When Too Much Inside Information Clouds Your Judgment

As someone who does a fair amount of writing about food and drink, food media and restaurant culture, it's imperative I have as open a mind as possible. It's easy to do when reading press releases and links to reviews: the main job of PR reps is to sell the sizzle.

Occasionally I receive media advisories from the city health department announcing shutdowns of restaurants throughout the city. As a blogger, they make nice quick posts, especially if the restaurant is well-known. Sometimes I can't help but let those advisories affect my desire to visit the restaurants in question.

I live in a neighborhood in Chicago that once was well-known for its hearty Lithuanian population. One of the oldest and most popular restaurants in my neck of the woods is a breakfast place that specializes in Lithuanian food - kugelis, dumplings, cold soups, heavy gravies, amazing pancakes. A few years ago they were shut down for multiple health code violations (I won't go into detail here, but a few did make me gag when I read about them). The restaurant's owner paid the fine, corrected the violations and sent her kitchen staff to the city-sponsored food handling and sanitation course. they've had only minor violations since.

Still I pass by on Sundays and hesitate on whether or not to eat there, the shock of seeing one of my favorite breakfast places closed for health code violations still as fresh in my head as when I read about it in the local papers years ago. I know the owner well enough to know she wouldn't take shortcuts to maintain compliance with health code. A part of me feels as though the shut down was a personal betrayal. Which is asinine, I know. Before the shut down, I used to frequent this place nearly every Sunday.

Has anyone had similar accounts and remedies to overcome what is evidently a mental block on my part?

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Tags: Chicago, Lithuanian, closings, cuisine, departments, health, inspections, restaurants, violations

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Comment by Stephanie Holland on September 4, 2008 at 6:25am
I used to be a ServSafe instructor, so not a day goes by that I don't assess what I am going to put in my mouth - at home or at a restaurant.

I have walked out of restaurants when I see handwashing "violations," and yet I sat at a bar and watched a sick bartender cut unwashed limes the other day at one of my favorite local joints. That lime went right into my beer...

If I eat at a place often and feel some sort of connection to their success, I continue to eat there. I figure that if I haven't gotten sick yet, I am probably not going to. If I have no loyalty, then they are off my list and I become the disgruntled customer that tells ten of their friends...
Comment by Stoligirl on August 25, 2008 at 7:48pm
I liked how Debra uses the words 'summons up the courage.' I remember life before ServSafe, and seriously, if that class doesn't scare you, try watching a few scenes from Fast Food Nation. It's a wonder any of us eat out anymore. But we do, and I'm happy that the standards are much higher now, I'm just not sure how realistic some standards have become, with all the extra charts, and papertrails, etc.

I once knew a forklift mechanic, who often had stories of the warehouses he occasionally went to. There was a certain place that he would never go to, just based on what he saw at the facility.
Comment by Les on August 25, 2008 at 1:32pm
I feel your pain. One of my occupational hazards is spending lots of time in the back of lots of restaurants. I will see something I don't particularly care for and the place winds up being banned from my list of places to eat--forever. Sometime years will pass and someone will suggest we go to so and so for lunch and I will immediately say "Oh you don't won't to eat there--I've been in the back". The reality being if it were that bad they would be out of business by now.
Comment by Judy "the foodie" Asman on August 25, 2008 at 11:22am
Excellent post, and definitely I can relate. Thank you for opening up this discussion!

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