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A Public Dialog on Burritos

March 8, 2010

It is always an exciting day over at FUSSYlittleBLOG headquarters any time a reader decides to hop the fence and become a first-time commenter.  The event is usually marked with hoots of joy and fist pumps as I hit the approve button on my dashboard.  But every now and again a celebrity commenter will grace these pages, and that is always especially exciting.

Granted, my idea of celebrity may not exactly be the same as yours.  Food journalists, restaurant owners, old admen, distillers, winemakers and respected bloggers get me all weak in the knees.

So last week Matt Baumgartner, fellow Interesting in 2009 recipient, local blogger, restaurant owner, and all around big man on campus came across my blog and took issue with something I had to say about one of his restaurants, Bombers Burrito Bar.

And I was very excited indeed, but I have to say a little perplexed.

Not everyone handles criticism gracefully.  And Mr. Baumgartner used to have a bad habit of “disemvoweling” critical comments on his former Timesunion.com blog.  So I was glad to see a very gracious note in response to a post where I did not say the kindest things about his burritos.

But Matt doesn’t actually care about the criticism per se.  In his words:
It is not the criticism of the burrito that bothers me, but rather your choice to say something so negative about a local business…I just think it’s unfortunate that you are using your platform to say negative things about local businesses who are genuinely trying to put out a good product and to make positive differences around here.

My goal for the FLB is to help raise the standards of our local restaurants.  For the most part, I think the food in Albany should be both better and less expensive than it is currently.  And to that end I think Mr. Baumgartner’s other enterprise Wolff’s Biergarten und Wurst Haus is doing a splendid job.

Critiquing restaurants, especially the local ones, that fall short of a higher standard is how I am trying to make a positive difference around here.  For me it is a form of tough love.

While I appreciate local businesses what matters most to me is food quality and value.  With so many good Italian restaurants in Albany, you won’t catch me at Olive Garden or the Macaroni Grill (unless I’m doing some kind of ethnography).  But for burritos I’m going to Chipotle.

Trying to put out a good product isn’t enough.  If you give me a choice of a local restaurant or a chain of identical quality and value, I’ll pick the local restaurant almost every time.  I’d sing Bombers’ praises in a heartbeat if they could make a comparable product to Chipotle.

So given that attitude you may ask yourself, “Why was I perplexed by Matt’s comment?”

I like to think of myself as tough but fair.  My thought was, “Why is Matt complaining about my negative opinion on the burritos when I am complimenting his wings?”  But when I went back and looked at the post I realized that the complement I paid to Bombers was buried in a link back to the original Wing War post.

I suppose this is a pitfall of assuming readers will click through every link to get the full story.  Blogging is still relatively new to me, and this is a good reminder to make sure I express my sentiments in the text of my posts.

Here is what I said that inspired the comment:
Even under the brutal conditions of the Times Union Wing War, there were two wings of surprising quality, The Ale House and Bombers’ (it’s still hard for me to mention Bombers without choking on the word – under no circumstances should you try their burritos).

But if Matt followed the Wing War link he would have seen this:
There is no love lost between Bombers and me.  I’m likely on the record saying that I hate it.  However, all of that vitriol is based on their eponymous burritos…If their wings are good enough to come in at number two, especially given all the hurdles they had to overcome, I will certainly be giving Matt’s place a second chance.
Maybe someone can convince him to drop “Burrito Bar” from the restaurant’s name.

Now, I understand that this may not feel like praise to the owner of a small local business.  But after I have written a place off, it is extremely difficult to get me to come back around.  And that is what I have done based on the strength of the wings.  It is a huge victory.

That said, I remain unconvinced about the Bomber’s burritos.  And I am not alone.  There are 31 one and two star reviews for the place on Yelp.  Sure, some are about the service or the cleanliness, but most are about the poor food.  Plus many of the reviews are from people I know and trust.

It is not as if I am expecting perfection in a burrito joint.  I am not even expecting authenticity.  But I do think Mr. Baumgartner could benefit from checking out the criteria set forth by the good folks at Burrito Eater and then taking a good hard look at his product.

Now should Matt be interested in a burrito crawl, I’d happily buy burritos at Chipotle for him and if he was serious when he offered to make a burrito for me.  Although I would suggest we make it a double-date, after all there is safety in numbers.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 8, 2010 11:17 am

    I don’t know or care about Baumgarten’s freaking burritos. But what I do take exception to is his suggestion that a food blogger–a FOOD BLOGGER–shouldn’t say anything negative about a local business! Beyond outrageous. Don’t know if his burritos suck (most do locally) but his attitude certainly does.

  2. tsetzer permalink
    March 8, 2010 11:18 am

    I have to take umbrage with Chipotle as the winner of the burrito wars. Maybe my sign in should be Fussy Little NorCal transplant….but the Chipotle pre mass expansion was a better product than what I have experienced at the Latham property.

    I was there a few weeks ago for an early dinner to go and found the employees very off putting but I was there for the food not to make friends. I purchased two different types of burritos and soft tacos to bring home. I was very disappointed by the saltiness of all the meat fillings. I ordered carnitas, chicken and beef to get the full variety and will not be going back.

    Perhaps I am jaded by my own Mexican/Latin cooking and do not take into account that this is intended to be fast food but I was really disappointed after the long wait for a Chipotle in the Capital Region. Bombers is not a place I have loved and Bad Ass Burritos is just plain bad. Hot Harry’s in East Greenbush is another locally owned and operated place where the food is decent and the staff are really nice.

    • Ellie permalink
      March 9, 2010 6:01 pm

      I had a terrible experience with the Chipotle Regional Manager. When I filled out a complaint form online, they never even responded to it.

  3. March 8, 2010 7:43 pm

    An interesting subject, to be sure. It’s interesting when someone calls you out online for something, but also another measure of supporting local just for locality’s sake. It is *tough* to run a business in NYS, but I also think that having read Matt’s blog it shows he’s got passion for what he’s doing. And you’re also a unique person for realizing conversation for what it is – it is really easy to take things too personally online. I think on the whole, it’s all still a really cool concept that everything can be so civil, but everyone still voices their opinions here. Very cool, Albany.

    And while I also think Chipotle’s burritos are better (well, for carnivores), I have got to get you there for the wings.

  4. burritowizard permalink
    March 9, 2010 3:26 am

    I don’t know much about burritos in Albany, but I hope there is someplace better than Chipotle. http://www.burritowisdom.com

  5. Elyse permalink
    March 9, 2010 8:04 am

    Bomber’s burritos are mediocre at best but I would choose to go to Bombers over Chipotle any day because the Margaritas are killer and because it is one of a small handful of fun lively joints on Lark st. (THERE NEED TO BE MORE OF THOSE, ALBANY!!!!) Fast food chain joints in Latham depress me.

  6. March 9, 2010 9:56 am

    Bomber’s, regardless of their mediocre fare, has a soft spot in my heart. I remember sitting at Lionheart (it used to be where the upper Bomber’s restaurant is now, if you have forgotten already) munching a starchy and filling gravy-chicken burrito whilst getting sloshed. Flavorless, bland, and requiring a pint glass of hot sauce? Yes, but very apt at soaking up alcohol. I enjoyed the “kitchy” nature of the place, you know, the Pac Man game and the silly pictures on the walls.

    The place has a niche, but as a burrito traditionalist who has lived in good Burrito country (I hate to say it Fussy, but Southern Arizona beats Northern California IMO) I agree that it is debatable that what they serve at Bomber’s should even be referred to as burritos in the first place. They are vague conglomerations of ingredients wrapped in a tortilla and sold at inflated prices, but hey, that is what some people around here want to eat. I average about 1 a year from shear nostalgia for my halcyon youth roaming Lark Street.

    It is fairly amusing to me that you got the owner’s dander up, his rationale is kind of lame. I think I am going to have to stuff the family into a vehicle, leave suburbia, and have a meal there and give my own unique perspective on the situation. If people are getting all pissed off, I want to be involved. I am like an 8 year old that way.

  7. March 9, 2010 10:08 am

    I’ve never had a Bomber’s burrito but from everything I’ve heard, they’re not very good and I hate to waste money. I have had Chipotle’s burritos and for what it’s worth and for what a burrito is worth for that matter, I like them. But I also like Chipotle because of the ingredients they use in their burritos. Bombers may be local, but if it’s local made with subpar ingredients, I’ll pass.

    The other thing I took issue with was Matt’s criticizing you for criticizing his business. You write a food blog and business owners who put out a product should be prepared to deal with reviews of that product. Instead of getting defensive, it would be nice to see him take seriously some of the very valid criticisms that have been directed at Bombers.

  8. Brendan permalink
    March 10, 2010 11:50 am

    “I just think it’s unfortunate that you are using your platform to say negative things about local businesses who are genuinely trying to put out a good product and to make positive differences around here.”

    Give us a break, Matt. Mrs. Ottoway had a much more powerful platform than this blog (but we like this one better) and when she gave us a “scathing review” we didn’t send her emails to bitch about it. We changed things that need to be changed then we slapped ourselves and remembered it’s just one person and you can’t please everyone. It was our first even slightly negative review in almost 20 years. A lot of businesses give back to the community and “put out a good product” but that doesn’t mean you’re not in line for some criticism.

  9. March 10, 2010 1:30 pm

    I noticed the last line of Matt’s comment:

    “If I can ever make you a burrito myself that I am sure you will enjoy, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

    Bad idea. As I’ve told my kids several times, always be nice to people who are handling your food, because they are handling your food.

  10. Sarah permalink
    March 10, 2010 1:52 pm

    “If you give me a choice of a local restaurant or a chain of identical quality and value, I’ll pick the local restaurant almost every time. I’d sing Bombers’ praises in a heartbeat if they could make a comparable product to Chipotle.”

    Isn’t Chipotle a chain? Why not go to Bros Tacos?

  11. March 10, 2010 4:15 pm

    Yeah, I don’t know anyone who will honestly say they like Bombers’ burritos.

    Matt has a good thing going and he knows what he’s doing, but the key word in “Bombers Burrito Bar” is the last one. This is a Lark Street business, folks, it’s there because people drink. And Matt is great at making people happy to be drinking in his place.

    Yes, the burritos are terrible. I will say that I like Bombers’ wings. A lot. And if I’m there and I don’t want the wings, the salads are good if you can get your server to bring up the big squeeze bottle of hot sauce — I have no idea what it is, it could be poured out of a giant Sysco tub for all I care, it’s tasty.

    But the thing I like most at Bombers is the Jimbo.

    There you have it.

    (Dan, I’ll be cracking open your split pea soup from the swap tonight)

  12. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 10, 2010 5:15 pm

    I think many of you are missing the point which was Matt’s thin skin and anti-democratic nature, not the quality of his burritos.

  13. March 10, 2010 5:27 pm

    Mr. Sunshine, compared to his antics in his brief life as a TU blogger, I actually found his restraint impressive. But being disappointed that a local blogger would say something negative about a local business is ridiculous, which was covered in earlier comments here…

    (i.e., just because I don’t mention it doesn’t mean I’m missing it; why would I just repeat your comment?)

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