For what seems like an eternity, Barb Collier has been the chief restaurant reviewer for the Sun Press edition of the Sun News newspaper, which serves the east side communities of Beachwood, Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights and University Heights. Her time-honored and conventional approach to the craft found her lunching or brunching (Collier avoided after-hours meals) at some of suburban Cleveland's finest taverns.
In recent weeks, however, guided perhaps by revenue-conscious higher-ups, Collier has been feeding her faithful readers with a steady diet of bland chain restaurants. There was the review of Honey Baked Ham ("Stopping in the Solon store for a ham bone for soup, I learned the store also had a cafe where you can also get sandwiches, salads and numerous sides."), Bahama Breeze ("There aren't many restaurants, especially in this area, that can capture the flavors and the spirit of the Caribbean Islands. One that comes close is Bahama Breeze Island Grille in Orange Village."), and Benihana ("If you’ve never visited a Japanese restaurant that specializes in hibachi cooking over a teppan table, with a specially trained chef doing the preparation in front of you, you are in for awesome entertainment along with some laughs.").
But without question it was her recent review of the Cheesecake Factory that garnered the most buzz, both locally and nationally. When Slate caught wind of Collier's review of the mega-chain — especially in the immediate wake of the massive lay-offs at the Plain Dealer — the online magazine had a little fun at Collier's expense.
"Review of the Cheesecake Factory Reveals the Sorry State of American Newspapers," the Slate article was titled. In the piece, the Pee Dee's Robert L. Smith was quoted declaring that "the company would marshal its resources to deliver a quality product in the digital age."
"How’s that product looking?," Slate asked rhetorically. "On Thursday the Cleveland.com website — which is 'powered by' the Plain Dealer and the Sun News community newspapers — ran a review of the Cheesecake Factory. According to writer Barbara Collier, the chain restaurant’s menu is '22 colorful pages long and almost mind-boggling, with one choice sounding better than the next.'"
Well, Cleveland, you won't have Barb Collier to kick around anymore as she has been replaced by food blogger Michelle Venorsky (aka Cleveland Foodie), whose review of Mi Pueblo hits newsstands today. Sources say that Collier and her long-time employer Sun have parted ways (bosses at Sun and the Pee Dee refuse to comment on "personnel matters").
Collier matters aside, incoming "Scoop du Jour" writer Venorsky is just thrilled to get busy eating and writing. "I'm super appreciative to Joe [Crea] for thinking enough of me to ask me to play a small part — and even more so, excited to learn from him," she says. "Food is ridiculously subjective with no right or wrong answer. It will be so fun to share my two cents to the fantastic conversation that is already happening. If you have a healthy appetite, there's no better town to be in!"
No disagreement from us.