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Small Market Envy

August 26, 2009

Maybe I got a little bit carried away.

Last night I contributed two comments to our big local food blog.  Really I wrote the same comment twice.  And now I am going to write more about it here.  In part because there is certainly a chance that the Table Hopping mob may pounce on me for being less than gentle with their beloved Steve Barnes.

Through Steve’s blog I was clued into Bon Appétit’s “2009’s Top Ten Best New Restaurants in America.”  And it was this article that really got me fired up.

These things are usually of minimal interest.

Have you ever heard of a DMA?  It stands for Designated Market Area.  And Nielsen breaks up the country into 210 of them.  Every piece of land and every person living or dead is within one of the 210, like it or not.

Well, these lists usually are just the newest hot restaurant in each of the top 10 DMAs.  The magazines aren’t dumb.  That is generally where the bulk of their readership lives.  And it’s not as if Condé Nast can send reporters to Zanesville, OH to see if a new awesome restaurant opened in the past year.  Occasionally, a lucky restaurant or two from DMAs 11-20 will sneak in as a token gesture to the rest of the country.

But this list included a restaurant in Austin, Texas.

You will have to forgive me, because I am a bit of a numbers geek.  But for the 2007-2008 television season, Austin was ranked #51 with 635,860 TV households with Albany-Schenectady-Troy ranked #56 with 553,790 TV households.

The 2008-2009 report was more favorable for Austin.  They cracked the top 50 in the 49th position with 667,670 TV households, while Albany-Schenectady-Troy increased in households to 556,750 but slipped in rank to #57.

But still, out of 210 markets, Austin and Albany are remarkably close.  Plus they are both state capitals.  And each has a major state university.  Did I mention that All Over Albany has also gone on record noting a rivalry with the city as well?

So, I’ll ask again.
If Austin can do it, why can’t we?

http://olivia-austin.com/

The restaurant, by the way is called Olivia.  And it looks surprisingly similar to Creo’, which won some notoriety among the Times Union readers for being the best new restaurant in Albany.  I have written a bit about it in the past but despite its good looks, the food is fair at best.

Recently I have been accused of wishing that Albany were more like San Francisco.  And at the time I said that I would be happy if it were more like Providence, RI (which by the way is ranked #52).  Now we can add Austin to that list.

But seriously.

Our top food blogger is promoting free beef and cheddar sandwiches at Arby’s.
And our top food critic is spending her time in converted pubs and pizza parlors.

Something is wrong here.
Something is very wrong.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2009 9:25 am

    If I may play devil’s advocate for a minute, a big rationale for having any coverage of places like Arby’s or Mercatos has to do with a local newspaper’s “need” to be as fully encompassing as possible. It’s a delicate balance with your readers — how do you maintain high standards yet not devolve into populism and alienate many of your readers? How do you appeal to the more discerning while also appealing to the general public?

    I’m not saying I agree with this, by the way.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    August 26, 2009 9:35 am

    Austin has all that terrific Mexican-inflected food, along with the historic barbecue greatness, especially brisket, as specialties. Here, there is nothing like that, unless you count fish fry, mini-dogs, and/or mozzarella sticks with raspberry jam, all of which I find repulsive. In addition, Austin has a far bigger “catchment” area–there is no NYC or Montreal, or Boston, nearby–which means great restaurants are more likely to locate themselves near those three places rather than cap. district. Not at all similar in Austin, nothing nearby except San Antonio, and that’s at least an hour away. So you’ve got New World, Dale Miller, and a couple of others, but that’s it. We are a backwater, and Austin isn’t.

  3. August 26, 2009 10:39 am

    Yeah, I kind of agree with you about the Steve Barne’s thing. Anyone notice that a lot of the stuff on Table Hopping as of late is just reposted from either the food Reddit (http://www.reddit.com/r/food/) or some other site of that type? Every time I go to Table Hopping lately I have just read some of the posts somewhere else.

  4. August 26, 2009 11:42 am

    even the food review in the Metroland has recently changed. Bring back the review!!!

  5. Jeff Goodby permalink
    August 27, 2009 1:27 am

    yeah, but do you know what an ADI is?

    • August 27, 2009 11:18 pm

      I’m sure the Arbitron folks appreciate the shout-out.
      You know they’ve been gone for fifteen years.
      Their TV ratings were discontinued in 1993.

      People still had land line telephones then.
      And that other Jeff became director of the CMPB.

      Where does the time go.

  6. omaxwell permalink
    August 27, 2009 8:16 am

    Hah, and do you (I’m speaking to the fussy constituency here) know who Jeff Goodby is? Welcome to Albany, Jeff.

  7. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    August 28, 2009 9:53 am

    I don’t understand the last 3 arcane and/or in-joke comments.

  8. brownie permalink
    August 28, 2009 6:27 pm

    Free beef and cheddar is still free, even if it’s not exactly beef and cheddar. I’d consume it, and I rank Arby’s up with Taco Bell in the places I just won’t eat. Free is the right price, even if I pay for it in bog rolls.

    Like jess says, I think the problem here is that the paper feels the need to pander to the lowest common denominator to make sure someone’s reading in the first place. Most people will probably skip the reviews and hit a place that’s convenient or that fits their budget. The weaker the food culture (and Albany is weaker than Austin, I’m sorry) the less there is to draw the food-ignorant majority in to read your review.

    I come here to read because the Profussor is a knowledgeable friend, and I want to learn how to enjoy what I eat. That said, us non-foodies generally don’t know what the hell a foodie is, so why would we listen when they speak up? I’ll tell you why: Free beef and cheddar.

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