Mummy Not So Dearest: A Few Thoughts on Leslie Brenner’s Proof + Pantry Review

Leslie Brenner has not only shed her shroud of anonymity, she has crossed the journalistic line she drew in the sand when she moved her almost six years ago. Her review of Proof + Pantry mocks the restaurant and shines the light on herself.

Brenner dined in costume on Halloween.
Brenner dined in costume on Halloween.

Leslie Brenner has not only shed her shroud of anonymity, she has crossed the journalistic line she drew in the sand when she moved here almost six years ago.

Today she publishes a three-star review on Proof + Panty, the restaurant where, on her first visit, she was recognized by owners Mike Martensen and Sal Jafar II, who refused to let her pay. Martensen and Jafar are part of a growing number of chefs and restaurant owners who are banding together and choosing not to participate in the DMN restaurant review process until the current star system is recalibrated. This group, which also includes Shannon Wynne and John Tesar, feels the current system is unfair. Martensen and Jafar chose to protest the system by not accepting payment, which is a requirement for professional restaurant critics.

The dinner caused quite a stir. It was discussed on most of the local blogs. I posted a story detailing the facts according to Martensen and Jafar. Brenner posted a response. The SideDish post has over 200 comments.

After the brouhaha, I thought Brenner would reassign the review to someone else and move on. My jaw dropped last Wednesday when I received a press notice from Drew Wilson of HCK2 Partners:

Leslie Brenner returned to Proof + Pantry to complete her review, despite attempts to impede her efforts by owners Michael Martensen and Sal Jafar II. The review, which Brenner teased online, will be published in Guide next Friday and should appear online next Wednesday or Thursday.

I thought it was a joke. What happened to ethical journalist Leslie Brenner, who on numerous occasions has insisted she would never reveal the restaurants she was in the process of reviewing? If you are a critic, you want to keep your methods behind the scenes. In my opinion, the focus should be on the restaurant, not the writer. On October 5, Brenner wrote:

Regarding whether or not I’ll review Proof + Pantry, I have never discussed in advance my plans for reviews, and I’m not about to begin doing so.

Well, I guess she changed her mind. Instead of playing the straight and narrow, she teased an upcoming review on the DMN website. On Facebook, she posted a link to her teaser and wrote: “I’m excited about this!” This morning, she wrote on Facebook: “Good morning! My review of Proof + Pantry will be posted at noon, I’m told.”

Rather than let a more objective reporter do the job, to get in her required second visit, Brenner took advantage of Halloween. She and her other three accomplices showed up in costume. Brenner dressed as a mummy. The review is accompanied by pictures of Brenner and her dining partners in costume.

Funny, the day before this stunt, the DMN used Brenner’s unveiling as a huge media marketing blitz. Instead of addressing the star system, the real issue readers and restaurateurs are calling into question, they chose to parade Brenner around like a circus pony.

Today, they publish a review that, I feel, is a disservice to the restaurant and to DMN readers. I don’t care how objective Brenner feels she can be under tough circumstances. She should have walked away from this review. Instead she mocks the industry and shines the light on herself. She snuck into the place to prove she could. She pointedly mentioned in her review that she got a waiter to take her picture, in my opinion a middle finger to the owners. She masqueraded as a mummy days after revealing her face and claiming:  “[T]he day-to-day part of my mission remains the same: giving readers a feel for a restaurant so they know whether it’s someplace they want to spend an evening — and spend their money.”

In her Proof + Pantry review Brenner writes:

I have a hard time understanding what Proof + Pantry’s owners were afraid of. Both times I dined there, friends in tow, we all had a wonderful time and quite liked the food.

The owners of Proof + Pantry were not afraid of her or her review. They, and a growing number of other restaurateurs, do not like the star system she controls. She was recognized both times she dined. It’s not about her. It’s about the star system.

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Comments

  • Marcus

    Well thought out and written Uncle Nancy.

  • UpTn DallasSocial

    Nancy, for you it may be about the star system, but for Brenner and the DMN it’s about publicity. And you keep giving it to them.

  • ozonedude

    Remember the good old days when restaurant critics wrote about restaurants and not about each other? I do. Miss it. Gubbins and you are really just tired and uninteresting.

  • musicnerd

    I highly doubt consumers care about the star rating system. They care about the food.

  • Nottesar

    Brava! She had no business reviewing it.

  • Rainer

    Oh, Nancy. Stop acting like the No. 2 critic in town.

  • RachelDuitch

    Nancy – It’s hilarious to me that you call Brennar out for promoting her review and taking advantage of the hype of her critique. You have done absolutely nothing but stir the pot and bring more attention to her review by placing your nose where it does not belong – her business. She writes an editorial column on food, and that in turn, entitles her to an opinion. If you don’t like it, then don’t read it. Can you stop gossiping and actually get back to writing about food?? That would be a nice turn of events…

  • Rachel

    Nancy – It’s hilarious to me that you call Brenner out for promoting her review and taking advantage of the hype of her critique. You have done absolutely nothing but stir the pot and bring more attention to her review by placing your nose where it does not belong – her business. She writes an editorial column on food, and that in turn, entitles her to an opinion. If you don’t like it, then don’t read it. Can you stop gossiping and actually get back to writing about food?? That would be a nice turn of events…

  • E

    I can hardly wait until you and Tesar let this go. You are making fools of yourselves.

    • Nancy Nichols

      Could you explain how I am making a fool of myself? Thank you.

  • Bob

    Gee, shocking you would find something to criticize Brenner about, Nancy. How tiresome. And of course this is about the star system. I am quite sure Tesar and his co-horts would pitch quite the fit if the New York Times or Michelin showed up at their restaurant.

  • Man-O-Pause

    Let me get this straight, Nancy. You’re arguing that star systems are antiquated in our increasingly data-driven, quantifiable world? Thanks for the non-sequitor. Let’s call a spade a spade. Your magazine cannot quantify restaurant reviews because it negatively affects ad revenues and marketing opportunities. Congrats on giving DMN all the publicity it can handle.

  • burp

    I think Nancy needs to either get on some medication or quit taking whatever she is on.

    • Nancy Nichols

      Well, thank you for that constructive criticism.

  • Johnnie2

    The amount of space that D spends criticizing the Dallas Morning News every month is astonishing. Quite unbecoming and smacks of competitive desperation. I never see a slam against D in the News. Grow up.

  • Jane

    No one (not chefs or owners or other writers) would be this disrespectful to a make critic, whether they liked him or not. So Brenner doesn’t kiss the asses of the usual Dallas industry people. I say, good for her. Nancy amd also Tesar look especially petty and classless for talking about Ms Brenner so rudely. What purpose does it serve? Go pick on Nick Badovinus Nancy.

  • Geddy Lee

    I’m just happy she covered her face. This child was an accident.

    -Geddy

  • Trent Matthews

    Regardless of whether or not this is “free publicity,” I think it’s important that this discussion is happening. Everything that’s come from Brenner’s “big reveal” of her face and subsequent sneaking back for a review demonstrates just how wrong DMN is about the real problem.

    No one outside of the industry cares what a reviewer looks like. Brenner’s got the wrong attitude, her star system is flawed, and it fails to serve the DFW area properly. The system, like her revealing her face and making a big to-do about Proof + Pantry’s owners, is self-serving.

  • Dragonberry

    Nancy Nichols, you really are a spiteful bitch. Stop letting your jealousy dictate every post.

  • Michael Martensen

    Words for Leslie. First off kudos, I let you in the door. You did pay for one meal and yes the second meal was anonymous, which actually maybe your only true anonymous review here in Dallas over your tender. Did you go about the situation wrong yes? Did you do what most any professional would have not done yes? Take yourself out of it look from above read what you wrote. What did you accomplish? That you dressed as a mummy to get into a restaurant, posted photos of you doing so mocking my business and what we as a group stand for. Wrote about how it all came about. Halloween and the idea, which took up 25% of an article that is meant to describe to your “readers” what said restaurant is working their ass off too do. Well done, all above you did very well. You were completely unethical for what? Too sell more papers and get more clicks on your behalf. Sad that this is what it all came down too. Please stop by Proof we would love to talk to you and help you wrap your head around who and what we are trying to do for the Dallas scene and the guests that visit or live here. Yes it read positive a positive three stars that does not make sense due to the current rating system. What is the difference between the tex-mex three star, the seafood restaurant three star, the bbq three star, etc. How do all of these compare and add up to the same rated establishments.

  • peet

    Lest us not forget that Nancy still has only thrown out the ever so slightest of mea culpas over the fact that in her original “reporting of the facts”, completely and utterly failed as a “journalist”to get Brenner or anyone else at DMN’s side of the story – but still posted a story anyway. Really, you should have just allowed someone else at D to pick this up after that mistake.

    Nan… No matter who is right or wrong (and I agree with you about the star rating, btw, DMN is totally tone deaf of the fact that no one sees a 3Star review and thinks, “man, I gotta go eat there now”) but you completely come off like “that girl”. The one who is so consumed by someone else, you’ve lost all credibility in the matter.

    Please go review P&P yourself and let us know what you think. I’m betting that is all anyone here really wants.

    As for Brenner’s decision, I guess she did what she whatever it took to accomplish her gig – review restaurants. I understand why P&P didn’t want the review, but life is filled with grading systems that we disagree with. You open an establishment with the understanding you’re putting yourself, your craft and business out there to be critiqued. You know before you open the doors who in town is going to eventually walk in and judge your work. I just can’t cotton to the idea businesses and artists can suddenly decide who is and is not going to review their work. It just doesn’t work like that.

    To make the decision to find a clever way around that in P&P’s attempts was simply matched by Leslie’s counter move. And for that, touché.

  • Nancy Nichols

    And you have no problem with her flaunting herself in the review? I’m serious. I guess most people can laugh at the giddy approach because the review granted three stars.

  • Nancy Nichols

    research has shown people see the stars and don’t read. that is the issue.

  • BrentDude

    To some of us non-industry, non-journalist folks, you seem obsessed with the situation.

  • EN B

    I’ve never been a fan of Leslie Brenner but all this discussion has gone too far. This is more like D magazine vs. the Dallas Morning News. Enough already ! The DMN’s star system is flawed and the message has been sent out loud and clear by the community. Ms. Nichols, I didn’t see that much criticism of you, the day you declared “Neighborhood Services” the best restaurant in Dallas. Critics are entitled to their subjective opinions.

  • Sal-E

    I can’t remember that last time I have read so much backlash to Nancy’s old-timey antics. Maybe this industry is passing her by?

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Sour grapes much? I have no idea whether her review is “good” or “fair” but there are at least a few facts at issue:

    1) Where exactly did she reveal anything about a restaurant she was in the process of reviewing? The owners of P+P did that. The tease you’re referring to was done *after* Brenner made her second visit and after the review was written. Not so much “in process.” What was she giving away ethically at that point?

    2) To allow restaurateurs to chose whether or not to be reviewed and who should do the reviewing would be like letting musicians or playwrights make that call. (Or like letting a politician decide who can cover them.) As a matter of journalistic principle, I don’t care who the reviewer is or how bad/good s/he might be. The DMN and Brenner took the right stand. And if you don’t think the mummy trick was pretty funny as a one-off, that’s on you.

    3) “A more objective reporter?” A reviewer is not obliged to be “objective.” A reviewer is obliged, in fact, to be subjective. Consistent, fair, understandable — yup. But objective? Whether or not a particular dish is good or not is a matter of, ahem, taste. And de gustibus non est disputandum.

    • Fluffer

      Mighty Mouse to the rescue

  • Sal-E

    Burp, Nancy is right. A more appropriate question is whether she has a personality disorder that needs attention. Her attention on Leslie Brenner is outside normal behavior.

  • MMS

    This obsession that Nancy Nichols and D Magazine have with Leslie Brenner is getting to be ridiculous. Have the dignity graciously to accept being #2 and stop trying to gain additional attention for your own publication by pretending to share with the DMN what you think are best practices for restaurant critics. Why should you care what they’re doing, and why should they care what you think?

  • Anonymous

    Nancy, I read just about everything you write. However, I am not a fan of your writing or attitude. I am a fan of your palate. If you say something is good, I always like it. So what if I don’t like your writing style or tone. I love food, you love food. We’re good.
    I usually like Brenner’s reviews, and I sometimes agree after I try a dish she recommends, but she has some misses. I love Reitz’s reviews and attitude. Funny, well written. Sadly, I’ve had a string of big misses on his recommendations.

    I judge a critic (or a chef) by their palate and not their personality.

  • peet

    Problem? No. Not at all….

    P&P started this, not Leslie.

    They are the ones who thought they’d come up with a clever means to avoid a Leslie review, prevent her from doing her gig and then enjoyed the mountain of pub that was generated. (I think I’m correct in stating it was their choice to bring this to light by coming to you, and you chose to take their version of events by posting it)

    What would have happened if P&P hadn’t gone public about the original incident? Oh yeah, nothing.

    So when Leslie devises a counter move that allowed her to complete the job is paid to do- and I know it pains all Leslie-haters to admit it was clever – I frankly can’t blame her for highlighting it.

  • MMS

    I refuse to believe that the D moderators are self-important or overly-sensitive enough to have censored this comment, so I’ll try posting it again:

    This obsession that Nancy Nichols and D Magazine have with Leslie Brenner is getting to be ridiculous. Have the dignity graciously to accept being #2 and stop attempting to gain additional attention for your publication by pretending to share with the DMN what you think are best practices for restaurant critics. Why should you care what they do, and why should they care what you think?

  • MMS

    One more attempt to post this comment, then I’ll accept that it’s not making it through because the moderators are apparently working overtime to spare their colleagues’ feelings:

    This obsession that Nancy Nichols and D Magazine have with Leslie Brenner is getting to be ridiculous. Have the dignity graciously to accept being #2 and stop attempting to gain additional attention for your publication by pretending to share with the DMN what you think are best practices for restaurant critics. Why should you care what they do, and why should they care what you think?

    • MMS

      All that said, though, I nevertheless acknowledge that I was wrong in assuming that my multiple, disappearing posts were the result of overzealous moderating, and I apologize for the inadvertent triple-post.

  • Honeyboy

    Nancy, stop the trashing once and for all, quit the incessant bashing of Leslie and the DMN. You look desperate with your posts. Get to work! Real work. Review more restaurants, write something meaningful and insightful, come up with ideas, use your talent, be a journalist and not a gossip. Make a difference. Work as much as her and swallow your bile. You are the one mummified! You can’t recognize that Brenner did a coup and a beautiful one. You can’t admit that she has guts. On top of it you can’t find anything biased in her review, because as painful as it is for you it’s a fair review. So step up to the plate and measure up to your competitor. It will be positive for everyone. If you don’t it will only mean that you have nothing to show for yourself.

  • DelkusSleeves

    LesBren reviews might as well be posted on Yelp now, thats about how much people respect her opinions these days.

  • Fluffer

    Leslie did not devise this counter move. All you have to do is read her reviews to recognize that she doesn’t have the brains or the imagination.

  • Uramess

    All of this is messier than a soup sandwich. When is it going to get cleaned up?

  • Sarah Eveans

    Geddy—Nope. Not okay. This conversation has nothing to do with her appearance and I’m sick and tired of people making comments about the way she looks. It is rude, inappropriate and idiotic.

  • E

    BrentDude, summed it up nicely. I just think you would be better served by focusing on your magazine and your content. If I spent as much time and energy as you do criticizing others doing a job similar to yours, usually on the same point over and over again, I would get fired. Ms. Brenner, in staying above the fray, has come out looking much better.

  • peet

    Ok, you feel it is a bad decision, but I have to ask, “why”?

    Leslie did not create this controversy… Again, PP tried to pull off a unique
    idea, made the decision to go public about the result and now aren’t happy with the collateral damage of that decision.

    I would argue that if she did allow someone else to do it, or drop it all together than PP would end up “winning” – i.e.: not having a critic they don’t like review their location. They don’t get to do that.

    So, I ask: How could Leslie have handled this without also capitulating?

  • MMS

    My God, the bitterness is so real; has any of your actual reviews garnered as much attention as your online stalking has? You and Leslie Brenner are competitors. If you feel you can do better than she can, then do better. I gather that you’ve been adhering to what you believe are best practices, and still you’re the also-ran in town. Rather than accepting that, or attempting organically and positively to increase your readership — presumably at the cost of Brenner’s leadership — you’re trying REALLY HARD to convince readers to care passionately about what you view as misdeeds committed by the competition. But I think you’re mistaking our reaction for investment in your position, or in the underlying debate you’re attempting to have, when in fact many of us are simply amazed by the unprofessional spectacle we see on this site (and not, I may add, on that other blog site to which I assume you were referring). I mean, let it go. You lose, and nobody really seems to care.

  • MMS

    Presumably, Geddy Lee’s comment does not meet the definition of deletable “language or hurtful statements” to which Nancy referred above. Odd…

  • Anonymous

    Nancy, I think your long reviews in magazine are well written and informative, but not something I find exciting to read. In style, they read to me as being clinical, written by someone who isn’t too hungry to eat. Again, I just don’t think writing style or personality counts for much in a critic. Maybe that’s an unusual opinion. I read you to help find places to try or to try again. You are a trusted resource. You know what good food is.

    Some of the reactions to Brenner seem personality and tone driven. Hateful or rude comments about her are frequent. I think that is a mistake. Call her out when she is wrong about the quality of the food. Also, I think much of the criticism of the star system or numerical rating is valid, but it is argument that has been explored thoroughly. Readers like stars or numbers; restaurants and chefs usually don’t. Her use of the star system is not unusual in form or practice.

  • Anonymous

    Her irrelevance is as breathtaking as her uninformed palaver about food and the scene. She’s right up there with Dottie and the Il Mulino fiasco, describing aioli as a garlicky mayonnaise sauce. Hello? She would do well to hew closely to known culinary shores, and trust the education of her palate to Chef Boyardee.

  • Michael Martensen

    There was no scheme. After her first meal that night we spoke. She was upset that we asked her not to review us as was the DMN. They were upset to the point the next day to threaten to write bad headlines about P+P ie “Dallas Restaurant Refuses To Serve Patrons”. They made a subjective and unprofessional move by trying to bully a small business that just opened up. Imagine what that would do to a 1900 sq ft restaurant. I am not sure how Nancy found out that next day but she did. We then spoke and here we are now present day. You can’t make this up.

  • Michael Martensen

    You are correct about that. So who devised the coming out of anonymity? The same people that threatened a small business with bad headlines. The review is absolutely absurd I am waiting for patrons to show up as a mummy seeing that 25% of the article is how to eat with bandages around your head.

  • Auntiecairo

    DMN and D Magazine both exemplify what’s wrong with “journalism” these days. There’s more attention being spent on who is reporting – than on what is reported. It’s all about making money and getting publicity. Does anyone believe John Tesar acts out for any reason other than the free publicity he receives? Neither publication has any right to throw stones at the other. DMagazine’s “best of” lists are actually advertising for those who choose to participate – doctors, lawyers, etc. And we all know who owns DMN. So instead of taking a journalistic high road that doesn’t exist – why not just focus on presenting as much info. as possible. I can’t imagine anyone who lives their lives by any food cricits reviews here in Dallas — they are sometimes a good guidepost if an establishment is on the extreme end of the spectrum.