Sunday, December 21, 2008

Airport Food

There's a well-intentioned and well-written piece in today's NY Times on chowhounding (it even gives the site a kind shout-out) in airports. The writer's discovery of an In-N-Out Burger outlet in an airport parking lot was brilliant (though he hit the wrong Chicago airport: Midway is the chowhound's choice). And I was glad to learn about Dallas/Fort Worth's Cousin’s Bar-B-Q, having previously only been to Dickey's (see quote, below). But I found the last sentence of this paragraph appalling:
Cousin’s Bar-B-Q was easily my favorite — the brisket had just the right balance of meat, fat and chewy, charred burnt bits — while Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, whose brisket was watery and ribs dry, made an intriguingly spiced hot link. Only Railhead BBQ disappointed, perhaps because I was already stuffed and had to save my chopped-beef sandwich for a cold midnight snack.
There's a difference between reporting on food professionally for the benefit of millions of readers and simply shoving yum-yums into your maw. If, by chance, Railhead BBQ is cooking its heart out, it deserved better than this. And if I, as a reader, am interested in food at DFW Airport, I'd expect reliable and complete reporting - exactly what any journalist (especially one from the Gray Lady) would be assumed to provide.

When you must 
report on a broad range of food, you taste one or two bites of every item, maximum. It's unpleasant duty, because you'll suffer bad bites of things you know won't be good (just to check) as well as great bites of sensational things that you'll abruptly kiss goodbye. The job is anything but decadent, but you're being paid to work, not to enjoy. You're eating for multitudes.

Not to pick exclusively on this fellow, who otherwise did a great job. There's a broader trend at work. One curious characteristic of post-chat/blog/forum food reporting is that many professionals have ceded their sole professional advantage: their professionalism. Food reporters and editors, perennially the Rodney Dangerfields of journalism, have completely sunk to meet low, fluffy expectations. Can you imagine a city reporter writing (with his editor's approval) that he missed the end of the mayor's press conference 'cuz he had to go make a wee-wee?

1 comment:

worldmatt said...

"Appalling," Jim? Ouch!

For what it's worth, Railhead was unappealing in many other ways: almost empty; food scooped half-heartedly out of a steam table (rather than sliced/chopped to serve); more customers playing on their laptops than tucking into messy ribs. It was not the kind of place that inspired me to eat immediately—if it had been, I would've found the stomach room right away. (Also: I would've liked to include these details, but in a roundup such as this, I have a limited amount of space.)

Still, you're right: Half-portions and a-few-bites-per-dish are the way to go, and that's what I generally did (a couple of times, politeness or enthusiasm led me astray).

Re Chicago: Many other readers also suggested I hit Midway, but as this was a survey of the busiest airports in the country (plus LGA), Midway didn't qualify. Likewise, Seattle, Portland, and many others...

Finally, thanks for reading and for taking the time to blog about my story. You and your site have been and continue to be a big inspiration to me. Keep up the good work!


Matt Gross

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