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Hard truth: We have our doubts about Louisville’s Zagat blog ranking

by Steve Coomes

When I learned Wednesday night that Zagat.com blogger Lauren Bloomberg had ranked Louisville one of the world’s top eight foodie destinations, my immediate thought was, “Cool!”

And then a nanosecond later my thinking changed to, “Huh? Really? Seriously? One of the world’s eight best foodie destinations?”

And from some conversations I’ve had since, I’ve learned others feel the same way about this lofty proclamation.

In every conversation, people have said, in essence, Louisville’s restaurant and bourbon scene is fabulous. We all love it and brag about it shamelessly. We love and support the people who make it all happen. We know this is a tremendous food town. But it’s not in the top eight — in the world!

It’s just not. No arguing it. It’s an absurd claim I bet no serious chef or restaurateur here would agree with.

For every restaurant the quality of Corbett’s, Lilly’s, Proof on Main, 610 Magnolia or Asiatique found here, there are hundreds like them in New York and Los Angeles and Miami and New Orleans and Washington, D.C — and that’s just the U.S.

We could spend the next 30 minutes pointing out great “foodie destinations” in other countries and wind up dissing dozens of them.

That’s no slight against this community’s restaurant scene, it’s just a recognition of reality.

Had Bloomberg instead gone looking for “great new foodie finds, undiscovered treasures ‘round the world,” I’d agree that Louisville could make the cut. But top eight in the world?

Not yet.

Back to the blog: I scanned Bloomberg’s piece to see what she found so compelling about Louisville that led her to lavish it with such praise. The list includes: bourbon (specifically distillery tours), Proof on Main (sure, dig it), the Hot Brown (a swell downtown chow down) and the 21c Museum Hotel (heard it’s swell, not in my price range).

And then I thought: Those are all good, but what makes them world conquerors? Where’s the news value? The Hot Brown is 85 years old, 21c has received truckloads of press recognition as one of the world’s top bunkhouses—so saying so comes off as old news—and bourbon distillery tours, though cool, aren’t new either.

How does someone looking for truly unique grub—someone bearing the Zagat standard, the most respected restaurant guide in America—overlook Mayan Café or Mojito Tapas Restaurant? How do they talk about the Hot Brown but not take notice of the English Grill, the fabulous fine dining spot one floor up?

And how is it that the only two food mentions made are tied to hotels? Didn’t she go ‘round the town at all?

In terms of actual research, her choices were such low-hanging fruit that it makes me wonder whether she even visited Louisville. Any of those could have been plucked from an online source, shared with someone who’s been here or lifted from a magazine or newspaper article about our town. None of them showed any in-depth knowledge that would back her bold claim that Louisville is a top-eight foodie destination in the world.

I tried to contact Bloomberg Thursday, first through her Facebook page, secondly through email. She responded yesterday on Facebook, saying, “I’ve forwarded your request to the media person at Zagat. I’m sure she’ll be in touch.”

But since no one rang, I called Zagat media rep Tiffany Herklots in New York, who tried gamely to answer my questions, but couldn’t definitively.

When I asked if Bloomberg had actually been to all the far-flung places she claimed in her blog (Puerto Rico, Japan, Kentucky, Canada, England, Mexico, Malaysia and Egypt — travel budget busters that no publication pays for anymore), Herklots said, “I believe she did, or at least most of those places on the list. If she hasn’t, we know that someone on our team has.”

When I asked how Bloomberg concluded that Louisville belonged on such a serious list, she said, “I’m not sure what her process was, but between Lauren and all the editors on staff, I’m pretty sure it was discussed.”

When I told her I thought Bloomberg’s questionable conclusions didn’t live up to the Zagat Guide standard, she said, “Unlike the Zagat surveys we do year round, where people rate and review, this isn’t based on one of those. This is what Lauren compiled for her blog.”

We concluded the call with Herklots promising Bloomberg would get back to me, which she hasn’t. I emailed this morning to follow up, but to no avail —and to no one’s surprise, I’m sure.

So I ask you, Insider Readers, what do you think? Do you believe Louisville is one of the world’s top eight foodie destinations?

I’m not asking if you like the fact that some positive attention will come this way as a result of that claim, or whether you love Louisville restaurants; on both accounts we’re all pleased.

I’m asking if you think the claim is deserved.

Judging by several Facebook posts I’ve read today, many in the city do. Even people who I thought had the sense to consider this a bit doubtful.

Even Mayor Greg Fischer’s office handled the praise pretty cautiously, saying, “Being on lists like this is not only a lot of fun, it’s another indication of the growing strength of the food and beverage sector in the city’s economy. Louisville has worked hard to enhance our already strong reputation for great food.”

Maybe I’m reading too much between the lines, but the Mayor (or whoever fashioned this quote) didn’t come right out and say, “Absolutely! We belong on this list. All the world will see that we’re one of the best!”

The quote said all the right things … it’s fun to be on these lists … they indicate “growing strength” and boost “our already strong reputation for great food,” not, “Woo-hoo! She’s so right. We ARE the world’s best!”

To me, that’s telling.

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  • http://twitter.com/LouisvilleHI Lou. History&Issues

    Isn’t there a saying about not looking a gift horse in the mouth?  :)

    For the sake of enhancement to commerce in our fair town, I say we gracefully accept the nod, and try our darndest to live up to it.

  • https://twitter.com/MetroIssuesLou Metro Issues :: Louisville

    Isn’t there a saying about not looking a gift horse in the mouth?  :)

    For the sake of enhancement to commerce in our fair town, I say we gracefully accept the nod, and try our darndest to live up to it.

  • Anonymous

     I agree. No need to go to great lengths to disprove the compliment. I say, “Let’s tout it!”

  • trepryor

     I agree. No need to go to great lengths to disprove the compliment. I say, “Let’s tout it!”

  • Anonymous

    While I believe wholeheartedly that Louisville is an excellent food town, one that definitely deserves praise and recognition, I don’t have any misconceived ideas that our fair city currently belongs anywhere near the top 10 in the world.  We have come a long long way in the last 30-40 years, thanks in part to the strong efforts of a plethora of talented and dedicated chefs, owners, and kitchen brigade extraordinaire,…but this does not make Louisville one of the best 10 cities in the entire world to dine in.  True,…we do have a great resource in UPS and access to quality product like never before.  Also true is that we have one of the best culinary schools in the entire nation.  Absolutely true is that we have a great local farming outlook full of dedicated and passionate local farmers who intend to increase the production year to year of locally available goods.   I personally see the quality and passion of our food scene day in and day out as the production coordinator for SECRETS of Louisville/Bluegrass Chefs television shows.  But I can also tell you that while our state is definitely worth praise, pride, and prejudice,,….we still have a long way to go before Louisville tops the much larger food destinations such as San Francisco,  NYC, Miami, and Chicago.  It seems that in our eagerness to be the best, we may have allowed ourselves to believe that we are bigger and better than we actually are,…which is always problematic at best, and inflammatory at worst. 

  • JasonPierce

    While I believe wholeheartedly that Louisville is an excellent food town, one that definitely deserves praise and recognition, I don’t have any misconceived ideas that our fair city currently belongs anywhere near the top 10 in the world.  We have come a long long way in the last 30-40 years, thanks in part to the strong efforts of a plethora of talented and dedicated chefs, owners, and kitchen brigade extraordinaire,…but this does not make Louisville one of the best 10 cities in the entire world to dine in.  True,…we do have a great resource in UPS and access to quality product like never before.  Also true is that we have one of the best culinary schools in the entire nation.  Absolutely true is that we have a great local farming outlook full of dedicated and passionate local farmers who intend to increase the production year to year of locally available goods.   I personally see the quality and passion of our food scene day in and day out as the production coordinator for SECRETS of Louisville/Bluegrass Chefs television shows.  But I can also tell you that while our state is definitely worth praise, pride, and prejudice,,….we still have a long way to go before Louisville tops the much larger food destinations such as San Francisco,  NYC, Miami, and Chicago.  It seems that in our eagerness to be the best, we may have allowed ourselves to believe that we are bigger and better than we actually are,…which is always problematic at best, and inflammatory at worst. 

  • Anonymous

    It is also worth mentioning that I did not list any cities outside of the U.S.  My list of world dining destinations is plenty long, so I will spare you the lengthy details, but let’s just say that if money was no object, my first 3 destinations would be Spain, Spain, and followed up by Spain.  

  • JasonPierce

    It is also worth mentioning that I did not list any cities outside of the U.S.  My list of world dining destinations is plenty long, so I will spare you the lengthy details, but let’s just say that if money was no object, my first 3 destinations would be Spain, Spain, and followed up by Spain.  

  • Anonymous

    I just hate it when the public is supposed to fall for total bullshit. I’m sorry … half the companies and executives are operating on a “the public is gullible” strategy. Not here, baby.

  • terryboyd

    I just hate it when the public is supposed to fall for total bullshit. I’m sorry … half the companies and executives are operating on a “the public is gullible” strategy. Not here, baby.

  • Joey Saylor

    Does anyone really care about Zagat anymore? Normally would be nice to get this kind of praise but I have to agree with Steve Coomes. Great restaurants here but in a place like Chicago, Louisville pales in comparison. In number of options, if not necessarily quality. Worse is that the author of the blog knows they have a weak foundation to base their claims on, so she runs like a scalded dog when Steve asked her a question. Just gotta love the media; “just the facts ma’am”!

  • Joey Saylor

    Does anyone really care about Zagat anymore? Normally would be nice to get this kind of praise but I have to agree with Steve Coomes. Great restaurants here but in a place like Chicago, Louisville pales in comparison. In number of options, if not necessarily quality. Worse is that the author of the blog knows they have a weak foundation to base their claims on, so she runs like a scalded dog when Steve asked her a question. Just gotta love the media; “just the facts ma’am”!

  • W erath

    If the qualification for being a foodie destination is simply a lot of great restaurants then Louisville probably shouldn’t be on the list.  However, what Louisville has going for it is it’s accessibility and price.  On almost any night I can dine at a number of fantastic restaurants with no more forethought than getting in my car and driving for a few miles.  With a few hours advance planning I can reserve a table so I don’t even have to wait to be seated.  Then when the bill comes, it’s obvious that I can afford to do this on a fairly regular basis.

    Contrast this to where I lived 8 months: There were a lot of great restaurants but they either didn’t take or didn’t honor reservations often resulting in 30+ minute waits for a table, were spread out over a swath of land so large that a 20 mile drive to a restaurant was routine, and the bill was often double what I see here. Compared to that, Louisville wins hands down.

  • W erath

    If the qualification for being a foodie destination is simply a lot of great restaurants then Louisville probably shouldn’t be on the list.  However, what Louisville has going for it is it’s accessibility and price.  On almost any night I can dine at a number of fantastic restaurants with no more forethought than getting in my car and driving for a few miles.  With a few hours advance planning I can reserve a table so I don’t even have to wait to be seated.  Then when the bill comes, it’s obvious that I can afford to do this on a fairly regular basis.

    Contrast this to where I lived 8 months: There were a lot of great restaurants but they either didn’t take or didn’t honor reservations often resulting in 30+ minute waits for a table, were spread out over a swath of land so large that a 20 mile drive to a restaurant was routine, and the bill was often double what I see here. Compared to that, Louisville wins hands down.

  • Stephen Coomes

    Agreed, Terry. Don’t assume your audience is stupid when you write information like that. Don’t assume no one will check. That’s what politicians do.

  • Stephen Coomes

    Agreed, Terry. Don’t assume your audience is stupid when you write information like that. Don’t assume no one will check. That’s what politicians do.

  • Stephen Coomes

    It’s only a compliment when it’s deserved, otherwise it’s false praise, which is, well, B.S. Only politicians and narcissists want false praise.

    I love this restaurant community, but I stand by what I say. And, by the way, I have yet to see any restaurateur say this was a deserved distinction. 

  • Stephen Coomes

    Exceptionally well said by someone who knows what he’s talking about.

  • Stephen Coomes

    It’s only a compliment when it’s deserved, otherwise it’s false praise, which is, well, B.S. Only politicians and narcissists want false praise.

    I love this restaurant community, but I stand by what I say. And, by the way, I have yet to see any restaurateur say this was a deserved distinction. 

  • Stephen Coomes

    Exceptionally well said by someone who knows what he’s talking about.

  • Anonymous

    Appreciate the nice words Steve,…I think you and I have a similar understanding of food appreciation for the commonwealth. 

  • JasonPierce

    Appreciate the nice words Steve,…I think you and I have a similar understanding of food appreciation for the commonwealth. 

  • Anonymous

    Steve,
    Were you keeping an eye on Southern Living’s voting for the “Tastiest Town in the South” ?
    Not sure (but had some technology suspicions) Lafayette maintained a steady #1 over Louisville’s #2 votes by a consistent 3,000 votes.
    What really made me suspicious of the validity of the voting was Louisville out paced big cities like New Orleans and Houston!?!
    Heck, I know its just for fun…if I got anything out of it, I learned that Baltimore, like Louiville was considered a ‘Border State’ during the Civil War.
    http://www.southernliving.com/travel/souths-tastiest-towns-00417000076768/

  • DeeDMD

    Steve,
    Were you keeping an eye on Southern Living’s voting for the “Tastiest Town in the South” ?
    Not sure (but had some technology suspicions) Lafayette maintained a steady #1 over Louisville’s #2 votes by a consistent 3,000 votes.
    What really made me suspicious of the validity of the voting was Louisville out paced big cities like New Orleans and Houston!?!
    Heck, I know its just for fun…if I got anything out of it, I learned that Baltimore, like Louiville was considered a ‘Border State’ during the Civil War.
    http://www.southernliving.com/travel/souths-tastiest-towns-00417000076768/

  • Brian Eichhorn

    I think you misinterpreted that blog. It was merely listing 8 foodie destinations. None of those on the list are well-worn places, they all seem to be after thoughts and it’s merely giving some credit…

  • Brian Eichhorn

    I think you misinterpreted that blog. It was merely listing 8 foodie destinations. None of those on the list are well-worn places, they all seem to be after thoughts and it’s merely giving some credit…

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