They say you shouldn't bite the hand that feeds you. I'll just bite the hand that wants to feed me but should know better.
While I'm a blogger these days, I'm a blogger for a newspaper, which means I still observe certain old-media conventions that independent bloggers might consider quaint. Like that rule about not taking anything of value from the people you write about.
I can only assume that the average blogger follows a different playbook, based on all the invitations I've received lately. An awful lot of people seem to be giving away food to food bloggers.
I'm not talking about the nice neighborhood baker who offers the reporter who's come to write about his tiramisu a piece of same. The reporter is supposed to politely decline, or pay for the pastry. But the offer can be taken at face value, as an act of personal generosity, a gracious gesture.
I'm talking about invitations from big, out-of-state PR firms trying to inspire seemingly independent eaters to gush about their restaurant-clients online. You have to wonder what readers would think if they realized the writers were eating on the house -- and sometimes blogging right there, in the presence of their hosts.
Which brings me to this week's list: Top Ten free lunches I've passed on
1. Dine Downtown Baltimore on Charles Street Media Tour
The Downtown Partnership will take media on a three-hour tour of Charles Street restaurants May 25. Each reporter can even take along a guest. The Charm City Circulator will transport participants from restaurant to restaurant. (I'm milking this one for three entries because there are stops at three restaurants and because otherwise -- let's be honest -- I'll never make it to 10.)
First stop: B&O Brasserie, for hand-crafted cocktails and meatball, tomato-basil and duck confit flatbreads.
2. Dine Downtown Baltimore on Charles Street Media Tour, second stop:
Red Maple, for Asian-inspired tapas
3. Dine Downtown Baltimore on Charles Street Media Tour, third stop:
Brewer's Art, for country ham flat bread, steamed mussels, crab dip with toasted pita, artichoke ravioli with lemon buerre blanc, pistachio-mint pesto chilled asparagus soup with house-cured salmon-stuffed profiteroles and house-brewed Belgian-style beers.
4. Phillips Seafood Restaurant Blogger Dinner
The restaurant offered lobsters, clams, mussels, oysters and crabs to food bloggers, who were invited to blog while they ate in April. "While it's often not polite to be tapping on your Blackberry while eating, on this occasion it's welcome," read the invite from Breslow Partners, the Philadelphia PR firm for Phillips. "We just recommend that you swallow before pushing 'send.'"
What a relief. They swallow first. They still have some standards.
5. Another Phillips blogger dinner
"Hey Baltimore Bloggers, finally, your efforts are rewarded!" reads another Breslow invite. "Our first Bloggers' Dinner will be held on Thursday, March 25. And we'd love to have you join us for some sumptuous food, a cocktail or two, and all the while, share your opinions with you readers." Over live music, chilled seafood, "tuna two ways" and "Shirley Phillips' famous crab cakes," participants were invited to "blog away, right there for all of the world wide web to see."
6. Culinary VIP Event at Qdoba
This invite came to a colleague at the Sun's Metromix website. "We invite you to join us for an intimate VIP culinary lesson in fresh, hand-crafted street fare being held on Wednesday, June 2, at the Qdoba Mexican Grill restaurant ... in Ellicott City."
The sender, from Denver-based GroundFloor Media, told me when I inquired that the event would offer "samples" of food, not a full meal. Non-alcoholic and possibly alcoholic drinks would be provided as well.
The invite came with a link to Federal Trade Commission rules governing false or deceptive advertising, like that pesky rule about disclosing payment -- in-kind or otherwise -- made in exchange for endorsements. "[F]ailure to abide by these guidelines may subject you to liability for false or deceptive advertising," it says.
You know the party's going to be fun when the FTC wants to hear all about it!
7. Bob Ehrlich's Rockfish
This dish came my way not as a blogger, but as a columnist back in March 2006. Then-Gov. Ehrlich invited 20 reporters into the Government House kitchen to have a bite of Rockfish. He was trying to put the kibosh on a Washington Post report that 75 percent of the fish caught in the Chesapeake Bay had a disease that caused skin infections in humans. Like most pols, Ehrlich wasn't always crazy about reporters. Was this a scheme to give us all sores and lesions? The gov himself had a bite, so it must have been safe. But I was glad for the excuse The Sun's ethics policy gave me for taking a pass.
8. The Stork Dinner, Howard County General Hospital
As a reporter in The Sun's Howard County bureau, I occasionally wrote about the hospital. I had my first child there seven years ago. By that time, I was out of the bureau and covering City Hall in Baltimore. But a hospital executive who'd heard I was in there as a patient wanted to treat me to the Stork Dinner, a fancy meal offered to new parents. It cost $50 if I remember correctly. I think he was only trying to be nice but I couldn't accept, I told him. He persisted: Couldn't he still treat my husband? Well, no.
(Even more awkward: At the hospital, I received flowers from none other than Sheila Dixon. That was before I was a columnist and before she provided me with all that Jimmy Choo/fur coat material. She was an unindicted City Council president and I was a reporter on reasonably good terms with her, good enough for her to send me flowers that I wasn't really supposed to accept. I phoned an editor to ask what I was supposed to do. He told me: keep the flowers. What was I going to do? Send them back? I'll bet Dixon would gladly take them back now.)
9. Preakness press room spread
There was a table full of food outside Pimlico's auxiliary press room, where I worked Saturday during Preakness. Famished and dehydrated by afternoon, I accepted a bottle of water and a single slice of bread after watching fat cats down sushi and crab cakes in the VIP Preakness Village all day. But I passed on the rest -- and made a bee-line for Atwater's in Belvedere Square for soup and sandwich as soon as I got out of there.
Some sports reporters -- surely not from The Sun! -- have been known to chow down on food provided by the sports team they cover. For that matter, some horse-racing reporters even wager on the races they're writing about -- using betting windows conveniently located in the press box. So the old media has its issues, too.
10. Derry Church Artisan Chocolates
The chocolatier at this Mechanicsburg, Pa., company e-mailed me recently saying he wanted to send me some of his "exquisite French bon bons in exchange for a possible peer review." I'm told it would actually be legit to accept a sample of chocolates if I were doing a product review, but I don't see The Sun running a chocolate review anytime soon. Sigh.
Dinner fit for a blogger at Brewer's Art: seared tuna with potato mousseline, creamed spinach and pinot noir sauce. Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum