CityBeat's annual Best of Cincinnati issue arrived on the stands Wednesday. I enjoy reading the weekly, as I generally find its blend of reporting, insightful commentary, poignant columns and rampant sarcasm a nice accoutrement to my lunch. Year after year, however, I find the reader picks particularly confounding.
In the "Best of Cincinnati - Eats" listing, several food categories will inevitably highlight a nationally-based chain restaurant. Really? That's the best Cincinnatians can come up with? This year, Chipotle shows up as "Best Burrito," while Starbucks is the #1 coffeehouse. And guess what the best new restaurant in Cincinnati is! Why, it's Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a restaurant chain based in Washington, D.C., of course.
Don't get me wrong. I visit chain restaurants as much as the next guy. I just don't think they belong in the Best of Cincinnati listing, even if they are reader-derived picks.
In the issue's accompanying article, "Cincinnati's New Car Smell," John Fox says he was "pleasantly surprised at the diversity" of reader picks. The point of his article is that Cincinnatians need to beat down the mindset of the "Know Nothings," a term Fox coined to describe a vocal minority of people who believe Cincinnati...well...bites. He believes the best way to counter these "Know Nothings," who think there's nothing good that comes from the city and who believe "nothing new ever happens," is to pummel them with facts. While I agree with Fox, the fact remains that "Know Nothings" have successfully infiltrated the Best of Cincinnati listings.
This is a gripe I first voiced via Twitter to fellow food bloggers a few days ago. What does it say of Cincinnatians who chose a national chain restaurant as the top pick for nearly 25% of the food categories? Half of the categories listed at least one chain restaurant as either the top choice or a runner-up pick. That's pretty telling.
C'mon people. Are you seriously telling me Five Guys Burgers and Fries is the best new restaurant in Cincinnati? That Golden Corral has the best buffet? P.F. Chang's is the best Chinese? Chick-Fil-A has the best chicken? And First Watch is the Best Breakfast, with Bob Evans as a runner up?!? If that's as far as your narrow view takes you for culinary options, then you haven't been reading enough food blogs.
The solution seems simple to me. CityBeat prides itself on promoting local fare, and rightfully so. What better way to punctuate this than to disqualify national chain restaurants in next year's Best of Cincinnati reader's poll? I believe doing so will serve two purposes: it will cut down on the amount of "Know Nothing" feedback and it will help broaden the horizons of those interested in acknowledging and experiencing truly local options.
If CityBeat editors absolutely need to include some mention of chain restaurants (for example, I can see how there might be potential advertising revenue implications if they were to completely give national chains the cold shoulder), why not create a new category, "Best National Chain Restaurant?" That should make everyone --including we angry, melodramatic food bloggers-- quite happy.