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Flexible dining - Requesting a review from a recent rider

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neroden

Conductor
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Feb 23, 2014
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Ithaca, NY
I received a post card in the mail from this company the other day and took a look.

Freshly - Plans & Menu

Haven't tried them yet, but it seems like if their meals are any good, then there could be hope for decent meals without a chef on trains. These are pre-cooked and, upon first glance, seem a bit healthier than Flexible dining. (I haven't had flexible dining yet, but it seems like even those who think it's okay agree there is room for improvement).
Chef Madi Butler, who has substantial experience in the industry, has pointed out that there are *plenty* of options for high-quality prepackaged meals -- Amtrak is just choosing to provide garbage.
 

reefgeek

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Feb 15, 2011
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301
Location
NWK
I just finished a cross-country trip, taking the Zephyr and then the Cardinal. I ate pretty much every meal on the menu. I think the hot plates are pretty good. Maybe I'm not a gourmet. The shrimp with lobster (cream) sauce was tasty, as was the braised beef. It helps if they are not cooked to death, I had that a couple times. The one entree that was inedible was the shrimp creole, that was so salty it burned. I like salt and usually add it to food, that was too much. For breakfast I had the hot breakfast sandwich and it was fine. The tiny salads are laughable. They switched to smaller salad dressing packets, like ketchup packets, and so there are exactly two choices--Italian or ranch. Every single time. No more Paul Newman. The desert is always a blondie or a brownie, again and again. I think there was vanilla pudding on train 6.
The main problem with the entrees is that they are all the same in a way--some protein, gloppy sauce, and starch combo. By the time I got to Chicago, I had a good burger and fries and thought that was the best thing I ever tasted.
One other thing is that there are fewer choices on the Cardinal and they are prepared differently somehow. I have had worse food on the Cardinal, pre-pandemic.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,720
The shrimp with lobster (cream) sauce was tasty, as was the braised beef. It helps if they are not cooked to death, I had that a couple times. The one entree that was inedible was the shrimp creole, that was so salty it burned. I like salt and usually add it to food, that was too much.
I hadn’t thought about the cooking times... for me I thought the complete opposite of the beef and shrimp creole, the shrimp was fine, the beef itself was quite tender but too salty for me to want to eat. I’m wondering if the cooking time could affect the saltiness? Like perhaps if some of the sauce cooks off the dish absorbs more salt?
 

Sidney

Train Attendant
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
66
I just completed a circle trip on the Texas Eagle to LA and back on the SW Chief to Chicago. I alternated between the shrimp in lobster sauce and the pasta. I had the beef once and it was too tough to eat. The Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich makes the Egg McMuffin and Burger King crossanwich feel like gourmet meals. i took coach back from Chicago and actually looked forward to the bagel and cream cheese and cheeseburger. Why doesn't Amtrak give the sleeper passenger a choice of stuff from the cafe car? It certainly breaks the monotony of the sameness of the flexible menu. I don't think full service dining is ever going to return. I hope I'm wrong.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,720
I just completed a circle trip on the Texas Eagle to LA and back on the SW Chief to Chicago. I alternated between the shrimp in lobster sauce and the pasta. I had the beef once and it was too tough to eat. The Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich makes the Egg McMuffin and Burger King crossanwich feel like gourmet meals. i took coach back from Chicago and actually looked forward to the bagel and cream cheese and cheeseburger. Why doesn't Amtrak give the sleeper passenger a choice of stuff from the cafe car? It certainly breaks the monotony of the sameness of the flexible menu. I don't think full service dining is ever going to return. I hope I'm wrong.
The cafe menu is indeed an upgrade in my opinion. It’s almost as if someone deliberately chose the worst possible meals.... hmm... :)
 
Joined
May 22, 2017
Messages
4
Took the Texas Eagle from Cleburne to Philadelphia September 12. Upon boarding, Andre', SCA offered me lunch and/or drink even though it was nearly 2:00 pm. I declined. For supper I was offered various seating times or the option to eat in my room. I ate in the diner there was 1 other rider in the diner while I was eating at 6:00 pm. I had the Red wine braised beef, salad is small I found the meal to be tasty a 7 on scale of 1-10. I declined the dessert,too much sugar. The dining car attendant was pleasant and efficient during all meals. For breakfast the next morning I opted out due to no items on the menu without cheese or loads of sugar. I went up to the Arch City Deli in St Louis as we arrived 50 minutes early. I ordered a sandwich with sausage only, it wasn't bad but risky if train is on schedule. For lunch I chose the Shrimp in Lobster Sauce it also was acceptable another 7 in my opinion. That night on the Capitol Limited we were not offered the option to eat in the diner possibly because of the departure being at 6:40 PM. Had the Braised beef again, delivered by SCA. Rated a 7 again. Both trains offered all menu items when I ordered. Overall not the same as past dining car experiences, portions get really small if you eat the meals but not the carbs that come with it, but food is ok. For a person with any dietary limits especially diabetics the menu is limiting be prepared to fend for yourself if you don't or can't vary from your daily needs. I mean really, not a single breakfast sandwich on the train without cheese and no other breakfast items that fits into a low sugar/ carb diet. Overall good trip after departing 50 minutes late, arrived in Chicago a little early. Capitol Limited and Pennsylvanian pretty close to on schedule. I would not let the meals deter me from riding but would take snacks/food with me to cover what i need in addition to what they offer. Ride while you can flex dining or not, who knows what the future will bring. I had just started riding PV trips about 2 years before the rules changed now it's tough to find any PV trips, Via rail, who knows if we will ever get back into Canada. Do it before it's too late
 

desertflyer

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jul 29, 2013
Messages
257
Location
San Francisco
We took the CZ from EMY-SLC on Saturday 9/19. The crew tried their best to not mention in-room eating options. When I asked the dining car attendant if there was an option for pickup, he said I had to talk to my sleeping car attendant. I thought this was odd, but in the end we were able to get both meals in our roomette. The menu on the train had one or two fewer options than the one you can find on Amtrak's website.

Meal 1 (Lunch)
I had the vegetarian enchiladas and she had the chicken marsala. Both came with a side salad and room temp roll with butter. Only option was Italian salad dressing. Both dishes were edible and somewhat bland, nothing awful. She didn't like the broccoli hers, said it tasted off (she normally really enjoys broccoli). I felt like the portion was a little small.


Meal #2 (dinner)
Same options as lunch. I had the shrimp in lobster sauce, she again had the chicken marsala. She said the broccoli was still bad. The shrimp and lobster sauce were good except it was a TON of sauce with a little rice floating around in it. The vegetables were a little bland. This time we had the choice of ranch or Italian dressing for the salad. Same room temp roll on the side. Dessert was a packaged brownie, no options.
 

joelkfla

Service Attendant
Joined
Oct 16, 2018
Messages
179
We took the CZ from EMY-SLC on Saturday 9/19. The crew tried their best to not mention in-room eating options. When I asked the dining car attendant if there was an option for pickup, he said I had to talk to my sleeping car attendant. I thought this was odd, but in the end we were able to get both meals in our roomette. The menu on the train had one or two fewer options than the one you can find on Amtrak's website.

Meal 1 (Lunch)
I had the vegetarian enchiladas and she had the chicken marsala. Both came with a side salad and room temp roll with butter. Only option was Italian salad dressing. Both dishes were edible and somewhat bland, nothing awful. She didn't like the broccoli hers, said it tasted off (she normally really enjoys broccoli). I felt like the portion was a little small.


Meal #2 (dinner)
Same options as lunch. I had the shrimp in lobster sauce, she again had the chicken marsala. She said the broccoli was still bad. The shrimp and lobster sauce were good except it was a TON of sauce with a little rice floating around in it. The vegetables were a little bland. This time we had the choice of ranch or Italian dressing for the salad. Same room temp roll on the side. Dessert was a packaged brownie, no options.
The rolls look bigger than the salad. ;)

But at least you got plenty of butter (if that's what those little blue thingies are.)
 
Joined
Sep 21, 2020
Messages
5
Location
Milwaukee
We took the CZ from EMY-SLC on Saturday 9/19. The crew tried their best to not mention in-room eating options. When I asked the dining car attendant if there was an option for pickup, he said I had to talk to my sleeping car attendant. I thought this was odd, but in the end we were able to get both meals in our roomette. The menu on the train had one or two fewer options than the one you can find on Amtrak's website.

Meal 1 (Lunch)
I had the vegetarian enchiladas and she had the chicken marsala. Both came with a side salad and room temp roll with butter. Only option was Italian salad dressing. Both dishes were edible and somewhat bland, nothing awful. She didn't like the broccoli hers, said it tasted off (she normally really enjoys broccoli). I felt like the portion was a little small.


Meal #2 (dinner)
Same options as lunch. I had the shrimp in lobster sauce, she again had the chicken marsala. She said the broccoli was still bad. The shrimp and lobster sauce were good except it was a TON of sauce with a little rice floating around in it. The vegetables were a little bland. This time we had the choice of ranch or Italian dressing for the salad. Same room temp roll on the side. Dessert was a packaged brownie, no options.
Wow. I'm sorry you had this experience. We just came back from the Empire Builder. We also thought the chicken marsala bland and the chicken fettuccine less so. Attendant showered us with butter, splenda, desserts, offered both options for dressing, and reminded us we could have seconds. If the menus are the same, why is service so different?

I had wondered if we should have taken CZ or EB.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,720
I had wondered if we should have taken CZ or EB.
The zephyr has the better scenery, but the builder has more consistently good crews. Just a few years ago the builder was one of the few trains that kept the China and glassware in the diner and they had a free wine tasting for sleeping car passengers with wines from Washington and Oregon.

All of the above based on my experiences of course, Amtrak has inconsistent down to a science!
 

Dakota 400

Conductor
Joined
Mar 5, 2014
Messages
2,078
The rolls look bigger than the salad. ;)

But at least you got plenty of butter (if that's what those little blue thingies are.)
The packets of salad dressing certainly are small. I wonder, even with the salads being so small, if it really is enough dressing for one salad.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
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The packets of salad dressing certainly are small. I wonder, even with the salads being so small, if it really is enough dressing for one salad.
You should be able to ask for additional packets.

The quality is a big downgrade though. The Italian contains high fructose corn syrup and the ranch includes corn syrup. The Newman’s dressing don’t have corn syrup but rather sugar and the previously available balsamic vinaigrette had a very low amount of sugar.
 

anumberone

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Aug 8, 2015
Messages
1,726
Location
Los Angeles
What supply issues? I was still able to purchase fresh fruit back when the meat aisles were empty, when the pantry goods were ransacked, and our humble TP was MIA. Many fruits can be peeled rather than washed (bananas, oranges, grapefruit, tangelos, kiwis, etc.) while others can be cleaned and bagged for easy packing and serving (apples, peaches, plums, cherries, grapes, etc). Presentation can be as simple as placing fruit into a bowl next to tongs and gloves.
I’m not to hep on taking fruit or vegetables out of a bowl when I don’t know who’s been groping through it. Gloves, Tong’s. Face mask, whatever.
 

tricia

Conductor
Joined
Aug 23, 2011
Messages
1,110
Location
Spring Creek, NC
On #1, from Louisiana to AZ, earlier this week sleeping car passengers were allowed the option of choosing something from the cafe car instead of the flex meals. I'm accustomed to eating most meals prepared at home, mostly from scratch with "real" ingredients (vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese ...) and without chemical preservatives and other additives. I found the flex frozen entrees and breakfast options almost inedible, the cafe car offerings not much better, and two days later my gut is still unhappy about the experience. ☹

YMMV, but I don't think what's currently on offer is sufficient to maintain health. And (except for the Stone IPA) it's certainly not enjoyable.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,720
It's my understanding that the Paul Newman salad dressing packets are no longer available. The packets to which I was referring were the size of Heinz' packets.
Yes, that was clear to me in your post. The packets that received on the Silver Metoer were indeed Heinz salad dressing packets. High Fructose Corn syrup is no additional charge :)

A few members have received Paul Newman's dressings on some of the western trains as well as the Vanilla Pudding that was from the previous menus. I'm not sure if there is one commissary that is still stocking these items or these are just leftover stock.
 
Joined
Jun 11, 2019
Messages
13
Yes, that was clear to me in your post. The packets that received on the Silver Metoer were indeed Heinz salad dressing packets. High Fructose Corn syrup is no additional charge :)

A few members have received Paul Newman's dressings on some of the western trains as well as the Vanilla Pudding that was from the previous menus. I'm not sure if there is one commissary that is still stocking these items or these are just leftover stock.
 
Joined
Jun 11, 2019
Messages
13
We just took the Builder and of course being used to the old cooked to order meals it was a big disappointment. However the food was better that the beef bourbagnon (spelling) we had on the City of New Orleans (cold center) in 2018.
we had the shrimp, veggie enchiladas, beef, and meatballs with pasta. All was sort of acceptable but really a minus for recreational train travel. I agree the breakfast is awful. I had the sugar laden oatmeal and took the breakfast sandwich apart; pressed the grease out of the meat and scraped as much of the cheese whiz off of the egg as possible. I give high marks to the staff for trying to make it fun although the food is hardly a plus. Also high marks for social distancing and infection control practices.

I was looking at a video on the Trans Siberian RR in Russia and the food looks fresh prepared and a good deal more inviting than the TV dinner concept currently embraced by Amtrak.
 
Joined
Sep 21, 2020
Messages
5
Location
Milwaukee
Yes, that was clear to me in your post. The packets that received on the Silver Metoer were indeed Heinz salad dressing packets. High Fructose Corn syrup is no additional charge :)

A few members have received Paul Newman's dressings on some of the western trains as well as the Vanilla Pudding that was from the previous menus. I'm not sure if there is one commissary that is still stocking these items or these are just leftover stock.
Yep. Vanilla was an option on a recent eastbound EB: cookie, brownie, blondie, vanilla pudding. Could have multiples
 
Joined
Aug 30, 2020
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5
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PNW
Hi *wave* New traveler here since Covid stole my overseas adventures ...
After reading/watching reviews I thought I was prepared for the 'more portable covid menu' ... here's a pictorial view from the California Zephyr & Starlight Menu. Mostly inedible, never on time, sauces spilled in the bag - overall extremely disappointed. My first journey, I came home quite unwell from the excessive sodium.

Twice I was able to substitute a meal for a Hot Dog, and on other occasions I was told "No." I had to purchase the hot dog despite foregoing a meal as a bedroom sleeper passenger.

poo on polenta.jpg
creaole shrimp.jpghot dog.jpgmeatball.jpgshrimp lobster.jpg
***Feel free to ask me what I think about overall customer service at Amtrak!
 
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