7. cheap shot.

I’m not sure whether either Mrs. Crappy or I would qualify as foodies, but one of our great joys in life is giving a new — or new to us — restaurant a try for the first time.

And we’ve been pretty lucky in the time we’ve lived in or around Pittsburgh. We’ve had very few poor experiences, and a ton that were good to excellent.

I have opinions about restaurants, like everyone else. I’m happy to share them, especially when the experience was a good one. But I feel like I need to be careful about offering negative opinions about a place, especially if I’ve been there only once. I know this from writing about beer — the batch it came from, the store or bar where it was purchased, even the mood I’m in can color my reaction, and writing a review based on my one and only taste isn’t fair to the brewer or to anyone who might be reading my review.

Joe Harvey, the guy behind Pittsburgh Local Restaurant Week, came across a review of three Pittsburgh restaurants yesterday; he had some trouble with it, and rightly so. The blog is called Refined Palate; the reviewer is a Californian who appears to have a great deal more experience in fine dining than I could claim, and she has kept the blog going steadily for a couple years, so she shouldn’t be considered a rookie in that realm either. I didn’t take a lot of time to go through her other posts, but I did check out her Pittsburgh review, which was based on a recent visit.

I had some trouble with it too.

The initial red flag for me was a one-off comment about Yuengling being a local beer; I suppose you could say Budweiser is a local beer as well — since it’s brewed 200 miles away in Columbus — but right off the bat, I found myself wondering about the credibility of this expert.

A bunch of other folks, a few of whom I know, left comments for the post. I didn’t feel like I could let it go without comment either, because while the author makes some valid(ish) observations, there are also a few glaring problems.

With one caveat — that’s it’s tough to come up with a solid opinion based on one visit — I didn’t have too much of a problem with the author’s comments on Eleven or Lidia’s. The reviews stuck mostly to the quality of food and service, which is what she should do. But the author seemed to lose sight of context when she wrote about her visit to Primanti Brothers, though. She said in the comments that she’s a native Pittsburgher, so I would expect her to have at least a little knowledge of Primanti’s, its history and the fact that the fries and slaw come on the sandwich. To expect four-star service in a sandwich joint that specializes in moving people through the line quickly is unrealistic.

In the section about Lidia’s, the author makes three references to large Pittsburghers, or the fact that we seem to like buffets more than other cities. I’m a fat Pittsburgher, but really — does this kind of snide, obnoxious name-calling belong in a restaurant review? The answer, of course, is no; if she’s a competent reviewer, she should know to stay away from sweeping generalities, just as I know I can’t get away with saying all Californians are hippie airheads who eat twig-and-berry salads three times a day.

And then there’s the biggest problem of all. It’s just one line, at the end of the post: “Final comment: You don’t go to Pittsburgh to eat.” I’ve already discussed the difficulty I have with writing a valid restaurant review based on one visit; it’s even more egregious to write off an entire city’s restaurant scene based on three meals over a single weekend. I understand that the author’s time might have been limited, but perhaps if she had ventured out of one neighborhood — or, worse, one single street — she might have found some pleasant surprises.

We don’t have a French Laundry here in town; not many places do. But we have classic, old-school restaurants; pubs and diners that frequently exceed the expectations you’d have when you stroll in joint; and an impressive number of places willing to bend — or break — the rules in the name of bringing new experiences here. She could have found some of those places, if she had tried; as a native, I’m sure she’s aware of how friendly the people are (unless you’re a server at Primanti’s in the Strip), and I’m sure she would have found some recommendations. When Mrs. Crappy and I visit a new town, we take a minute to do some research before we leave. When we arrive we ask the locals where they go. And almost without exception, we’ve had great meals and a great time.

I guess that’s my biggest problem with Refined Palate’s Pittsburgh review — she didn’t try. If she had, she might have left town with a better taste in her mouth.

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11 thoughts on “7. cheap shot.”

  1. Without question, she blew it.

    I have lived in western PA for more than 30 years and NEVER eaten at Primati’s so I can’t speak to that, but doing Lydia’s for a buffet is just wrong.

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  2. Okay Crappy. I took the bait.
    My response:

    Yes, we are defensive.
    In a place where all the culinary accomplishments seem to be:
    • Chip chopped ham
    • The Klondike Ice Cream Bar
    • The Big Mac
    • Sandwiches and salads with French fries

    You skipped to the wrong tables.

    I haven’t had the chance to eat at 11, but you seemed to like most of the meal.

    Eating the buffet at Lydia’s is just wrong. My experience as a sit-down diner was wonderful. And big people are everywhere, not just Pittsburgh.

    I have lived in western Pennsylvania for more than 30 years, and I have never eaten at Primati’s. I like sandwiches and I like French fries, but not pre-mixed before eating.

    You could have eaten a better meal at any number of places in The Strip, or traveled a mile east or a mile north and had a good beer actually brewed in Pittsbugh from Church Brew Works or Penn Brewery. ( A friend of mine once thought he should open a bar where any beer brewed outside the city would be labeled as an import. Yuengling would qualify under that standard as would Budwieser.)

    Please come back when you have a little more time to sample what Pittsurgh and western Pennsylvania can put on the table.

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  3. well said… while everyone is entitled to their opinions, words must be chosen carefully, or the credibility of the post is lost. The points about “large” people and the insult to the rest of Pittsburgh’s eateries was a poor choice. For the record, I dont even LIVE in Pittsburgh, I’m in Cleveland, but these kinds of reckless bloggers are popping up everywhere, and they need to be made aware of their mistakes. I do give credit to the blogger for posting all of the comments (at least it seems they have), and even more credit to the passionate folks of Pittsburgh that responded so intelligently. with internet power, there comes internet responsibility… and feedback. ;) nice job, Pittsburgh!

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    1. She hasn’t posted mine. And it looks like she’s skipped at least a couple others as well.

      I might be extra touchy about stuff like this, because I work as a reporter. I don’t think newspapers should have a monopoly on opinion, but it makes me nuts to see anyone making fundamental errors like this.

      And: Thanks for bringing this to light. I think it says something good about us that she seemed startled at the reaction her post received. Pittsburgh stepped up where few others have.

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  4. Nicely done. I’m glad you called them out for commenting that the entire city was full of “big” people. I left a comment over there that they apparently didn’t appreciate (which I thought was calm), related to that, that wasn’t posted. So regardless of all of that – you’ve written a nice counterpoint.

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  5. I too, left a comment about her sweeping generalization about “large” people. My comment never made it either.

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  6. why do people continue to think Yuengling is made in Pittsburgh. Chaps my ass it does. Seems like the tart likes to give her opinion and then run and hide when others have their own.

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  7. Honestly, UC? I just read her article, and the whole tone was beyond snide, right into shitty. I think your response is quite restrained. As were most of the comments.

    I think a critic can do better than “good”, “okay”, “nice” and “very good”. Where is the description of the taste of the food? She criticized the waitress at Primantis (and unless she was out drinking all night or had just come off her shift at the mill, she had no business in Primantis at 8 a.m) and the “large patrons” she saw. Not one word about how the food actually tasted. And as another commenter mentioned over there: she definitely needs a better camera.

    and, @doogle: “tart”? Really? :)

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