Feb 15, 2024 - Food and Drink

Queen City Nerve trashed Pizza Baby and the Charlotte internet lost its mind

pizza

Pizza Baby West's rosemary pizza with pistachio pesto, shaved red onion, hot honey and pecorino. ($27) Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

A Charlotte food writer's scathing review of Pizza Baby is going viral among local foodies who criticize his harsh takes.

Why it matters: Timothy DePeugh's Queen City Nerve article titled "Pizza Baby Flops in Attempt at NY-Style Pizza in Charlotte" has reopened a conversation around the state of food coverage in Charlotte.

Driving the news: There are hundreds of comments across Queen City Nerve's Instagram and Facebook responding to the story and defending the Wesley Heights pizza shop, which landed on our best new restaurants list in 2023.

  • Yes, food is subjective, but many commenters contended that you don't have to be so cruel when you write about it. Especially when writing about a local business.

Catch up quick: DePeugh's central argument claims that New York-style pizza isn't floppy while Pizza Baby's slices are.

  • He adds that the pizza is "woefully under seasoned" and "taste[s] like papier-mâché." Its fonduta "would better be used as wallpaper paste in the dining room." And that its burrata is "gritty" and "unpleasant to eat."
  • Throughout the 2,000-word story, he criticizes Charlotte's influencer culture as a reason places like Pizza Baby become popular, while also taking jabs at everything from Dry January to Instagram Reels.

Zoom in: COVID's impact on the restaurant industry has made people protective over their city's eateries, even those, like Pizza Baby, that haven't been open long.

  • Queen City Nerve co-founder and editor-in-chief Ryan Pitkin points out that "99%" of their restaurant reviews are positive, and they reserve the right to publish a negative one every once in a while.
  • "We stand behind Tim's writing," Pitkin tells me, adding that his opinions don't reflect those of everyone at QCN.

The other side: Pizza Baby co-owner Trey Wilson described the piece as "poorly written" and "hateful."

  • We asked him and co-owner Steven DeFalco if they've seen a bump in traffic at the restaurant this week. They say they haven't tracked sales since the story came out but they are "very busy" in general.

The big picture: Gone are the days of faceless food critics in newspapers like the Observer's Helen Schwab.

  • "A good review should make you think. It shouldn't make you think you need to burn a person at the stake for daring to write it," former Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis wrote on Facebook in response to the story.

Zoom out: As DePeugh alluded to in his story, local restaurants are increasingly dependent on validation from local and national influencers alike.

  • For example, TikTok star Keith Lee's presence is enough to put a city's entire food scene on high alert, Axios' Troy Smith noted. On a more local level, we've seen a similar rush to restaurants when we highlight one on our Instagram.
  • Yes, but: The distrust in hype from influencers is the reason why local food journalist Kristen Wile started Unpretentious Palate — a digital publication "that isn't based on free meals," according to Wile.

What's next: Pizza Baby's owners, who also own Flour Shop, will open another Pizza Baby in Elizabeth this year.

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