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Friday, January 27, 2017

Scott Crawford Refused to Sell Us a Plate of Food at Crawford and Son

Posted by on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 3:18 PM

Scott Crawford photographs The Standard Burger at Standard Foods for an INDY photo shoot in January, 2016. - FILE PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • file photo by Alex Boerner
  • Scott Crawford photographs The Standard Burger at Standard Foods for an INDY photo shoot in January, 2016.
I expected to spend hours at Crawford and Son, the new restaurant from four-time James Beard semifinalist Scott Crawford, to review it for the INDY. Instead, I was there for barely twenty minutes before being told to leave.

We were late for our reservation, made under my partner’s name. As he greeted the host, she stared at me, abruptly excused herself, and brought back a man who, well, stared at me. She then showed us to our table—a four-top, far from the other diners, close to the door. I counted the empty two-tops as one server, then another asked for our drinks. Eventually, we ordered the malted wheat rolls.

“Absolutely!” our server said. “You look so familiar. Do you work at Scratch?” I do, in the kitchen, where customers rarely see me. “Yes,” I replied.

The rolls never arrived—but a moment later, Crawford did. Though we had never met, he uttered my name as he approached the table—“Emma”—and suddenly, it all made sense. They had planned this. “We are choosing not to be reviewed,” he said. And he wanted the table back “for someone coming in here to enjoy the food.” “OK,” I said, and he headed back to the kitchen. My partner and I headed for the door. The host, who, moments before, couldn’t stop staring at me, now couldn’t look me in the eye.

If you’re wondering what I ever did to Crawford? I am, too. But I have a guess: I did my job. I wrote about him. First, in my original Standard Foods review, when he was the chef (great concept, sometimes great food), and again in my re-review, after he left to open Crawford and Son (same concept, even better food).

Restaurant critics, by custom, dine anonymously to simulate any other customer’s experience. This is, of course, to the reader’s—not the restaurant’s—advantage. In larger cities, kitchens keep critics’ photos on the wall, while critics elaborately disguise themselves, like The New York Times’ Ruth Reichl, who was infamous for her wigs. If anonymity is compromised, there are two possible outcomes. The restaurant takes advantage and shows the critic what they want the world to see.

Or, this. Which leaves me with no review and lots of questions:

To what extent should the media, as Stephen Bannon puts it, “keep its mouth shut”? And who does that serve? Who benefits from training your staff to “catch” a critic, to refuse her service, to throw her out? Is this good business? Or hospitality?

If journalists pay for their restaurant experience, just like everyone else, where does an owner draw the line? Are diners forbidden from sharing feedback on Facebook and Twitter and Yelp? Are the ones who write something critical added to the blacklist, too?

Did my opinions about Standard Foods warrant this? Is doing my job a liability in doing my job? Or does writing candidly as a young woman come at its own cost?

You tell me.

As I continue as INDY’s restaurant critic, I’m excited to taste all our community has to offer. My editors and I work very hard to publish an informed, insightful, and fair perspective to help our hungry readers decide how to spend their money. We never take this role lightly, and we don’t hold grudges or grind axes.

While I am disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to dine at Crawford and Son, I look forward to the next restaurant. If you work there and spot me? Touché. Whether you show me your best meal or the door is up to you. But I hope you know: I’m rooting for you.

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