Sometimes it's better not to be the best.
November 16, 2018 7:05 AM   Subscribe

I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It. A reporter reflects on his responsibility. Should we all start keeping quiet about hidden gems? posted by Winnie the Proust (160 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
From venture capital to tourism to waves of gentrification, America's proper national mascot is not the bald eagle but the locust.
posted by gauche at 7:16 AM on November 16 [62 favorites]


Gosh that's heartbreaking.
posted by ITheCosmos at 7:18 AM on November 16 [4 favorites]


Wow. I tripped over that too. Just finished it a few minutes ago. Then BAM! Bluepost!
posted by Samizdata at 7:19 AM on November 16 [3 favorites]


Buried deep in the article:
there were personal problems, the type of serious things that can happen with any family, and would’ve happened regardless of how crowded Stanich’s was, and that real life is always more complicated and messier than we want it to be.
Interesting that a similar thing happened to La Taqueria, the San Francisco restaurant Nate Silvers ruined. Well not quite ruined. It's still very busy but operating OK. But a huge family drama was just resolved that could have shut down the building. Long story short, the owner of the business never properly owned the building like he thought he did and other family members were demanding their inheritance. I have to think the fame and increased cashflow of the past few years made that problem worse.

There's a Sardinian restaurant near me in SF, La Ciccia, that regularly shows up on lists of "best Italian restaurant in the US". I've lived near it 8 years and never been because it's always just a little too awkward to get a table there, it's just a bit too popular. But I've also heard that the same people who make reservations there because they heard it's famous then don't show up and sometimes the restaurant sits half empty. Unreliable locusts.
posted by Nelson at 7:21 AM on November 16 [7 favorites]


Lo these many years ago, a wise person told me, when I was enthusing about something, "the first rule is 'don't blow up the spot'".
~~
You know how financialization is this change in the economy - how there's this move, starting at the end of the seventies, from the driver of economies being manufacturing and selling to being banking/stocks/debt?

There's sort of an equivalent, culturally, of internetization - where the money doesn't come from writing an interesting essay that people like to read, or making a cultural product (or food) that people enjoy, but from the rankings/clickbait/etc. So the only value of a thing is whatever can be strip-mined, resource-extracted for clicks. Something is valuable only because it's a hot commodity, and that doesn't matter whether it's a hamburger or a record or a book or a dress or a recipe, and it doesn't matter whether it's good or interesting or delicious, because the terrible or harmful or disgusting draw exactly the same clicks.

~~
This week I read an article, now lost to me, about how perfect efficiency is actually destructive - it was some kind of corporate article, so it was focusing on how perfect efficiency means stripping out time to develop new ideas and time to make fortunate mistakes; it strips out anything you haven't planned for and any way to take advantage of fortunate chance. Inefficiency is actually, in the long run, desirable.

Similarly, the small and local and non-famous and not-wildly-successful and not "best" are desirable. Like, we're all far better off with a nation of, eg, burger restaurants that are idiosyncratic and non-optimized than endless lists and competitions and huge successes and chains. It's far better to live in world where you're like, "let's go to Clelia's Burger Barn - the fries aren't very good but they have the best black bean burgers in town" and "let's stop at Solomon's Diner - for heaven's sake avoid the patty melt, but be sure to get the sweet potato fries, they're amazing". Far better to live in a world where there's some space for local knowledge, imperfection and a sort of privacy than in a world where we're all "optimizing" our experiences by seeking out the generic perfect, which is then of course swarmed and crowded and stressful anyway.
posted by Frowner at 7:31 AM on November 16 [112 favorites]


My best friend lived over on Klickitat about 2 blocks away. We used to go there, sandy bowl and the rienlander a lot a lot after school or after sleep overs. Staples of my adolescence, all gone now.

I haven't been back to Portland in a while, I don't think i'd recognize large parts it.
posted by French Fry at 7:31 AM on November 16 [6 favorites]


I enjoy that this lets me take my sense of annoyance at people's tendency to stand in line for the best version of a thing and crank it up to justified moral superiority.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:33 AM on November 16 [18 favorites]


There was a fantastic little taqueria in Jessup, Maryland that had the closest thing to my favorite ever Mexican restaurant in Chicago (I'm not mentioning it by name for fear of wrecking it).

It was amusingly situated in a gas station and made the best fucking tacos al pastor in the world...and then motherfucking Guy fucking Fieri, the wretched ambassador of brah cuisine, descended on it, did an episode of his detestable TV show about it, and turned it into a celebrity-endorsed place that was suddenly tweebranded and swamped at all times. These days, they moved into fancy new digs with generic barnfind rustic accouterments and everything is 50% more expensive and the food is okay, but seems lesser, somehow. It's good for the owners, I suppose, but now we have one more increasingly generic Mexican place and one less glorious hole-in-the-wall. Not everything needs to be hooted about as the best thing ever. Sometimes, places are just nice, in a perfect spot in their ecosystem, and are doing just fine without being vaunted.

Sigh.
posted by sonascope at 7:35 AM on November 16 [19 favorites]


Should we all start keeping quiet about hidden gems?

yes
posted by philip-random at 7:36 AM on November 16 [39 favorites]


I once wrote a poem against tourism as a parting shot in an argument I was having. (That is perhaps the most obnoxious thing I've ever admitted to.) I can't find the poem now but I remember that the last lines were something like this:

There is no way to more completely miss the point of Paris
than by crossing Paris off your list.
posted by gauche at 7:37 AM on November 16 [54 favorites]


The real question is “should I stop writing clickbait for the web and do something honest for a living, so when I die the Judges of the Dead don’t just send me off to the Pit with the Venture Capitalists and website monitizers?”

That answer is always “yes.”
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:40 AM on November 16 [43 favorites]


We can't handle the scales we're operating at. Not just in food and local business but in everything. They exceed the human.
posted by Miko at 7:46 AM on November 16 [70 favorites]


I have a hidden gem secret. It's a parking trick at my library that always scores a spot right by the door. It's so genius that I don't understand why everyone doesn't do it, but I'm afraid to tell anyone because then it will be ruined. Here's the secret: Go in the north entrance to the lot and park on the other side of the building. I feel comfortable sharing that since none of you know which library I go to.

Anyway I was just in Florence and there was a line a block long of people waiting to get into a sandwich place. I looked it up later and I guess it has good sandwiches. I had just had a pretty good sandwich at another place down the street without waiting, though.
posted by something something at 7:47 AM on November 16 [11 favorites]


That was crushingly depressing (but I'm glad I read it).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:54 AM on November 16 [3 favorites]


This makes me feel better about not posting checklist items on social media much. My motto is mostly “if you weren’t on my vacation or at dinner or the gig, tough shit, you missed it!” A plus of growing up pre-web. I don’t really care if people know what I did.
posted by freecellwizard at 7:54 AM on November 16 [10 favorites]


Something is valuable only because it's a hot commodity, and that doesn't matter whether it's a hamburger or a record or a book or a dress or a recipe, and it doesn't matter whether it's good or interesting or delicious, because the terrible or harmful or disgusting draw exactly the same clicks.

Maybe the internet etc has made this sort of thing worse, but it's hardly new. I recall one of my big deal wake up moments in this regard being Frampton Comes Alive back in 1976 (when I would've been around sixteen or seventeen), The Biggest Hottest Most Popular Damned Album On The Planet!!!! And it just wasn't. Or I guess it was because you can't argue with the accountants, but what it wasn't was really all that good -- maybe an EP of good music stretched across four sides of long playing vinyl. What happened was the hype got behind it and things expanded quickly into the boundless realms of pop-absurdity. And I've been watching the same thing happen again and again for the ensuing four decades. It's just something we humans do. We believe the hype.

Of course, what this phenomenon guarantees is that the item in question ends up being anything but valuable in the long run. In the case of Frampton Comes Alive, its 8 million copies sold means that you're guaranteed to find one of them in every used bin you come across, in with the dollar or two dollar options that have ZERO collectibility.
posted by philip-random at 7:56 AM on November 16 [4 favorites]


should I stop writing clickbait for the web and do something honest for a living

Yeah, the question for me is more why whatever list/article is being written then anything else. Once you go beyond that, the thing that is your primary responsibility, and try to decide "for the world" the rest becomes completely distorted. Not mentioning a place because you want to keep it a secret and special for yourself and those in the know is not really an admirable decision, especially if the owner would like to get loads of customers and maybe develop a franchise or otherwise choose their own future.

This article reminds me of the many cautionary click bait articles about how winning the lottery is really a curse in disguise since some of the people who've won it have gone bankrupt. Playing the lottery may be foolish, but the hand wringing over how other people live their lives is even more so.

As far as I'm concerned, the only thing I find useful about the "Best of" lists is in knowing what I'll need to avoid to miss the tourists who don't want to experience things without an officially sanctioned itinerary. As if merit is so concretely defined at that.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:56 AM on November 16 [9 favorites]


This week I read an article, now lost to me, about how perfect efficiency is actually destructive - it was some kind of corporate article, so it was focusing on how perfect efficiency means stripping out time to develop new ideas and time to make fortunate mistakes; it strips out anything you haven't planned for and any way to take advantage of fortunate chance. Inefficiency is actually, in the long run, desirable.

I heard a speaker a long time ago who spoke to this idea; his point was that in the pursuit of efficiency as our ultimate end goal, we were removing also removing all excess capacity or "slack" from our systems. And the problem is, once you've done that, there is no ability to respond to setbacks or problems or disruptions, because the system can no longer use that "slack" to compensate and adjust while the problem is dealt with; it just shuts down.

As far as not sharing our hidden gems, I find it's a hard balancing act for some of them - share it too much, and you overwhelm it; don't share it at all, and that great little spot might just go out of business. But things like secret parking spots or things that have no commercial needs in order to survive - those I don't share.
posted by nubs at 7:57 AM on November 16 [29 favorites]


But like, you never know which local holes-in-the-wall are just barely not scraping by and could really use you telling five friends about it. I'm not talking making a top-ten Eater list, I'm talking about maybe cutting their empty table rate on Tuesdays by 20%.

So I think the question is more, Should national media start keeping quiet about hidden gems?

I love going out to eat on Mondays and Tuesdays.
posted by supercres at 7:59 AM on November 16 [36 favorites]


I was inspired after reading this to look up the Italian place in Homestead that my mom and I would go to when we wanted Italian. It was on Redmond Road in Florida City. Everyone always suspected it was run by the mob. Because it was just that good. There was a "left side" and a "right side", with two separate entrances, though you could walk back and forth inside. The left side was a pizza joint with the best pizzas in town. The right side was white-tablecloth fine dining with the best pasta in town. We would order their biggest pie and say "put garlic chunks on it" and they would cover it in gravel-sized pieces of garlic and holy shit it was the best thing ever, especially if you didn't have to be around us the next day. And I could get an extra meatball in my spaghetti for like 50c.

Anyway, the little strip mall where it was shows no sign of it being there now, looking pretty decrepit on street view, with a shoe outlet and a laundromat and I am not entirely sure that's where it was but I do remember the parking lot and the wide greenspace in front of it and the kind of "why is this strip mall in the middle of nowhere" vibe though it's not really in the middle of nowhere any more.

And I am kind of sad, because I'll never be able to eat there again. Though my diet doesn't even allow me to have spaghetti OR pizza, so it's not like I would. But I couldn't, even if it was possible. Because it's gone. And I thought mob-run restaurants never closed. Maybe it just moved somewhere else. But I forget the name of the damn thing, so I can't look it up any more.

Fuck.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:59 AM on November 16 [8 favorites]


(Clearly a non-preview "ditto" to nubs.)
posted by supercres at 7:59 AM on November 16 [1 favorite]


The ideal of The Best and the competitive culture that brings can be very toxic to arts and crafts, even commercial ones. We love rankings and checklists, but they're really horrible things in many ways. And the rush to #1, ignoring the #2 or the #6, which are all likely terrific places to get a burger, can destroy all of them by both over attention and neglect.

It's one thing to talk about The Best big chain, it's another to swamp a local artisan with national attention.

I'd think that's the sort of place lines should be thought about.
posted by bonehead at 7:59 AM on November 16 [13 favorites]


Really fascinating article. Stanich's genuinely sounds like the kind of place I would love to have as a local hangout (or sounds like it used to be). But it also sounds like the place I would never ever wait an hour for. To me it seems like the moral of the story is something like: if the character of the place would be changed by viral popularity, then making it popular would be counterproductive.

I think the Guy Fieri effect may not be always net negative. In Superior, Wisconsin, a town that's not doing so great, are two Guy Fieri-endorsed restaurants in close proximity. Their episodes aired in 2011 and 2014, recently enough that friends of mine were going before Fieri came through.

One of the two I've been to many times; it's definitely a dive and it's got that authentic thing that the author of this article talks about. It's cash only and very idiosyncratic. The menu is incredibly limited and the burgers are indeed delicious. There's always a wait at mealtimes; I don't know if there used to be (I'm a transplant). So they're doing well. But the thing is, Superior as a city just doesn't have the instagram set of a metro like Portland. Maybe business picked up, but it didn't explode. I'm not sure it could in a place like Superior, WI.

I think Guy Fieri probably did them, and maybe the whole area, a favor. If a food journalist is worried about the awesome power they wield, maybe they should think about how to use their powers for good. Fieri gets a lot of shit (including from me, his aesthetic really bugs me) but I don't think what he is doing is inherently bad. And I don't think the author of this article necessarily needs to hang it up, either. I think he just needs to start focusing on places that might actually benefit from the incandescent gaze of the internet's massive, unblinking hype-eye.
posted by dbx at 8:00 AM on November 16 [16 favorites]


I'm glad we're small enough that I can plug Charlie Beinlich's Food & Tap in Northbrook, IL. Third generation owners. It looks like a hole in the wall from the outside. From the inside it looks like a bar from 1955, complete with taxidermied fish all over the walls. The owner closes for two weeks every summer to go fishing.

Good hamburgers.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:02 AM on November 16 [8 favorites]


Beyond the tragedy of the locust swarm here, isn't it dumb to think there's a 'best' burger place? Or any basic food? You can wait in line for 4 hours for BBQ in Austin. You can pay out the nose for ziti in the North End of Boston. You can suffer the deeply unpleasant cafeteria/feeding trough experience of the Cafe Du Monde to get a cup of coffee and a beignet. The food will be fine to good, but also just one iteration of a pretty simple, common meal. Maybe not prepared to your taste.

A good restaurant experience will surprise and delight you, maybe even challenge you. A good comfort food place is just the one you happen to like. Maybe it's your folks' kitchen. Skip the line.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:06 AM on November 16 [25 favorites]


Back when the Lonely Planet was the only game in town for backpackers, they always used to claim in a little disclaimer at the front that they were keeping the coolest spots for themselves, to prevent those places being overrun by the hordes of uncool people gauche enough to buy and use the Lonely Planet, instead of strike out for themselves (like the Lonely Planet authors). I always assumed that this was a hedge against people finding cooler places than listed in the books, and this spreading along the backpacker grapevine and undermining their credibility. But maybe I’m just being cynical.

On the other hand, when I lived in Italy in the early 00s, some colleagues in Rome heard that a few of us, all expats, were going to Naples for the weekend. “Oh,” they said offhand, “you should go to da Michele while you’re there. It’s the best pizza in Naples.” (The unspoken implication being that it’s the best pizza in the world; but given the rivalry between Roman and Neapolitan pizza styles, they couldn’t come out and say this.) Anyway, yes: we went, and it was probably the best pizza in the world.

Then, of course, it was featured in “Eat, Pray, Love” and now... Well, fair enough, now it’s basically still this same. You just have to queue for longer. They’re still in the same place (a medium-frightening neighbourhood by the docks). They still only make two types of pizza (three, if you count “margherita with extra cheese” as intrinsically different from “margherita”). And I’m heartened to see that the current top-ranked review on Trip Advisor is a one-star, titled “bad service and the staff was very rude” - they haven’t lost their magic yet, Julia Roberts or no Julia Roberts.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 8:06 AM on November 16 [14 favorites]


I recall one of my big deal wake up moments in this regard being Frampton Comes Alive

and speaking of albums released in the 1976 that ended up selling absurdly well, one of the genuinely best (even if I never need to hear it ever again) was The Eagles' Hotel California, the epic final track of which is Last Resort, which tells the harrowing tale of a girl who keeps moving further west, looking for a place where "people were smiling". It takes her to the Great Divide, then Malibu, then half way across the Pacific ocean to Lahaina, and finally to the only place left where paradise might still be found, which is Church, and the final lines:

And you can see them there,
On Sunday morning
They stand up and sing about
what it's like up there
They call it paradise
I don't know why
You call someplace paradise,
kiss it goodbye


Like the article says -- don't tell everybody.
posted by philip-random at 8:07 AM on November 16 [7 favorites]


gauche: "I once wrote a poem against tourism as a parting shot in an argument I was having. (That is perhaps the most obnoxious thing I've ever admitted to.)"

Eponysterical!

Also, now I need to get a delicious burger for lunch.
posted by Grither at 8:08 AM on November 16 [4 favorites]


Stanich explained that, as these issues were going on in the background, it was hard to read the social media screeds attacking them, and listen to the answering machine messages at the restaurant calling him a fat fuck and telling him to fuck himself for closing his own restaurant.

1. It is intractably true that a large percentage of humans will be as awful as circumstances allow them to be, and the only solution is to limit the range of awfulness. Shining the bright light of the internet on one person or one little place or one family is inexorably going to bring them to the attention of terrible shitty humans who live to hurt, and to the attention of another percentage of people who are themselves vulnerable and being cruel because they're in pain. Vastly increasing the number of people who do a thing vastly increases the amount of abuse, and while you can take one terrible customer, a hundred will mess you up.

2. I get so tired of the best. I don't want the best. I want the good-enough. I want things that I like for myself, not because I've been told that they're the best. I enjoy a lot of things that are not objectively the best, and I'd rather have those than carefully curate my experience so that I only experience the Very! Finest! There's something sad and broken about people who have been socialized to believe that anything which isn't perfect is a waste of time, and who are unhappy with ordinary, good-enough experiences. "The Best Of Everything" is surely one of the saddest phrases in the language that doesn't actually deal with death or sickness or injustice.
posted by Frowner at 8:09 AM on November 16 [62 favorites]


Beyond the tragedy of the locust swarm here, isn't it dumb to think there's a 'best' burger place?

In my opinion yes. I mean, the writers are taking personal opinions and turning them into objective rating criteria, which means they are having the same effect as the 'reclaimed barnwood/edison bulbs hipsters' making every restaurant look and taste the same.

The Texas Monthly BBQ list almost has this done to an art - pretty soon the winner will have you eating bbq in your hands straight off the grill when wax paper and crappy mrs bairds bread becomes to classy to be 'authentic'.

I mean, I'm sure some place run by a school janitor only on the weekends is good, but under what honest criteria would something like that be the 'best'? It sounds like Stanichs is exactly the same way - they aren't judging the food - they are judging some perfected version of 'authenticity', which is perfectly fine - but then why publicize it? Isn't the current crowd and customer base part of the authenticity?
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:22 AM on November 16 [13 favorites]


We have the best family doctor in the world. Seriously. 2 days after she had twins, she was there with us at the birth of our first daughters. ( So they always went to each other's birthday parties, too.. )

Best diagnostician ever. School District's doctor. Worst office management ever. She works for herself, so no-one's yelling at her to limit her time with patients. Sometimes, you get a half-hour or hour of her undivided attention.

So, it's already hard enough to get in, with a long enough wait, I sure ain't telling you her name!
posted by mikelieman at 8:23 AM on November 16 [3 favorites]


It's bullshit anyway, the best burger in America is the $2 fully-loaded "gus burger" (had a fried egg on top) I ate at around 3 a.m. in North Adams, MA some dark night in the winter of 1987, at some really greasy back of beyond hole in the wall.
posted by chavenet at 8:27 AM on November 16 [18 favorites]


The internet has made the cost of distributing information negligible.* There are some aspects of that I have found delightful. Instead of having the one weird cat among everyone you know who likes to sleep in the sink, you can find it's a thing.

It's easy for some local word-of-mouth to become global. It's easy to brag about finding the hole-in-the-wall. The impact of that knowledge/behavior can be cool (think about all the folks who were helped through some GoFundMe), or, like this, devastating. It's easy to assume a business making money can simply add capacity to maintain quality; in practice, it's more challenging. Where do you get the people? The space? Is it worth investing for the long term if this is just my 15 Minutes?

When I see teleportation--cheap(ish) transportation (even if it costs as much as an airline ticket, I'll take avoiding all the hassles and speed). At that point, what is the impact on spots around the globe? Everyone can have a Disneyworld pass and use it. Can they absorb the load? What about the Grand Canyon?

*For the moment, I'll assume the information is accurate, or at least in good faith. Obviously, bad actors change this equation further.
posted by MrGuilt at 8:28 AM on November 16 [3 favorites]


Dishes weren’t cleared quickly, and these new people weren’t having the proper Stanich’s experience, and Steve would spend his entire day going around apologizing and trying to fix things. They might pay him lip service to his face, but they were never coming back so they had no problem going on Yelp or Facebook and denouncing the restaurant and saying that the burgers were bad. And then the health department came in and suggested they do some deep cleaning (he still got a 97 rating, he told me), and the combination of all of these factors led Stanich to close down the restaurant for what he genuinely thought would be two weeks.

I'm calling bullshit. Stanich's didn't close down because of a Thrillist article. It closed down because it's a filthy restaurant with bad service. Stanich's has been on the "best burger" lists for years. Getting put on the Thrillist article in 2017 was just another in a long list of articles Stanich's has been on since at least 2009. That one article didn't suddenly turn Stanich's overnight. I moved here to Portland in 2007, and it was one of the first places a friend of mine took me in a quest to find some good burger joints, as it was known then. This wasn't a case of Stanich's suddenly becoming popular and not being able to handle it. It's simply a case of mismanagement.

My dad was a health inspector for years. Health inspectors, generally speaking, give a shit about the restaurants and the people they work with. If the health inspector is "suggesting deep cleaning", it's code for "get your shit together before we're forced to close you down, because we don't want to do that." A quick look at the Multnomah County Health Department's website will find you their 11/8/2017 inspection, which includes:
Observation: VIOLATION OF SECTION 6-501.12 The establishment is not cleaned as often as necessary or at a time when the least amount of food is exposed, specifically: Throughout the establishment, floors, walls, ceilings, fixtures have a build-up of grime, grease, food debris.
Correction: REQUIRED CORRECTION: The physical facilities shall be cleaned as often as necessary to keep them clean. Cleaning shall be done during periods when the least amount of food is exposed, such as after closing. YOU NEED TO DO AN INITIAL, THOROUGH, DEEP CLEANING AND THEN INCREASE YOUR CLEANING FREQUENCY.
Anecdotally, I went to Stanich's a few weeks before the shutdown. They certainly weren't getting overrun with customers at that point. The place was maybe a quarter full on a Friday night, and it was filthy. Dust everywhere, dishes left on tables, stains on the floor, the crust on the ketchup bottles indicating it had been at least a week since anyone bothered wiping them. We watched our food sit at the pass for five minutes before a waitress could be bothered to serve us. The place had all of the hallmark signs of a restaurant going under.

Did Kevin Alexander hurt Stanich's business by giving them the press? Maybe. But Kevin Alexander isn't responsible for running the restaurant. It isn't Kevin Alexander's job to clean the tables or the floor or the dishes or the ketchup bottles. Stanich killed Stanich's.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:30 AM on November 16 [133 favorites]


Something I saw in some discussion of this on Twitter is that part of the reason places like Stanich's get blown up is that 99% of new restaurants that open have basically the exact same aesthetic and 2/3 of the same menu. I can't count the number of places I can walk to from my apartment that have exposed brick walls with olde-tyme-y lightbulbs and serve slightly upmarket versions of traditional comfort foods with a list of funky cocktails. Almost no one is opening places like Stanich's anymore, and I think culturally there's both a sense that we've lost that experience and also an increasing weariness with having nearly identical experiences in every gentrifying neighborhood no matter where you are in the world.

That said, replacing it with the equally wearisome Eternal Quest for the one food that will prove you're objectively cool for eating it is itself pretty bad. Most things, most of the time, are fine. I do think there's some value in some sort of way to filter out the absolute worst restaurants, though, because I've had too many submediocre experiences while traveling in unfamiliar locations and stopping at random places to not feel a little nervous going into someplace I know nothing at all about.
posted by Copronymus at 8:31 AM on November 16 [12 favorites]


Recently, a burger joint where I lived was named best in the U.S. by Trip Advisor and written up in Food and Wine Magazine. The winner does indeed have a very good burger, although a bit overpriced and often a long wait even before it was given this recognition. Thing is, just about everyone around here also knows of a better burger place locally without having to scout around all the U.S.. Also, the winner has not been overrun with tourists since the recognition. But it is still often crowded, as seems to be their business model.

It seems to me that the Thrillist sampling of 300 burgers from around the U.S. would be very inadequate as an evaluation of best, given that there may be upwards of half a million burger joints in the U.S., not even accounting for the subjective nature of the project. So these lists have never made any sense to me anyway and I just assume they are driven by writers influenced by PR agents and press releases.
posted by 3.2.3 at 8:31 AM on November 16 [5 favorites]


Beyond the tragedy of the locust swarm here, isn't it dumb to think there's a 'best' burger place? Or any basic food?

I feel like this is especially true if you're a tourist sampling a local cuisine you've not had before. Generally, a lot of places do it, maybe one place does do it *best,* but I bet there's a bunch of places where you'd get something you'd love that'll be a happy memory of your trip. Maybe the best pasteis de nata in Lisbon are in Belem (and it's a genuinely good experience and they handle the crowds well), but you know what other pasteis de nata are good? All of them, because they are delicious.

I may also be bitter because my mother-in-law has some of this restaurant list ticking in her and we travel together often. It makes picking restaurants super stressful and fraught, and the results aren't a huge improvement over any other system. Having a lobster roll in Maine is a great thing to do on a trip, making me wait in line for two hours for "the best," is not.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:34 AM on November 16 [19 favorites]


Beyond the tragedy of the locust swarm here, isn't it dumb to think there's a 'best' burger place? Or any basic food?

I want to go out, put on a disguise, and favorite this twice.

Box-ticking minmax dude (let's be honest) culture is awful. I have many unfocused, spittle-flecked thoughts about it, but I'll leave it at waiting on line forever for food is goddamn stupid.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:36 AM on November 16 [11 favorites]


Damn, I grew up down the street from Stanich's, this is heartbreaking.
posted by Shutter at 8:37 AM on November 16


I mean, I'm sure some place run by a school janitor only on the weekends is good, but under what honest criteria would something like that be the 'best'

Having been to that place a bunch of times... It actually is the best barbecue I've ever had. I don't know that I can fully articulate what it is (it's perfectly smoked and never dry, but that doesn't really capture it). And honestly, part of what I enjoy about it is the drive out there and the whole experience of it, but that doesn't take away from my point. Good eating isn't just about the food itself.
posted by asterix at 8:37 AM on November 16 [6 favorites]


Having a lobster roll in Maine is a great thing to do on a trip, making me wait in line for two hours for "the best," is not.

Having to sit in the traffic jam on Rt 1 that damned place causes is not a whole lot of fun either.

(The actual best lobster roll in Maine is about a three hour drive further up the coast from that place, anyway.)
posted by tobascodagama at 8:38 AM on November 16 [6 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: "but you know what other pasteis de nata are good? All of them, because they are delicious."

Well, no. There are some really, really bad pasteis de nata out there, even moreso now that there's a growing desire to eat them among visitors.
posted by chavenet at 8:38 AM on November 16 [2 favorites]


I find lists useful because I like to eat nice things when I travel and I've eaten far too many shifty and overpriced meals thanks to friends who like to explore and "not eat at all the touristy places".

(Autocorrect changed shitty to shifty and I'm leaving it because that is a damn good description of some of the food in Paris. Some seriously shifty food.)

Part of the problem is that the writer has an authenticity fetish--he wants to patted on the back for uncovering something obscure, and he admits that part of the appeal was the "since 1949" on the door. God forbid the best burger is from a CIA grad in New York.

At the same time, I don't understand people who wait two hours and then complain that a place is too busy. Of course it's busy! It's not like the place is your secret and the other highly ranked places will probably be just as good.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:40 AM on November 16 [16 favorites]


The premise seems a bit hand-wringy and, I dunno, precious to me. The journalist doth protest too much, I think. Bit too enamored of the great-power-great-responsibility thing.

Assuming you ask and the restaurant owner is okay with publicity, and you give them some sort of idea of what your media reach is—are you writing for an audience of 10, or 10 million?—it's on them to manage the results if they say they're okay with it.

If they say they'd rather not have the media exposure, and you write about them for your bazillion Instagram followers or whatever anyway, yeah—that's shitty. Not illegal, maybe not even a breach of ethics exactly, but shitty.

Being named #1 could have been the best thing that ever happened to Stanich’s. It sounds like the owner thought it was, when they got named initially. And who knows? If he franchises, or gets an experienced GM to run the place, it still might be. And the reasons why the place closed aren't mentioned explicitly, but it was apparently interpersonal / family-dynamics issues; basically, the article exposed latent problems that would have surfaced given any stress to the business. The article was only the proximate cause, not the ultimate one.

It would have been crappy, and obnoxiously parental, to tell Stanich that, despite having the best burger in America, he didn't deserve to be recognized as the best because he wouldn't be able to hack it. I mean, that's fucking insulting.

It's one thing if a celebrity chef opens a little place under an assumed name, because they love to cook but don't want the publicity. Blowing their cover is undeniably a dick move: because, coming back to the issue of permission/consent, they pretty clearly don't want that. But if a restauranteur wants to take a shot at the big-time, I don't think it's doing them any favors to deny them the opportunity, particularly when the motivation for keeping quiet isn't really concern for them (in which case the solution is to help them prepare to scale the business, understand what publicity feels like on the receiving end, etc.), but really just a selfish desire to keep the "gem" uncrowded for one's own benefit.

And I guess that's what really irritates me about the moralistic hand-wringing tone about "ruining" places: it's couched in righteous language, but seems more about drawing a line around something and saying "mine, you can't have!" to everyone else. If that's the reason for not telling people about your favorite sushi spot, well fine, but at least be honest about why you're doing it.

However... if you're a journalist writing for a major-market publication, and you're more or less making up bullshit criteria for "best of [whatever]", it's probably reasonable to think about "best of" in the context of your readership and their expectations. There's a sort of Heisenbergian principle at work here: if the effect of your evaluation of a place will end up changing it, then you should probably factor that into your evaluation from the outset.

And yes, the focus on "authenticity" is [makes puking sound], and we should stop it. There's a sort of domestic cultural appropriation at work, when hipster journalists venture out into the blue-collar hinterlands in search of unexploited veins of Americana to strip-mine for listicles, and they should feel bad for doing it. Mostly because it's trite and obnoxious.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:43 AM on November 16 [17 favorites]


Well, no. There are some really, really bad pasteis de nata out there, even moreso now that there's a growing desire to eat them among visitors.

Okay I exaggerated a bit, but most of the ones I've had have been good, apart from the ones at a hotel breakfast. I'm also a sometimes tourist there and not a local, so my palate is probably also not super discerning in this regard.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:43 AM on November 16 [3 favorites]


As we stood and stared down at the black gravestone, Stanich told me a story about how his parents had started the restaurant in 1949 to help pay hospital bills after he was born prematurely.

My, how the times have changed...
posted by kaibutsu at 8:43 AM on November 16 [4 favorites]


Maybe the best pasteis de nata in Lisbon are in Belem (and it's a genuinely good experience and they handle the crowds well), but you know what other pasteis de nata are good? All of them, because they are delicious.

Yes, the reason to go to Belem and why I send people there too is because it is a fun experience and the pasteis de nata are really good. So, you are guaranteed not to have a bad one - as chavenet remarks, there are many of those.

Are they the best? It is a dumb question. My favorite is one near Pombal that I love but such judgements are personal and probably belong to people obsessed with such things like me.

I've stopped mentioning on mefi, my favorite places in Lisbon/Amsterdam/SF cities I know well. I try to mention popular-but-good places and help people avoid popular-but-bad places. Small, unknown places I only discuss in person, not in public forums.
posted by vacapinta at 8:46 AM on November 16 [3 favorites]


I learned this lesson when my family's regular breakfast place was featured on an early episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and was excessively crowded for years.

I see a lot of parallels with the changes in the outdoors community in recent years. Backcountry use peaked in most places in the U.S. in the mid-'90s and for whatever reason saw a steep decline after that. But in recent years the number of people in the backcountry has increased, and especially the last 5 years or so with the influence of social media we've gotten back to near-peak levels in many places.

That should be a positive thing, and in many ways is. The more people who use and love the backcountry, the more people there are to pressure Congress to restore funding to the land management agencies that have seen their budgets slashed for decades. The easier it is to find information online on how to plan a trip and stay safe, the more people can get over their fears of being in remote places (there are some drawbacks to this one). Social media helps hikers from marginalized communities find partners or mentors they're more comfortable backpacking with.

The problem is while the numbers aren't new the usage patterns are. Everyone wants to go to the "best" spot, the one at the top of a list or on a celeb hiker's Instagram. Tens of thousands of people enter lotteries for a handful of permits. People who don't get the permit they want google the "best" non-permit area and pretty soon those areas are covered in trash and human waste. Land managers have serious discussions about whether they should bother cleaning up these places or whether it's better overall to concentrate use in one area if it saves the rest of their unit.

The hiking community has adjusted how they share information a lot in response to this. It's a serious faux pas in many forums to post a GPS track of a trip in an off-trail area. People disguise or alter feature names so they don't show up in google searches. Some people post photos that make it very obvious where they are if you know the area or know how to read a map but again don't write any of the feature names out. Some places are delicate and accessible enough that they're only shared through word-of-mouth to people who have proven they can keep their internet postings responsible.

It's not a great solution and it feels shitty some times to be acting as a gatekeeper but there don't really seem to be any other options if you want to share your trips online.
posted by edeezy at 8:53 AM on November 16 [18 favorites]


I feel like this is especially true if you're a tourist sampling a local cuisine you've not had before.

If I'm going somewhere I haven't been before and may well not be back to again, I want to try to get at least a very good version of the local delicacies. "Best" is way too subjective and unreliable, but, no, I don't feel bad about aiming for "very very good." There are usually plenty of places willing to sell shitty-to-mediocre product to tourists.

I think my own favorite burger place has survived because of publicity. While it's in an area no longer terrifying to white people, it's not in a convenient location even for downtown scenesters, large-scale NYCHA is but a block away. It's hung on past the magic ten-year mark, I think, because good publicity got the word out early.

Capitalism has some very gross effects, but most restaurants fail in the end (and at the beginning!) anyway. I doubt there are many restaurateurs who would thank you for keeping their place obscure.
posted by praemunire at 8:54 AM on November 16 [7 favorites]


(Maybe I'm being hypocritical not to name the place! Royale. It's Royale.)
posted by praemunire at 8:56 AM on November 16 [2 favorites]


When I first moved to DC, I received several cautionary statements to the effect that it would be hard to find good spots at first, because locals keep that knowledge close to the chest to avoid being overrun by tourists/transplants/jerks.

Not sure how true that really is as an axiom, but elements of it are definitely true. Several of my fave places don't have signs and aren't particularly visible from the street. And I find myself actively avoiding talking up certain places, for fear my 20-something grad students will 'discover' them.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:56 AM on November 16 [1 favorite]


An example of the spotlight being used for good: Nonesuch in Oklahoma City. Bon Appetit featured it as "best restaurant in 2018" in a really exciting article. It's a high end fine dining place, and according to the article was generally half-empty and unknown outside of OKC. Then the article came out and now they're completely booked out for weeks, people are traveling to Oklahoma just to eat there.

That'd be annoying if you're a local and Nonesuch was a hidden gem that only you knew about and you could show up any time for a $75 10 course meal. Now your restaurant is ruined! But that version of that restaurant wasn't going to survive very long anyway. And the chefs pouring the hearts out into making elaborate fine dishes for just 4 diners a night probably weren't loving the obscurity. I guess the thing to do is look two years from now and see how they're doing.
posted by Nelson at 9:00 AM on November 16 [6 favorites]


The entire food service industry is built around misery.
posted by The Whelk at 9:03 AM on November 16 [33 favorites]


Something very meta about reading a very good article about the complicated dynamics of making something extremely popular on a website that itself is about finding and highlighting good content.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:03 AM on November 16 [9 favorites]


Psst, Going to Maine, I know this fantastic social media service where lots of cool people hang out and there are no Nazis, no ads, and no creepy data collection. But I can't tell you about it, it'd ruin it.
posted by Nelson at 9:04 AM on November 16 [15 favorites]


People call his voicemail just to yell at him for not having his restaurant open. The sheer fucking entitled balls on them.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:09 AM on November 16 [11 favorites]


vacapinta: "I've stopped mentioning on mefi, my favorite places in Lisbon/Amsterdam/SF cities I know well. "

Same here, in part because Bourdain ruined one of Lisbon's best spots, Ramiro, now a long-wait-tourist-trap. Wasn't my or MeFi's fault, obvs.
posted by chavenet at 9:09 AM on November 16 [2 favorites]


Also:

the answering machine messages at the restaurant calling him a fat fuck and telling him to fuck himself for closing his own restaurant.

We are such horrible creatures when we are denied the products of labor. I still remember the New Yorker interview with DJ Sprinkles where he talks about how everyone wants her to love being a famous DJ but, nope, it's just a job. Work is work, not a favor.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:11 AM on November 16 [6 favorites]


The entire food service industry is built around misery.

Yes, but I miss it sometimes. I know I don't really miss it, in the sense that I'd go back. I took a vow to never work in a restaurant again in 1994, and I have kept that vow. But there was a brain-dead kind of comfort in having extremely concrete missions, like unload these flour sacks from the truck, slice up all these mushrooms, etc. I liked smoking weed out by the Dumpster, too. We don't do that at my IT job.
posted by thelonius at 9:15 AM on November 16 [16 favorites]


it's weird and sad but sometimes there is no one more obnoxiously angrily entitled than a person who Really Likes A Thing. i don't think that creators of popular things should be canonized and treated as if they can do no wrong, which is of course the other obnoxious side of the coin, but by god can there not be a middle fucking ground.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:18 AM on November 16 [11 favorites]


I could be wrong, but I don't think a metafilter comment currently has the power to kill a restaurant.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:20 AM on November 16 [7 favorites]


I feel like this is especially true if you're a tourist sampling a local cuisine you've not had before.

And people wonder why George R. R. Martin doesn't just admit he's not finishing that series.

Metafilter: Doesn't Currently Have The Power To Kill A Restaurant
posted by praemunire at 9:22 AM on November 16 [14 favorites]


> GenjiandProust:
"The real question is “should I stop writing clickbait for the web and do something honest for a living, so when I die the Judges of the Dead don’t just send me off to the Pit with the Venture Capitalists and website monitizers?”

That answer is always “yes.”"


But it doesn't pay well, either in cash or social capital...
posted by Samizdata at 9:23 AM on November 16


the best burger in America is the $2 fully-loaded "gus burger" (had a fried egg on top) I ate at around 3 a.m. in North Adams, MA some dark night in the winter of 1987,

so that guacamole thing somebody shoved at me at the end of a long and hazy day's night back into day and then almost night again back in 1993, downtown San Francisco of all places -- I guess that's #2.
posted by philip-random at 9:24 AM on November 16 [4 favorites]


I know a Place. It is a small pub in a large Southern US city. There is no sign, just a red light that is sometimes lit, near the small wood door that leads down into this small place. Beer is cheap, and there are different ones to try each week. You are welcome to drink your beer outside, under the sprawling oak trees, with your friends. Dogs and children are tolerated, as long as they are will supervised. The bartenders do not know your name, but well often know what you want to order. Of course, if the multitudes in this large city had a desire to visit this small Place, it would be overrun.

Look it up online, and you will find many scathing reviews. The place sinks, the bartenders are rude, parking is impossible. Go in wearing a tie, and someone is likely to cut it off and pin it to the wall. Many of these reviews are likely posted by the regulars, trying to keep others away.

It has survived and served for years, in spite of questionable fire code compliance. Health inspectors come through, as well as alcohol control, and raised a few eyebrows. And yet, it remains constant over the years and decades. It is the best at doing certain things, such as providing a gathering place for the locals. Popularity would be undesirable.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 9:26 AM on November 16 [11 favorites]


There's a FOMO kind of thing going on with this kind of stuff, I think. I read this kind of article as "you should go check out some of these unassuming places near you, they might have brilliant food," and I don't actually do that but you know, I could. But a lot of people see these things as "oh now I have to eat at this exact burger place". There are so many great burger places. There are so many great things in general that people should be getting out there and trying and sharing with others. But we don't take these things as tips to go explore; we take them as a compulsion to go do the thing that everybody else is doing because you might miss The Perfect Burger.
posted by Sequence at 9:28 AM on November 16 [7 favorites]


This is a real concern for some of us regulars on the Amsterdam TripAdvisor forum. Some of us have already developed some unspoken guidelines and have several sacred cows that we protect by not ever mentioning.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:28 AM on November 16 [3 favorites]


Years ago I was working on a documentary television series about a music scene that was, at the time, firmly entrenched in the underground. The host and producer, who was a great fan of this music scene, would prattle on endlessly about how the scene was authentic and alive in a way that more visible music scenes could never be.

The mainstream was a well of poison, he said. And people needed to know there existed an alternative. He adamantly believed that the show we were making could catapult this music scene into the public eye in a big way, at last garnering the attention and appreciation it deserved.

I asked, “But if the mainstream is so inescapably terrible, won’t you ruin the music scene you love by making it mainstream?”

He offered me a sneer if such contempt it looked as if he’d swallowed something vile, but no verbal reply. I was, however, quite fired.
posted by Construction Concern at 9:28 AM on November 16 [24 favorites]


like i can't think of a single thing that i enjoy which would make me call up the creator of it on the phone and tell them to kill themselves if i could no longer get that thing. (other than situations in which someone is like. denying me human rights. obvsly.)
posted by poffin boffin at 9:28 AM on November 16 [6 favorites]


...as well as a can of Flying Insect Raid, a Febreeze spray bottle...
There. Are. Only. Two. E's. In. "Febreze."

One presumes that this paid, professional writer has actually seen a bottle of this product about which he's writing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:30 AM on November 16 [4 favorites]


> 3.2.3:
"It seems to me that the Thrillist sampling of 300 burgers from around the U.S. would be very inadequate as an evaluation of best, given that there may be upwards of half a million burger joints in the U.S., not even accounting for the subjective nature of the project. So these lists have never made any sense to me anyway and I just assume they are driven by writers influenced by PR agents and press releases."

And that doesn't even count for variation between different branches of the same chain.
posted by Samizdata at 9:31 AM on November 16


I'm pretty sure that nowadays Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives tells the restaurants they're going to visit to staff up, get supplies, and hold on tight because it was an early problem. My closest experience was seeing the lines at Baby Blues in Venice after their episode aired.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:31 AM on November 16 [1 favorite]


> The Underpants Monster:
"...as well as a can of Flying Insect Raid, a Febreeze spray bottle...

There. Are. Only. Two. E's. In. "Febreze."

One presumes that this paid, professional writer has actually seen a bottle of this product about which he's writing."


He's too twee to worry about and have to deal with bad smells.
posted by Samizdata at 9:37 AM on November 16 [2 favorites]


edeezy: "The hiking community has adjusted how they share information a lot in response to this. It's a serious faux pas in many forums to post a GPS track of a trip in an off-trail area. People disguise or alter feature names so they don't show up in google searches. "

This is not new. Ever read Hemingway's Nick Adams stories? Specifically, Big Two Hearted River, published 1925, where Nick Adams fishes near the burned out town of Seney.

The Two Hearted River (Big or Little) doesn't flow through Seney. The Fox River does. But not the Two Heart. Nearest approach would be hiking 20+ miles north to one of the small lakes that feeds the Two Hearted River.

tl;dr: Never name your favorite trout stream/hiking trail/burger joint in public.

(Also: Never try to drive a minivan to the mouth of the Two Heart using an old snowmobile map as a guide. Ask me how I know!)
posted by caution live frogs at 9:38 AM on November 16 [10 favorites]


There was a satire of the defunct Details magazine called "Retails" (it may have been in Spy magazine, but I don't have the patience to search through their back issue now) which featured an article in which the author hangs out in some random American city and ignores all the locals desperately trying to convince him that their city is absolutely not the next hot hipster town, and he should tell people to move anywhere but there. I think of that any time I read something like this.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:38 AM on November 16 [5 favorites]


It would be interesting if he had talked to a restaurant owner on the list who didn't shut down. I think there's a tension between regular customers who want to be able to come into their local restaurant and eat with no wait, and restaurant owner who is running a business.

I do think "best of" lists are over-obsessed with "authenticity" - according to my great uncle the best burger in Pittsburgh is at Steak & Shake where he can get a burger & fries for less than $8.
posted by muddgirl at 9:38 AM on November 16 [7 favorites]


There is a diner near my house that has been "Reputable Since 1955."

We figure the reputation is "wow, that place has terrible food." They could mess up bacon and eggs.

But they are open 24-hours near a place with a lot of shiftwork, and they have coffee with caffeine in it, so I suppose they'll be just fine. Also, maybe they lace their food with cocaine or something.
posted by jb at 9:42 AM on November 16 [6 favorites]


There. Are. Only. Two. E's. In. "Febreze."

Eh?
posted by motty at 9:43 AM on November 16 [52 favorites]


Frowner, as a child of the cold war I can't help but think how often extreme capitalism and extreme communism are prone to exactly the same errors of thinking.
posted by rikschell at 9:44 AM on November 16 [3 favorites]


There's a related concept rolling around in my head that I am struggling to articulate but I think it boils down to this: when I travel, particularly in touristy / foodie places (say, paris, florence etc) I am always torn between wanting to just *find* a place, have a wonderful experience appear uncurated and unbidden, enjoy it for its own sake, maybe talk about it later or not...and not wanting to squander the limited number of good meal opportunities I have and therefore rely on the guidebook to protect me.

Travelling in Rome about 15 years ago, and on the last day I was actually a bit stressed because I really didn't want my last meal to be bad and have that memory color the whole trip. (We got around that problem on a more recent trip to Lisbon by having our last meal at a place we'd already eaten at and loved...and come to think of it somewhat ironically relative to this article, the owner came to us at the end and shyly asked if we could put in good google and yelp reviews because they needed the traffic.)
posted by hearthpig at 9:48 AM on November 16 [9 favorites]


I am at this moment sitting in a diner mostly populated by old people, having eaten a pretty good burger. I have to eat out more than I used to due to my job and I'm starting to gravitate to these places because they don't hassle you and usually taste ok.

They brag about their pie. Think I'll have a slice.
posted by emjaybee at 9:49 AM on November 16 [7 favorites]


And I guess that's what really irritates me about the moralistic hand-wringing tone about "ruining" places: it's couched in righteous language, but seems more about drawing a line around something and saying "mine, you can't have!" to everyone else. If that's the reason for not telling people about your favorite sushi spot, well fine, but at least be honest about why you're doing it.

Maybe? But this, from the article is a 100% real concern:
If there was one main negative takeaway from the raging fires of food tourist culture and the lists fanning the flames, it was that the people crowding the restaurant were one time customers. They were there to check off a thing on a list, and put it on Instagram. They weren’t invested in the restaurant’s success, but instead in having a public facing opinion of a well known place. In other words, they had nothing to lose except money and the restaurant had nothing to gain except money, and that made the entire situation feel both precarious and a little gross.
I'm fine being inconvenienced so that more people can love the thing I love. I'm not fine when the actions of people who don't love it force it to change to accommodate their brief attention that quickly flies to something else, leaving it worse in their wake.
posted by straight at 9:53 AM on November 16 [12 favorites]


And the reasons why the place closed aren't mentioned explicitly, but it was apparently interpersonal / family-dynamics issues; basically, the article exposed latent problems that would have surfaced given any stress to the business.

Family run businesses tend to underperform, and basically can't scale. When all the owners are family, your shareholder relationships need to be replaced with impersonal contracts in order to get more capital to expand. And many are managed and staffed by family, no matter how skilled an non-family member would be at the role. And when all your staff is family, you're insulated from turnover, HR liabilities, and are constrained in growth by how many children you and your siblings had 15 years ago.
posted by pwnguin at 9:55 AM on November 16 [8 favorites]


Family run businesses tend to underperform, and basically can't scale.

I just end up feeling like "can it scale" is a question that shows how far off the rails this country is.

In the US, with no social safety net, you always have to want to scale unless you're rich, because why wouldn't you want to franchise your restaurant, make a lot of money and guarantee safety for your family? But the split between the extremely precarious state of the majority and the security and luxury of the few really reduces everyone's quality of life. You can't reasonably seek to just...make a decent living, because there isn't a decent living in most places for most people. I wish we could be a nation of people who could, eg, run moderately successful local restaurants with the assurance that they could work appropriately hard, stay afloat and retire, and that their staff could access medical care and good housing. I wish we could be a nation where your choice wasn't "optimize everything and Be Best" versus "risk dying of a treatable illness and/or face a future of crowdfunding your medical bills".
posted by Frowner at 10:05 AM on November 16 [45 favorites]


There is a diner near my house that has been "Reputable Since 1955."


I know the one. I have had many a decent grilled cheese in there. Everything else I have ever tried there is... reputable.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:09 AM on November 16 [4 favorites]


I used to live in Amsterdam and while I’m sure you can find lists of “the best” what I found interesting is there was this city-wide agreement on who had the best Italian, apple tart, croquettes etc. It was the strangest thing. You’d mention a place to someone and they’d automatically say “ah yes, the best appeltaart in Amsterdam.” (and yes, it’s Winkel 43)
posted by misterpatrick at 10:16 AM on November 16


(Also: Never try to drive a minivan to the mouth of the Two Heart using an old snowmobile map as a guide. Ask me how I know!)

I'm pretty sure this, or something like it, is a required Michigander rite of passage.

I was in the UP in October with one of my kids. We stayed at a funky hotel that was once a rooming house for miners, which was right across the street from a bar, and that, plus a very cute little Methodist church, was the entirety of the town. We had dinner at the bar one night, and picked up a pizza from there another night.

I loved it. It was the kind of bar that I've only experienced in the UP, though I'm sure other very rural areas have their equivalent. It's a bar you can take children to, because it's the only place to get food. There's a little dance floor, a pool table, a bunch of taxidermied deer heads. The burgers are good; the fish is good; the pizza is good.

The night we ate there, the patrons were my kid and me at one table, three locals at another table drinking lots of beer and watching a football game, two other locals at the bar watching a different game on another TV. Staff of one. People friendly but not chatty.

The night I picked up the pizza, I sat at the bar to have a coke while I waited for it. It was a different bartender, and he was very chatty. There was a guy drinking beer and playing pool by himself, and when I ordered my pizza, the bartender called to him to go make it, so the beer-drinking pool player made my pizza.

It's not a place you would want or need to make a destination of. I think this kind of bar exists in many places in the UP. I kind of grew up going to them; I had family in the UP that I spent a lot of time with. If I walked into a bar with that kind of vibe (the taxidermy, the cheesy retro pin-up calendar, the preponderance of men drinking beer, the hunting rifles on the wall) in any place but northern Michigan, it would probably scare me. But it was familiar to me, so instead I liked it.

Also, on this trip I was really glad I remembered to buy an atlas and gazeteer before we left, for navigation purposes. My kid learned a bit about using a paper map. It was like going back in time.
posted by Orlop at 10:21 AM on November 16 [12 favorites]


“Now that everyone is hype on burger joint media accountability, i motion to revisit the Iraq war” @nkulw
posted by The Whelk at 10:26 AM on November 16 [20 favorites]


I was taken to Stanich’s at some point early in my career by some people that also happen to be Mefites. I remember being impressed by the burger but also didn’t ever really feel the need to return.

Still, sad. I’m willing to guess that whatever personal stuff was happening was the biggest contributor and the list writer had basically nothing to do with it.
posted by zrail at 10:28 AM on November 16


I was just thinking about starting up a blog to replace our local food blog that closed down a while back. This has given me a lot to think about. I wonder a lot about how the loss of that blog has changed the food world here. Sure, we still have the newspaper reviews and the monthly magazines, but what has become of that rush of new patrons that used to come with a good review in the blog. Are places starting slower and getting their act together before word of mouth catches on? Are great places opening, but closing because they never got that attention? No answers, just questions.
posted by advicepig at 10:35 AM on November 16


Here's the secret: Go in the north entrance to the lot and park on the other side of the building.

The real Life Hack is always in the comments.
posted by achrise at 10:44 AM on November 16 [5 favorites]


Wow, that's a really impactful piece. Thank you for sharing.
posted by odinsdream at 10:50 AM on November 16


It was the kind of bar that I've only experienced in the UP, though I'm sure other very rural areas have their equivalent. It's a bar you can take children to, because it's the only place to get food.

...because everything else has shut down. It's not like it's protected by obscurity from the teeming masses that would otherwise mob it. It's protected by being located in a place that, when it comes to human habitation, especially year-round, has pretty much dried up and blown away. A little more drying, and it'll be gone, too.

In other words, they had nothing to lose except money and the restaurant had nothing to gain except money, and that made the entire situation feel both precarious and a little gross.

I hate to sound like a horrible cynical person, but, nonprofits and such aside, the customers giving money to the owners in exchange for food, leading to the owners' making more money, is pretty much how restaurants work. People want to build an emotional superstructure around it, but I'm not "invested in the success" of just about anywhere I eat. I'm invested in getting a good meal. If I want the place to stick around, it's because I want to keep getting good meals there (and so that the storefront doesn't go empty), not because I suffer from some kind of delusion of quasi-ownership. When you invest, someone is supposed to write you checks back.
posted by praemunire at 10:55 AM on November 16 [12 favorites]


In context, that line "they had nothing to lose except money" means that most of these new customers will only ever come here once. They don't care whether the burgers are great because they might keep coming back for more. They only care whether this one-time-experience was worth their time and money and whether they got lots of Likes for their witty comment about it.
posted by straight at 11:01 AM on November 16 [5 favorites]


See, I don't even disagree with the idea that the novelty-hunting one-time visitor can be a problem for restaurants. But there's some rhetorical sleight-of-hand going on in that passage, as if the problem were the money, and not the unreliable money.
posted by praemunire at 11:06 AM on November 16 [5 favorites]


No, there are other disadvantages to "no relationship besides money" other than mere unreliability, for instance there's the "I don't have to treat the employees like human beings because they're never gonna see me again."
posted by straight at 11:12 AM on November 16 [3 favorites]


I've been thinking about this a lot lately w/r/t Yelp and that sort of thing.

The big word for me is COMMUNITY.

The idea of objectively ranking places takes away from the community aspect of these places. It was the community vibe of Stanich's that pushed it into the #1 spot in the first place. Set aside the actual quality of the burgers, the cleanliness of the place, and the actual reasons it fell apart. It wasn't so much any of that, it was the fact that it felt like a real neighborhood joint. I feel like it's harder to accept your neighborhood joint as your local spot when a) local spots are disappearing due to high rents and b) knowing that just a little further away is oh, such a better place.

I can sympathize with the desire for best of lists. I've fallen into that trap for years. I have deep, PTSD-level fears of food poisoning (I mean I was actually diagnosed with PTSD), so I check reviews to see if people got sick. I end up seeing that a place only gets 3 1/2 stars. Not worth it, right? We can do better.

I was recently in Paris for the first time in 11 years, and very likely the last time in my life. I was there with my dad. I wanted to look up a great place to eat. He wanted to just walk into a place and sit down, the "ahh Paris" approach where you find a little place tucked away down some alley. You know, an authentic spot.

It was one of the worst meals I've ever eaten. My omelette was both runny and overcooked, which is a feat. They pretty much ripped us off. I was furious. But I think part of the reason I was furious was that I had it in my head that with limited time on this planet, and limited time in Paris, I shouldn't be settling for shitty meals. The reality, I think, is that you can't expect perfection at all times, and at least my dad was willing to take a chance knowing it might not be great. Part of the vacation for my dad was not having to consult a third party to find out where to eat.

Compare this to the last time I was in Paris, when I didn't have a smartphone or really any recommendations. I had some shitty meals then, too. But I was OK with it, I mean as OK as you can be with a shitty meal. The very existence of a list makes it harder to accept that you shouldn't consult it. 11 years ago I had to take a chance, but taking a chance now meant actively refusing to consult the experts.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:12 AM on November 16 [14 favorites]


What a self-aggrandizing piece of crap article. I'd call it a humble brag except there's nothing humble about it.

Stanich's peaked in the 1950s when my dad went there. He's 85. This is the third generation of owners I believe. After talking about his awesome powers as a writer, this guy finally speaks a little truth near the end:
there were personal problems, the type of serious things that can happen with any family, and would’ve happened regardless of how crowded Stanich’s was, and that real life is always more complicated and messier than we want it to be.
Basically, the restaurant was a walking corpse that survived only because so few people went there. And when some publicity increased the amount of traffic to normal levels, it fell apart.
posted by msalt at 11:16 AM on November 16 [12 favorites]


Something very meta about reading a very good article about the complicated dynamics of making something extremely popular on a website that itself is about finding and highlighting good content.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:03 PM on November 16


I remember back in the olden times it wasn’t unheard of for traffic from MeFi to crash a site when it was linked on the front page; of course, MeFi itself was less reliable then as well. I wonder how long it has been since that last happened.
posted by TedW at 11:17 AM on November 16 [8 favorites]


One of the best parts of living in Los Angeles is that for every "best X in the world!!!!!!!!!!" restaurant with a ridiculous wait, there is probably a dozen other ones that are almost as "good" (in fact, probably better). So, the tourists can go wait in line for 3 hours at Howlin' Rays in Chinatown, and everyone else can go to the other Nashville hot chicken places in town.

We had Jonathan Gold (RIP sweet prince), but for some reason his top places never really turned into world wide tourist destinations like Fiery/Bourdain/etc. Perhaps it's because Gold judged on how good the actual good was, and didn't care about how it would work on the 'Gram.
posted by sideshow at 11:35 AM on November 16 [5 favorites]


It's a bar you can take children to, because it's the only place to get food.

...because everything else has shut down.

These places existed when I was a child 50 years ago. You’re not wrong about the economy of the UP, but I’m describing places where there really never was more there there. It’s not like places in the lower peninsula, that have few businesses amid the corpses of industries and stores and neighborhoods. The extractive industries of the 19th century didn’t create cities so much as they created camps and little towns with limited resources, and they left the area so long ago that people don’t necessarily know when they visit that they’re surrounded by second-growth forest.
posted by Orlop at 11:42 AM on November 16 [5 favorites]


One of those classic situations where a geometric amplification gets out of control. These types of unstable systems were common in wine starting in the 90s, with 100pt scores from Robert Parker and Top 100 lists from the Wine Spectator. More often than not, when the #1 ranking or 100 pt score was released, the wine had long since sold out. Nonetheless wine stores would get calls from all over the country, for weeks. Due to the concentration of the spirits world relative to the wine world, it is even worse there. Just ask any liquor store owner about Pappy Van Winkle, which is essentially a pure trophy at this point.
posted by wnissen at 11:47 AM on November 16 [4 favorites]


the customers giving money to the owners in exchange for food, leading to the owners' making more money, is pretty much how restaurants work.

Heh. Yeah, that's the dopiest part of the idea, following the concept the article pitches, we're now supposed to worry that patronizing a business might secretly be hurting them? If the guy is having problems with his family staffing the place, he could, you know, actually spend the money to hire workers and give his family some of the profits. If he thinks there's too many customers he could institute a reservation policy, change the hours, the seating, set aside spots for regulars, or basically run the business however he chooses to suit the needs of the "staff". If he's able to close the restaurant and not do anything else for an extended time he's a lot better off than a lot of us, so my sympathies for his supposed plight are minimal.

The problem seems to be he wanted it both ways, to get the money without spending more on staff and to not feel pressure for that choice. It's a not uncommon thing among small business owners, but not something worth deep concern over from the customer side unless you hear of abusive behavior perhaps. If the influx of new customers is just temporary "best" groupies, then the place would return to old levels soon enough, if it's something more permanent then adapt the business to suit your needs, either to drive away the new fans or work to better accept their patronage. Hell. or go out of business like most other restaurants do. It's not like there aren't other places good to eat.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:48 AM on November 16 [15 favorites]


It was the community vibe of Stanich's that pushed it into the #1 spot in the first place.

There used to be a little restaurant down the street from where I live now, called the Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum. Every month, in addition to their usual burgers and the like, they had a special menu centered around some far-off place. And there were a million old tubas on the walls. Not even necessarily nice ones.

The service was notoriously terrible. And it was a little overpriced. But we went there, and we loved it, because it was unique, nobody else in the world had one, and it was ours. You always saw somebody you knew when you went there. It closed down years ago in part because somebody was going to develop the property into something modern and fancy, but that never happened, so now it’s just another empty building next to an empty building across the street from several empty buildings and also next to a lot that held another empty building before it was torn down.

We have a few other good local places with unique character that have opened up to the west of us in our dying industrial city over the past 10 years or so, and we like them too. My people also eat at chain restaurants a lot. We’re not proud.

I can’t remember what my point was going to be when I started this comment. Maybe I just wanted to pour one out one more time for the departed Travellers Club.
posted by Orlop at 11:51 AM on November 16 [14 favorites]


The best burger place in my old neighbourhood doesn't exist anymore. Neither does the best Mexican place. They were both the same place -- not a hole-in-the-wall, but a pleasingly shabby little spot with a truly fantastic staff -- great servers, great GM, great bartender, great cook. Some of the best fries I've ever eaten. The best green chile cheeseburger I've had outside of NM (and they are hard to find outside of NM, particularly good ones). Consistently good margaritas, well-balanced and made properly with fresh lime juice no matter how busy the bar got. On cold nights, if you were lucky, you might stop in to find the chef had whipped up some posole, rich and nourishing and warming like nothing else, but even if you weren't that lucky, there was always, always that green chile cheeseburger. And it was always packed! Never a line out the door, but a thriving spot, even on the weekday nights I'd usually stop by.

...until the neighbourhood started gentrifying, and the owner decided to optimise the place for The 'Gram. The odd chairs and the bright plastic tablecloths that made the place so cheerful were taken away to reveal bare wood tables and restaurant-supply-grade bare wood chairs. All the great old pictures and old tilework taken down and replaced with more wood. Walls painted bare white and lights turned way up to accommodate the meal-photographers. Menu retooled from "solid Tex-Mex with a sprinkling of Northern Mexican and also some killer burgers" to "generic 'gastropub' and we're hiking the price of all plates by $3-$5 so basically identical to every other restaurant in the bordering post-gentrification neighbourhoods."

And the green chile cheeseburger was gone.

They brought the burger back as a special after the first two months. After three months, it was permanently the "special". It wasn't enough. The place didn't even make it six months.

The listicles may direct the locusts, but Instagram is the true disease.
posted by halation at 11:53 AM on November 16 [7 favorites]


If I want the place to stick around, it's because I want to keep getting good meals there (and so that the storefront doesn't go empty), not because I suffer from some kind of delusion of quasi-ownership.

It's not about ownership or investment, it's about the communities that build up around good local businesses. The owners of the holes in the wall that I go to know me by name and notice when I'm away on travel. We have conversations that can go a little deeper than the five minute friendships that you can get from skilled waitstaff just about anywhere - it may be cultural differences or language barriers but it often takes the immigrant owners of the places I frequent longer to come out of their shells and start talking than a waiter at Red Robbin.

The regulars at the bar I go to know me and my partner. They've seen my art and know my pets and I've heard about their concerns with how their kid is doing away from home at college.

That sort of stuff. You don't get it when people are just coming through town and stopping because some celebrity said that it's the best Gorgonzola stuffed Bloody Mary on this side of the world and they're in a hurry to get in and out because the place they read about with artisanal pop rocks is a 25 minute Uber ride away and closes in 45 minutes.
posted by Candleman at 12:03 PM on November 16 [6 favorites]


To be fair, I don't really think it's Instagram in all cases. My friends and I used to love a hookah bar in DC that was a little down the road from the more popular spots, with ugly flourescent lighting and checkered tablecloths. The only other customers we'd ever see was a group of regulars who hung out and played cards, yelling at each other in Amharic. One time we showed up all the lights were off and the TV was blasting To Catch a Predator, with everyone watching in silence (I had brought a friend from out of town and they were like "uhh, should we be here right now?").

Over the years, they made a lot of changes. They added vaguely middle eastern decor, they swapped out the fluorescent lights for moody copper lanterns, and that sort of thing. I think the prices went up. It got much more popular, and the last time I was there it was hopping with people on dates ordering mezze plates or something.

I killed the vibe of the place for me, but who can blame them? They got more business, and I can't think of a reason I should wish for them to remain a dingy hole in the wall. I never went back, but I moved away and quit smoking anyway.

This was all before Instagram, and I think probably before Yelp, too, when you looked more to reviews in the City Paper and the Washington Post, and word of mouth got around person-to-person.

My point is, I get that this author feels guilty for blowing up secret spots, but I think the real problem is that rankings and lists are creating a world where your favorite local spot can become a national commodity. I disagree with the people who say it's all about crossing something off a list, or Instagramming your food -- let's give people credit and assume that they want to have a great experience. It's just that the internet has given us the expectation that these things can be finely curated for us, so the great experience is something that can be guaranteed, rather than chanced upon. We've come to expect the best we can get, and any less is a compromise (against long lines, or not wanting to pay too much, or whatever). Again, I get why people feel this way, but I'm not very comfortable with it.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:08 PM on November 16 [13 favorites]


The owners of the holes in the wall that I go to know me by name and notice when I'm away on travel. We have conversations that can go a little deeper than the five minute friendships that you can get from skilled waitstaff just about anywhere

Please understand that I mean no disrespect for you as a conversationalist when I say that they are talking to you to make you comfortable so that you will continue to spend money in their restaurants. If you happen to be simpatico, so much the better, but they'd be doing it anyway.

I've had some lovely "hospitality" at expensive restaurants, but it's there to sell the restaurant. Everyone gets it, that's why those particular restaurants are known for their "hospitality" (they use the word without quotes, but I'm uncomfortable confounding that concept with what you get when you go visit a friend or family member). The waitstaff at the diner I most often frequent call me "dear" or "darlin'" and they remember I drink diet pop, and it's nice social lubrication as far as it goes, but we wouldn't speak to each other that way on the street, you know? I like that diner, I would be very sad if it closed, but ultimately the relationship between me and the guy who owns the place is financial. The restaurant business is one of those industries where part of the business model is to make you forget that, because it's replacing something that is done in your own home usually by unpaid labor, but...it really is.
posted by praemunire at 12:20 PM on November 16 [9 favorites]


We used to go to Stanich's for work lunches, like birthdays and going away parties and stuff. It really is kind of the perfect place for the kind of place it is. But Mister Fabulous is not wrong. It was grimy. Indoor smoking was banned in Portland not long after 2000, and Stanich's still had sort of a lingering smoke haze, just pouring out of the carpet, or the vintage college football banners, or something. Service was ok, but it wasn't a place I ever really felt comfortable hanging out. The food is the same way. Delicious, yes, but a lot to take.

Everyone loves a dive bar, but are you really ready to commit?
posted by chrchr at 12:22 PM on November 16 [1 favorite]


I don't own a restaurant, but I do own a yarn shop in a town that is increasingly becoming so touristy that locals just don't come downtown anymore. Tourists provide a lot of the business, but we've always aimed to be a shop that's all about community and building up regular customers.

It's so complicated. I don't want to get rich, I just want to get by. It's a small store, it would be a huge hassle to hire a bunch more staff and have a lot more inventory turnover. I like having down time during the day where I can grab a snack and sticker more yarn as it comes in. So I can definitely see that there's such a thing as too much success for some people.

I can't even imagine how hard it must be to run a restaurant. Your inventory is perishable!
posted by rikschell at 12:26 PM on November 16 [12 favorites]


Please understand that I mean no disrespect for you as a conversationalist when I say that they are talking to you to make you comfortable so that you will continue to spend money in their restaurants.

Oh wow, that's definitely not always true! Not everything is a high-end place with obsequious service. There do exist places where people can build up an actual rapport beyond the customer service relationship. I've been a regular at many places, and not only were the people I knew not in any position to give a shit whether I kept buying stuff there (what does the cashier care?), but I'd run into them on the street and we'd have the same conversations. Either they were so cynical that they had to keep up the facade, even when management wasn't around, just to make sure I'd come back for my usual sandwich, or we chatted a lot because we were both people who saw each other all the time.

On the other side of things, I've been the person working at places where we had regulars, and I can 100% confirm that I liked them as people, was happy to talk to them as people, and didn't give a shit whether they bought something or not. We all had our favorite regulars, people we were happy to see, people we'd miss if they hadn't been in in a long time. The really nice thing about dealing with customers is getting to know the regulars. Implying that I'd only talk to people to get them to come back -- you have no idea how insulting that is. I sincerely hope that's now how anyone saw me, as some fawning shit trying to get repeat business. That would really hurt my feelings.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:30 PM on November 16 [30 favorites]


Having a lobster roll in Maine is a great thing to do on a trip, making me wait in line for two hours for "the best," is not.

Funny, this was EXACTLY the place I was thinking of when I read the article. I remember going to Red's close to 30 years ago now, long before the Food Network turned it into the "best lobster roll in America", walking right up to the window, and ordering my food. Lobster rolls aren't all that special in the first place; it's just lobster meat, a little mayo, and a toasted bun. I can think of at least three other places in Maine that make one just as good, and probably none of them are the place tobascodegama is thinking of, so that's four.
posted by briank at 12:32 PM on November 16 [3 favorites]


I imagine that population and tourism play a major part in the success of, or strain on, these individual businesses. Minneapolis had the Super Bowl last year, and while it was considered a rousing success, I don't know that tourism to Matt's Bar, or any other local gem, has seen a comparable overflow of new business. Those places were already busy, but there are still several months a year where the weather is not at all attractive to tourists, no matter how good the food is. A restaurant in a warmer climate wouldn't have that buffer.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:49 PM on November 16


The best things in Minnesota will never find an especially large audience anyway: The Pavek Museum, the little restaurant in the Swedish Museum, the song Baba Yaga by The Pagans. Minnesota produces a lot of unbelievable stuff for niche interests and niche audiences.
posted by maxsparber at 12:59 PM on November 16 [7 favorites]


the song Baba Yaga by The Pagans

THAT SONG IS AMAZING and it's actually the first track on a garage rock compilation we have, so maybe not a large audience but it's definitely not unknown.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:06 PM on November 16 [5 favorites]


Please understand that I mean no disrespect for you as a conversationalist when I say that they are talking to you to make you comfortable so that you will continue to spend money in their restaurants.

I'm sorry if you've not experienced it, but it is possible to have a relationship that is both transactional and based on actual friendship. We do talk on the street and we sometimes see each other socially outside of the context of anything related to the business. It's not going to be quite what people think of as friendship because of the power dynamic but it isn't entirely cynical.

I worked in a service(ish) industry and made lasting relationships with some of my clients that still linger on more than a decade since they've paid me a dime.

All that aside, no matter no ersatz the interaction might be, there is a decided shift in tone and experience with it moves from that sort of thing to strangers breezing in and out.
posted by Candleman at 1:15 PM on November 16 [19 favorites]


The listicles may direct the locusts, but Instagram is the true disease.

The true disease are points, likes, favorites, upvotes, etc.; the pursuit of which can lead to all sorts of misery.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:30 PM on November 16 [7 favorites]


Remember when the Internet itself was the victim of a horde of naif outsiders destroying what was special about it? Eternal September.
posted by adamrice at 1:34 PM on November 16 [11 favorites]


Orlop: "There used to be a little restaurant down the street from where I live now, called the Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum."

So in addition to being a regular visitor to the UP you live in Okemos... never tried the Travelers Club myself but spent 15 years in the vicinity. I feel a kinship here!

Orlop: "These places existed when I was a child 50 years ago. You’re not wrong about the economy of the UP, but I’m describing places where there really never was more there there."

Yep. I've been eating at the same two-three places and shopping the same local grocery store in my favorite little UP town since I was an infant. Now I'm bringing my own kid there. Never was a lot in many of these towns, but that's a large part of why I like going there. Some businesses come and go, others seem to be local institutions. Heck the best thing that ever happened to one location was a car wreck - someone missed the turn and plowed through the gift shop, finally prompting the owners to get rid of the old junk they'd been trying (unsuccessfully) to sell for years, and it's now much more fun to shop there.

Not every year, but every other year, we make the drive back. I mean, I'm out of Trenary toast. Gotta get more.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:40 PM on November 16 [2 favorites]


Family run businesses tend to underperform, and basically can't scale.

I just end up feeling like "can it scale" is a question that shows how far off the rails this country is.


Well, one option is maybe not promoting family run businesses without demonstrated signs that they can handle the curse of popularity.
posted by pwnguin at 1:42 PM on November 16 [1 favorite]


This is a very timely article. Though understandably the thread is mainly about restaurants, Edeezy’s comment and a couple others have touched on a similar phenomenon.

There’s an aspect to tourism in old-growth forests (even among people who think of themselves as having deeper, more sustained appreciation for these environments) of seeking out the tallest, most massive, widest diameter, and oldest trees. For many, this irresistible urge finds its culmination in the redwoods of the U.S. west coast. About 5% of the original old-growth coastal redwood forest has survived the lumber mills, mostly in small fragments, and about 7% of that remainder is protected within Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in far northern California.

If you’re familiar with Jedediah Smith Redwoods it’s likely you’ve heard of the “Grove of Titans”. In 1998 botanist Stephen Sillett and forester Michael Taylor discovered that this isolated patch contains several of the most massive redwood trees in existence. There are some well-used paths quite nearby, but the grove itself is not accessible unless one goes off-trail. And so, although the significance of the grove was popularized, most famously in a 2007 book by Richard Preston, its exact location was not revealed publicly for many years. Aside from the fact that unregulated foot traffic can quickly trample the undergrowth, the big concern was that the shallow root systems of these trees could be severely damaged and the soil compacted by the large numbers of people who would no doubt want to see these giants up close.

A few did manage to find the Grove of Titans following the publication of Preston’s book, but it remained well hidden until late 2011, when its exact coordinates were posted online by one such visitor. Within months, an increase in foot traffic had destroyed some of the ferns that carpeted the forest floor around the largest trees. Over the next few years, with the growth of social media fueling a rapid increase in visitors, new desire paths connected the grove to the nearby officially maintained trail and large areas of the root systems were laid bare, endangering the health of the trees.

I am one of those responsible for this damage. In early autumn 2011, at the end of a brief work trip to Ashland, Oregon, I arranged for my flight home to be as late in the day as possible so I’d have time to make a side trip down to Jedediah Smith Redwoods, about two hours away by car. This was before the coordinates of the Grove of Titans were posted online, but there were enough hints and vague descriptions contained in various articles and blog posts for me to put together a pretty good idea of where it was and how to get to it. I wanted to own the experience I’d read about. I wanted to take photos with my camera, I wanted to say that I’d been there, I wanted a share of the mystique.

After a bit of early morning (on-trail) hiking elsewhere in the park I set off to find the grove. Reaching the spot along the trail where I was pretty sure I needed to head off into the underbrush, I carefully navigated through thickets and around some fallen trees and within minutes was in a glade surrounded by some of the largest trees in the world. It was gorgeous, with the morning mist dissipating in the slanting rays of a rising sun filtering down through a canopy hundreds of feet overhead. And I was the only one there. But as carefully as I tried to avoid stepping on any ferns, I’m sure I trampled some of them. And as much as I thought my impact was minimal, I did contribute to the root damage that would increase in the coming years.

The thing is, there are plenty of other parts of the redwoods that are just as beautiful, almost as remote, with trees that are just as mind-bogglingly huge. The only difference is that they are well-maintained, with established paths designed to minimize the impact that visitors have on these forests. I’d been to several of them in the past. Hell, I’d been to such places earlier that very morning. But because I’d read about this particular grove online, because it had some of the BIGGEST trees, because it was one of the most BEAUTIFUL settings, because it was a SECRET, I had to go there.

Anyway, back to the timeliness -- just today I saw that a fundraising effort is now underway, with the goal of restoring the damaged undergrowth and building an elevated walkway from the established trail to the grove so that visitors are able to enjoy it with minimal impact. Donations received before December 31st will be matched dollar-for-dollar by San Francisco-based artist Josie Merck.
posted by theory at 1:55 PM on November 16 [16 favorites]


I've quit trusting other people's opinions about "great food" ever since waiting in a three hour line at Franklins then eating a plate of the most ho hum barbeque ever, standing up because no tables were available. Really?! Rudy's, the chain restaraunt up the street had way better barbeque (and stellar breakfast tacos too).
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:54 PM on November 16 [2 favorites]


I can definitely see that there's such a thing as too much success for some people.

I won't look it up because I don't want to make it too popular, but I remember reading a book years ago about some people moving to Mexico. The local shop had some product (can of beans?) that got very popular and was always selling out. Eventually they never had it any more and the writer asked the shop owner why. "Too many people wanted it and it was a hassle".

This article is weird in every way and comes from a different planet than the one I live on.
posted by bongo_x at 3:31 PM on November 16 [3 favorites]


I read this article and thought of nothing more than my high school and college alma maters, which are both tremendously successful by all the standard measures. They both have single digit acceptance rates* now, but the culture that brought them so many applicants was a byproduct of the people that came when most people who applied got in. Once upon a time, you had to have a very specific type of personality to even want to apply. Now those people, myself included, would not even pass the first-round cutoff. I selfishly want to hoard and guard everything that is good because I'd rather see it fade away than burn out.

*The high school is a publicly funded specialized school with an entrance exam. Hello to any other Colonials of MeFi who may be reading this...
posted by capricorn at 3:57 PM on November 16 [1 favorite]


This seems to be endemic in vast swathes of humanity. No one wants to do the work, they just want to reap the benefits.

"Perhaps one should voyage along their own path to true enlightenment, instead of touring the top 100 temples....?"

"Naaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh, no time to meditate, bruh, gotta binge the next season of Netflix' Who Fuckn' Cares."
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:08 PM on November 16 [1 favorite]


A lot of talk about "locusts" reminds me of tourists who complain about other tourists without a sense of irony. Which, sure, we've all been there. But it's a real "you're not in traffic, you are traffic" scenario. I get the appeal of wanting to keep a special place to myself and perhaps it's wise not to blow up a good spot, but why be derogatory about other people who like it too? It seems like people love the concept of cool spots being exclusive for the worthy as long as they're among the worthy.
posted by Emily's Fist at 5:22 PM on November 16 [7 favorites]


For decades I've been astonished that people will wait to get into an olive garden, but there's $Great_Italian_Place right here that we can just walk into, and get better food.
posted by mikelieman at 7:09 PM on November 16 [2 favorites]


It seems like people love the concept of cool spots being exclusive for the worthy as long as they're among the worthy.

I think the big thing is just that restaurants aren't like, say, TV shows. We can't all have the same favorite burger place, this week, only to move on next week to all having the same favorite taco place. Restaurants can't bear this sort of model. Hamburgers can't get distributed like data, where all the resources that send you House of Cards are the same resources for the most part that send you Stranger Things and can then be diverted to the next thing and the next thing after that. Restaurants have huge initial investments and don't have sufficient margins to bear this.

I'm not some kind of snob who only wants me to be able to enjoy my favorite restaurant. I want everybody to be able to have favorite restaurants, plural, that actually stick around. It's true that we're the traffic, and we need to remember that it's better for everybody to look for alternate plans, even if it means you don't get to try the thing everybody says right now is the best burger. I don't want only the cool kids to get the best burgers--I want everybody to continue to have access to pretty good burgers, which won't work if the #2-#4 burgers in town lose all their business to people waiting in line for #1, and #1 has to shut down as soon as everybody stops going because the new big thing is ramen.
posted by Sequence at 9:23 PM on November 16 [5 favorites]


There's a Sardinian restaurant near me in SF, La Ciccia, that regularly shows up on lists of "best Italian restaurant in the US". I've lived near it 8 years and never been because it's always just a little too awkward to get a table there, it's just a bit too popular. But I've also heard that the same people who make reservations there because they heard it's famous then don't show up and sometimes the restaurant sits half empty. Unreliable locusts.
You should go there; it is delicious. And they reserve a fair proportion of their tables for folks from the neighborhood for exactly this reason.
posted by kdar at 11:07 PM on November 16 [3 favorites]


I find myself at the other end of the spectrum from people hating these lists. I've eaten a lot of terrible food while traveling, both domestically in the US and abroad, so anything to decrease that possibility is a enormous boon (of course we're always on the lookout for enormous boons). A few jump to mind and they were definitely of the genre where I'd stopped at a cafe or small restaurant that looked nice enough. Definite jealous of people who've had better luck, but these types of lists or listicles can be very helpful in narrowing down galaxies of possibilities in a new place into something more graspable. There's enough stressors when traveling.
posted by Carillon at 11:55 PM on November 16 [4 favorites]


shapes that haunt the dusk: "The big word for me is COMMUNITY."

God am I tired of this word. There is this romantic ideal of the small establishment fostering a 'community' of its regulars, but I've never experienced this ideal in my own life and I wonder how true or useful an ideal it actually is. I very, very rarely see someone in a restaurant speak to or even acknowledge someone sitting at another table; whatever relationships are formed in a restaurant, it's purely between the customer and the (obviously self-interested) staff. Honestly at most restaurants I don't see a lot of evidence that the staff already knows very many of their customers -- and that includes restaurants where I myself am a regular whose order is known. Whatever 'community' a restaurant forms, it's a far cry from the kind of densely knit ties created by other kinds of institutions: families, workplaces, schools, churches, etc. -- and so I'm not convinced we should care all that much about it.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:57 PM on November 16 [2 favorites]


There is this romantic ideal of the small establishment fostering a 'community' of its regulars, but I've never experienced this ideal in my own life and I wonder how true or useful an ideal it actually is.

I think I misspoke, because that’s not at all what I had in mind by that word. Think of gentrification — I keep seeing places that cease to serve as parts of their communities once they blow up. There’s a place near me that always has long lines, and people who live in the neighborhood don’t go anymore. Another place upped their prices and changed the menu.

It means something to eat locally, because I feel cutoff from my neighborhood otherwise. But what does it mean when you can’t get in anymore? What does it mean when the Korean lunch place closed and became a high end joint?

I get that not everyone has the same priorities as me, but this is something that’s important to me. Whatever I’m after, it’s not some dumb romantic ideal about the quaint little spot where everyone knows your name — I’m just tired of seeing everything get commodified or priced out of my own neighborhood.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:44 AM on November 17 [5 favorites]


Anyway, I’ve both been a regular at places and had regulars where I worked. I don’t expect my workplace or regular haunts to be the center of any community, but I also like feeling connected to where I live and work. In the cities where I’ve lived, it’s nice seeing people I know instead of just feeling like some anonymous, isolated dude all the time.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:48 AM on November 17 [6 favorites]


Maybe I just wanted to pour one out one more time for the departed Travellers Club.

I moved north a while ago and didn't realize... RIP Travelers Club.
posted by MaritaCov at 3:54 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of how last night, I was talking at a happy hour about my favorite places in New York for spam musubi and soup dumplings, respectively only to realize when I looked them up that they'd both closed in the past year. Uggggh.

Perhaps my favorite three restaurants in St. Louis to order from closed in the past year, too. Two of them were family-owned restaurants that were having a hell of a time with thinner margins already during this destructive trolley nonsense they've been building in my old neighborhood. And then in a couple cases, the owners died. RIP, Thai Cafe and Cicero's. RIP, Momos.

I wish I'd gone to Cicero's Beer School when I had the chance. I wish I'd bought one of those T-shirts I was forever eyeing under the counter when I walked over there for countless takeout orders. Now I just have pictures and memories. The neon's still there, but who knows for how long? I've apparently reached the point in my life where it feels like as many of my favorite restaurants are gone as still exist. In fact, many more still exist, but yeah, ugh.

Now, in my new neighborhood, there's some inexorable shit going on that may well push out more of my favorite restaurants, all in the name of city planners "modernizing" the buildings and welcoming some huge big-box development that will require destroying blocks of buildings for dubious gain. Depending on what they do, it has the potential to decimate St. Louis ' Chinatown—for at least the second time, because the current Chinatown is where it is in the inner-ring suburbs because urban planners of yore completely razed the first, even more vibrant one.

The biggest thing threatening restaurants in St. Louis does not seem to be restaurant reviewers (of whom I know and used to work with and edit many).
posted by limeonaire at 5:52 AM on November 17 [5 favorites]


Also? When Thai Cafe closed, they called me to let me know. I'd gone there for years, I had developed banter with the staff, I knew their voices when I called to order takeout, and they knew mine, and I tipped extra when I could because I knew they were being starved out by trolley construction.

At Momos, I got to know the folks who worked there, too, and got their card when they got their real-estate license, or we'd talk about whatever was going on. Yeah, I tip well, probably much more than most people do for takeout, because that's what everyone should do and because I've never forgotten the days when I was working three jobs to afford my little apartment off the Loop and getting rocks thrown at me after work by a neighborhood kid on a fire escape because I didn't give her more ice-cream samples...but that's not the only reason we connected. We could talk, like people.

At Cicero's, I'll never forget an afternoon I decided to kick off and walk over to the bar for a while, and the regular next to me at the bar bought me a shot of moonshine and we talked about life for a while with the bartenders and just felt better.

Camaraderie may not always be available, and it may be too often commoditized, but it is possible to find, and it's not always someone trying to sell you something. But maybe, some would argue, that's why these places didn't make it.
posted by limeonaire at 6:15 AM on November 17 [8 favorites]


I hate waiting in lines, so I'll skip anywhere that gets that kind of popular, at least while the popularity lasts. I am sure it means that I miss out on some amazing things, but there are a lot of options out there that don't involve long lines and I am ok with that tradeoff.

The place we sometimes go for after-work drinks is funny that way. If you get there mid- to late-afternoon, there are very few people and you walk right in. But it is a deliberate "destination" kind of place that gets packed by dinner time (and over the weekend), and you can hear people standing in line talking about how far they have traveled to be there. For us it is a nice local amenity as long as you can work around the crowds, but their entire business model is attracting those people, which seems to be working. If the crowds stopped, it would probably close, unlike the hole-in-the-wall kind of place that could possibly go back to being just a slow neighborhood place.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:59 AM on November 17 [4 favorites]


I stubbornly cling to asking people for recommendations for food, for sights to see, for for the best way to drive to a place, etc. Not rarely, people -- usually Millennials -- will say something like "fuckin' Google it!"

I mostly prefer the personality people bring to their recommendations, as well as the personal exchange in hearing them explain why. But these "loved to death" stories are another good reason not to just "Google it!" Let's maintain a little individuality while we can.
posted by msalt at 11:57 AM on November 17 [3 favorites]


It raises the interesting question: Is it possible to spoil a place in Venice this way?

As may be... I just deleted my reviews of my favorite place I thought was out of the way.
posted by aurelian at 4:04 PM on November 17


I'm a millenial and I hate giving recommendations unless I know someone really well. If I recommend a restaurant and they don't like it, that reflects badly on me as a consumer. If I have to recommend a place I'll make sure to neg it so that if all goes well they're pleasantly surprised.
posted by muddgirl at 4:22 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


Also I know this is a bad mindset, but that's how I feel.
posted by muddgirl at 4:23 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


I very, very rarely see someone in a restaurant speak to or even acknowledge someone sitting at another table; whatever relationships are formed in a restaurant, it's purely between the customer and the (obviously self-interested) staff.

Not to sound shallow, but I've gotten to know more of my neighbors since the pizza place two blocks away opened a couple of years ago than I did in the previous 15+ years I've lived in my neighborhood. I've also met at least one candidate for local office, who was there to meet constituents.

Maybe you're not going to the right kind of restaurants. Maybe you're not putting out the kind of energy that encourages your fellow diners to chat with you.
posted by Lexica at 6:08 PM on November 17 [2 favorites]


Fishermen never openly advertise their best fishing spots. Many fishing forums actually request that best spots" should not be revealed. Many YT fishing videos do not name the actual river or lake being fished in but simply refer to it by a broad geographical region. And the amazing thing is - it is an accepted practice and nobody complains. You just get out a map and try to figure it out yourself. Of course, fishing spots aren't rated on Yelp.

Now I am going to get a plate of Serbian cevapcici at (*secret place*) across the street.
posted by zaelic at 1:30 AM on November 18 [1 favorite]


I really appreciated this piece. I am glad we make room to grieve inadvertent harm we have partially caused, and "if we were all as kind to each other as Steve Stanich has been to me" made an impact on me.

MetaFilter conversations about restaurants seem to go grar a lot -- we have such different needs and preferences for what we need and want out of restaurants, as diners, and as workers, owners, and neighbors.

I read a book years ago that influenced me a lot: Necessary Dreams by Anna Fels. It discussed ambition, and how the desire to have one's mastery acknowledged/validated (by folks whose judgment you think well of) is a healthy part of ambition. I do like winning awards when I trust the judgment of those selecting the winners. I assume some restaurant awards/lists are personally meaningful to owners and chefs, not just because they bring customers, but because of the quality of the judging, but I'll admit I don't know which ones they are.

The other day I was talking with a couple who's visiting the US from Mexico. They're visiting Portland, and asked for recommendations. One thing that came up is that they like trying new beers, so I tried to remember the name of that one place downtown I'd gone during that one conference -- and I looked up Portland on Wikivoyage and sure enough found Bailey's Taproom. The list was an aid to my memory, which is one of the functions of recommendation lists for me.
posted by brainwane at 9:51 AM on November 18 [3 favorites]


Since everyone has left this conversation, I can reveal that the real gem in Portland - for non-vegetarians - is Gastromania (20th and Pettygrove). No better value in rich, meaty dinner plates served at lunchtime (they close at 4pm). Owner (Alex) is a cool guy, too.

Don't spread it around.
posted by msalt at 1:19 PM on November 18 [2 favorites]


Joke's on you, I'm still here! Hey everyone, road trip to Portland! I know a great local place!
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:25 PM on November 18 [6 favorites]


Damn it! Well, folks, better rush there even quicker because it will be ruined by Tuesday and closed by Friday.
posted by msalt at 1:34 PM on November 18


The best burger is the one that is fresh, hot, pretty well made, and available when I'm pretty hungry. I'd like to have unsugared sweet potato fries with it or handcut fries. Good condiments. Tomatoes that are red and juicy, not hard and pink. Maybe some fried onions that are actually a bit caramelized. Sauteed mushrooms are an option, maybe avocado. There are some good places to get such burgers with varying options. I had one not long ago at Brian Boru accompanied by a tasty Bloody Mary in the company of an old friend and I've had other good burgers.

Support locally-owned restaurants that make good food. You don't have to go to Oregon for the best burger; there's almost certainly an excellent burger near you. Don't collect "best of" experiences like notches on your belt. Go find them, encourage them, but mostly, go with a friend whose company is the best accompaniment.
posted by theora55 at 7:07 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]


Copronymus: "2/3 of the same menu."

IE: Eating at Sysco (or GFS or (insert local Food Service Company here)).

betweenthebars: "God forbid the best burger is from a CIA grad in New York.
"
This sounded a lot more exciting before I found out this place exists.

halation: "...until the neighbourhood started gentrifying, and the owner decided to optimise the place for The 'Gram. "

Or the owner was going broke and started flailing around for something the new residents of his neighbourhood would find appealing.

ZeusHumms: "The true disease are points, likes, favorites, upvotes, etc.; the pursuit of which can lead to all sorts of misery."

I want to favourite but I don't want to catch anything.

kdar: "You should go there; it is delicious. And they reserve a fair proportion of their tables for folks from the neighborhood for exactly this reason."

This sees like an obvious solution but how does it work in practice?
posted by Mitheral at 1:01 AM on November 24


Did a Rave Review Really Shut Down Portland Burger Bar Stanich’s? Maybe It Was the Owner’s Legal Troubles.

tldr: the owner's legal/financial problems stemming from his alcoholism and physical assault on his wife were a pretty big factor in what happened to the restaurant, "best burger in america" notwithstanding.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 8:12 AM on November 28 [16 favorites]


This really makes the first story look like tendentious self-aggrandizement at best and journalistic fraud at worst. He wanted to get to beat his breast about how he ruined the restaurant he loved, so he agreed to leave out anything resembling the truth of the story.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:35 AM on November 28 [6 favorites]


He tried to strangle his wife while she had stage 4 breast cancer. Good lord. It is SO messed up that Kevin Alexander described this only as "personal problems, the type of serious things that can happen with any family, and would’ve happened regardless of how crowded Stanich’s was, and that real life is always more complicated and messier than we want it to be". If he genuinely didn't know the full details, as he claims in the Willamette Week piece, then he's a lousy reporter for not looking into this information that the subject of his profile begged him to keep quiet.
posted by acidic at 8:35 AM on November 28 [9 favorites]


I was pretty sure that article was all bullshit and would have bet on it.
posted by bongo_x at 10:27 AM on November 28 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it had the feel of, "I know this is an actual phenomenon in general, I'll shoehorn my own relevant thing into that mold."
posted by Chrysostom at 11:03 AM on November 28 [2 favorites]






Okay, I stand corrected. When I said family owned businesses are insulated from turnover, I lacked imagination. I should have said "catastrophically unable to cope with turnover on the occasion it does happen." Even in the best of marital circumstances, sitting down and succession planning -- thinking about who will replace your wife if she leaves -- is a difficult conversation to have.

And while we can discuss whether the US safety net is sufficient, the size of the numbers in the divorce decree suggests Stanich's was not just 'getting by'. At least it wasn't until a key person left, and seemingly replaced by a family member who cannot legally buy their highest margin product. This seems like a fantastic time to hire outside management to run the family business, but none is forthcoming.
posted by pwnguin at 3:27 PM on November 29 [1 favorite]


This really makes the first story look like tendentious self-aggrandizement at best and journalistic fraud at worst. He wanted to get to beat his breast about how he ruined the restaurant he loved, so he agreed to leave out anything resembling the truth of the story.

Called it.
posted by msalt at 5:56 PM on November 29 [4 favorites]


It's Never Just About the Burger: The Ethical Pitfalls of a Food Critic's Viral Essay by Helen Rosner of The New Yorker.

To call Thrillist an “online men’s-interest publication” feels like a bit of thin sauce here, like Rosner really wants to stick in the idea that this was a bro writing about man things. That’s some very heavy-handed prose styling.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:25 PM on November 29 [3 favorites]


Of Course Thrillist Knew About The Burger Guy's Domestic Violence Conviction
on Wednesday afternoon, some [Thrillist] employees were surprised to learn via a staff-wide apology from a top editor that at least one editor, as well as Alexander, had been aware of Steve Stanich’s domestic harassment charge from 2014. The message on Slack was the first employees had heard that the oversight was intentional, rather than the kind of mistake that might befall any food critic and his editors. The note also included a forwarded statement from Alexander, who apologized to the staff for failing to investigate Stanich’s history of violence.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:57 AM on November 30 [1 favorite]


« Older The Manhoff Archives   |   "Art is not a plaything, but a necessity," Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.