Brian Reinhart is an understated presence. With a quiet voice, a slight build and an amiable demeanor, he's the last guy in the room to draw attention to himself — which works in his favor now that Reinhart is the Observer's food critic, a role he's quietly filled for the last couple months.
When Scott Reitz left his job as the Observer's food critic late last year to head to
greener sunnier pastures in L.A., we shuffled through a few different critics, giving several writers on our roster a stab at it as I settled in as the new food editor. As the weeks went on, one writer stood out with his thoroughness, even-keeled criticism and a refreshing lack of over-inflated ego: Brian, an Indiana native who came to Dallas in 2012. A Rice University alumnus, he's lived in Detroit, San Antonio, Houston and London, where he went to grad school.
"I've worked in education and marketing, and write professionally about food, baseball stats and classical music, which makes for a really weird resume," Reinhart says.
He's exceedingly polite, can talk at length about wine and doesn't require even a modicum of caffeine to get going every morning, a trait that only the caffeine-averse find endearing. He's equally at home in fine dining establishments as in off-the-beaten-path dives. Why are we introducing him now? We believe in having a steady voice at the helm of our restaurant criticism, and we also believe readers can benefit from getting to know that voice. We also believe in transparency.
With that in mind, we chatted with Brian about his background, his palate and what Dallas dining does well:
How has your upbringing influenced your palate?
My mother is Turkish and a great cook from a family of great cooks, which is a huge part of my culinary background. At an early age, my parents were putting kofte spices in burgers and getting us kids to eat calamari by saying it was onion rings. We have lamb at every special occasion. Literally anything with feta cheese is a comfort food to me.
Also, my upbringing involved a lot of moving, and each time my family arrived in a new place, we pretty much devoured everything in our path — like when we first visited Texas, while living in Detroit. I'm pretty sure that eating real Tex-Mex for the first time was a big part of why we decided, OK, we need to move down here immediately, so we can have more Tex-Mex.
What's one style of food you think Dallas does particularly well?
Meat. Pretty much any way meat can be consumed, Dallas is great at. A more specific answer: Korean food. Dallas' Korean scene has so much to explore. Everywhere else I'd lived, there would be one token Korean restaurant that tried to serve everything. Here we have specialty soup places, barbecue places, fried chicken, seafood or noodle shops, tofu experts. It's fantastic.
What's the one food trend you wish would die a swift, painful death?
What's up with this trend of taking cheap stuff we had as kids and making super-expensive versions of it? I tried this place in D.C. that makes artisanal Pop-Tarts. They were good. But so are regular Pop-Tarts.
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How has writing about food changed your relationship to eating?
The weirdest part of this job is that inviting your friends out to dinner is literally a job requirement. It doesn't take the fun out of it, fortunately. I don't do the stereotypical restaurant critic thing of going someplace alone and ordering an obscene amount of food, so food writing has changed my social life more than it's changed my relationship to eating.
After a review is done, it's kind of a relief to spend a night at home eating microwaved leftovers and watching baseball.
What makes a good food critic?
An open mind. Education, experience with various foods, empathy for the cooks and staff. Enthusiasm. I go into every assignment hoping it's going to be awesome.
Honesty, too — but honesty doesn't just mean to honestly report what the meal was like. Honesty also means the food critic is not an infallible god, and we all have our quirks and tastes and spice tolerances. To be trustworthy, you have to admit that. I don't think I'm better at eating than most people, but my goal is to be good enough at writing that readers can get a good impression of what a restaurant is like, whether they would like it, and how one reasonably knowledgeable food writer felt.