Farewell, readers: Longtime writer and critic is pushing back his plate

Wendell Brock says goodbye after 40 years with the AJC

For the first time in my 40 years as an Atlanta journalist, I feel that I am part of a community, and yet the time has come for me to say goodbye.

I’ve been working in some capacity for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since I was 22. All that changes on Friday, when the paper publishes my final dining review.

It’s been a wildly serendipitous journey, none of it planned.

I grew up on a South Georgia peanut farm; landed a job at this big-city daily shortly after graduating from the University of Georgia; and worked as a copy editor, arts editor, and culture reporter: 27 years on staff, 13 more as a freelancer. In the late ‘90s, I covered food and dance. At the same time. I may be the only theater critic you’ll ever meet who’s won a James Beard Award.

It’s been a feast.

Since 2017, I’ve gotten paid to eat, working with Ligaya Figueras as one of this paper’s dining critics. In the name of research, I’ve sampled everything from Nashville hot chicken to Korean jokball (pig trotters) and sea snails.

I’ve taken special pride in covering the region’s wildly diverse food scene. (Hey, did you hear about the couple from Myanmar who sells extraordinary plates out of their home in Clarkston?) And I’ve become something of an ambassador of pop-ups, cheering from the sidelines as Taiwanese-American chef Fu-Mao Sun (aka Mighty Hans) took over the Saturday brunch spot at Gato, as plant-based Happy Seed sprouted into La Semilla, with a brick-and-mortar expected later this summer in Reynoldstown.

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In Friday’s paper, I’ll tell you about Lucian Books and Wine, a Buckhead gem where you can sip Champagne, slurp oysters, and buy books to nurture your soul long after.

Then, I’m out of here: —30—

So why give up this plum role, and why now?

One thing I learned as theater critic was to maintain a critical distance with the community I covered. You can’t review a show one night, then have martinis with thespians the next night. That’s an unequivocal no-no.

Nowadays, I love social media. But for the longest time, I didn’t dare “like” an Instagram post by an Atlanta food and drink establishment — no matter how much I might want to slurp that salty margarita, or plunge a knife into that glistening pink rib-eye. Didn’t seem fair to the chefs and restaurant owners whom I might not know about. Might look like I was playing favorites.

But the pandemic softened me.

As I reported column after column, I heard firsthand how the industry was struggling to survive. Sometimes, after a story ran, I’d hear from owners that the coverage helped, that it brought them business. This triggered a response from the heart: I wanted to help. I still do.

As a journalist, my responsibility will always be to the reader, not the restaurant. I cannot state that more plainly.

And yet in these unprecedented times, my impulse has been to applaud. I’m here for the Black-owned, the immigrant-owned, the woman-owned. I want to invest my energy in businesses that don’t have PR reps. I want to drive far OTP to discover places that aren’t on anyone’s radar.

When I discover a stellar restaurant, I want to tell the world — be it the Afghan mom-and-pop in Johns Creek, the Vietnamese spot that specializes in chicken rice, or the pop-up that makes Atlanta-style pizza with lemon-pepper chicken wings.

And if I see a good-looking plate of food on Instagram, by golly, I’ll press that heart button and feel no remorse. Because I want to celebrate excellence, and I want you to do the same. And no matter what I do next, that will not change.

It’s been a joy and a privilege to serve you, Atlanta Journal-Constitution readers. And now it’s time to say so long.

Follow Wendell Brock on Instagram @wendelldavidbrock and Twitter @MrBrock.

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