Washington Post journalist's multi-city food tour ends back at Panera

The Washington Post's Lee Powell spent a year traveling around the country documenting "The 10 best food cities in America, ranked." Powell visited restaurants and bars in seven cities, he reported Monday, but he still prefers Panera.

After 27 restaurants and bars in seven cities (a colleague handled the other three), I’m nowhere close to being a connoisseur. Although I shot the food – and got the chance to sample some of it – the project hasn’t changed my approach back home or on the road. I’m still a grab-and-go, food-as-fuel kind of eater.

Powell's piece doesn't dog on gourmet food, however. Instead, it focuses on what he learned about the restaurant business and the people in it while reporting. A lot of these points could be made about journalism. Here are a two:

2) Many restaurant workers see it as a craft, not just a job. In New Orleans, bartenders study the history of cocktails. And staffs tend to stay. 'Being in the service industry and kind of waiting tables is seen as something you do and you do it well,' said New Orleans writer and photographer Pableaux Johnson. 'You take pride in it rather than having a default job.'

4) The hospitality industry lives and dies on the details. So many things can go wrong – from cold food to the draft of cold air in a dining room. Or go right, from an impromptu birthday cake on the house to a diner stopping a chef to say the seviche was perfect. Call it energy or good vibes – something crackled in the air when restaurants hit those high points. I saw staffs moving silverware at place settings by the slightest inch. Chefs continually tasting. Salting. And wiping down splatters on plates before they left the kitchen. In almost 30 eating establishments, I saw only one bug — and it wasn’t anywhere close to food.


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