Barry Saunders

I’m no gourmet, but I do like to eat – Saunders

Chef Scott Crawford, shown at Standard Foods, refused to let his new restaurant, Crawford and Son, be reviewed by Indy Week’s dining critic Emma Laperruque, citing unfair prior coverage. She says she was just doing her job.
Chef Scott Crawford, shown at Standard Foods, refused to let his new restaurant, Crawford and Son, be reviewed by Indy Week’s dining critic Emma Laperruque, citing unfair prior coverage. She says she was just doing her job. jleonard@newsobserver.com

I like mine with lettuce and tomaters

Heinz 57 and French fried potaters

A big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer

Well, good God aw’mighty which way do I steer?

If a big night on the town for Sweet Thang and you is more likely to be influenced by the opinion of the above-cited James Buffett than James Beard, you probably can’t understand the row between a Raleigh restaurateur and a local restaurant critic.

Several area restaurants and chefs were recently recognized by the James Beard Foundation, named in honor of the late cookbook author, teacher and gourmet. Beards are pretty much the Oscars for restaurants and chefs.

Raleigh chef Scott Crawford was not among the local chefs honored by the Beard Foundation this time, although he has been in the past. He was, however, recently honored with a visit to his Crawford and Son eatery from Indy Week restaurant critic Emma Laperruque. It was an honor he did not relish.

Remember when, as a child, you’d get a honey bun and one of your perpetually hungry friends would start po’mouthing and begging for a piece? In such instances, you’d go

Your eyes may shine

your teeth may grit

but none of this honey bun

will you git.

That’s Shakespeare, and that’s essentially what Crawford, who still had a bad taste in his mouth from a review Laperruque gave a previous restaurant with which he was associated, told the reviewer as he showed her the door at Crawford and Son before she could order.

This is, at first glance, a first-world problem, one affecting only those privileged enough to be able to own or eat in restaurants. We all have first-world problems – things that are of little consequence in life’s grand scheme, but which are annoying, nonetheless.

Mine – which I won’t even mention to friends lest they think I’ve been guzzling Woolite – is this: How come pajamas, no matter how big they are when you purchase them, always end as high-waters after a few washings?

The restaurant review rumpus has, if not life-or-death implications, livelihood implications. If any eatery gets a bad enough review, that eatery won’t exist too long, and the livelihoods of its employees, owners and suppliers will be negatively affected. As a twice-failed business owner, I’m sensitive to the fact that someone may have invested her or his life’s savings in a dream only to see a flippant or dismissive review send customers fleeing.

That’s not to say Laperruque was either of those things, but you can understand why Crawford – mindful of his previous encounter with her – so zealously sought to guard the reputation of his restaurant when she parked her feet under one of his tables.

Public opinion is split in support of Crawford, 44, a four-time James Beard Foundation semifinalist for best chef Southeast, and Laperruque. Laperruque’s sympathizers claim Crawford is thin-skinned; Crawford’s supporters question how knowledgeable a 24-year-old critic can be. Not I. You’ve got to figure she’s been eating for well over two decades, has been exposed to various types of establishments and has a more refined palate than someone thrice her age whose idea of haute cuisine is putting hot sauce on – and mashing up an onion in – their sardines.

Yum.

While my main criterion when picking a place to eat is “Do they have all-you-can-eat ribs?” there are, I was surprised to learn, people who read restaurant reviews assiduously before picking a dining spot. Stanley Filip, a retired Ob/Gyn in Durham, told me Monday that his wife and he eat out twice a week, on average.

“During the week it’s more spontaneous. She’ll call me up and say ‘Let’s meet somewhere,’” he said. “On weekends, we usually plan and eat out with four to six friends. We tend to stay in Durham and try to take advantage of some of the newer places.”

Does he read and heed critics’ reviews?

“We do to a certain degree,” he said. “For the newer places, we’re all over the reviews. We read them to find out about the atmosphere, seating, whether they’re for kids, that kind of thing.”

I heed reviews, too – those of friends who’ve spent money to dine at a place.

Just a suggestion, but the next time Laperruque, who has a high social media profile, decides to visit a restaurant for a review, perhaps she should wear a Beard.

You’re right: I’ll show myself out.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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