Ways To Dine Well During A Downturn

At Fleisher's Meats in Kingston, N.Y., owner and butcher Josh Applestone still fills orders for grass-fed beef tenderloin that costs $40 a pound. But more frequent these days are requests from families that are looking to get more value for their dollar.

For such customers, he might recommend a grass-fed five-pound eye-round or an eight-pound, bone-in Berkshire pork shoulder, both of which can be prepared easily. At $7.99 per pound, they are also far less expensive than other premium cuts. While not as heavenly as tenderloin, these cuts still taste great and yield leftovers perfect for sandwiches, quesadillas or fried rice.

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"Even during economic stress, people have to eat," Applestone says. "And people would rather eat well than poorly."

Along with opting for different cuts of meat, there are myriad other ways to save on food without sacrificing quality or taste. With the help of a few savvy strategies, including staying in and splurging wisely, saving money is not as difficult as it sounds.

Gourmet at Home

James Oseland, editor-in-chief of the Saveur, loathes the idea of "pinching pennies" when it comes to food, but he does feel pressure to curb excessive spending.

"For me, the economic crunch equals, 'Wow, I've got to get cooking at home,' " he says, "and experience the great sensory pleasures of cooking at home and eating at home."

While that romantic notion may be incentive enough for some, the financial incentive is enough for most, as a two-person household can save significantly by cutting back on restaurant meals. In 2006, the average household spent $2,694 on food away from home, according to the National Restaurant Association. Households with incomes of $70,000 and higher spent $4,502, or $87 per week.

Recreating a restaurant's culinary experience at home, in fact, can be relatively simple, not to mention significantly cheaper. Butchers such as Fleisher's, DeBragga and Spitler, and D'Artagnan, which supply high-end New York restaurants like Savoy, Craft and Daniel, also sell directly to the public. Fleisher's only delivers in the New York City area, but DeBragga and Spitler and D'Artagnan sell online and ship overnight in the U.S. DeBragga and Spitler, which supplies to Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak, sells a four-pack of 16 oz. grass-fed, New York strip steaks for $81.50. At Craftsteak, a similar 12 oz. cut costs $50.

Chefs who include the farm source in dish descriptions on their menus also make it easier for the quality-obsessed to replicate meals at home. At the Berkeley, Calif., restaurant Chez Panisse, for example, desert includes a bowl of mission figs and a Frog Hollow Farm Warren Pear for $8.25. But a six-pack of those same pears is available on the farm's Web site for $24.

Knowing When to Spend

Even if financial restraint is not a personal strong suit, there are ways to splurge wisely, including on "recession specials" and gourmet street food.

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