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Cincinnati Bites
Spring rolls from Pho Lang Thang

Posted Friday, April 2, 2010

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.

No National Chains

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.


Posted: 2010-04-02 16:11:02
They already split several categories into CHAIN and NON-CHAIN options. They should just carry that over to all the categories.

Posted: 2010-04-02 16:14:01
I've said from the beginning that the survey sucked and was thinly disguised market research. Come on, they want your email and zip?
CityBeat needs to take out of Metromix's... ah webpage, provide us with 5 -10 choices, tell us why we should care about those choices and require a code like you do. simple.
The survey was the ugliest thing I ever saw, and letting people enter their own choices? Bad, 8,000 options?
Bad, Bad and Bad

Posted: 2010-04-03 16:36:38
Your writing is the best. "Pummel" was a favorite. "Poignant" and "sarcasm" are a nice juxtaposition (sp?). Hey, where is your spellcheck anyway?

Cincinnati Bites
Posted: 2010-04-03 23:43:59
Thanks, Pat. If you're looking for spell check to be enabled as you're typing a comment, I recommend downloading and installing the Firefox browser. It has such a feature built into it. That way, whenever you visit a site like this one, you'll find that misspellings are highlighted with a telltale red, squiggly line as you're typing.

The site is:

Hope that helps you! :)

Posted: 2010-04-04 09:52:04
Well CityBeat's Best of Cincinnati issue is actually a good representation of what the mindset of Cincinnati is. It's a large audience of people and invariably they, as a collective, will go to the most mainstream choices. The folks at the paper have lamented that fact for as long as the Best of Cincinnati issue has been coming out. Give me a break with the - "don't let the people choose" thing either. So what if there were "8,000" choices for something. These were put in as the picks from actual readers. anything less than letting the readers decide is a sham. It's not market research that is coming up with these answers... it's people. There is a reason there are staff picks - because when it's a large number of responders, the majority of votes will go with the most mainstream result. The staff will be more in line with your thinking - seeking out the small, independent places, the places where food is made with heart and soul, the place where if they are struggling, there's no safety net and quite truly they are cooking for their lives and livelihood. You can't blame the newspaper for printing what the readers have chosen... otherwise you'll have a paper without credibility.

Cincinnati Bites
Posted: 2010-04-04 10:33:49
You're missing the point entirely, Kris.

Setting a very basic, straightforward rule up front of disqualifying national chains is well within CityBeat's power to do. The paper wouldn't lose credibility by doing so, because the rules are set from the start.

Yes, I absolutely can blame the newspaper for the generic options readers have chosen, because it is CityBeat who has failed to set any boundaries in their own poll. As the saying goes, if you give someone enough rope, they'll surely hang themselves with it and, as you wrote, we end up with the most generic, mainstream choices, made up primarily of national chains.

I'm well aware of the staff picks. But they don't do a point-by-point breakdown vs. the reader picks. Why even have a Best of Cincinnati reader picks section if it's routinely filled with national chain restaurants? In my opinion, it undermines the point of the whole CityBeat issue: that there are things worth doing, seeing and eating in Cincinnati that are wholly unique and not something one can find at any other major US city.

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