Anthony Bourdain didn't come to Philadelphia for a long, long time. His reasoning stood, "It seems to me it's a two-horse town: Starr and Perrier." He spoke those words almost eight years ago, and as we all know, much has changed in Philadelphia since then.
City Paper, Philly's alternative weekly paper, did to Philly food writing what the past decade did to Stephen Starr and George Perrier — made Philly less of a "two-horse" town. And now City Paper is dead: sad news for Philadelphia journalism, and even sadder news for Philadelphia food journalism. The bus stop paper, the freebie stacked in every coffee shop doorway, was the paper of the people. Its open-orange-door policy was a convenience enjoyed by the entire city, whether it was opened to kill time, or opened to learn about nitty-gritty food happenings here in Philly. It wasn't a glossy page-turner (flip too far, and you'll slam into the white pages of Philly's sex-workers), nor was it always respected (a bus stop paper will eventually become a bus seat cover).
The Inquirer has the critic, and Philadelphia magazine has the edge, but they both have papers to sell, and City Paper wasn't really, well, "selling" anything. So it produced passion pieces, real stories about real people, doing real things in Philly food. And like what Starr and Perrier did with their web of successors, City Paper did the same with its food writers. Those names you now see underneath national headlines, those TV personalities, fried chicken and doughnut restaurant owners, blog editors, and photographers, they all came from City Paper beginnings, and here's why:
City Paper, if nothing else, was accessible. To writers-in-training it was an accessible goal. To restaurants otherwise never mentioned, it was an accessible place to be printed. Even with just writing style and voice, it was an accessible read. It was where food stories went a little further than just "good or bad" (though it did "good or bad" very well). Will Philly food writing change now that its alt-weekly is merging with "Philadelphia Weekly — a publication that stopped covering news years ago and recently ran an ad for vapes on their front page"?
Former City Paper food critic / Great American Food Finds host Adam Erace doesn't think so:
"To say that losing City Paper is a devastating blow to the Philly food writing scene is a little bit too much of a self-serving statement. I do think between myself and Drew [Lazor], Caroline [Russock], our most recent editor, Jenn Ladd, Felicia D'Ambrosio, Neal Santos and the dozens of interns that worked with us during Meal Ticket's heyday, we did a great job covering restaurants, chefs, drinking and dining in this dynamic, idiosyncratic, wonderful city. But there are other awesome food journalists out there doing great work and the Philly food scene will continue to get the coverage it deserves."
With the departure of City Paper, Philly food writers must do their darndest to keep its spirit alive, never forgetting "to give a voice to the people and stories of Philadelphia that sometimes get overlooked." Now that Philly must rely on Billy Penn, Foobooz, Philly Voice, and this humble blog for its daily food news — will we revert back to the two-horse town we once were?
Maybe for the people that pay for their papers.