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dinger

Lawrence, KS Restaurant Reviews (and lack thereof)

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I have a couple of questions -

1. What do Lawrence, KS residents and visitors think of the lack of truly critical ("critical" as in 'characterized by careful, exact evaluation and judgment') reviews of the Lawrence restaurant scene?

2. What are your opinions on some specific Lawrence restaurants?

What with Lawrence being all Lawrencey(?) I think I understand the local paper's reluctance to publish critical reviews, but I personally find the "if you can't say anything nice..." philosophy to be somewhat frustrating at times. Your thoughts?


Edited by dinger (log)

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I have a couple of questions -

1. What do Lawrence, KS residents and visitors think of the lack of truly critical ("critical" as in 'characterized by careful, exact evaluation and judgment') reviews of the Lawrence restaurant scene?

2. What are your opinions on some specific Lawrence restaurants?

What with Lawrence being all Lawrencey(?) I think I understand the local paper's reluctance to publish critical reviews, but I personally find the "if you can't say anything nice..." philosophy to be somewhat frustrating at times. Your thoughts?

It seems to me (and I could be very wrong) some food writers in smaller markets get “handed” the lovely job of writing about restaurants whether the want the job or not. My guess is that most writers that never planed on being food writers would like to write about things as a journalist do…without an opinion. Isn’t that how there’re trained??? :laugh::laugh: So I think they try REALLY hard not to hurt any feelings….. I think being a true food writer is a VERY challenging thing that should never be taken lightly. You have to completely prepare to be fair and really report what you see without worrying about the backlash. You have the power in a pen to affect someone’s livelihood and everyone that works for that person. You are basically giving someone a job performance report in front of the public. Anyone ever had a crummy job evaluation by a boss? You know how they take you into an office and close the door to tell you what you’re doing wrong? Now just imagine if he brought the whole staff in to listen in…no wait, the whole city including your mom, dad, neighbor, ex-girlfriend etc.....Yep it’s not fun …BUT if you decide to be a Chef or an actor or a book writer etc….You have to be prepared for it and EXCEPT IT when it happens. Wipe your face off and get back to work. Sorry about the rant but I just think the “food critic” conversations that go on are sometimes interesting coming from the public…..So carry on! :biggrin:


Edited by ChefCAG (log)

“Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own." - Sydney J. Harris

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Dinger,

It didn't surprise me that the LJW didn't consistently have either a food section or a restaurant review until the last year or two. Now that there are actual restaurants worthy of evaluating, it does seem appropriate. Have you posed this question to anyone in on the staff? I actually thought of doing so a while back, as I was digging for items for my media digest during a slow week.

I think Colby's point about the "accidental food writer" is certainly true in this case. The occasional piece, often featuring recipes from Jayni Carey's cooking show, aren't consistently written my the same person. Other food-related pieces are generally from the County Extension folks and/or someone at K-State.

I assume by Lawrencey you mean still small-town enough that feathers are easily ruffled? But as long as the reviews are even-handed and professional I think they can serve to ratchet-up the quality of dining experience.


Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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Our local paper has a entertainment writer who reviews restaurants. She seems knowledgeable enough for this market, but I'd be surprised if she has aspirations as a restaurant reviewer in a bigger market. To get much out of her reviews, you have to read between the lines, because she will never blast a bad or mediocre restaurant. She doesn't hesitate to call a spade a spade when she's served a dish that lacks flavor or isn't served at the proper temperature, but she's careful to speak of that dish onlyand she finds positive things to bring up in the same piece.

One of the problems with reviewing restaurants is that they're also advertisers. The Wichita Eagle had a disastrous incident a few years ago. A local story was pulled at the last minute, and the fill-in copy was about buying cars; it was a generic piece from the AP or maybe a syndicated writer, and not at all local, but it pissed off local car dealers enough that they pulled all of their advertising for several years. They got together and started their own publication, given away free to the public, in which all of the car dealers advertised, and really made the Eagle suffer for several years. The paper has managed to regain that advertising again, but they are very, very careful about what they print about anything. Unfortunately, the result has been some very leukwarm reporting. Literally and unfortunately, without our local serial killer, and some child abusers who need to be strung up, we'd have no excitement in the newspaper at all.

It's a rare small-town paper that does credible restaurant reviews. It's difficult for them to attract the staff who can do it, and dangerous to run anything that's critical. Small towns tend to be very protective of commerce, so even if a restaurant's not producing very good food, if they're circulating money in a community, that's often considered "good enough."

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I hesitate on posting, but since eGullet requires me to post to keep my membership, I shall make this observation regarding member jgm's comment:

One of the problems with reviewing restaurants is that they're also advertisers.

The editor at the KC Magazine has given me full editorial control of the restaurant criticism section. This is the only reason I agreed to take on this position. I have the fortunate ability to review a restaurant

I agree, especially in small towns, that writing anything critical, whether it be about a politician, a restaurant, or even the lady next door, can get you into a lot of trouble.

And, as ChefCAG noted above, quite astutely, that reviewing restaurants critically is a very tough thing to do. (Colby, as in bluestem Colby?) Nobody likes to receive or give criticism. Attitude and style goes a long way - for both the critic and the chef/owner. I hope that my reviews have been, and will, henceforth (I have only published two so far, bluestem and Cafe Sebastienne), be, if nothing else, fair. (Gee, the comma count in that sentence certainly didn't score me any word-efficiency points!).

My opinion is only one. It certainly should not make or break a restaurant. I hope mine never does.

Perhaps I should make a visit to Lawrence??

~Fellrath

Post edited for formatting at Fellrath's request, =R=


Edited by ronnie_suburban (log)

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The editor at the KC Magazine has given me full editorial control of the restaurant criticism section.

I assume now you are saying that KC Magazine has deemed it's self a provider for restaurant criticism instead of offering recomendations for dinning options in the Kansas City area? If this is so I should really rethink my subscription to this magazine and send a follow up report of this post to the editor Katie.

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The editor at the KC Magazine has given me full editorial control of the restaurant criticism section.

I assume now you are saying that KC Magazine has deemed it's self a provider for restaurant criticism instead of offering recomendations for dinning options in the Kansas City area?  If this is so I should really rethink my subscription to this magazine and send a follow up report of this post to the editor Katie.

I'm not sure I understand this . . .

Doesn't any publication that publishes restaurant reviews provide criticism? And is that necessarily separate/distinct from offering recommendations for dining options? The Star and The Pitch both have reviews and they can be critical, but that doesn't stop them from also publishing lists of recs and, of course, running ads for restaurants regardless of the rating their reviewers assigned. I can't imagine cancelling a subscription because of this so I think I'm missing something here. Can you dumb it down for me?


Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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The editor at the KC Magazine has given me full editorial control of the restaurant criticism section.

I assume now you are saying that KC Magazine has deemed it's self a provider for restaurant criticism instead of offering recomendations for dinning options in the Kansas City area?  If this is so I should really rethink my subscription to this magazine and send a follow up report of this post to the editor Katie.

I'm not sure I understand this . . .

Doesn't any publication that publishes restaurant reviews provide criticism? And is that necessarily separate/distinct from offering recommendations for dining options? The Star and The Pitch both have reviews and they can be critical, but that doesn't stop them from also publishing lists of recs and, of course, running ads for restaurants regardless of the rating their reviewers assigned. I can't imagine cancelling a subscription because of this so I think I'm missing something here. Can you dumb it down for me?

I think my main point with the KC magazine critic is when he openly stated "The editor at the KC Magazine has given me full editorial control of the restaurant criticism section. This is the only reason I agreed to take on this position." Just sounds so harsh, almost like a "Witch Hunt" and just makes it sound like he only took the job to criticize. Not look for any good. Where like with the Pitch they do not even use a rating system, a kinder more gentler approach. The KC Star isn't on the same level with the Michelin Guide, but they are catering to the Kansas City diner that wants a good meal out. So I feel their reviews are fair to the general dinning public.

I'm lost about your point here "The Star and The Pitch both have reviews and they can be critical, but that doesn't stop them from also publishing lists of recs and, of course, running ads for restaurants regardless of the rating their reviewers assigned" Kansas City magazine does the same.

I do have to admit I was flabbergasted of his review last month, by the crude number system(or wheelchair) he used. That made me go back to my last 5 years or so of their past issues and relish the writings of past.


Edited by bbqqueen (log)

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The editor at the KC Magazine has given me full editorial control of the restaurant criticism section.

I assume now you are saying that KC Magazine has deemed it's self a provider for restaurant criticism instead of offering recomendations for dinning options in the Kansas City area?  If this is so I should really rethink my subscription to this magazine and send a follow up report of this post to the editor Katie.

If I understand your question correctly, then you are incorrect. KC Magazine does not deem itself a provider for restaurant criticism. It is a provider of restaurant criticism, and I am their resident critic. Also, the magazine will continue to offer recommendations and cater to advertisers. I see no issue here. If you do, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. I hope this clarifies things for you.

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KC Magazine does not deem itself a provider for restaurant criticism.  It is a provider of restaurant criticism
,

Are you running for president in 08? This soulds like flip-flop

I hope egullet doesn't have a qoute critic :laugh:


Edited by bbqqueen (log)

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Am I the only one not following bbqqueen's oddly angry posts?

I'm not billowy, I was just expressing my disfavor for the new style of reviewing in Kansas City magazine. After reading the last review in the magazine I was just really puzzled, then after reading Fellrath's post I started to think, I just hope I didn't get the wrong idea of his writings. Maybe with the next month's review it will elucidate things up for me. I'm looking forward to the upcoming issue.

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Am I the only one not following bbqqueen's oddly angry posts?

I'm not billowy, I was just expressing my disfavor for the new style of reviewing in Kansas City magazine. After reading the last review in the magazine I was just really puzzled, then after reading Fellrath's post I started to think, I just hope I didn't get the wrong idea of his writings. Maybe with the next month's review it will elucidate things up for me. I'm looking forward to the upcoming issue.

I hesitate, but I'll ask because I'm curious. What do you mean by the magazine's "new style" of reviewing? The format, or the content? What did you find disfavorable about it?

And, if you would be willing to share, what kind of "idea" did my last review of Cafe Sebastienne impart to you?

I would be curious to know what readers have to say. I invite them to email me or write to me at the magazine.

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Back to the original question:

Are "critical" reviews necessary to a vibrant dining scene? Can't something good exist under the Radar? Might they not in fact harm creativity?


Edited by bbqboy (log)

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I would be curious to know what readers have to say.  I invite them to email me or write to me at the magazine.

Feel free to have the discussion here -- as long as it remains civil. I think it could be very enlightening.

Carry on :smile:

=R=


"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I'm just glad to hear that Lawrence now has restaurants worthy of a review. When I was up there at KU, many years ago, there was maybe one good restaurant in town, and none of us could afford to eat there.

And regarding the Wichita restaurant reviewing, the market is so volatile that most new restaurants don't last long enough to get a bad review.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“A favorite dish in Kansas is creamed corn on a stick.”

-Jeff Harms, actor, comedian.

>Enjoying every bite, because I don't know any better...

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Back to the original question:

Are "critical" reviews necessary to a vibrant dining scene? Can't something good exist under the Radar? Might they not in fact harm creativity?

Just caught up on this thread. Hi Fellrath! Welcome to eGullet!

bbqboy, are you related to bbqqueen? I'm getting confused. Is there a king and a boy in the clan? :laugh:

You bring up a good point, though. I would agree that KC's dining scene is "vibrant." But, criticism is everywhere, in every industry, and I can only think that construtive criticism, taken constructively, only advances that industry - it drives change and improvement. While I am certainly one who enjoys creativity when it comes to food, sometimes just having a downright good-tasting and well-serviced meal counts for a lot... and I think Fellrath's last review might demostrate how even creativity can't necessarily overcome all of the other elements that go into a restaurant dining experience.

u.e.


Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Back to the original question:

Are "critical" reviews necessary to a vibrant dining scene? Can't something good exist under the Radar? Might they not in fact harm creativity?

I found this paper on restaurant reviewing that might help create some ideas to help explore these questions from here(I hope this link works)

1. Audience: Readers of the review want to know whether or not they should go to this restaurant, so they will not want to just hear your opinion of it, they want to feel like they've experienced the restuarant themselves. This plays out in several aspects of the review. Don't forget that different publication sites offer different exigence for a food review: a student newspaper, a vegetarian newsletter, and a major metropolitan publication mey have overlapping readers, but the priorities for choosing a restaurant change with each.

7. Narrative: Avoid telling a story of your experience. If the goal is to allow the audience to feel as if they are experiencing the restaurant first-hand, just through your words, the the reviewer should be as invisible as possible. Narrate a particular experience only if it is both crucial to the review, and an experience unique to a specific incident not likely to be duplicated in your reader's experience.

Remember, it takes more than just knowledge of food to write a good review. It takes a knowledge of language and your audience.


It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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I had lunch with a fellow foodie and Mr. Moos at Local Burger today. I thought it was a darn decent burger. I had the Amy's beef burger with the potatos. Nice, and next time I go to Lawrence, I will try to have lunch at Pacha-whatever, the menu looked very good.


It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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As a longtime, former resident of Lawrence, I would have to agree with the tenor of ulterior epicure's sentiments, although I am not sure criticism could bolster Lawrence's dining scene. Although there's a considerable movement dedicated to locally-run businesses, Lawrence's projected population growth is pushing it westward, where high rents and lack of foot traffic all but ensure a flourishing environment for corporatized food establshments that have built-in brand recognition. Criticism is essentially meaningless for this type of "cooking," where frozen, pre-cut and pre-parboiled foodstuffs arrive in the back door only to be reheated during service. Although I applaud places like Pachamama's and Krause's Dining, Lawrence's dining "scene" has little going for it, even at the high end, and changes at an even slower rate. There just isn't any feasibility from my perspective to having a fully committed restaurant critic for any of the local print media; criticism borne of online forums seems more sensible, with one, overriding drawback: Lawrence's lack of an engaged food culture. Despite everything else I've said, Lawrence has its gems. The farmer's market, Free State beer, and WheatFields, which is probably the best artisan bakery in the country.

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I can't comment on the food scene, but there have been some great bands to come out of Lawrence, most notable being The Get Up Kids. For that alone, Lawrence has a place in my heart!


Graham Elliot

@grahamelliot

www.grahamelliot.com

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I can't comment on the food scene, but there have been some great bands to come out of Lawrence, most notable being The Get Up Kids.  For that alone, Lawrence has a place in my heart!

Chef,

In the Midwest Lawrence's music scene is second only to Austin's for cities under a million people, but, unlike Austin, its food scene leaves a lot to be desired, despite the agricultural wealth in the surrounding state. If you ever get a chance, try WheatFields' bread. Considering its high labor costs for a small town of 80,000; a baking staff that's primarily college kids with only a slight interest in gastronomy; and the consistency of loaves risen with no commercial yeast (they manage their starter very well), WheatFields stands alone in the country. Compared to, say, any bakery in New York, it operates at another level altogether (not necessarily a fair comparison, though, since New York's "artisan" bakeries produce at least ten [Tom Cat] to ninety times [sullivan Street] as many loaves per day).

By the way, The Get-Up Kids were originally formed in Kansas City, even though most live in Lawrence now. :raz:

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I was going to point out the 'Kids' origin but decided not to split hairs - as KC and Lawrence have grown together even more rapidly than I predicted back in '08 when I was in school (and my friends all scoffed - ha!).

But Lawrence WAS the home of BR549 - or Chuck Mead and one of the other originals, in any case. I think they morphed a bit over the years on Lower Broad in Bubbaville. Chuck worked delivering pizzas downstairs from a bar I tended. We used to swap their "mistakes" for drinks. Ah, the good ol' days.

And, IML, I mostly agree with you about the Lawrence dining 'scene' but it is SO much better than it was even a decade ago; plus I tend to compare it to Ann Arbor's, and Lawrence has certainly closed the gap in the last 10-15 years. And yes, Wheatfields is a gem - we're very fortunate to have them in the 'hood.


Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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moosnsqrl: I have eaten better farmer's market tomatoes in Kansas than any in New York, where produce tends to be laughable, and even better tomatoes in Texas. Better tomatoes still were found in Arizona when I lived there. I try to appreciate each place for what it has to offer, but Lawrence is going the way of most cities west of the Mississippi: exurban expansion that lays tract-housing and strip malls atop land that was once the domain of small-time farmers. This has serious consequences for a town that, like Austin, wants to "keep things weird." Lawrence doesn't have an equivalent Alice Waters (Berkeley), Sharon Hage (Dallas), Monica Pope (Houston), Odessa Piper (Madison), Steward Scruggs (Austin), or even Colby Garrelts (Kansas City). Despite the enormous agricultural wealth surrounding Lawrence, no local restaurant has yet to capitalize on it in a way that would create fungible, long-term benefits that would sustain and protect locally-operated producers, and so the question remains: Why not? Most of WheatFields' products are shipped in by a nationally-owned organic purveyor, and if this is Lawrence's best-case scenario, then we should worry. (Their flour, though, is local and organic.)

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I'd get into a tomato throw-down with almost anyone . . . Kansas tomatoes rock, from the ones I grew up on in south-central (Wichita area) to the north Lawrence dirt farmers, to the various Misery varieties I now find at farmers markets. I can find greater varieties and longer seasons elsewhere but, when they're in season here, they're tough to beat.

Haven't been to Austin in forever, nor the other places you name. I would toss into the mix Devotay in Iowa City, while we're discussing midwest college town food. The owner/chef is a frequent poster here and I'm sure he can speak better for himself, but he's involved in slow food, buy fresh/buy local, and just about anything else that involves great local product done well for the table. I enjoyed an incredible lunch there this summer and will make a point of stopping there whenever I'm in the area.

I think price point limits the embracing of local ingredients for some of the area restaurants. It's the ultimate irony - thanks to economies of scale and subsidies. It costs more to eat a local burger, buy a dozen eggs from the 100-mile radius, or enjoy hoophouse/greenhouse mesclun in these parts than to get comprable menu items from elsewhere. It's sad, it's wrong, but it's the fact. I know the bluestem boyz would rather go local but for the food they're putting out, the locals are already sticker-shocked; if they tried to go entirely local at this stage in the game, it could be fatal and I'd rather see them survive than martyr themselves as locavores. We've got to take baby steps. :wink:


Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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