he thing you're supposed to say with roundups like these, I think, is that old line about how it's impossible to choose a favorite child. What they don't tell you, though — but hey, I'm not a parent, I'm just an editor of stories about which I feel perhaps excessively parental — is that you definitely can have favorites, a whole giant lot of them, because each one is a favorite in its own way.
This year, our Eater features are a blockbuster group: moving, funny, strange, brilliant, revelatory. Here's a fairly random greatest-hits list of 14 from this year; for all of them, both on this page and elsewhere, being part of their creation (arm-in-arm with indomitable associate features editor Meghan McCarron) has been more than just going to work — it's been a deep, genuine pleasure. —Helen Rosner, features editor
Ina Garten Does It Herself by Choire Sicha
Despite her blockbuster fame, Ina Garten plays her identity awfully close to her chest. In this deep, pointed, utterly riveting profile, Choire Sicha assesses her place in the culinary pantheon — and the murky, twisting path that got her there, and where — now that her roster of friends includes Taylor Swift and Neil Patrick Harris — she might be headed next. The section on Jeffrey alone might be the best thing you read all year.
Our most ambitious story of the year saw a SWAT team of Eater staff descend on Kachka, a small, family-run restaurant in Portland, Oregon, in pursuit of a chronicle of every single thing that goes into one night or service. Three reporters, two videographers, a photographer, and a brace of design, product, and editorial support later, the result is a stunningly immersive experience, complete with real-time interactive financial data. (Want more? We did it again later in the year, with a location of fast-food chain Panda Express.)
Danny Meyer Is Eliminating Tipping... by Ryan Sutton
Working with a long-lead scoop on the news that Union Square Hospitality Group was going to be eliminating tipping at their thirteen New York restaurants, Eater New York's Ryan Sutton crafted a story that calmly, clearly explains why this is blockbuster news of the sort rarely seen in the restaurant world. Using an innovative footnote-based structure, it's the rare quantitatively-driven, news-based feature story that isn't just essential reading one time through, it stands up to second (or third) reads purely for pleasure.
A Wild Goose Chase by Wyatt Williams
Wyatt Williams spent nearly a year following an idealistic Georgia farmer trying valiantly to make "natural" foie gras; the result, woven together with the history of the delicacy and a clear-eyed assessment of its current position as cultural and culinary lightning rod, makes for an unexpectedly beautiful, moving story.
If You Build It, Will They Come? by Amy McKeever
Braddock is a dying steel town not too far outside of Pittsburgh, with one thing going for it: a massively idealistic mayor. John Fetterman has thrown all his energies for the past few years behind Superior Motors, a planned restaurant, cultural center, and educational complex that he hopes will bring his town back to life. As Amy McKeever uncovers, the only problem is that's not really how these things tend to work out. (For more of Amy's top-notch investigative reporting, be sure to read her on the DC nonprofit using culinary school as a tool to fight indigence and criminal recidivism.)
What It Really Means to Eat a Big Mac at the Arctic Circle by Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes
Part of our essay series Life In Chains, Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes tells of growing up in a remote Alaska Native village where sled dogs slept on the front porch, the televisions were all black-and-white, and the nearest McDonald's — and all the color, life, and normality that it promised — was 140 air miles away.
Why the 'Kitchen of the Future' Always Fails Us by Rose Eveleth
From the curvilinear counters of the Atomic Age to the sleek, glassy renderings of today, forward-looking designs for the most important room of the house never seem to actually take into account the ways in which people actually want to buy, store, cook, and eat their food. Rose Eveleth disassembles the myth of the futuristic kitchen, and finding — unsurprisingly — that the people in charge of designing it don't tend to have much in common with those likely to be using it.
Judith Jones, In Her Own Words by Charlotte Druckman
Judith Jones may be mostly known as the editor (and discoverer) of Julia Child, but — as demonstrated here, in a selection of quotes based on extensive conversations with writer Charlotte Druckman, accompanied by a portfolio by the incredible photographer Landon Nordeman – she deserves a far broader type of fame, as the creator of the modern American cookbook, to be sure, but also as an editor of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and as a writer in her own right.
How to Save the Family Farm in the 21st Century by Cari Wade Gervin
Tennessee's Cruze Dairy Farm is famous equally for their buttermilk, tangy and creamy, and for the perky gingham dresses and kerchiefs worn by the "farm girls," a squad of young, pretty women who work the farm and sell its milk and ice cream at the market. Marketing gimmick or simpler way of life, love it or hate it, one thing that isn't in doubt is the dresses work: in an era where small dairies are closing by the dozen, Cruze Farm is thriving.
Searching for Forgiveness at Friendly's by Keith Pandolfi
Another from our Life in Chains essay series, this is an unflinching, gorgeously wrought examination of the evolution of a son's relationship with his father, moving through divorce, alcoholism, recovery, distance, reconnection, and endless clam boats and Fribbles.
The Cocktail at the End of the Universe by Jess Zimmerman
When Douglas Adams wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, he probably didn't predict that riffs on his sarcastic take on a fern-bar cocktail, the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, would wind up on the drink lists of bars all over the country. Jess Zimmerman explores what it means to be enamored of a fictional drink.
Magical Realism by Bill Addison
Anchoring Eater's massive guide to dining at Disney World is this wonderful read from national restaurant editor Bill Addison, a sprawling essay examining the role of authenticity in a place that's anything but. It's a personal history, a corporate case study, and a sharp dissection of the mechanics of creating and selling happiness.
Can a Return to Winemaking Save Kentucky's Soul? by Sarah Baird
With its farms gutted by the tobacco buyout and its coal mines closing by the score, Kentucky is turning to winemaking as a way to make jobs, draw in tourists, and maybe make a little money selling a few bottles. It's an uphill battle, but it's not the first time the region's seen some vines in the soil — the state has a long winemaking history. It's just never been terribly good wine.
No Chef in America Cooks Dinner Quite Like Phillip Foss by Ryan Sutton
ENY's Sutton hopped a plane to Chicago to profile one of the most interesting chefs working in the country right now, in the process uncovering the unique social, economic, and cultural groundwork that make the Windy City into such a hotbed of American gastronomic innovation.
Header photo: Landon Nordeman