Food News

Morning News Critic Leslie Brenner Dressed Like a Mummy to Sneak into Proof + Pantry

The saga is finally over. After the owners of Proof + Pantry refused to allow The Dallas Morning News' food critic to pay for a meal that she was planning on reviewing, Leslie Brenner has finally published her thoughts on the One Arts Plaza restaurant and dropped a cute little bombshell in the process.

After Brenner's controversial initial visit to Proof + Pantry, she had to dine at the restaurant at least one more time in order to meet the News' requirements for food reviews. Knowing that Martensen and Jafar would try to comp her again, Brenner dressed up in costume and visited the restaurant with a group of guests on Halloween night.

Betting the restaurant's owners wouldn't ask a guest to remove her Halloween costume, Brenner wrapped her entire head in muslin and cheesecloth to obscure her identity in an entirely elaborate mummy costume. "I thought a mummy was my best shot at not being recognized," Brenner told me via email. "If they suspected it was me, they probably wouldn't ask me to remove the wrapping. What if they were wrong and they asked an ordinary guest to destroy her costume?"

Brenner's plan worked. Even though she is no ordinary guest, the critic was able to dine with her also-costumed guests undetected, and clearly had an excellent experience. Even after a "tense" confrontation in the restaurant on the first visit, Brenner awarded the restaurant three stars in a decidedly positive review.

"I have a hard time understanding what Proof + Pantry's owners were afraid of," she wrote. "Both times I dined there, friends in tow, we all had a wonderful time and quite liked the food."

"Quite liked" may be an understatement. In the review, Brenner gushes about Chef Kyle McClelland's cooking and the cocktail menu designed by Martensen. Her review of the restaurant's service is somewhat less positive, but still ultimately adds up to a rating that Proof + Pantry shares with many of the city's other well-regarded restaurants, including Knife, cheffed by Brenner's nemesis John Tesar.

Unsurprisingly, Tesar doesn't care much for Brenner's thoughts on Proof + Pantry and thinks that the critic is just "ducking the heat" in choosing to award three stars. "She couldn't give them a really good review because she's Leslie, but she couldn't give them a really bad review because people would see right through it." Tesar also goes as far as to call the stunt "the most childishly unprofessional thing I've ever seen."

Unlike Tesar, Martensen and Jafar have been largely mum -- ! -- about their thoughts on Brenner's review. Martensen did not respond to a request for comment yesterday evening, which could signal a more unified response to come from all of the restaurant's stakeholders. Instead, the restaurant posted a link to D Magazine critic Nancy Nichols' post on Brenner's review. In the short blog, Nichols argues that Brenner's behavior crosses an ethical line, one that she'd drawn for herself in adopting the anonymity policy when she arrived in 2009.

"I don't care how objective Brenner feels she can be under tough circumstances. She should have walked away from this review," writes Nichols. "Instead she mocks the industry and shines the light on herself. She snuck into the place to prove she could." Tesar echoes this sentiment: "This is just someone being spiteful and thinking that she's smarter than us," he said. "This is another example of her thinking she's better than us."

Whatever the result, it's unlikely that this is a scenario that will happen again in a Dallas restaurant. Now that Brenner has shed her anonymity, she says that she is excited about no longer having to hide her identity. What this move means for Dallas restaurants, though, remains to be seen.

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Amy McCarthy