What made it all so particularly galling was who started it. What made it so satisfying was who ended it.
For those not part of the Twitterverse and for those who may have missed this particular tweet storm (easy to do these days), Brett Anderson, the restaurant critic for the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans who was attending a journalism conference in Orlando last week, made a prejudiced and stereotypical lament on his Twitter feed:
Of course, New Orleans, as a community, has a collective smugness about its restaurant scene. Yes, it has good restaurants, and many of them. But the only thing it has on Central Florida is the number of good restaurants. We have several fine places to eat that I would gladly pit one-on-one against New Orleans’ finest.
One of the reasons that New Orleans has so many good restaurants is that it has a culture that attracts good talent, namely very liberal liquor laws. Alcohol sales are often key to a restaurant’s success. Chefs want to be successful. Ergo they go where they have a better chance to turn a profit.
(The recent liquor law exemption for the downtown Orlando dining district has the potential to attract good talent to Orlando for the same reason, but that’s going to take some time to develop.)
New Orleans set a record in 2017, according to an article in May in Anderson’s own newspaper, of (nearly) 11 million visitors. It is a fun place to visit; I go there at least once a year.
Orlando had 72 million visitors last year. That’s a lot of people to feed. So, yes, chain restaurants take up a lot of the slack. I don’t apologize for that. Those restaurants are there for the people who like them and want them. That’s why you’ll also find House of Blues, Hard Rock Cafe, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Subway sandwich chains in the French Quarter. I don’t think less of New Orleans for having these chains.
And by the way, I’ve had some pretty modest to entirely crappy meals in independently owned New Orleans restaurants, too. I’ve not felt the need to paint the entire culinary scene with a damning brush.
But apparently it’s just too much fun to diss Orlando, especially the restaurants. Hence Andrew Zimmerns reply to Anderson’s original tweet:
How terribly droll for the celebrity critic. I wonder if he ever visits Boston and lament about finding something other than baked beans.
Being the public forum that it is, Twitter was all atweeter with responses from people who are actually familiar with Central Florida’s dining scene. Most of the replies were fairly civil, the Orlando Weekly’s Faiyaz Kara in a weekend blog post took the tone that most of us wanted to. (Nice article, FK.)
As I said, the gallingest part of Anderson’s original tweet is his hometown. Louisiana is part of the south region, which also includes Florida, in the James Beard Foundation Awards. New Orleans, or course, regularly dominates the awards in our region.
Although I can’t say for certain, Anderson is likely a Beard judge. Naturally he champions the good restaurants that his city offers. But his attitude toward the culinary scene in other cities is not just dismissive, it’s detrimental. It perpetuates a myth that is hurtful to the excellent chefs in our area who work hard and are rarely recognized for their efforts.
For his part, Zimmern sent out another tweet to try to get the townspeople to put down their pitchforks and torches.
I’ll go with Kara’s reply. And by the way, Andy, it’s town’s.