This post originally appeared in Bill Addison’s newsletter “Notes From a Roving Critic,” a twice-monthly dispatch from Bill’s travels across the country. This is the final edition; browse the archives here.
In February 2014 my friend Jennifer Zyman emailed me a link with a quick, simple subject line: “Did you see this?” Eater, newly acquired by Vox Media, had just posted a job listing for an extraordinary position: a restaurant editor/critic who would travel the country year-round, reporting on America’s constantly evolving dining scene. At the time I had been Atlanta magazine’s food editor and restaurant critic for five years; I’d held previous posts at the San Francisco Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News. I was prone to wandering, restless for travel since graduating college.
If you’d asked me at the time what my dream job looked like, the Eater gig was it. I wanted this thing with every proton of my being. Without a presence in New York or a big national reputation, I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of being hired.
Amanda Kludt, Eater’s then-soon-to-be editor in chief, took a chance on me. I journeyed the country as Eater’s roving critic for almost five years — often three weeks out of every month, sometimes more. The assignment began by documenting one-off meals to as many restaurants as I could visit that first year; eventually I began writing a mix of city profiles, full-fledged reviews, features, regional guides, and the occasional personal essay. In May 2017, I sold my house in Atlanta and haven’t had a permanent residence since.
But it’s time to reestablish a home. This is my final week with the publication. I’m moving to California, a state whose culinary superiority I’ve written about frequently, to soon begin my new role as a food critic for the Los Angeles Times.
It’ll take writing a book to unravel my years at Eater. On the day I started in April 2014 (in Los Angeles, as it happens), I’ll admit I was probably most excited to have a budget that allowed me to eat at the country’s haute crown jewels: Alinea, the French Laundry, Urasawa, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. It didn’t take long, as I zigzagged the country often eating three meals a night, to realize that this job should be more than recounting tasting menus — that a critical assessment in the national context should also illuminate the communities and cultures around every possible type of American restaurant.
The chefs furthering cultural conversation, or highlighting the need for dialogue, came to the forefront by the blaze of their own talents. I’m thinking of Corey Lee, Mashama Bailey, Niki Nakayama, Edouardo Jordan, Diana Dávila, Nina Compton, and Kwame Onwuachi, among many, many others. Check out the choices for my inaugural guide to the 38 Essential Restaurants in America, my tentpole project which first went live in January 2015, and my fifth list, published this week, for some insight into the work and its evolution.
Some personal tastes were indulged, too: tea, pie, New Mexico, calzones. I particularly adore Lebanese cuisine; a close friend joked that they’ll never be another food writer more committed to shouting the (deserved) praises of Al Ameer, my favorite among Dearborn, Michigan’s myriad Lebanese restaurants. These years at Eater have been an education and a privilege unlike any other. Even on my draggiest days, I never once emerged from an airport or a long car ride less than exhilarated for my next on-the-clock meal.
That said? Maybe a soul shouldn’t be displaced for quite this long. When I started with Eater, I had a partner who also traveled for work. For a while we were able to coordinate schedules and actually see each other more. When he and I split in 2016, it was hard. I lost my true north. My community both shrank and expanded. I spent less days in Atlanta and more and more time on the road.
I came to count on the people I knew in almost every town I visited — the editors in the 24 cities with Eater-based sites, certainly, but also food media colleagues and friends who became anchors. You know who you are. You were moors when my only constant became the rhythm of waking, writing, and eating. Thank you. I’ll miss the real talk over long, meandering evenings. Appreciate you putting up with my constant photo shenanigans, my endless quest for natural light.
Helen Rosner, one of my many editors at Eater, urged me to channel the ache into a piece about the crab culture of Baltimore, my beloved hometown. Not sure I’ve ever written anything better. My deepest gratitude to Helen and the other editors who so astutely shepherded my work over the years: Amanda Kludt, Erin DeJesus, Meghan McCarron, Sonia Chopra, Lesley Suter, and Matt Buchanan.
As with food photography (part of the job from the get-go; I didn’t even know the meaning of the word aperture when I was hired), this newsletter was an adjunct assignment that I came to relish. It means so much that you joined me here. I’m grateful for the space to ramble, for the recommendations you sent me over the years, and for the candid feedback. Please keep following along on Instagram and Twitter.
I won’t ever stop traveling, professionally or personally, but I’m moving to a city whose very nature satisfies my wanderlust. The roving critic is ready to set down some roots again.