As is Eater’s annual tradition, we’ve been closing out 2018 by surveying local food writers (including our own staff and contributors) on various restaurant-related topics, and we’ve been publishing their responses in these final days of the year. Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comment section below, or hop into our Facebook group to discuss — we’ve been posting a thread for each survey question.
Check the Year in Eater page for other stories in this series.
We’re wrapping up the survey series with our most meta question: What was your favorite piece of local food writing this year? (See the 2017 responses here.)
MC Slim JB, restaurant critic for The Improper Bostonian:
“I really enjoyed the “Getting Salty with...” series of interviews with local industry figures by Kara Baskin in the Boston Globe; those are invariably funny and insightful glimpses into the personalities that make up our dining scene.
Also in the Globe, Devra First’s story on eating at Papa Gino’s for the first time was both hilarious and moving, a little melancholy; nobody wants to see the slow death of a local dining institution, however humble or lowbrow.
I quite enjoyed Jolyon Helterman’s review of Momi Nonmi for Boston magazine; it’s usefully humbling and inspiring to read another professional’s take on a restaurant that you yourself reviewed and discover a lot more insight and better research in their work.
Marc Hurwitz continues to kill over at Dig Boston and in his indispensable collection of local dining blogs; my favorite of his pieces was probably his Dig review of the new Zo Greek at Assembly Row, a nice combination of reviewing and scene commentary.
My colleagues at The Improper continued to do yeoman’s work in their broad coverage of Boston’s dining and drinking scene, especially in their ‘Drink of the Moment’ and ‘First Taste’ features.
But maybe my favorite piece was a late-breaking addition, Baskin’s piece in the Globe just before Christmas on the triumphs and travails and triumphs of chef Barry Maiden. It was an incisive and entertaining look at how one local chef walked away from great success and awards at Hungry Mother to become a corporate chef at one of Facebook’s local offices because the stresses of running an indie restaurant took too great a toll on his family life and mental health. A fascinating story, and I was grateful to have the mystery of what happened to chef Maiden finally unraveled.”
Jolyon Helterman, contributing editor/food writer at Boston magazine:
“Boston’s got mad food-writing talent these days, and this year I fiendishly snorted up everything I could find penned by Kara Baskin, Marc Hurwitz, Leah Mennies, MC Slim JB, and Amy Traverso, not to mention the magazine’s terrific Jackie Cain and silver-tongued new food editor Scott Kearnan. And Eater Boston! Which...goes without saying.
I guess I’d have to narrow it down to two pieces that really stuck with me by Devra First, the Globe’s superstar restaurant critic. Her food descriptions are reliably impeccable, often virtuosic; she’s long been a master of the form. But this year I felt like she really used the form to go beyond the sheriff-y play-by-play that is the bread and butter of food criticism to take readers on more-profound journeys, to explore deeper truths about the way we live.
Her tour de force double-feature review of LoLa 42 and Maestro’s in the Seaport was as much a cerebral — and nimbly worded — indictment of unchecked municipal gentrification (“One can imagine our successors, millennia from now, deciphering our primitive tongue and extracting meaning from what we found important enough to fashion into signs: Ocean Prime, Blue Mercury. These people longed for something elemental and deep, and instead beside the water they built shiny surfaces of neon and steel.”) as an opportunity to deliver unflinching food criticism in a way that today’s advertiser-coddling publishing world doesn’t actively encourage.
At the other end of the spectrum, her review of Buttonwood, David Punch’s neighborhood spot in Newton. Every time I read the final two paragraphs, I get a speck of dust in my eye like I’m at a good friend’s wedding. Great food writing takes you there.”
Eric Twardzik, contributor to The Food Lens, Boston.com, and more:
“Leah Mennies at Boston magazine wrote a thoughtful deep-dive on Yankee cuisine’s ongoing failure to launch.”
Oset Babur, co-founder of The Thirty-One Percent, food (and more) writer for a variety of publications, and digital strategist/editor/staff writer for Harvard Magazine:
“Chef Will Gilson’s piece about the Boston restaurant scene and the challenges that come with it was really moving. He’s right — there’s so much good food in this city, and it made me truly proud to read such a thoughtful and realistic reflection.”
Sam Hiersteiner, contributor to the Boston Globe and more:
“Why don’t Boston restaurants win national awards?” by Devra First in the Globe in August. Never before had such a small piece of writing carried such a tremendous load of sanctimony from national food critics.”
Rachel Leah Blumenthal, editor of Eater Boston:
“First, I just want to take a second to thank all of the local food writers who participated in this survey — we’re all competitors, but also colleagues, and it’s a friendly, supportive little scene here in the Boston food writing world.
A few stories that stuck out to me this year:
Devra First’s feature for the Globe about Yume Wo Katare and Yume Ga Arukara. Much has been written about these popular Cambridge spots, but First unearthed lots of interesting details that hadn’t previously been reported. Aram Boghosian and Michael Swensen’s gorgeous photos didn’t hurt.
First also wasn’t afraid to push people’s buttons this year, such as in the aforementioned pieces about national awards and Papa Gino’s. (I admire her bravery, considering how vicious the Globe’s comment sections can get!) I was also entertained by her essay on Bertucci’s rolls (although I disagree with her statement that they are ‘not that good.’)
Over at Boston magazine, Jolyon Helterman’s restaurant reviews were always a good read this year; I particularly enjoyed when he dared to go against the general consensus on certain popular items. Boston is pretty obsessed with that brown butter lobster roll at Eventide; Helterman is most definitely not.
I also want to give a shoutout to Cambridge Day, where Marc Levy covers a variety of topics, including food, and has recently been on an unflinching crusade against potential corruption in the licensing commission. His recent stories (1, 2, 3) regarding candles, Upperwest, and a whole lot of drama with the commission are quite interesting reads, as are earlier stories about liquor licensing.”