In a big shake-up to the state's preeminent restaurant review column, John Golden is taking over as the Maine Sunday Telegram's Dine Out Maine reviewer. It's been known for a nearly two months that the paper was looking for a new critic, as longtime reviewer Nancy Heiser decided to step down. She had been splitting review duties with Shonna Milliken Humphrey for quite some time. The assumption was that the new reviewer would replace Heiser and the tag-team model would continue. But in Golden's introductory column yesterday, he says his review will appear "in this space, every Sunday." Heiser wrote a farewell note last week, but Humphrey has offered no such goodbye.
The MST, of course, is the Sunday edition of the Portland Press Herald and the only major media outlet in Maine that assigns ratings to restaurants. Golden, now the sole reviewer for the paper, becomes the state's most important restaurant critic, for better or for worse. He brings a strong resume to the position: he eats out probably more than anyone in Portland and he's been writing about the food scene on his Golden Dish blog on the Press Herald site three times a week for over a year. His bio says he's also written for the New York Times, New York Post and Boston Globe.
His blog was previously hosted by Down East magazine until it dumped its paid bloggers in the summer of 2012. Some have said that the blog lost a bit of its critical edge when it made the move, but Golden writes that he won't hold back as a reviewer: "As a critic I won't sugar-coat the experience just to play nice. I will tell it like it is – to report on the good, bad or indifferent experience. Either way you'll definitely know what I like or don't."
Both Humphrey and Heiser rarely gave ratings below three stars, so it will be interesting to see if Golden makes better use of the full five-star spectrum. He tells Eater Maine that he'll be using the same scale "judiciously."
Golden, who likes to write in flowery prose, says he plans to keep writing his blog three times a week. He'll give new restaurants "at least a month or six weeks" before formally reviewing them, though he may provide on his blog, as he has been, a "first-look" on opening night or soon thereafter. He will attempt to dine anonymously, using a fake name on reservations. To any waiter that finds a man in a funny hat ordering a Gimlet and making sure it contains Rose's lime juice: be suspicious. Golden says, "Though just because I'm at a restaurant doesn't mean I'm there to review it. I go out all the time for my own pleasure."
Golden also frequently responds to comments on his blog, and will hopefully continue to do so with his reviews. He's also a reader of this blog, and is not afraid to weigh in with a strong opinion. For his thoughts on the Chris Busby/The Bollard vs. Harding Lee Smith controversy, check out the fifth comment here. (He begins: "I don't know Busby and probably don't care to. His sensational articles on Harding and others are merely props to bolster a rag journal, the Bollard, that tries not only to be literary but bombastic.")
There's at least one person who is not thrilled with the changing of the guard at the MST. Don Lindgren, well-known in the local food community as owner of food/wine bookstore Rabelais (formerly next to Hugo's, now in Biddeford), left this comment on Golden's intro column:
Ok, gloves off. It is an embarrassment that the Press Herald would hire this idiot to be the Sunday Telegram Food Critic. He's in the running as one of the worst food writers in America, both on account of his abysmal understanding of food in general and because of his third grade grasp of the English language, offset by a hideous affectation of oily pomposity. Maine and Portland have a special and unique food community of farmers, cooks, brewers, servers, bartenders, and home cooking enthusiasts. Every blog post this man has produced is more evidence that he fails to see just what is in front of him.
It's been an unfortunate fact that this wonderful food community does not have food writers at a par with the restaurants, farmers, fishermen, food consumers, and others that make Portland so special. Meredith Goad has done yeoman's work of getting her editors to allow her to cover the food world so well. A small handful of excellent others, in blogs and commercial publications, provide some comfort against the tide of mediocrity. And many of the best local food writers have moved away to greener pastures where their writing can be found in the pages of national newspapers and magazines. A loss because many of them were particularly inspired by Maine's food. It's sad.
If the Press Herald insists on elevating John Golden to Sunday Food Critic, I would like to suggest we take up a collection and purchase him a good English as a Second Language course.
Don, tell us how you really feel.
· Dine Out Maine: Food Fan Tucks in His Napkin, Hoists His Fork and Prepares to Dish [MST]
· All Coverage of John Golden [~EMAINE~]
· All Week in Reviews [~EMAINE~]
John Golden. [Photo: Facebook]