In yesterday’s Sunday Column, I summarized the ITP/OTP slapfest that broke out on this blog recently.
It seemed a simple enough request.
As I announced last week, we are busy assembling a group of local food writers to help contribute restaurant reviews and blog items as we work to expand our footprint and deepen our coverage of dining throughout the metro area.
So I ran a call-out for applicants in the Food and More blog a couple of weeks ago that specified we were looking for a writer familiar with restaurants outside the Perimeter. We also said we wanted someone who could cook, use blogging software and knew the difference between “flare” and “flair.”
But that OTP clause makes sense, right? There’s a lot of ground to cover in this megalopolis we call home. Though we try to cover Dixie like the voracious boll weevil here at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, we’ve done a better job of chewing intown.
Alas, that brief mention of the Perimeter was one part of the entire post that got people talking. It didn’t take long at all for camps to square off on either side of I-285.
The comments started rolling in:
“Great. Just what this place needs is reviews of TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s and Chili’s. Don’t forget Outback and Red Lobster for those special occasion meals …”
Such was the initial volley from an intown reader. People joined in the jeering section, reeling off the names of chain restaurants that dot the suburban landscape and bestowing their greatest contempt on Denny’s. (One satisfied Denny’s customer felt compelled to point out the breakfasts are “memorable.”)
I thought it was curious that people complain so much about chains in suburbia when the same ones line Peachtree Road, Piedmont Road, Ponce de Leon Avenue and North Druid Hills Road. But, you know, whatever …
Then came the first riposte:
“OTP rules! and I don’t mean Chili’s”
The intown folks didn’t buy it:
“Ya sure OTP rules. Top restaurants and Chefs make it a habit to open their establishments in places with low population densities and low disposable incomes.”
Uh-oh. Battle lines had been drawn.
“Up here in redneck Johns Creek we know nuttin about good eatin or any kind of money. Lucky for us [Country Club] of the South has outside bathrooms. I think most of the money IS in North Fulton, you morons.”
It looked like war was about to break out on the blog. But then some reasonable souls started actually naming restaurants in the northern suburbs — from the upscale Trattoria One 41 to the down-home Greenwood’s on Green Street. A number of people made the unassailable claim that most of the best Korean, Mexican, Chinese and other ethnic cuisines are to be found outside the Perimeter.
“I don’t know anybody with deep roots in the area who lives or eats exclusively ITP or OTP. There’s great pho in Norcross, authentic Mexican in Jonesboro and Conyers, and killer BBQ all over the place, just for a few examples … [I]f you can’t find a great meal on either side of the Great Divide you just ain’t trying.”
One comment, from a parent of a child in a sports league, really caught my eye:
” If you have kids, you are always toting them to some game or tournament at the other end of tarnation. The consolation to the hour-long drive was going to eat someplace new.”
That really got me thinking. People who live intown often find themselves in the ‘burbs looking for food after a soccer match, or a trip to Lumber Liquidators, or a test drive at CarMax. They stay on busy streets and highways filled with shiny new construction where they see nothing but chains. They don’t know where to go, so they end up at Chili’s. They may not know, for instance, that there is such a place as downtown Alpharetta, filled with locally owned restaurants.
People who live in the suburbs and come intown to eat do so because they’ve heard about the restaurant. Maybe it was reviewed in the paper or created some buzz on the blogs. They may have a good meal, or they may stumble into a place that can’t keep up with all the attention. And then they think, “I could’ve had just as good a meal without the hour of driving.”
Before they know it, the “T” word is forming on their lips. “Trendy.” Who needs it?
Not everyone has the perspective of this commenter, whom I would like to hug, given half a chance:
“It’s just a highway, people. It means nothing. It doesn’t separate good restaurants from bad, or wealthy people from poor ones, or chains from non-chains.”
That said, I’m ready to dive into this debate. Head first.