Let the Good Thyme Roll: ‘Times-Picayune’ Returns to Restaurant Reviews

By: Joe Strupp

It took nearly three years, but restaurant reviews are back in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. Reviewer Brett Anderson, who last reviewed a local eatery in July 2005, has not done so since, due to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath devastation.

In Friday’s paper, Anderson was once again on the beat, reviewing Mr. B’s Bistro and giving it a respectable three “”beans,”” the Creole Country paper’s version of stars.

“”It is a place people go for local food prepared rationally, for reasonable ransom, at a level of quality that won’t make you ponder the molecular structure of oysters but rarely dips below above-average,”” Anderson wrote. “”You go in the mood to experience a New Orleans restaurant, not an event — although sometimes dinner turns out to be one.””

In a first-person piece about his return to reviewing Anderson laid out the reasons, though not surprising, about why the daily had held back reviews for some three years.

“”Hurricane Katrina and the engineering failures it exposed altered the way countless citizens and institutions operate,”” Anderson wrote in the story Friday. “”In the immediate aftermath of the levee breaches, it was impossible to imagine covering restaurants as I had in the past. So I didn’t. I wrote news stories, features and columns, but no restaurant reviews.

“”For the first year or so, this decision required no explanation. Restaurants catalyzed the local economy, and rating their performance as they rebuilt from scratch — in many cases literally — never struck me as logical,”” he added. “”Supplies were difficult to come by. (If you think you’ve had a tough three years, talk to a shrimper.) As giant swaths of the area lay in ruins, the population, having been reduced to almost zero, was returning, but at a slow crawl. And good luck finding a plumber, much less someone to roast bones for a demi-glace, decant a Chateau Margaux or wash the dishes.””

Eventually, however, the paper realized it had to get back to the business of bistros, a well as cafes, shrimp shacks and every other local favorite. New Orleans, after all, is known as much for its eating establishments as its nightlife, music, and Bourbon Street bedlam.

While the Times-Picayune understandably promoted its return to reviews with a strip teaser across the top of Page One, The New York Times apparently found it big news as well, publishing a front page story Friday that proclaimed: “”New Orleans has gotten its beans back.””

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