AS MANY OF YOU KNOW, I’M NOT THE POSITIVE person wishing on profiteroles and sweet cream like Pollyanna Mike was yesterday. While I love the Chicago restaurant scene, I have some Festivus style grievances from 2016, as well as some improvements for 2017. But before we go any further, let’s bow our heads and spill a little for our homies who will not be joining us in the New Year—Salpicon, the Cape Cod Room, Naples Bakery, Rose Angelis, the Parthenon, Vivo, Feast, Perennial Virant, Belly Shack, Itto Sushi, Rosario’s and Gene’s Sausage Shop. All of you provided some wonderful experiences and lasted longer than most in a city that has become fickle with only the newest, latest, most exciting openings.
Now on to what’s wrong with the world, and get off my lawn already.
You get a 3 star review and you get a 3 star review and you get a….
If 2016 was a gelato flavor it would be vanilla. Getting a three star review is the new participation trophy when you open a restaurant. If you don’t believe me, 50% of the Tronc reviews in 2016 were 3 stars. Those would be Phil Vettel’s reviews—I do not recognize the others.
Why can’t we have honest reviews that highlight what a 1 or 2 star restaurant really is? When many new places open, they don’t aim for such lofty praise. Getting three stars can actually hurt down the line since expectations may be beyond what those places can deliver. It’s enough to make me miss the days when reviews were egotistical, unpredictable, cat fight mean, and more about the reviewer’s bad mood when he walked in the door than the actual restaurant.
There should be a minimum age of at least 30 when it comes to reviewing a restaurant. Anyone younger doesn’t know enough, and hasn’t eaten widely enough, to judge restaurants. If you ever got a participation trophy growing up and kept it—you don’t get to review for a while. Since I’m hammering inexperienced reviewers who can’t grasp the impact their writing has on a restaurant’s financials, can we up the level of discourse and minimize the lists? If you write a list about the ten best steakhouses in Chicago, you have to prove you’ve actually been to more than ten steakhouses in Chicago.
#What #thehell #areall #thesehashtags
I’m fully aware, I am an old man on a porch shouting, #Getoffmylawn. But who are these people, these Instagrammers? How is taking a picture of an #egg, #burger or plate of #sushi for the millionth fucking time relevant? You tell me #nothing. Was it #seasoned? Was the plate hot, sorry #hotplate? Did it #taste good? Do people actually go to restaurants based on some #random persons picture? Why don’t the picture takers, #sellouts, admit they get paid for the pictures? Oh and for the Chicago restaurant rumored to give several hundred dollars in free food to anyone who will Instagram it, #SHAME!
This is how dumb it has become…below is copied from ONE pic on instagram…
#food #foodie #chicago #chicagofood
#chicagofoodie #instafood #instafoodie
#IGfood #IGfoodie #igers #igerschicago
#foodinstagram #foodpics #foodporn #foodgasm
#likefoodchicago #foodandwine #foodwine #wine
#foodlover #forkyeah #foodpic #foodbloggers
#tastespotting #eating #eat #eattheworld
#eatfamous #chicagofood #chicagofoodie
This feels very grade school – look at me, look at me #LOOKATME, PLEASE WHY IS NO ONE LOOKING AT ME! I’m going to bet the amount of hashtags one uses correlates directly to how late they got picked in 4th grade gym class on dodgeball day.
James Beard Awards again (and again and again)
I’m rather torn on this topic. Hosting the Beard Awards is a great honor, but at what cost are they staying in Chicago? They only award and focus on the 1% of restaurants. How much tourism is really coming to town for the awards? Shouldn’t the awards travel to various major cities in our country celebrating our diverse American cuisine? Why not rotate the awards from NYC to Chicago to San Francisco to New Orleans?
The mission of the Foundation is to celebrate and honor our culinary diversity. You’re not really doing that by keeping the journalism awards in New York and keeping the food awards in the same city for six years.
“No thank you! I’ve read a menu before—is it still left to right starting with appetizers?”
With that being said…
According to the James Beard Foundation’s 2015 financial data, salaries, payroll taxes and consultants cost $5,119,606, event production was $1,198,972, travel and entertainment was $681,979, $324,922 went for award items and decorations—and just $274,530 went to scholarship grants. That’s just 2.70% of their budget going to the students who are supposedly the focus of the foundation’s efforts. They spend more on the décor than on education. #perspective
My first dinner out…
Chicago continues to open restaurants at a frantic rate. Many of the openings have been very high profile this year—Duck Duck Goat, Oriole, Smyth and The Loyalist, Leña Brava, Revival Food Hall and Roister. For a flyover city, I’m thrilled to see we can support restaurants that run the gamut from food halls to fine dining.
Yet if there are so many “foodies,” why is it that every restaurant presumes that it’s their guests’ very first time out to dinner? Am I dressed like it’s my first big trip to the city from Itasca?
Server: “Have you been here before? I can explain the menu in great detail.”
Me: “No thank you! I’ve read a menu before—is it still left to right starting with appetizers/shareables/noshes/bites/the smallest plates? Wait… but what if your menu is on a small clipboard and goes from top to bottom—do the plates get bigger as we go down the list? I can also figure that out because the prices go up!”
Two tips from an old server: first, if a diner asks, “what’s your favorite dish?” Have an opinion, please don’t say, “I love everything.” Second, before you course out the dishes I ordered, can you ask me first? Maybe I don’t want my Tuesday night out to be a three-hour forced death march.
The quest for fire
2016 was the year of the hearth. Like many of the new restaurants, I also cook over an open flame, outside on my deck. My hearth comes in a few sizes from Smokey Joe to Green Egg.
Did marketing churn out a directive that chefs needed to earn their Merit Badge for cooking with fire? Restaurants have been cooking in this city with an open flame for decades, yet this year it became a “thing.” 2016—Not Cooking with Gas!
I’m hopeful 2017 will bring us some great new spots not only from the usual suspects but perhaps a few under the radar surprises. I hope the food writing rises to the same level of excellence the restaurants and chefs in our city deserve. Fingers crossed that we have less than 4 themed months of food coverage dedicated entirely to mac n cheese, burgers, donuts, or Italian beef. Looking at you Tronc-a-dile…
One last thing, can we take a year off from writing stories about hot dogs with ketchup or deep-dish pizza vs. anything?
Read a sunnier view from Michael Gebert here. Fooditor will return in the new year.
Joe Campagna is a former chef and restaurant general manager. He lives in Chicago and writes the blog “Chicago Food Snob.” You can find him on various social media @chifoodsnob.
Give someone the gift of good restaurants this holiday season—99 of them, in fact. Get The Fooditor 99 at Amazon and for Kindle here.
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