Crime’s Review of the Cheesecake Factory Reveals the Sorry State of American Newspapers

Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory.

Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Feeding America

In the beginning of May, when the Ariel Castro story broke, I spent a full week glued to the website of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The paper’s wall-to-wall Castro coverage was outstanding, which is why I was disheartened to learn that its owner, Advance Publications, had already announced plans to fire dozens of employees and switch to a three-day-a-week publication schedule. The paper’s editor claimed the changes were necessary for the Plain Dealer “to continue to serve the community as the leading source of news and information for years to come.”

At the end of July, the Plain Dealer lost approximately 45 editorial employees due to layoffs and voluntary exits, reducing the size of its newsroom by about one-third. Among those fired were many reporters and photographers who substantively contributed to the paper’s Castro coverage: Edith Starzyk, who wrote about how Castro was fired from his job as a school bus driver; Michael O’Malley, who reported on the Castro family’s Cleveland-area roots; Felesia Jackson, who produced a helpful interactive guide to the major players in the ongoing story; several others.

But not to worry, Cleveland-area news consumers: In the paper’s own story about the layoffs, Robert L. Smith noted that company executives promised “the company would marshal its resources to deliver a quality product in the digital age.”

How’s that product looking? On Thursday the website—which is “powered by” the Plain Dealer and the Sun News community newspapers—ran a review of the Cheesecake Factory. (Hat tip to @calebhannan.) According to writer Barbara Collier, the chain restaurant’s menu is “22 colorful pages long and almost mind-boggling, with one choice sounding better than the next.” But what’s on the mind-boggling menu, and how much do those mind-boggling menu items cost, you ask?

The most popular pasta dish is Cajun jambalaya pasta ($16.95). Shrimp and chicken breasts are sauteed with tomatoes, onions and sweet peppers in a “very spicy Cajun sauce” top a bed of fresh linguine. (Full size portions only).

There is an ala carte Sunday brunch (10 a.m to 2 p.m). Choices range from giant Belgian waffle ($6.95 for plain). Add strawberries, pecans and chantilly cream ($9.95).

For traditionalists, it’s the brunch combo ($8.95) consisting of two eggs, two slices of bacon and two buttermilk pancakes. Kids brunch ($6.95) is small order of French toast or buttermilk pancakes, bacon and fresh fruit.

Fresh brewed coffee ($2.95), fresh orange juice ($3.95).

Collier also noted that lunch portions are served until 5 p.m.

Now, we all sit back and wait for the inevitable throwdown between Collier and the Grand Forks Herald’s Marilyn Hagerty over who truly owns the extremely-kind-older-woman-reviews-a-chain-restaurant beat. (Hagerty on Olive Garden: “The chicken Alfredo ($10.95) was warm and comforting on a cold day. The portion was generous. My server was ready with Parmesan cheese.”)

Collier’s reviews on the Plain Dealer website date back to at least 2008, when she penned a piece headlined “This fine Blue Planet is a dino-mite place to eat.” In the intervening years, she has noted that “West End Bistro is an East Side destination for great food” and “A tasty variety distinguishes Freddie’s, no bones about it.”

What will be next for readers? A review of Red Lobster? Outback Steakhouse? A combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell? Or maybe, given the Plain Dealer’s recent layoffs, Barbara Collier will soon get the opportunity to write about crime, and reassure us all that everything is great in Cleveland, and that the city’s police department is doing a mind-boggling job. Whatever happens, Plain Dealer readers can rest assured that the great paper that brought us amazing continuing coverage of the Castro kidnapping will indeed continue to produce a quality product in the digital age. Or a product, at any rate.

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.