Matta of Principle

Restaurant owner pays pretty penny to put in two cents

Mary Lou Matta Garza has a bone to pick with a local restaurant reviewer, and she's chosen an interesting way to publicize her gripes: The restaurateur shelled out some substantial money to run an ad in the offending newspaper. And no, it's not us.

Garza's restaurant, the historic Matta's in downtown Mesa, was the subject of a review recently in the Tribune's Get Out tabloid. Author Michelle Burgess had little positive to say about the landmark, which has served traditional Sonoran food since 1953. Her summary: "mediocre, adequate, acceptable, but not extraordinary food."

Garza was incensed, not so much because of the negative portrayal ("It's a free country," she says. "Everyone can have their opinions") but because she feels her restaurant was surveyed based solely on an inadequate selection of dishes. She decided to shell out $800 last week for the four-color, half-page ad after two letters sent to Tribune editors went unpublished. (Get Out typically doesn't publish letters to the editor; I've only seen it done once.)

"It bothers me to have to pay to have my rebuttal, but so many customers were upset that I wanted to thank them for sticking with me," she says. "It's ironic how I have to be charged in order for them to run my response."

At the root of Garza's discontent is that she feels the dishes sampled were hardly representative of her Mexican menu. "[Burgess] ordered what little kids eat," she says. "A burro, I mean, what can you do with that? And an omelet?" Matta's is better known for its specialties, she believes, like chile relleno and chilaquiles, enchilada casseroles with red sauce, cheese, egg, onion and chicken or beef.

Longtime customers were "outraged," she adds, "at having their intelligence insulted when the reporter stated, 'apparently adequate is just fine with scores of people, because the place stays packed.' Our customers want food, and that's what we serve them, not fancy Baja stuff."

Garza wants us to know that, for the record, Matta's has received the Arizona Restaurant Association's Hall of Fame Award. I also found on a Web site for the music group Jimmy Eat World that guitarist/vocalist Tom Linton lists Matta's as his favorite restaurant in the nation. Cool.

And so what if Matta's isn't new, Garza fumes. "I'd hate to have [Burgess] review or critique the Vatican. . . . I hope she wouldn't refer to them as 'big and old.'"

Myself, I'm not weighing in a vote on Matta's cuisine -- Burgess is just as entitled to her thoughts as is Garza. It's just unfortunate that Garza had to shell out $800 to have hers heard.

 
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