Q: Do you have something against Danny Bailey of DB’s Cheesesteaks in West Ashley? He’s won City Paper awards for years, and his sandwich is much better than Yous Guys. Strange omission: You spent a lot of ink in that article. IMO it was a grand omission to then leave him out.
A: Even when I’m on a very specific mission, such as scouting the area’s best cheesesteak for the column you’re referencing, there are countless considerations that go into the formulation of my final opinion. In the case of this sandwich, for instance, I’m assessing factors including the freshness of the roll, the quality of the beef, the ratio of meat to cheese, the balance of the seasoning and the textures created by cooking time and temperatures.
And that’s before I’ve looked up from my plate. Even when I’m focused on a single item, as opposed to evaluating a restaurant for review, I take note of ambiance, service and cleanliness. That’s because if a venue is severely lacking in one of those areas, I like to at least give readers a heads-up, since deal breakers are highly personal. If a restaurant doesn’t have tables, cheesesteak fans ought to have that information in advance of plotting a trip.
But what never enters my mind when deciding whether something is worthy of recommendation is the owner’s identity. In most cases, I don’t even know who owns the restaurant. When I read your note, it took me a minute to put together that Bailey shares initials with the place I visited.
Of course, an owner’s likes and dislikes don’t exist apart from the restaurant I experience. If a restaurant owner is wild about heavy metal music and plays nothing else in her dining room, that’s sure to figure into its overall ambiance. But unlike a City Paper poll, a review isn’t a popularity contest; the owner’s personality is irrelevant.
In other words, I don’t have anything against anyone. A write-up is supposed to connect readers with great eating opportunities, not punish those who don’t provide them. In fact, that’s the reason DB’s didn’t surface in my first cheesesteak column. I found places with excellent ambiance, such as Yous Guys, and places with excellent sandwiches, such as Rocco’s Italian Sausage. I didn’t feel like DB’s fit into either category, so it seemed mean to mention it.
Reviewing a restaurant is an entirely different situation. When I make multiple visits to a restaurant, and have more than 1,000 words in which to fully explore the restaurant’s goals and success in achieving them, it’s entirely fair to call out a restaurant’s shortcomings. But when I’m tasked with singling out outstanding cheesesteaks, an aside along the lines of “here’s a cheesesteak which doesn’t measure up!” seems like a low blow.
All of that said, I received so many questions about DB’s absence from the column that I wanted to address them here. I heard from readers who were perplexed (“Was there a paragraph missing?”); pitying (“You must not know about DB’s”); outraged (“How could you not mention DB’s?”); and just plain sad. (“I love DB’s”).
So I went back. Another important thing to know about my approach is I don’t believe I’m always right.
Now, opinions can’t be wrong. But is it possible that I wasn’t fully able to appreciate the meat’s flavor because I ate something spicy earlier in the day? Is there a chance the sandwich wasn’t properly assembled because there was a new guy on the line when I visited? You betcha.
The bad news for DB’s many devotees is my return visit only confirmed what I’d found the first time. My sandwich was distinguished mostly by an overabundance of cheese, presumably meant to make up for juices cooked out of the meat, which was slivered into tiny dry bits.
But the good news is opinions can’t be wrong. If you love a DB’s cheesesteak, that’s great. To me, it’s not the obvious starting point for a Charleston area cheesesteak search. But that’s just how I feel about it. Everyone ought to form his or her own opinion. And that’s a fact.