A former Chicago Tribune reporter named Kevin Pang, who is now the food editor for entertainment website The A.V. Club., recently tweeted: “Confession: When I was a critic there were 2 restaurants in Chicago so good I kept to myself & never wrote about. Is this against some code?”
Allow me to relieve Pang of guilt pangs so he has more room for pangs of hunger, something I assume is a prerequisite to writing about the culinary world.
Sir, the only code you are violating is one of stupidity. In other words, you are smart to keep your favorite restaurants, correction, your favorite ANYTHING, to yourself. The reason? Once a beloved establishment becomes discovered by the masses, it immediately loses its charm, its mystery and its solitude, all qualities I’m certain helped vault these restaurants to the top of your “best of” list. Any eatery overrun by Food Network addicts who wouldn’t know the difference between a black truffle mushroom and a black widow spider is no longer worth visiting.
I first learned about this cloak of secrecy while working on a cruise ship in the early ’90s. As the ship chugged toward St. Thomas in the Caribbean, the cruise staff continually teased the passengers, via hourly announcements, that Magens Bay, voted “one of the world’s top 10 beaches,” awaited.
I took the bait, arriving at the beach the next morning to find it already overrun with pink-skinned cruise ship passengers all loudly bartering for one of the few remaining umbrellas. I’m not sure who “voted” Magens Bay into the top 10; I assume it was a group of St. Thomas natives who make their livings selling coral necklaces and flip-flops. Today the beach has its own website, with links to kayak rental, weddings and summer camp.
I’m sorry but the “best” anything should never include the phrase “summer camp.” Unless one writes for Summer Camp magazine.
Back on the ship that evening, I approached the cruise director. “So, did you head to Magens Bay today?” I inquired.
“But you told everybody it was voted the…”
“Find me when we pull into Antigua,” he said. “I’ll take you to the best beach.”
That morning, as the staff happily gave hundreds of passengers directions to Dickenson Bay and Darkwood Bay, two beaches they promised would be secluded, I waited. When the last of the passengers disembarked, the cruise director winked at me and said, “Let’s go.”
Accompanied by several other ship employees, we piled in a jeep and headed (DIRECTION CONFIDENTIAL), eventually arriving at (NAME OF UNDISCLOSED BEACH). Sorry, I just can’t reveal the identity or location of the paradise I encountered, for it will be the first place I visit should I ever return to Antigua.
The beach was more deserted than the one favored by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his family during the recent Fourth of July holiday. We plopped our towels on the sand and stared, for six hours, at the turquoise water lapping against a natural rock formation resembling a bird of prey (There, I gave you a hint). No “Parasail Rental” signs, no reggae band continuously playing Bob Marley’s “One Love,” and no summer campers. OK, no toilets either; but facilities were a quick jeep ride away.
Twenty-five years later, firmly entrenched in Chicago, I’m proud to say I know where to find the city’s best pizza. An establishment I guarantee is unknown to every hotel concierge. I know which Loop bar sells the cheapest craft beer, an alley in Lincoln Park where free parking spots are always available, and the ice cream shop where a single scoop is actually two. Call me selfish, but I will share none of this with you, dear readers. Curse at me, threaten me and attempt bribery all you want, but you will only become so frustrated that you’ll need a quiet place to decompress and rid yourself of your pent-up hostilities.
I hear Magens Bay is nice this time of year.