The Tap: In Defense of Negative Reviews

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This week in the Tap: We consider the positive side of being negative.

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The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at

Mike Mommsen / Heavy Table
Mike Mommsen / Heavy Table

Some Thoughts on the Topic of Negative Reviews

We inevitably receive backlash whenever we post a review perceived as negative. That reaction — as exemplified most recently by much of the talk surrounding our review of Giordano’s — is totally understandable. In a perfect world, every restaurant would deliver consistent, customer-pleasing value for the dollar while living up to the promises made by its marketing and concept. And even in our imperfect world, many restaurants do. We run a greater number of positive reviews than mixed reviews here on the Heavy Table, and more mixed reviews than takedowns.

The reviews don’t come from nowhere

When we do run a negative review, it’s the result of multiple anonymous visits, often undertaken by multiple reviewers. We regularly spend hundreds of dollars to explore a menu before reporting — in specific ways, using physical, tangible observations rather than generalities — on our experience. Should you think that Heavy Table is unfair in the way it evaluates restaurants, read through our catalog of past reviews — there are hundreds, they trend toward the positive, and they are united in their search for nuance. We’ll report negative (or positive) aspects of places, even if it makes our storyline less clear, because we want to let the data steer the ship. We’ve even revisited restaurants to give them second chances on the strength of positive buzz.

Honest reviews are good for the diners …

First and foremost, the Heavy Table is a site written for diners. We understand that your time and money are finite, and that you’d rather have a whole and accurate picture of a restaurant’s strengths and weaknesses than a recapitulation of points written by a PR firm. From a publisher’s perspective, it arguably makes little sense to run negative reviews, as they can hurt advertising revenues and ruffle feathers. But the Heavy Table is, has been, and will continue to be a place that serves its readers first. In so doing, we are building an audience that is discerning and influential.

… And they’re good for the scene …

Minneapolis-St. Paul is one of the liveliest and most promising food scenes in the country. It has the potential to rise to the level of upper echelon cities like Seattle, Chicago, and New Orleans, and if you want to make the case that we’ve already gotten there, we’d take you seriously as you did so. But the only way that this scene will continue to improve is if people are honest about the strengths and weaknesses of what’s going on here. The service culture has a long way to go. There is a distracting emphasis on characterless $16 small plates. Local ingredients are great, but they can’t substitute for consistent quality and good value. These conversations have to start somewhere, and it’s our mission to be that place. By praising the good and questioning the dubious, we hope to move things forward.

… And they’re even good for the restaurants involved

There is a perception that a negative review shuts a restaurant down. In the (vast) majority of cases, it doesn’t. Just as an ailing patient is killed by cancer and not the diagnosis of cancer, a restaurant may suffer because its guests suffer — but it will rarely suffer more simply because someone has put that suffering into words. A negative review is actually the most valuable kind of feedback imaginable: specific, tangible information about how the restaurant is experienced by a dissatisfied guest. As such, it’s a list of things to fix in order to move forward.

Ultimately, all of us — readers, writers, restaurateurs — want the same thing: a galaxy of dining choices, sparkling with promise. We think that we’ll arrive at that bright future by honest reporting, regardless of how painful or distracting it may be in the short term. And we hope that when we bring you news that’s negative or mixed, you’ll think back to our positive stories and take it at least a little more seriously knowing that we won’t report that the sun is shining when we’re actually being soaked by rain. — James Norton


  • I (Heart) Pho, 850 Maryland Ave E, St. Paul | A short item in the PiPress indicates that this place is owned by the same folks who run iPho by Saigon.
  • Parella, Calhoun Square | Along with Monello and Il Foro, this is part of the intoxicating fog of upscale Italian restaurants that has descended upon us. Michael Larson (formerly of Parasole, currently of Digby’s) is behind this venture.
  • IN Spirits, 983 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | The crazy flavor crew of Verdant Tea is back after the shuttering of their Franklin Avenue spot, presenting a collaboration in Northeast Minneapolis that pairs them up with Intelligent Nutrients. Jess Fleming praised the aromatherapeutic cocktails as “stunners.” The name is essentially impossible to Google.
Peter Sieve / Heavy Table
Peter Sieve / Heavy Table
  • Tattersall Distilling, 1620 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis | Currently the place-of-the-moment, and why shouldn’t it be? Cocktail rooms are white hot right now, and proprietor Dan Oskey has a solid rep. We have a review in progress.
  • Wander North, 771 Harding St NE Suite 150, Minneapolis | With the opening of this space, Wander North becomes the third cocktail room in the Twin Cities.
Mike Mommsen / Heavy Table
Mike Mommsen / Heavy Table
  • Giordano’s, 2700 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | This Chicago deep dish pizza chain has plenty of fanatic followers, based on the 2- to 3-hour waits that have been clogging this place since its opening. Here’s our review.
  • The King and I Thai (reopened), 760 Highway 110, Mendota Heights | There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when this Thai-food institution closed in 2012; it’ll be revealing to see how much of its original clientele make the trek to the new incarnation.
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
  • Saint Dinette, 261 E 5th St, St. Paul | Second restaurant by the J.D. Fratzke / Tim Niver team behind the critically acclaimed Strip Club. We gave it four stars and have visited it a number of times, finding everything spot on.
  • Ox Cart Ale House, 255 E 6th St, St. Paul | The third restaurant from the Eagle Street Grille team (Minneapolis / St. Paul Business journal has a nice preview piece.) We disliked their second restaurant (The Salt Cellar), but Ox Cart seems to be a far simpler, cleaner concept. We look forward to reviewing it.
  • 4 Bells, 1610 Harmon Place, Minneapolis | A Southern-themed joint by the folks behind Butcher and the Boar; distinctly mixed reviews over on Chowhound.
  • Il Foro, City Center, Minneapolis | An Italian-influenced reinvention of the Forum in downtown Minneapolis; half of its leadership team runs the wildly successful Smack Shack in the North Loop. Jess Fleming sketches out the place here.
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table


Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
  • Romolo’s in St. Paul | Our review — we’re seriously sad to see this place go. Old-school St. Paul Italian-American to the nth degree.
  • Trattoria Da Vinci | The exception that proves the Lowertown boom rule?
  • Workshop at Union | Soon to be replaced by another “creative space” within this pricey downtown dreadnought? Eater thinks so.
  • Nye’s Polonaise Room (closing 2015) | This trolltastic City Pages column nonetheless does a good job of expressing some of the ambiguity about the passing of the nationally known and locally legendary Nye’s.



  • Ramen Kazama, 3400 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis | August 2015
  • Cafe Alma, 528 University Ave SE, Minneapolis | Summer 2015 | Hailed by the Star Tribune as this year’s Best Upcoming Project and a “casual breakfast-to-late night cafe, coffee bar, wine bar and bakery.”
  • Bogart’s Doughnut Company, downtown location, IDS Center, Minneapolis | August 2015 | Bogart’s is up there with Mojo Monkey and Yo Yo Donuts for quality and creativity, so it’s encouraging to see them grow.
  • Lawless Distilling, 2619 28th Ave S, Minneapolis | Summer 2015
  • Scena Tavern, 2943 Girard Ave S, Minneapolis | Summer 2015
  • Bonicelli Kitchen, 1901 NE Fillmore St, Minneapolis | August 2015 | A catering business making the jump to bricks-and-mortar.
  • Twin Spirits Distillery, 2931 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis | Fall 2015
  • Able Seedhouse and Brewery, 1121 Quincy St NE, Minneapolis | Winter 2015
  • Lakes and Legends Brewing Company, 1368 Lasalle Ave, Minneapolis | Summer 2015
  • Q Fanatic, South Metro, Minneapolis | Summer 2015 (second location) | Although the local BBQ scene is mighty weak, we do think Q Fanatic does a good job at serving up serious Q. This new location, along with upcoming truck Bark and the Bite, suggests that there’s hope for us yet.
  • DiNoko’s Pizzeria, 4457 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis | August 2015 | Apropos of Giordano’s (see above), DiNoko’s is a local place that can do deep dish pizza seriously well. Their move from Nokomis to downtown Minneapolis didn’t work out; here’s hoping that their return foray to South Minneapolis does.
  • Eggy’s Diner, LPM Apartments, 1369 Spruce Pl, Minneapolis | Summer 2015 | If this name doesn’t set expectations comfortably low for you, I’m not sure what would.
  • Bryn Mawr Brewing, 225 Thomas Ave N, Minneapolis | Winter 2015
  • Eastside at Latitude 45, 301 Washington Ave S, Minneapolis | September 22, 2015 | Eastside will feature Seattle-based chef Nick Dugan as its Chef de Cuisine, working alongside Executive Chef Remy Pettus.
  • Restaurant TBA replacing the Modern in Northeast Minneapolis | Summer 2015
  • Seward Co-op Creamery Neighborhood Cafe, 2601 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis | August 12, 2015 | See our preview here. We have high hopes for this place between the chef (Lucas Almendinger, formerly of Third Bird) and Seward’s connections to the local food scene.
  • Hi-Lo Diner (working name), 4020 E Lake St, Minneapolis | Autumn of 2015 | Seward and Longfellow are really jumping onto the breakfast train after years of struggling to get by with nothing more than the overpriced Longfellow Grill and the inedible Denny’s; Mon Petit Cheri seems to be doing well, and the new Seward Co-op Creamery Cafe will be a serious breakfast presence as well. Hi-Lo is getting in as the neighborhoods heat up. Here’s the press release and a photo of a crane lifting the diner into place.
  • St. Genevieve, 5003 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis | 2015
  • Seward Co-op Friendship Store, 317 38th St E, Minneapolis | Summer 2015
  • Upton43, 4312 Upton Ave, Minneapolis | September 2015
  • Urban Forage Winery and Cider House, 3016 E Lake St, Minneapolis | Fall 2015 | We profiled these guys when they were mounting their (successful) Kickstarter campaign, and they have a fascinating take on how to do earthy, grassroots local wine and cider.
  • Lost Falls Distillery, 1915 E 22nd St, Minneapolis | Summer 2015
  • The Herbivorous Butcher, Minneapolis | Summer 2015 | These guys have gotten serious national press and look poised to become a force in the food scene once their bricks-and-mortar spot is up and running.
  • Pizzeria Lola concept TBD, 165 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis | 2015
  • The Bachelor Farmer Cafe project to be named, 200 N 1st St, Minneapolis | 2015

St. Paul

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
  • 11 Wells Millwright Cocktail Room, Historic Hamm Building, St. Paul | Summer 2015
  • Lexington (new ownership), 1096 Grand Ave, St. Paul | Mid-November 2015 or later | It’ll be interesting to see how the ambitious team behind this revamp and relaunch tackles the task. Between its facade, its location, and its glorious but stuffy, old-school feel, we’ll find it tough to sort the baby from the bathwater on this one. Jess Fleming sums up the progress or lack thereof here.
  • Taco Libre 1221 South Robert Street, West St. Paul | August 10 | Jess Fleming has the preview here.

Greater Twin Cities Area and Beyond

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
  • The Alchemist, 2222 4th St, White Bear Lake | September 2015 | A craft cocktail haven run by legendary mixologist Johnny Michaels (above).
  • Ruscello, Nordstrom Ridgedale, Minnetonka | October 2015
  • 10K Brewing, Bank Block on Second and Main, Anoka | July 2015 | A reader writes: “According to their Kickstarter, they are looking to have a backer party August 21 / 22 and then a full opening after that. It’s currently all dependent on a liquor license from Anoka though. But since they drove the city council to allow tap rooms inside city limits, this is likely to approved.”
  • Gogi Bros. House, Shady Oak Retail Center, Eden Prairie | Summer 2015 | These guys haven’t updated their Facebook presence since April.
  • Wicked Wort Brewing Co., 4165-4175 W Broadway, Robbinsdale | Fall 2015

The Tap is the Heavy Table’s guide to area restaurant openings, closings, and other major events. The Tap is compiled and published biweekly by the Heavy Table. If you have tips for The Tap, please email James Norton at


  1. Steve

    James, you mentioned making anonymous visits to restaurants. Obviously restaurant staff won’t recognize everyone in your party. But with your picture seen fairly frequently in Twin Cities media, I don’t imagine you’re anonymous for long. Following Rick Nelson’s lead, does it really matter if a restaurant visit is anonymous?

  2. Joe Allen

    Mr. Norton,

    I am happy to see you are not shying away from presenting truthful, comprehensive restaurant reviews, even the negative ones. Leave that to certain other TC food media.

    This is no place for the scourge of “Minnesota nice”. Keep up the good work.

  3. James Norton

    Joe, thanks for the kind words. Steve, I think Mr. Nelson tackled the anonymous question pretty comprehensively, but I’ll briefly add my two cents: even if I’m IDed, there’s little-to-nothing a restaurant can do to positively impact the value prospect, the ingredient quality, the dish consistency (etc.) which make up the bulk of any given review. Service is probably as likely to deteriorate (overly fussy or self-conscious) as it is to improve, and any place that can pick me out and react on the fly is actually already likely to be a reasonably tight operation. It also helps that Heavy Table has a team approach to reviewing – more often than not, I’m not the primary writer, and I just bat clean up to glean a bit more information and verify my writers’ conclusions.

  4. Jason Walker

    Very well said. Thanks for addressing this topic, and for consistently making Heavy Table an example of solid, valuable food writing.

  5. DDBHack

    Mr. Norton – I understand when a media outlet gives “bad” reviews and I actually appreciate them – when they are warranted. It’s not so much that Giordano’s received a 1/2 star review but this review was worthless to the person who wanted to see if this particular Giordano’s chain could put out a good version of a stuffed pizza or how it compares to other “Chicago style” offerings in the Twin Cities. Instead, we read about why it wasn’t as good as some of the Neapolitan-style places in town. As requested, I went back through some of the other reviews. You gave Piccolo only 2 1/2 stars mainly because it was too expensive for the portion size? Piccolo rated the same as Five Guys and Ariana Kebab, which all rated one whole star less than Pizzeria Lola! In your defense, your Five Guys review was by a D.C. transplant who longed for this chain to come to the Twin Cities. I enjoy your site and read your reviews but you have to admit that maybe your reviews need some critical evaluation.

  6. My Annoying Opinions

    Yes, it would be great if everyone in the MN food world (professionals or amateurs) would break from the booster’ish mode and write with more of a critical eye: it can only be good for the scene. I’ve taken some stick for some of my less enthusiastic reviews in the last couple of years. On that note, here is my review of a not-good recent meal at Travail:

  7. Alvin Barthol

    Literary Review’s then editor, Auberon Waugh, was reviewing a novel a week and slowly realised that a number of worthy novels had gratuitous sex scenes dumped into them, at the behest, he presumed, of editors who felt that these would add to the books’ commercial potential. The prize was established to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”.

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