MY THRIVING RESTAURANT REVIEW BUSINESS
by David Arthur Walters
THE MIAMI MIRROR
July 12, 2011
MIAMI BEACH – I write under the header, “The Miami Mirror,” and am sometimes referred to as “the opposition press.” I seldom write restaurant reviews. For one thing, I do not have a so-called legitimate publisher for my reviews, so what I say about a restaurant carries little weight, drawing merely a slow trickle of customers.
For example, I reviewed the Thali Restaurant on South Beach’s Washington Avenue. My review was of professional quality even though I paid for the food and was not paid for writing the piece – restaurants do pay thousands of dollars for advertising, which is what most reviews are. I posted it on the Internet at several sites, where it is still getting traffic and will continue to get more and more attention as my work becomes ever more popular.
The Miami Herald wrote a review of Thali a month later. The article was clipped out of the paper, enlarged and pasted onto the front window of the restaurant, where it remains today. I asked the manager to place my article beside it in the window, which he did, but it was taken down two days later, much to my chagrin because my piece was of superior quality and I was proud of it. I was told that someone from the Herald had removed it while the restaurant was busy.
Another factor inhibiting my production of reviews is that I cannot afford to eat out very often, and when I do so it is usually at fast food outlets, where I buy the specials. I love to write about almost anything so I have become a literary slut who gives it away. In comparison, legitimate publishers pick up the tab for writers and pay them well.
The Miami Herald ran a review of South Beach’s Shake Shack; the author apparently ate almost everything on the menu, and I imagine she is rather overweight. The food is reportedly inexpensive, but not for me. I paid $5 for a little chocolate shake. It was not bad except it was not very cold, quickly disappeared, and I thought it was overpriced. Of course everything is relative; there are a lot of rich people in paradise even though the unemployment rate is above 13%. I may try one of the wee burgers some day.
My reviews are not entirely worthless to restaurant owners or to the public. I know from the feedback I get that they generate new business. People ventured into South Beach’s Crazee Olive as a result of my review of its specials. Lesson learned: never write about specials as they almost always disappear or the price is raised substantially. I made that mistake in my review of the happy hour special at South Beach’s Fatburger, where a popular rapper whose initials N.O.R.E. mean “Nigger On The Run Eatin” allegedly squirted yellow stuff on a customer and got busted, and was then reportedly eighty-sixed for life by rapper-owner Queen Latifah. An exception to the disappearing-specials rule is South Beach’s Buffalo Wings & Rings, which I reviewed months ago and has nearly the same specials today at the same price.
I exposed the big breakfast special rip off on South Beach’s Ocean Drive when I wrote about how I picked up my father’s ashes at the post office and took them to the $4.25 brunch special at the Medi Bar & Grill, where I had the brunch. The waitress brought my father’s ashes a tributary cup of coffee when I told her that he was a teetotaler who loved to have a cup of hot and black java. The check amounted to $14.17.
People showed up at South Beach’s Med Pizza after I reviewed it. I focused on the large poster of different kinds of marijuana buds, and on the behavior of the local businessman who raved about the unfairness of pot laws while scarfing down two large slices of pizza. After hearing about what goes on at night at the pizzeria, I was moved to write a follow-up piece, entitled ‘The Bullshit People.’
One advantage of doing art for art’s sake, including writing restaurant reviews for nothing, is being able to tell the truth if you feel like it. Nothing is perfect for a critic. Perhaps someone ought to form a restaurant critic mafia to extort free dinners out of restaurant owners: “Look, pal, if I have to pay for the food tonight, I’m going to tell the whole truth about it.” But the way I operate is that I keep quiet about the bad stuff and praise whatever I like; providing, that is, if people are nice to me. People who treat me right are righteous; they’re all right, because they treat me right. Some are jerks, to say the least.
For example, I reviewed the worst Burger King in the world, which used to be at Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road. The staff, including the manager, was extremely rude, wont to make racist remarks in Spanish about “gringos.” The food was atrocious, and the place was habituated by teenaged prostitutes and exceedingly unsavory characters. It was eventually closed down, as was a somewhat better one owned by the same gentleman. Another Burger King in South Beach, on Fifth Street and Alton Road, is called “Homeless Burger,” and is a sort of theatre of the absurd at times, which can be entertaining if you are not in a hurry and are in need of a lump in your belly.
More recently, I stopped by Nespresso on Lincoln Road. The hostess at the front door was quite pleasant, but the employee with her, a man by the name of Jesus, made several rude gestures in my direction and snickered at me as I spoke with her. I ignored him and went into the back of establishment to see the coffee machines on sale, where I was treated to a little tour and a free cup of espresso by an exceedingly pleasant salesman, John Paul. I did not like the espresso, which is sold in little aluminum cups that are placed in the machines for brewing. I thought the taste was lousy in comparison to Starbuck’s coffee or the cheap espresso I enjoy at home, but figured that might be because of the particular type of coffee I had selected for my free sample. I decided to return and pay for an expensive espresso before rendering my opinion. As I exchanging further pleasantries with the hostess at the door, Jesus approached and made several more insulting gestures, so I resolved never to return. One would think a big corporation like that would hire professional shoppers.
I should never say never. I went back to Fresh on Fifth sandwich shop at Fifth Street and Ocean Drive. The insulting truth I told there had been bandied about South Beach. I had called the manager a “pickle chiseler” for giving me the evil eye when I asked for pickle on my hotdog, as if I had just asked him for the world, and demanding that I pay an extra fifty cents for a little relish on a cold hotdog presented on a stale bun.
All the fast food joints I frequented thereafter jokingly asked me if I wanted some free pickle. And I was accused of disliking illegal immigrants, but that was not what I meant when I said that we should tell restaurant managers what they can do with their cold hotdogs before we are chiseled out of America. No, I was certainly not thinking about owners, many of them foreign-born, who prefer to employ illegal aliens for low cash wages, which is a tradition largely ignored by the authorities and me as well.
Willy works at Fresh on Fifth. He approached me the other day and pleaded with me to come back and try the new hotdog, which is now kosher and includes not only free pickle but sauerkraut and onion if you want them, and is presented now on fresh buns instead of the ones that crumble or the ends fall off when you pick them up. He said he was there when I told the manager to shove it, and that, being a Puerto Rican from New Jersey, he took my remarks about America seriously – he said he learned to speak Spanish from Cubans in Miami.
I went back on the Fourth of July and ordered the hotdog, priced at $1.99. It was fantastic, a 100% kosher, all-American hotdog! I saw a dozen being sold as I ate mine, and Willy said he had sold sixty of them that patriotic day. Geez, I thought, they ought to make this guy manager as he sees the opportunity in valid criticism and capitalizes on the ideal behind the complaint. Alas, the new owner doubled the price of the hotdog a couple of days later and upped the price of other sandwiches by $2. Willy said he sold only one hotdog on the day of the price increase.