Heads up, Hahnefeld and other local restaurant critics: You may as well turn in your badges right now. The self-proclaimed "food expert in this town" is one Maxwell Jeffries, a 6-foot-4, 72-year-old ex-New Yorker with a shaved head who's made three rave video reviews of Ray's Pizza, Taste of India and Andreoli Italian Grocer on You Tube. The slug at the bottom of one such video cites Jeffries as a "New York restaurant critic." Do tell.
What, you may well ask, is this golden guy up to? Is he trying to capture 15 minutes of fame for his bucket list or does he have something else up the sleeve of his Hawaiian shirt?
One local restaurant owner who prefers to remain anonymous says Jeffries came to her restaurant claiming that he worked for KAET, the local PBS television station, and that he knew Howard Seftel, critic for the Arizona Republic. He wanted to give her a positive video of her restaurant. She passed on the offer, guessing that he wanted a free meal in the bargain.
The videos are fantastically long (11 minutes in one case) but so kitschy and completely over-the-top that it's almost worth killing the better part of an hour to catch the theatrics. Jeffries speaks in Hindi, adopts the accent of an Indian-speaking English (think Apu at the Kwik-E Mart), and bursts into an Italian love song.
Jeffries also has filmed a couple of wildly quirky rants. including one on the service at The Cheesecake Factory, complete with dining tip number 28, which he claims will be part of his forthcoming book, Thirty-Six Ways to Survive the Restaurants in Phoenix, Arizona.
In the Ray's Pizza video, he calls Glendale a "culinary wasteland" (not too far off there, sir) and swears you can't get pizza this good at Domino's, Pizza Hut, or Pizzeria "Blanco." Now, there's a local expert for you.
In two of them, a huge narcoleptic hound dog named Archie (who's clearly heard it all before) sprawls across Jeffries' lap as he pontificates from his recliner, saying of his dust-up at Cheescake, "I'm Maxwell Jeffries and I'm pissed."
In an hour-long phone interview with Jeffries, I learned that he creates his videos for fun because he feels he gives "more sophisticated information" and more "entertainment" than you can get on any Arizona broadcast. "I should be on TV in this town," he tells me, adding that he speaks five languages and has visited 22 countries.
His disdain for Phoenix restaurants, Phoenix diners, and Phoenix in general is palpable. In fact, Jeffries says he may move back to New York next year.
Is he or has he ever been a critic? Well, a "self-made one," he says, who owned a restaurant in New York (he names a chain restaurant my Google search found in London) and would like to write the book he mentions but admitted he doesn't really have it in the works.
Jeffries also explained that he invented the notion of a restaurant rewards program 30 years ago, telling me many stories about his expertise in the restaurant business and how his services have been repeatedly declined. "It's unbelievable!" he says. And I have to agree.
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Jeffries says he plans to put up a new You Tube video tomorrow. You won't want to miss it.