This edition of After Hours looks at a search tool that embraces, yea even embodies, the concept of customer service, samples the singular specialty of pizza law, and nibbles through the catalog of a cookie company with something for everyone - even people with food allergies.
Ordering online can be efficient and often convenient, but sometimes you want to get an item into your hands without waiting for delivery. Borders has an alternative to making phone calls and driving to stores all over town. The chain has combined online efficiency with three-dimensional convenience and immediacy in its store inventory search tool, which lets you see whether nearby stores have an item in stock and then reserve it for pickup.
Here's how it works: Use the store locator to generate a list of stores within the radius you set (25, 50, 100 or 200 miles). Save up to six locations as "My Stores." Then select Search Store Inventory and enter your criteria. Search in Books, Movies, Music or All; search by Title, Author/Artist, Keyword (the default), Song Title, Actor/Director or ISBN/UPC. The results indicate whether the item was in stock at each selected store as of the most recent inventory. You can then indicate a first and second choice location for putting the item on hold (or on order). Your first choice location will e-mail whether the item is indeed available and let you know how long you have to pick it up. My experience is that e-mail response is fairly prompt - within a couple of hours during the business day, and early the next morning when I've placed requests late at night.
Pizza Law (?)(!)
Now here's a specialty a firm could sink its collective teeth into: pizza law. (If only!) That's the stated practice area of Warwick Seltz, which has dedicated itself to redressing mediocre pizza.
Where's the money in that, you say? Well, let's take a look around the site. Hmmm. There's a noticeable lack of contact information for the firm, who look like guys I used to see around the county courthouse in Houston. No academic credentials in the bio, either.
So what is there? Lots of talk about pizza rights and wrongs. Free online consultations with a partner who seems to be in the office more than any big firm associate I've ever known, which is to say, constantly. TV commercials, even. Hmmm. Hmmm. And the design is certainly one lesson after another in what not to do with a law firm site. Which - no surprise - it's not, really. For the answer, look for the buttons buried into the site inviting you to Click Here for Better Pizza.
Thanks to JD Bliss for tipping me off to this.
Curious Cookies Indeed
When people learn that they have go on a special diet for medical reasons, whether it's diabetes, celiac disease, food allergies or the like, they often get a double-shot of disappointment. The first is that they can no longer eat like everyone else around them does. The second is how very little prepared food exists for their condition, whatever that may be, and how little of what does exist actually tastes good.
Having been witness to what these realizations do to people (and having once been on a diet, thankfully briefly, so restrictive that restaurant menus put me to tears), I am ever on the lookout for products that defy the odds. Tops on the running list I have been keeping are The Gluten Free Pantry's chocolate chip cookie mix, which I saw inspire a feeding frenzy among "normal" eaters, and Nature's Path Mesa Sunrise Flakes, one of my favorite breakfast cereals, which blends South American grains such as amaranth with buckwheat and flax.
Revealing the latest addition to my list in a sense does it an injustice, because this manufacturer is worthy of note for more than just its special needs products. What first turned my attention to Curious Cookie's booth at last summer's NASFT Fancy Food Show was the prospect of gluten-free cookies. What made me keep track of Curious Cookie, and visit the cookie cafe that it has opened since the show, was the remarkable flavors this New Jersey-based company has pulled off in all of the lines of cookies it makes.
The bulk of its offerings are for the dietary-unimpeded. The latest line, the Muffin Top Cookie, is not, as I wondered, the part of the muffin that dominated a Seinfeld episode. Instead, the name is meant to merely invoke the concept of a muffin, with the hopes of replacing it as a morning snack. The Muffin Top Cookie improves on the concept by being totally permeated with fruit flavor, which comes from midwestern dried fruits and extracts, and thus sparing the consumer the heartbreak of biting into a patch of nothing but dough, as happens with the mega-muffins of today. Curious Cookie also calls its Muffin Top line "morning cookies," and they would make a satisfying accompaniment to a morning brew. With a turbinado sugar and molasses based dough, Muffin Tops are dense, chewy and somewhat soft. (They are also small and thin, as if they have been sliced from normal-sized muffins.) All the varieties deliver intense fruit flavors, from the blueberry, which smacks of pureed fruit, to the palpably raspberry-y berry blast, to the strawberry, which provides the next best thing to a mouthful of great jam.
The premium all-natural line also tucks small flavor bursts throughout each cookie. Chiplets of Schockinag chocolate are scattered throughout both the chocolate chip and the chocolate cherry cookie, which incorporates dried Michigan cherries. This line also includes a snickerdoodle with potent Saigon cinnamon and an unusual but pleasing combination of ginger cranberry.
The attention to pervasive flavors continues in Curious Cookie's sugar-free line, which uses Splenda and has a softer, cakier texture, akin to a Fig Newton. Among the standouts are an intensely nutty oatmeal macadamia nut and a coconut, with hints of lemon, that you could serve without anyone suspecting that it's sugar-free.
The gluten-free version of the ginger cranberry could also slip by most people. Not only does it have a nice chewiness, but the ginger masks the often distracting combination of the flours (soy, tapioca and white rice, with xanthum gum subbing for gluten) that take the place of wheat. A focus ingredient performs the same sleight of hand with success in all of Curious Cookie's gluten-free products. Chips provide the effect in the chocolate chip and chocolate chocolate chip cookies, which are like a hard brownie with pockets of very soft chocolate.
Curious Cookies come in a variety of packs, assortments, gift tins and baskets and run from $4.85 to $7.30 a half dozen. All but Muffin Tops are available online (but I'm told they're on the way) or by phone at 877-YUMMY-2U. If you're driving through north-central New Jersey, stop in the cafe (719 Hamburg Turnpike, Pompton Lakes, NJ. 973-616-8500) - which doesn't serve savory food; think alternative to Starbucks -- for some cookies and a cup of coffee from local microroaster Moon Doggie Coffee or fresh-brewed Mighty Leaf Tea.
Copyright 2006 Kathy Biehl. All Rights Reserved.