It started as an innocent Tweet on Wednesday night promoting an interview between ABC Chicago’s Steve Dolinsky and Fooditor’s Michael Gebert about the Hungry Hound’s upcoming book about pizza. It quickly transformed to a forum questioning Dolinsky’s journalistic credibility when critic Michael Nagrant and Piece Pizza owner Bill Jacobs joined. The latter two called Dolinsky, whose pictures hang in many restaurants across the city, a fraud.
Nagrant objected to Gebert’s calling his Dolinsky piece a “no-holds barred interview,” saying if that were true, Gebert should “have asked about the 25,000 Twitter followers of [Dolinsky’s] that disappeared recently.” Nagrant continues by writing Gebert shouldn’t “pimp this clown.” Nagrant is a former Sun-Times and Red Eye food critic who in March launched an independent review website. He’s also teamed with retired Chicago dining editor Penny Pollack on a podcast.
If it was really no-holds-barred you would have asked about the 25000 twitter followers of his that disappeared recently or the sandwich place he took hundreds of dollars from on one of his sandwich tours. Mike you’re brilliant at what you do, but you’re worshipping at the altar. https://t.co/pAeshPMknS— Michael Nagrant (@MichaelNagrant) September 6, 2018
Some Twitter users buy fake followers to falsely inflate their celebrity and influence. Back in July, writer Bob Goldsborough — via Robert Feder’s media blog — reported that Dolinsky’s Twitter account lost a whooping 25,000 users when Twitter purged users. In January, the Sun-Times disciplined writer Richard Roeper after a New York Times report showed he purchased followers. Two months later and Dolinsky, a 13-time James Beard journalism award winner, remains silent about the lost Twitter followers. He didn’t respond to an email for comment on Thursday. His bosses at ABC Chicago also ignored a request.
The New York Times mentioned Dolinsky’s junkets in 2011 in a piece about the World’s 50 Best list where he’s Mid USA & Canada chair. A 2006 Sun-Times profile reported he “doesn’t have a big problem with accepting the freebies and perks that come with his position as an arbiter of Chicago dining trends.” Eater’s ethics policy distinguishes between critic and editors. Dolinsky describes himself as a food journalist who focuses on uncovering new places, not a critic who could write a negative review. Nagrant on Wednesday complimented Dolinsky’s food knowledge but called him a fraud “because he undermines his hard work with a litany of ethically questionable behaviors, takes freebies & junkets, plays quid pro quo, and purports to be a journalist.”
Jacobs opened Piece in 2001 in Wicker Park and it’s a member of the Eater Chicago 38. Dolinsky and wife Amy Dordek Dolinsky this year started Pizza City USA, taking customers on pizzeria tours in synergy with the upcoming book. Their Wicker Park/Bucktown tour omitted Piece. In the Fooditor interview, Dolinsky called Piece overrated because of the crust and said Piece isn’t authentic due to a lack of a coal-fired oven — something he mistakenly thought was essential for the New Haven-style pizza that Piece emulates. After a New Haven pizza superfan questioned him on Wednesday, Dolinsky admitted he was wrong about the ovens, but his mind remained unchanged when it came to Piece.
Jacobs knows Piece continues to regularly draw crowds, but he’s still annoyed: “Anthony Bourdain loved Piece. It’s Steph Izard’s favorite, and Dolinsky thinks it sucks — who would you trust?” He sent over a statement made in June from U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLaura, a representative from Connecticut’s 3rd District. After eating at Piece with Mayor Rahm Emanuel this year she called it “true to the style that had New Haven’s apizza in the upper-echelon of our country’s best.”
With all due respect, Piece continues to be one of the most popular pizza places in Chicago and in the country. It’s because we bake great pizza that Chicago loves. Steve Dolinsky’s failure to acknowledge this raises concerns regarding his credibility. #pizzafraud— Piece (@piecechicago) September 6, 2018
Nagrant also questioned why writers give Dolinsky attention while alleging pay for play; saying Dolinsky will trade free food for coverage that may or may not arrive. He hoped more restaurant owners, like Jacobs, would stand up to the tactics. The criticism extended to more than Dolinsky, as Nagrant went after ethically challenged influencers masquerading as journalists.
“Y’all go around reporting on how the Hungry Hound is so awesome because he promotes your thing or he gave you a free pizza tour or took you out on his Thursday meal runs, but you forgot the first rule of reporting is what is being asked in return for such favors.”
Y’all go around reporting on how the Hungry Hound is so awesome because he promotes your thing or he gave you a free pizza tour or took you out on his Thursday meal runs, but you forgot the first rule of reporting is what is being asked in return for such favors.— Michael Nagrant (@MichaelNagrant) September 6, 2018
Nagrant has been known to ruffle feathers on Twitter, as a 2014 exchange involving Lincoln Park sushi restaurant Juno and its then-owner Jason Chan showed. Gebert attempted to deflect Nagrant’s criticism, saying he simply wanted to talk about pizza and plug Dolinsky’s book. The exchange should be preserved for future generations. Call the U.S. Pizza Museum — maybe they’ll launch an exhibit on pizza and ethics.
- Michael Nagrant [Twitter]
- Piece Chicago [Twitter]
- Micheal Gebert [Twitter]
- Steve Dolinsky [Twitter]
- Robservations: ABC 7’s Cheryl Scott engaged ‘on top of the world’ [Robert Feder]
- SUN-TIMES STATEMENT: Roeper’s work to resume after probe of Twitter account [Sun-Times]
- Twitter follower counts drop after a change in how they are counted [The Verge]
- The World’s 50 Best Restaurants? Says Who? [New York Times]
- Eater Ethics Statement [Eater National]
- TALKING WITH STEVE DOLINSKY ON WHY CHICAGO IS PIZZA CITY, USA [Fooditor]
- Critic Michael Nagrant and Juno Engage in Twitter War, Virtually Hug it Out [Eater Chicago]