The new Michelin "red book" is arriving in bookstores. Local food enthusiasts can now read the news they pretty much already know about which restaurants receive the coveted three stars, the two and the one, and which ones received the Bib Gourmand award.
Marion Street Cheese Market Café is getting Bib Gourmand recognition, which is granted to restaurants that serve two courses with a glass of wine for under $40.
Winning this award puts Chef Leonard Hollander and his crew in the same company as Stephanie Izard's Girl and the Goat, Paul Kahan's Publican and Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill. Distinguished company, indeed, and the case could be made that many of them deserve at least a star or two, as well.
Is this a big deal?
But will it make a difference as far as who does or does not come to Oak Park to eat at Marion Street Cheese Market?
Michelin Guides first appeared in 1900, in France, published by the makers of Michelin tires who hoped that a guide to faraway restaurants would encourage automotive usage and thus tire purchases.
I have used the Michelin "green book" for travel throughout Europe and find them superb; the "red book," which deals with food, is also very handy, especially if you have a lot of money to spend at excellent restaurants.
Bib Gourmand awards recognize less costly and more informal dining zones, and for that, they are as good as many competitive guides (like Zagat) and much better than many travel books (like Frommer's).
But in a time when there are so many options for getting insights into what a restaurant has to offer – I mean sources like Chowhound, Yelp! and my own LTHForum.com. – many print-based guides seem…undemocratic. It feels archaic to listen to a handful of "professional" critics when you can tap the resources of a community of many thousands of regular folks, like you and me, who just like to go out to eat…and then talk about the experience.
So although I (continue to) applaud Marion Street Cheese Market, the Bib Gourmand recognition could not possibly make me think any more highly of the place.