus in moving to a “revenue sharing” model is that kitchen staff, in particular, will see a pay increase since they are often legally forbidden to share in tips.

How will “service included” affect wine?Ragan says that a diner today who buys a $60 bottle of wine actually pays $72, assuming an average tip. “It’s like paying in two installments,” he says. Under the “hospitality included” pricing, the bottle will simply be $72, service included.

“It’s so much cleaner and easier,” he says. “It’s like a European model for restaurant pricing.” He also compares it to Uber, which has service included, as opposed to a cab.

With total pre-tip bills expected go up about 23%, wine will have a slightly lower increase.

“We realized early on, that it would be easy

to add 25% across the board for all the wines,” Ragan says. “But for many people, wine is an added part of a meal. I’d rather sell two $60 bottles rather than one $100. So the full increase didn’t sit well with us.”

“We need to challenge ourselves to get five percent smarter with wine. How we choose our wines, buy our wines, cellar our wines will all improve.”

Diners sometimes fear that a tips drive sommeliers to recommend higher priced wines. Will this change the diner’s interaction with sommeliers? “No, it won’t,” he says. “We’re looking to make long-term relationships. If someone who is looking to have a $60 bottle of wine gets cornered into a $100 it won’t taste good to them because its not what they wanted. That’s something we’ve understood for a long time. We’re more inclined toward “tomorrow dollars” when a diner comes back and spends $60 again rather than $100 once and never comes back. It really starts with hiring the right people, people who get pleasure out of seeing diners enjoy what they like.”

Sommeliers could take home more pay since some foreign diners, alien to our culture of tipping, currently leave no tip after a large meal. The revenue share model would benefit them in such cases. But, it would also potentially eliminate windfall tips after big Bacchanals.

Diners often think of leaving a low tip as a feedback mechanism about the service. But Ragan says that feedback doesn’t always reach the management. The group is considering how to make that feedback heard more effectively than a 1980s-era comment card.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this new system will affect people, such as Marvin Shanken, who suggested leaving lower tips for the wine portion of the bill after a wine-heavy meal.

But maybe they will move toward BYOB? Ragan says the group is not planning any change in the corkage policies.

Related: “Danny Meyer To Banish Tipping And Raise Prices At His N.Y. Restaurants” [NPR]
“A letter from Danny Meyer” [USHG]

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Will eliminating tipping crimp wine sales?

Will eliminating tipping crimp wine sales?Danny Meyer’s restaurants will phase out tipping next year. Simultaneously, they will raise prices 25% and remove the tip line from diners’ checks.

“There will be one total, as if you were buying a sweater at Brooks Brothers,” Danny Meyer told the New York Times. No more tipping at the coat check or the bar either.

It’s part of a growing trend across the country at both high-end restaurants and low. The Times piece presents reasons to eliminate tipping include simplicity for the diner (Brooks Brothers sweater) as well as being able to better pay kitchen staff (federal labor laws prevent pooled tips from being shared with the kitchen staff). Union Square Hospitality Group, headed by Meyer, employs 1,800 people and serves about 50,000 meals a week.

What do you think? Many people find America’s tipping culture irksome while others say that it is the basis of superb service.

One thing is for sure: the already high prices of wine in restaurants is going up. If you order a $100 bottle of wine at a Danny Meyer restaurant today, you pay $115-$120 after tip. Post-reform, that wine will be $125. Is that going to prevent you from ordering that bottle of wine? Probably not. But it is more than you paid before.

Marvin Shanken probably does not like this news. The publisher of Wine Spectator set off a firestorm in 2006 when he tackled the subject. In discussing a wine-drenched meal in which there was $300 of food ordered and $1,200 of wine, he suggested tipping 20% on the food portion and 7.5% on the wine for a total tip of $150. Under the new USHG policy of including a service fee, the bill for that meal would be $375 higher.

Whether eliminating tipping and raising prices will crimp high-end wine sales remains to be seen. I doubt that the total spend will be that different, frankly. But there may be some “trading down” in some categories, especially as diners adjust to the higher sticker prices. And it would be interesting to know how this will affect sommelier compensation; perhaps this will remove a (perceived?) incentive to steer diners toward higher priced wines and foster greater trust between sommelier and diner.

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The world’s most confusing wine list?

confusing_wine_listHave you ever sat down at at wine bar and thought, “Man, I’d really love a glass of vielles vignes ’13!” Never mind what grape variety the vielles vignes are yielding. Nor where they are grown. Nor who presided over that growth and subsequent fermentation and maturation. Just a straight up “vielles vignes ’13”? Frankly, it sounds like an outdated campaign bumper sticker from France. Outtakes from the full campaign posters: “Victoire aux veilles vignes! Contre la discrimination des vignes agées! On y go les veilles en 2013!”

Anyhoo, if this sort of ordering sounds like what you’d like to do, then sidle up to the bar at Hatch Hall in LA. The sommelier has put together a fiendishly minimalistic wine list that was first called out for its absurdity by Besha Rodell of LA Weekly and then retweeted by, well, everybody in the food and wine TwittoFacebookoblogoshpere. Rodell describes the list broken down into categories not of your quotidian color, variety, or regions but rather by categories like “Heather,” “James,” and “Michael.” Upon request for clarification, Rodell was told these were the names of the “portfolio managers,” whatever that means (distributor sales reps?). Then there are the woefully insufficient wine terms including the “vielles vignes ’13” as well as “Teleki ’13” and “Bela Jufahrk ’11”

Apparently, the list tries to emulate George Saintsbury’s 1915 “Notes on a Cellar Book” in it’s minimalism. But is woefully insufficient in providing actionable information for the diner. While I haven’t seen the whole wine list (it is not available online), the photos of it posted in Rodell’s thorough dismantling of the list make it make it worthy of including in a seminar of how NOT to write a wine list. Sure, some bistro wine lists in France only include the region and the price but those are not particularly informative either.

Wine is complicated. But there are ways of making it easier to navigate a wine list. This, however, is not one of them.

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Why you don’t find winery restaurants in the US

hill_of_grace
Last year, one of Australia’s leading wineries, Henschke Vineyards, branched out. The Henschkes opened Hill of Grace, a fine dining restaurant in downtown Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval, a place filled with tradition and lore as cricket test matches are played among various national teams. The restaurant’s wine list is centered on a Henschke wines but includes other Australian and imported wines. Wines from Henschke Hill of Grace, arguably Australia’s finest single-vineyard wine, are currently available back to 1990 and a glass of the 2010 can be yours for $125 US. When I spoke with Stephen Henschke recently in New York, he said the restaurant was doing very well and they were thrilled with the reception.

While that’s great for locals and tourists to Adelaide, it does leave the American wine mind wondering…why are there no winery restaurants away from wineries in America? Where’s the Screaming Eagle Nest at SF’s AT&T Park? Harlan Estates on Houston in Lower Manhattan? Franzia on Freeways?

The simple reason is that vertical integration is not allowed in the wine industry. In the aftermath of Prohibition, various state and federal authorities passed various regulations that split the industry into three tiers (producer, wholesaler, and retailer–or restaurant) and banned them from overlapping (with some exceptions that allow for one company to straddle two tiers). Tied-house laws, as they are called, go so far as prohibiting wineries from even providing incentives to retailers. On a related note, given that AB InBev seems intent on siphoning many beer brands–and even spirits with Diageo rumored as a target–into one giant keg, tied-house laws have thus far prevented the emergence of the Bud bar, Stella saloons, etc.

So, if you want a dine at a winery restaurant that’s not at a winery, you’re out of luck in America. Better hop on the plane(s) to Adelaide.

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