Philly Mag Has A New Restaurant Critic

And there are some other changes coming to our food coverage, too.

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The good news is, everyone out there already knows the guy who’s gonna be taking on restaurant critic duties here at Philly mag and Foobooz because it’s me.

The bad news is, everyone already knows the guy, because it’s me.

Yup, you read that right. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be Philly mag’s new restaurant critic, taking over for Trey Popp and turning my attention even more fully to the tangled, incestuous, ridiculous and awesome mess that is Philly’s booming restaurant scene. And my byline on the restaurant reviews is not the only thing that’s changing.

We’ve also decided that things in this town are now just too big and too fast-moving to be adequately handled by the standard model of monthly restaurant criticism. Last year, we changed things up by posting all our reviews online first–weeks before they came out in Philadelphia magazine–in order to defeat the lag that came with a monthly magazine’s production schedule.

Now, we’re doubling down on that initial change and are going to be doing weekly restaurant reviews, all of which will be showing up first and fastest right here on Foobooz, effectively doubling the number of restaurants we get to focus on each year. It’s going to take us a little while to get everything in place, but once we get rolling, in addition to making things a bit speedier around here, this new schedule will give us (or, you know, me) the opportunity to drop in on a much wider variety of restaurants than ever before. The weird little Polish bar, awesome hole-in-the-wall noodle shop, or freaked-up neighborhood joint that would’ve never before found itself the focus of a restaurant review? Now I’ll have the space to consider them. Which is a very good thing.

But is it weird that it’s going to be me doing all this stuff? Absolutely. I’m not anonymous, I’ve spent the past four and a half years dealing with Philly’s chefs and restaurateurs like a food editor, not a critic, and most restaurateurs in this town can spot me coming from fifty yards off. But you know what? Even with that advantage, I’ve still had some terrible meals in this town. And that’s because one of the most hard and merciless rules of the restaurant world is that you just can’t fix suck. If you’re bad at your job, a warning that you suddenly have to be good at your job for a couple hours is not going to save you.

Look, you can read the mea culpas of any number of recently out-of-the-closet critics to hear what they think of the transition from the covert to the overt world (better service, extra snacks and blah blah blah) and know that my feelings on the matter are probably not a lot different than theirs. But all discussions of anonymity and, I dunno, embedded-ness in the restaurant world are really kind of academic. What really matters here are honesty and intent.

I did this job for a long time as an anonymous restaurant critic, and won some awards for doing it. In New Mexico, Denver and Seattle, I played all the games and worked all the angles, ate myself stupid and did it all in secret (or mostly in secret).

Now, I’m going to be doing the same job, but with the assumption that every place I walk into has seen me coming. On a good night, I will assume that I am getting the best, most idealized experience of the restaurant, and will write about it accordingly. On a bad night? I do exactly the same thing. If things get weird, I’ll tell you about it. Hell, no matter what happens, I’ll tell you about it. That’s how we play here. It’s just dinner–both the least and the most important thing in the world. And I do love writing about dinner.

Going forward, we’re also going to be changing the way we handle restaurant listings, 50 Best restaurants, the star system, and a lot of other things. Undoubtedly, there will be strange twists in the new path we’re following, and bumps in the road that none of us were expecting. There’s a chance that the whole thing turns into a disaster, falls apart around us, and we have to find a new path. And that’s cool, because failure can sometimes be just as interesting as succeeding. That’s what makes it exciting.

What I’m trying to say here is that this is all an experiment–a work in progress. And it all begins with my first official review, which will be posted tomorrow morning.

So here we go…