City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Sunday Column: The AJC has a new(ish) restaurant critic

egoIn yesterday’s print column in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I announced that I will be resuming the role of principal restaurant critic.


Nearly six years ago I wrote that it “was time to put my fork in the dishwasher” and stopped reviewing restaurants for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. At that time my kids were young, my girth was expanding at an alarming rate and my brain was a little worn out from 13 solid years of critiquing food here and elsewhere. It seemed the right time for a change.

But nothing is permanent — not even change. Friday, I will resume the role of principal restaurant critic, replacing Meridith Ford Goldman, who left the paper earlier this summer. You can read my reviews every week in the AJC’s Friday Go Guide and at on our Food and More blog, where you will be able to comment on them. I look forward to some spirited discussions online and am busily applying skin-thickening agent as I type!

Now here’s the best news: My chewing will be abetted by a team of bloggers/reviewers that we are assembling. These dining experts will contribute weekly, starred reviews to the Go Guide. With two starred reviews each week — both based on multiple visits — the AJC will be the best local source for informed opinion about the places to search out and those to avoid.

These writers will also help me turn the Food and More blog into a more informative and interactive place to talk about chowing down throughout metro Atlanta. We’ll do a more thorough job of keeping up with and breaking news about restaurants and chefs, and we’ll post more quick hits about great dishes, markets, recipes and drinks around town.

We want to cover everything from neighborhood taverns and bistros to burger joints, international dining and Southern meat and threes, in addition to the more upscale places. We will open restaurants at every price point to critical assessment and discussion.

We’re also making an effort to cover the metro area like never before and will be as on top of what’s going on in Alpharetta and Marietta as we are in Midtown and Buckhead. Everyone wants to talk about the restaurants closer to where they live, and we are committed to doing a better job of leading that discussion.

As I wrote this column, we were still interviewing candidates, so it will be a few weeks before we get our team in place. However, my first review will appear in the AJC Friday.

For my part, I’m anxious to delve back in. Atlanta is a very different dining city than it was when I stopped reviewing in 2005.

Neighborhood dining options are better than ever, yet the high end has melted away. The city has lost too many of its name chefs. Restaurateurs seem a little gun-shy from the recession and perhaps a bit complacent. I know these are hard economic times, but if I’m going to spend any money to eat out, I want some pizzazz.

Street food is just starting to take off, and I hope it will be the engine that one day will reinvigorate things around here. If we can incubate young, creative culinary minds, we’re golden.

As much as I want to keep up with restaurant openings, I plan to revisit places that haven’t gotten a good critical eye in awhile. If restaurants are resting on their laurels, I want to be the one to suggest you might be better off spending your money elsewhere. My duty is to readers, not to chefs. I don’t want to be a jerk, but restaurants have to pass benchmarks to earn each of those stars.

I also plan to explore the far reaches. I love trying international cuisines, and that is one of this city-of-immigrants’ greatest assets. Just as I want to encourage you to splurge on a $100 meal that’s really worth it, I’ll also try to get you in your car and drive for an hour to try a dish that will blow your mind.

Please check out our Food and More blog Monday for more details about how this will all take shape, and join our conversation. Me? I’m heading to the gym, STAT.

38 comments Add your comment


August 23rd, 2010
9:15 am

Welcome back, John!


August 23rd, 2010
9:18 am

Congratulations? :)

It’s great to have you back! Sounds like there are good things in the works.


August 23rd, 2010
9:27 am

Glad to have you back. It sounds like all really good changes. I love the team approach. I will be reading and enjoying! Bon appetit!


August 23rd, 2010
9:42 am

Congrats John. I look forward to seeing the new format.

Ramona Clef

August 23rd, 2010
9:55 am

This should be great. I like your writing.

Marie Burgess

August 23rd, 2010
10:03 am

John: How does one go about joining your team of reviewers/bloggers? I would welcome the chance to work with you. I am at native Atlantan, love to eat and have a degree in journalism from Georgia State.

Please give me a shout. 404-643-1160.

Amelia Turney

August 23rd, 2010
10:04 am

Welcome back, John! Looking forward to your reviews.


August 23rd, 2010
10:22 am

Congrats John, this new format and your continued input should make a good thing great!!!


August 23rd, 2010
11:02 am

Very glad that you’re returning to this position! I’ve always enjoyed your reviews.


August 23rd, 2010
11:34 am

So glad you are back as AJC dining critic. No offense to Ms. MFG, but I’ve always preferred your writing style and the personality that comes through in your articles. How about starting a weekly online chat like your fellow reviewer Tom Sietsema at the Washington Post. I live in ATL (although previously lived in the DC area) and I still read his chat transcript every week.


August 23rd, 2010
11:52 am

Congrats! Looking forward to the new format.


August 23rd, 2010
12:07 pm

I am so excited to have you back — a reviewer who cares a whole lot more about the food than about the scene. You inspired me to break for pupusas at Rincon Latino, and to forego the baklava for yogurt and honey at Kyma in the days before we could all buy Fage at our local Publix. Your return is long overdue!


August 23rd, 2010
12:32 pm

I like your writing too. I think this sounds very promising and we look forward to participating.


August 23rd, 2010
12:53 pm

Glad to hear this!


August 23rd, 2010
1:49 pm

Hi! Welcome back! Just want to remind you that there is life (and restaurants) in south Fulton County. Come on down!


August 23rd, 2010
1:53 pm

That’s not me up there. I have been name jacked! You all know I’m not that nice.

Sonny Clusters

August 23rd, 2010
2:09 pm

We was always a big fan and we especially like the Dairy Queen and would like to see some reviews.


August 23rd, 2010
2:15 pm

This is my first post at AJC online. I really enjoy reading your posts and columns and I am looking forward to reading your reviews.

When you come to the East side, check out Tutti Fruity in Conyers, as well as this place! – a great Puerto Rican restaurant


August 23rd, 2010
2:39 pm

good luck John! I look forward to your reviews.

A reader

August 23rd, 2010
2:59 pm

This is great news! But one question — How will you manage to stay undercover while you review the restaurants? Surely you will be recognized since you photo has been in the paper and online for 6 years now.


August 23rd, 2010
3:25 pm

GREAT NEWS!! I would love to be on your team of reviewers after living here over 20 years and have enjoyed or not, most of the dining scene!!


August 23rd, 2010
3:54 pm

Other “A” sorry I didn’t know there was someone else using that handle here. I normally post on Momania, but I also love food, restaurants, etc. and am very glad Kessler is back.

John Kessler

August 23rd, 2010
3:55 pm

Thanks, everyone! I do hope to make it to South Fulton more often, Cynthia. (Any recs?)

A Reader — I address anonymity (and lack thereof) in the next post.

Stephanie — Look for the post where I put up the call out last week for instructions on how to apply.

Angela Easley

August 23rd, 2010
4:54 pm

Welcome Back John! It’s good to hear you will be targeting other areas outside of Atlanta, i.e Marietta and Alpharetta. There are some great local restaurants that don’t get the attention and are “good eats”.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adam Roberts, Kim Severson, Jennifer Zyman, tami hardeman, ajcdinecritic and others. ajcdinecritic said: Sunday Column: The AJC has a new(ish) restaurant critic (Food & More blog) [...]

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Erickson, Culintro, Louise Mulherin PR, Louise Mulherin PR, Janet Hoffmann and others. Janet Hoffmann said: RT @Culintro: [...]

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]


August 23rd, 2010
7:38 pm


Can I call you Kess? Your column on the tlayuda is one of my favorite food reviews of all-time, anywhere. Where did Meredith go? I didn’t realize she left.



August 23rd, 2010
8:43 pm

Congrats John! I can’t wait to hear your review of that new Longhorn in Buford. On a serious note, am totally going to miss the randomness of this blog. It has become a must read for me.

Hal Boyd

August 24th, 2010
6:07 am

Welcome back John! I look forward to learning more about my dining choices with you.


August 24th, 2010
11:16 am

Other A-I’m not going to be posting too much in the future so you are welcome to ‘A’. I would warn you not to get on any of the opinion blogs (and momania as well) where I have been doing full out, name calling battle. You’ll just get slugged and not know why.


August 24th, 2010
11:40 am

I hope that with this can come with a complete revamping of the way the restaurant search page is done. It is pretty pitiful. Allow searches by region/cuisine/rating (critic and other)/$$$/breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner. Not just one of these but combinations of these. Provide a decent display with sorts and you would be on the way to something usable. A simple thing to do that this site does horribly. If done well, we could see your thoughts on where we should eat… when we want them.


August 25th, 2010
11:25 am

Did someone really post their phone number on a blog?

janet wyche

August 25th, 2010
7:58 pm

Well this is the best news in the food world for the AJC in well . . . six years. I don’t think, I know I can food blog. And I would love, love, love . . . to work for you, John. Give me a shot and forget your doors, I’ll blow the doors off the whole city! Congratulations John! Guess those seven untitled novels will have to wait! Good for Atlanta! Sidebar: I can cheerlead those novels into print on the side. ;)


August 26th, 2010
10:32 am

Hey, we’re really glad to have you back as a critic. Your writing and insight are inspiring.
Just wonder why AJC can’t keep or doesn’t want female critics. Meredith and Eleanor Ringel were both excellent. No offense meant.

The Real Foodie

August 26th, 2010
11:39 am

Agree with Stephanie about Eleanor Ringel although I understand it was about money. The AJC no longer wanted to pay a reviewer.


August 26th, 2010
9:18 pm

Wow…that is such terrific news. I, too, enjoyed MFG but am delighted to have you back on the review scene. Write on!


August 27th, 2010
3:54 pm

Do you think it will make a difference now that everyone knows what you look like? Or is that where the new crew comes in?