No anthrax in the mail this week, but we did get plenty of entries in our "Disguise Howie" contest. Many thoughtful citizens took the time to help Arizona Republic restaurant critic Howard "Howie" Seftel get back to work by creating new and clever disguises for him. (We also got letters about our Howie coverage. They are included here, too.) Howie and his bosses took great umbrage a few weeks ago when we published a photo of Howie that accompanied a column detailing how he has been recycling the same tired gags and lines he wrote for us (he was New Times restaurant critic for eight years) in his work for the Republic. Of course, neither Howie nor anyone at the Republic could muster a defense of his cut-and-paste journalism, but they did threaten to sue us over blowing his anonymity.
Many New Times readers obviously got the point, or maybe it was just the $100 prize. We received more than 40 entries, many of them intricate and creative new looks that we're sure Howie will find helpful the next time he heads out to his favorite five-star dining establishment. A few that merit special attention: Xena Howie, Pope Howie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Howie, Osama bin Howie and, of course, Terrorist Howie.
But there is only one winner, and that is: Mary Szabados of Scottsdale for Send In the Clown Howie, whose delicately colored costume will certainly fool even the sharpest-eyed restaurateur.
And now, the letters.
Abusive Howie: I have been abused by Howard Seftel for years (Dempsey, October 4 and 11). Many years ago I had a pair of construction glasses with flashlights sent to him after he said he spilled candle wax all over his food in my restaurant because of how dark it was.
In 15 years I have been tortured by some of the best. The famous Elin Jeffords used to book her visits with her "friends." I actually was at the same restaurant when she was on one of these "reviews." Penelope Corcoran . . . don't get me going. Howard is a fucking wimp.
Richardson's Cuisine of New Mexico
Out of Context Howie: Just wanted to thank you for the photos of Howard Seftel. I have worked at several of the Valley's finer restaurants and have waited on this character before. Howard is good at misquoting servers and guilty of taking words out of context. Howard needs to do this to spice up an otherwise bland restaurant review. Oh, and can I "dress him up" more than once for your "disguise Howie" contest? I want to win so I can take him out to dinner and show him a thing or two about food, wine and service.
Name withheld by request
Hack Howie: Oh, pleeeeze! The dude (Howie) is a hack! He's a lazy writer, and clearly has been doing the restaurant reviewing gig way too long. It's unfortunate that his employers hadn't caught on. And let's face it, folks, this ain't brain surgery, it's just a guy who eats at restaurants and tells you about it. The ability to do his job is hardly compromised. Do you think restaurateurs are inspecting each customer to see if Howie's honored them by showing up to feed? Get real.
I do wish that New Times would cover state and local politics on a more regular basis, but hey, a little poke at a journalistic slacker puts a smile on my face. This and the pickup of Jill Stewart's column from Los Angeles in the past weeks hopefully means New Times' content is on the "alternative" upswing.
Name withheld by request
Esteemed Howie: Kristi Dempsey's follow-up to her first column about Howard Seftel is further ado about nothing. If anyone misses the point, she does.
The real issue with Seftel's writing is not whether he reuses some phrases from the past (his phrases, his past) in his intros and segues, but whether he fairly reviews the restaurants he visits. That he is held is high esteem by the "industry" says that he does. If the restaurant industry despised him, it would suggest he did not.
Ms. Dempsey does not read very carefully, either. Gregory Casale's letter clearly says that as a result of publication of Mr. Seftel's photo in the column, "Now, we can thank him directly for his many years of service . . ." Nowhere did he say or imply that he knew or knows Mr. Seftel well or that he could, previous to the New Times photo publication, recognize him by sight. Yes, he appreciated and knew his work, but that is not the same thing.
As a disclaimer, I know none of these individuals, though I have eaten at a couple of Mr. Casale's restaurants a few times, and enjoyed the experience far more than I enjoy Ms. Dempsey's sour writing and poor reasoning.
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