I never miss reading an issue of Midtown Monthly. The articles are informative, entertaining and earnest. There's a lot of personality and passion within its 52 pages.
Every month, I'm likely to read about an upcoming event I'd like to attend or encounter a piece of history I didn't know about. I look at the photos. I recognize some folks and learn about others.
One of the reasons I believe the writing is that the magazine does not come off as a mere vehicle for advertising dollars. In other words, it tells the truth. It asks the right questions.
There is criticism within the magazine. Much of it is positive.
Lately, however, the magazine affectionately known as MidMo, has rattled some cages and bruised some egos - so much so that the venerable watering hole and eatery, Fox & Goose, gave the magazine's circulation rack the heave-ho. It happened shortly after the February 2012 issue hit the stands - the issue in which Sarah Singleton raised questions about the quality of the pub's cooking.
Overcooked eggs, scorched onions and peppers on a dish that was still "somehow cold." That was Singleton's breakfast.
It didn't get better at dinner. The shepherd's pie was essentially unseasoned and "the sad little salad that it came with was overdressed and limp," she reported. Aren't those facts? And unless Singleton needs a new optician, it's hard not to know what burnt looks like.
That critique is part of a larger piece on "Pub Grub," in which the food-savvy Singleton explores places known for their pub fare. In that context, you cannot ignore the long-admired Fox & Goose at 10th and R. And if you can't ignore it, you can't overlook its shortcomings. It wouldn't be fair to every other place that makes the extra effort and tends to all the little details - and it wouldn't be good journalism.
I couldn't ignore the unsavory response. Or so I thought. It turns out., it's not as bad as it appears (after hearing back from owner Allyson Dalton).
MidMo, with a circulation of 16,000, is a free publication that gets its revenue from advertising. In order to get the magazine into the hands of its readers, it relies on the goodwill of local businesses to carry a rack, usually positioned near the front door. You go into a business and you walk out with the latest copy of the magazine.
According to Editor Tim Foster, Fox & Goose is no longer distributing the publication. The joint apparently didn't like reading about its overcooked eggs and underseasoned shepherd's pie.
But it's more complicated than that. Foster, a longtime local musician, has always enjoyed dropping by the Fox & Goose for a beer with friends. He estimates he's probably been there 100 times or more through the years. His wife, Liv Moe, an artist and contributor to the magazine, used to wait tables there, years before she became executive director of Verge Center for the Arts.
"Frankly, I don't blame them. I know where they're coming from," Foster told me when I asked about the pub's decision to stop carrying MidMo. "However, the proper and the more mature way to handle this is to say, 'Is the criticism fair?' I mean, this is not a hit piece."
Dalton says not distributing the February issue was a simple business decision. She has no plans to banish the magazine altogether.
"There was a less than favorable review of Fox & Goose. As a business owner, I'm not going to promote and distribute a negative artricle to my customers," she said.
That makes perfect sense.
But one could also ask this question: Why isn't Fox & Goose plastering a blown-up poster of the Feb. 2012 issue on its front window? In the same issue, writer Dennis Yudt weighs in on the pub quiz phenomenon. And shockingly, it turns out there is no MidMo party line on the Fox & Goose. Yudt writes: "There is a very good selection of beers from the UK on tap to accompany some of the best pub grub in town."
In the world of food criticism, I'd call that fair and balanced. Either Yudt enjoys overcooked eggs and burnt onions or Fox & Goose has some quality and consistency issues it needs to address.
The pub is, indeed, addressing them. Dalton held a staff meeting shortly after Singleton's words hit the streets. They've also conducted some retraining "to make sure we're only serving what we're supposed to be serving."
I've eaten at Fox & Goose and I know Singleton, who also writes the local food blog, "Undercover Caterer." Her piece contained very little opinion in this instance. Much of it was solid, factual reportage. There is no other side to overcooked eggs. They are what they are.
After digesting the piece, the reader has a couple of options: 1. Take Singleton's words to heart and look elsewhere for quality food or 2. Give the Fox & Goose the benefit of the doubt, a little time to straighten out its issues and go back and try the food.
Either way, Midtown Monthly is doing its job and Singleton's words are having an impact. That's what criticism is all about.
Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twittter, @blarob.