Thursday, June 12, 2003

Cheap Eats, blech!

(Disclosure, I am friends with people involved with the Chicago Cheap Eats reviews and have even been at meals subsequently reviewed.)

Is there anyone who likes the Cheap Eats reviews each week in the Chicago Tribune?

There are three obvious structural problems that limit this feature. First, the Trib has set the bar way too low. The format demands entree prices of less than $13. Surely, more than that verges away from cheap, but it also eliminates a bunch of places that are considered too informal for the main review section but are slightly more than the Cheap Eats guidelines. The NYTimes calls their related feature, $25 and under. Would not that be more apt? Second, there are various internal battles at the Gothic Tower over where to place certain pieces. For instance, does something exotic get a Cheap Eats review or does it get a World Eats story (I'll come back to this is a second). Finally, and most important, every Cheap Eats reviewer must work within the extremely dumb format. This format prevents much backstory and pretty much no exposition beyond comments of what is on the menu. Yet, even with all these problems can they do any better than this? I'd link to this week's review of a tiki bar/restaurant, but it is not yet on Metromix and stories on the Tribune's web site stay free for only seven days.

Surely, the most interesting food writing in Chicago is being done in the World Eats columns. The only downside of World Eats, is that its narrow focus. Due to some intrepid eating (and photography) we know that guinea pig (cuy) can be eaten in Chicago, but how much do we really know about specific Ecuadorian places (well Chowhound readers know a lot, but how many are we?) In my Chicago Tribune, we'd do two pieces each week that combined the best of Cheap Eats and World Eats, highlighting diligent shops that produce interesting food below the radar AND educate people about what they are serving.
And of course, it would be pure narrative, without idiot headers to pigeonhole the text.

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