Walking into the dimly lit Church, you are met with the belief that you may find absolution here, just not in that way. Located on 69 Kilmarnock St., Church has offered residents of the Fenway area an escape from the numerous sports bars that clutter Yawkey Way. A combination of a restaurant and music club, Church served as the location for a recent meeting of food bloggers, providing an alluring ambiance and divine dishes.
“Let’s go for the high table tonight,” says Jacki Morisi to Michelle “Meesh” Zippelli.
Immediately the women are met by a waitress, who asks, “So are you girls the bloggers?” Clearly they are known, but why? These 25-year old Northeastern alumni have been on the Boston blog scene since graduating in 2010, making friends with chefs and public-relations pros at every event they venture to.
“Boston has so much to offer with food. It’s ever-changing with new restaurants opening all the time,” says Zippelli. “There is never a shortage of things to write about, that’s for sure.”
After chatting with head chef Jon Gilman, the foodistas have decided what to order from the restaurant’s new spring menu, which is the basis of this week’s blog. With three starters, including one order of mushroom canelones, followed by a trio of entrees and two desserts, this was a feast fit for the pope. Like clockwork, both Morisi and Zippelli whip out their iPhones to tweet about their appetizing adventure:
Loving your new spring menu @ChurchBoston! Mushroom canelones, duck confit spring rolls, crab cakes and fried green tomatoes. I can’t.
With their blog, Just Add Cheese, Morisi and Zippelli strive to find the best food in Boston, as well as other places such as New York, Maryland and Rhode Island. And they are not alone.
Since the launch of blog publishing services like Blogger and WordPress in 1999 and 2003, respectively, the Internet has become a frenzy of virtual niche communities, with blogs focusing on food, sports, music and just about any other interest you can imagine.
For Renee Hirschberg, founder of Boston Brunchers, a group of bloggers who review some of Boston’s most choice restaurants one brunch at a time, blogging was initially an outlet to fill a creative void while she worked and attended graduate school at Boston University.
Hitting the food scene in 2010, Boston Brunchers’ first event took place at Lord Hobo in Cambridge and included 13 bloggers, a mere fraction of what the group consists of today. After an explosion of tweets, blog posts and word of mouth, the Brunchers currently number more than 250 members, which span the likes of 20-somethings such as Morisi and Zippelli, as well as older age groups. The common thread: each member has a passion for food and an allegiance to support Boston businesses.
“The Boston blogging community in general is very social, especially the food blogging scene,” says Hirschberg, 34, who ran her own marketing company until 2009. “Food bloggers are constantly looking for a way to become more involved and it’s an easy way to do that.”
With such a large number of members, it’s impossible for every Bruncher to attend an event, so Hirschberg makes entrance into a contest, allowing each blogger an equal opportunity. Once she posts about an upcoming brunch, bloggers either write comments, which are then sorted and chosen through random.org, or the restaurant chooses its favorite answers.
Nicole Spasiano, 27, won her first chance to dine with the Brunchers in February 2011 and has been to nine events since.
“It’s the best part of blogging and social media,” says Spasiano, whose blog i am a honeybee focuses on food and drinks, as well as her general interests. “You don’t have to be involved, but there is always an opportunity to connect with people.”
Admittedly a shy person, Spasiano enjoys getting to know fellow bloggers through their online presence then meeting them in person, with Boston Brunchers providing an excellent occasion to do so. And as Hirschberg points out, not everyone is completely understanding of what food bloggers are trying to accomplish.
“A big part of what we do is connecting the community of food bloggers,” says Hirschberg. “Nobody really understands when you pull out your camera at a meal and wait 20 minutes to take pictures as your food gets cold.”
While the practice of critiquing food is no new trade, as seasoned vets like Devra First of the Boston Globe have been doing so for years, the task has traditionally been performed in a nameless fashion, with critics reviewing restaurants candidly as to provide a glimpse into what an average diner should expect. However, Boston Brunchers follows a different mantra: the brunches are well planned-out events, where the restaurant pays for the food. A conflict of interest some might say, though not according to blogger Chelsea Dugan.
“I don’t think the group would function as well as it does if people didn’t believe we were being honest,” says 21-year-old Dugan, whose blog, Chelsea’s Choice, launched in 2011. “Obviously nobody likes to write a bad review but you can’t risk the integrity of your own blog jus to please a restaurant.”
Perhaps in this new environment where popular bloggers get more hits on Twitter than some newspapers get in subscriptions, old rules need not apply. Hirschberg admits that while restaurants may be putting on their best face for the Brunchers, she urges the bloggers to be utterly honest in their reviews and post disclaimers that the food was free.
“I tend to think that as an overall rule, a reviewer who is not getting a free meal has a more impartial perspective, but I also recognize that it’s increasingly difficult, there’s not a lot of budget for that kind of thing in journalism,” says First. “If we want to hear about food, this may be something that increasingly happens. I really think that what’s important is for people to be transparent about their methods.”
As Boston Brunchers continues to grow, inciting praise and criticism for their tactics, one can’t deny the online prowess this group holds. Booked with events through July, the Brunchers are in high-demand among restaurants, as businesses realize the vast publicity that can be gained by hosting the group. Relying heavily on social media, specifically Twitter, to get their message out there, the Brunchers have successfully tapped into a thriving market, simply by taking advantage of the technology of today.
While some company may find the constant tweeting and picture taking during a meal irritating, the Brunchers find solace in their fellow foodies. Morisi does not appear phased as Zippelli instantly updates the Twitter-sphere of her tasty tales with an instagram of the savory chicken and waffles dish just placed before her.
“Twitter definitely allows us to access a more broad community in terms of people in the restaurant industry and the food blogging community,” says Morisi. And Zippelli chimes in, “Sometimes on Twitter I feel like it’s not even so much about interacting with readers, as so much it’s us trying to engage the people we want to see our post.”