RESTAURANT CRITICS VS. MILLENNIALS
When you tell someone you were a kid food critic, they automatically assume you are joking. How could a third grader have written about restaurants for her newspaper at such a young age? The simple answer is, she asked.
Restaurant critics hold a special place in my heart because I held the position of the Petite Gourmet for four years at The News-Press. But in today’s ever changing social media fueled climate will food critics die?
When asking friends if they used traditional food critics, like Matthew Odam of the Austin-American Statesman they responded with definite nos. Why would they use one specific person when Yelp exists? Quite a few didn’t know who Odam was or that traditional critics still existed.
Some critics have begun to adopt recent technology, like Twitter. Jean le Boeuf, The News-Press resident anonymous food critic, does a column in their Wednesday Taste section entitled “Three Tweets.” It’s a way to get more millennials involved with the column. The first tweet is published on the first page of the section and the rest exist on his (or her) Twitter account. You can see people interacting with these tweets through re-tweets and replies.
Are burritos cool? They don't have a Tuesday like tacos. And at most places they taste like soggy tubes of mush. But not at Red Roc Cravings.— Jean Le Boeuf (@JeanLeBoeuf) December 5, 2017
This yellow food truck grills its burritos, so the tortillas get lightly browned and chewy-crisp; a crunchy barrier that not even a ladle— Jean Le Boeuf (@JeanLeBoeuf) December 5, 2017
of saucy queso can penetrate. I haven't geeked out over a burrito in awhile. A burrito that can make you lose your cool? Red Roc on.— Jean Le Boeuf (@JeanLeBoeuf) December 5, 2017
Other publications simply post the reviews online and share those articles on Facebook. Some receive hundreds of thousands of views while others fall flat. When Odam reviewed Grizzelda’s, a fairly new Mexican restaurant in east Austin, there were zero comments attributed to the article.
So if no one is reading the typical columns where are they flocking? “I’m an avid Yelper, and before I go to any new, nice restaurant I generally check their Yelp page,” said Syd Martin, junior at UT-Austin.
“I like the accessibility of Yelp. Not only can I browse reviews, but I can see the full menu, hours, location, and even amenities,” he said.
Others head to search engines, “I’ll go on Google and pick an area where I want to go to and see what restaurants have the best reviews,” said Debora Wang, senior at UT-Austin.
Hannah Kay, a junior at UT-Austin, uses Snapchat for her restaurant news. She sites Tastemade for her food recommendations and while she realizes they aren’t official critics that is where she keeps up to date with restaurant goings-on.
In an interview with Eater Dallas, former Dallas Morning News food critic, Leslie Brenner, said her toughest job was, “…being able to write, week after week after week, something I felt was thoughtful and engaging enough to ask readers to take their precious time to read.”
Is this why millennials are straying from the traditional newspaper food critic? Are they simply heading to online resources where they can find any information about any restaurant so they don’t waste their time?
“With the Internet there is no waiting around for the next week’s review to be published, I like the instant-ness of using online resources like Yelp,” Martin said.
30 million people access Yelp a month, this indicates that millennials still crave restaurant reviews, just the way they consume those cravings has shifted, as Martin pointed out, "Yelp rules all."
While food critics don’t seem to be leaving us anytime soon they definitely need to figure out new ways to capture younger audiences as Yelp, Trip Advisor, blogs and YouTube continue to take over the restaurant scene.
When I stopped writing for The News-Press, I gave up being a food critic for a while but I wasn’t able to stay away and began blogging my reviews. Much like today’s professional food critics, I had to adapt. But will the name-brand newspapers see the writing on the wall? I guess we’ll just have to continue to subscribe to the Friday editions of our local papers to see what they do.
Walking into Grizzelda’s feels like walking into an oasis amongst the quickly changing east Austin landscape. Palm fronds dot the walls as a green bar lights up the restaurant providing a pop of color reminiscent of an island resort’s pool bar. Wicker basket lights hang from the ceiling and mismatched tables feel like you’re in someone’s chicly designed home not one of Austin’s hottest restaurants.
Near other popular spots like Jacoby’s and Pitchfork Pretty, Grizzelda’s is nestled near a small strip center. It’s neon sign beckoning millennials.
It’s Taco Tuesday but the restaurant isn’t overly crowded. You can actually hear the person across the high top table speaking – something rare in Austin’s burgeoning restaurant scene.
Our server greets us by asking if we would like a drink, my companion asks which he would prefer: the Grizz Mizz (signature house rocks margarita) or the Fro-mo (house frozen margarita). Instead of telling us his preference he tells us about the secret menu where you can get a half and half featuring both of their star margs. We both are intrigued so we order.
While waiting on our drinks the chips and salsa show at the table. Biting into the thick chip provides a crunch that only the freshest of chips can give. A light dusting of coarse salt provides nice flavoring without being overpowering. The maroon-colored salsa is thick and inviting. When the salsa hits your tongue it provides instant heat but is followed with a more mellowed smokey hint. The flavor left in your mouth makes you reach for more.
Our server chats to us about the Taco Tuesday special, $5 for one taco or $12 for three tacos, which features a pork cheek Carnitas taco with red chile salsa, onions, cilantro and a soft corn tortilla.
After ordering some house queso we drink our margaritas, taking in the strength of the tequila and the different textures mixed together. While the frozen margarita half is incredibly strong, the on the rocks version at the bottom has a smoothness to it.
The queso arrives as we order our tacos as well as a sweet potato dish. Grizzelda’s queso reminds me of some of the first queso I ever tried in Texas. Not a lot of heat but it warms your insides like the hearty-goodness it is. The dip passes the drip test (no evident spots on the table or our clothes) but it could have a bit more flavor; in order to add a little heat we combined the salsa and queso in one bowl.
Our tacos arrived shortly after along with the aforementioned sweet potato dish - camote rositizado – with its slices of sweet potato, Mexican brown sugar, and diced pecans. We both immediately dug into this dish because our server promised us it tasted like Thanksgiving.
And boy did it. The sprinkle of sugar provided a nice addition to the sweet potatoes but there was a hint from serrano peppers that made the aftertaste spicy. The potatoes were cooked extremely well, firm on the outside soft on the inside.
The tacos are served on one of those hipster, stainless steel taco holders that remind me of the Whataburger logo stretched out. They were small but mighty as they packed a spice punch. The meat was tender and both my companion and I liked the traditional onion and cilantro toppings. The only critique from both of us was our wish for the tortillas to have been fresher.
The restroom featured beveled subway tile and a wallpaper ceiling that looks like the “Modern Mexico” exhibit posters at the Harry Ransom Center. A light fixture above the sink looks like gnarled tree branches with exposed pink light bulbs. It is clean but a little bit of a downgrade in design from the incredibly chic décor that lives outside the restroom’s walls.
Dessert came in the form of a Mexican Chocolate Popsicle from Odd Pop. When the Popsicle hit my taste buds I instantly tasted the cinnamon but it was followed by immense happiness over the creaminess of the ice pop. It was basically an ice cream bar (think Dove or Häagen Daz) without the melting.
Grizzelda’s food is simple and good, their wait-staff are wonderful and you get to enjoy it all in a restaurant that looks like it was created by a set designer of a film set in Cuba during the 1920s.