549 25th Street, Sherman Heights
(No longer in business.)
I don't enjoy writing a bad review any more than I enjoy eating bad food. It's just a cruelty of logic that the two always go together. The whole thing leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Twice, as it were.
The gist of this experience is that I ordered ribs and didn't finish them. I can think of a number of reasons this might happen. Appendicitis. Bird flu. The earth opening up and swallowing my half rack before I get the chance. No such luck. On this day I just didn't enjoy them enough to finish.
I never knew that could happen. I usually think of ribs in terms of they never give you enough. It looks like a lot on the plate, but once you finish stripping the bones, you've typically put in a lot of hard work for relatively small amounts of tender meat. That's my only knock on ribs, usually, but the work is worth it because with the right sauce they taste amazing.
Even weak sauce can't ruin good ribs, only slow them down. In this case I won't even take time to criticize the sauce. I've had way better, yeah, but I've also had worse. But often when I've had worse I still finished my ribs.
The problem was the meat, which was tough and chewy. There was a little bit of smoky flavor in there, but not enough to compel me. For 13 bucks, five pork ribs and two sides seemed like an okay deal. But my side of cole slaw was the best thing about the meal, and the mac and cheese was by far the worst I've ever had.
So yeah, I feel a lot of things. Disappointed. Guilty for saying so. This is a new business in a tough Sherman Heights spot that've seen many come and go.
But then curiosity got the best of me, and I had to check the Yelp assessment. This place is rockin' four and a half stars! I know from experience this star system is entirely unreliable, and from a combination of news articles and common sense that money occasionally exchanges hands for positive reviews on Yelp. — a practice apparently known as "astroturfing".
I'm not going to speculate about any specific perpetrators of this on the Sonny's Southern California Barbecue Yelp page, and I obviously can't claim to know for sure any are fake, paid or otherwise, because I was not personally paid to write any. But having tried these ribs, then reading through some of those five star ratings, the discrepancy is gaping.
Some of the reviews are definitely legit, complaining that there's no parking lot, apologizing about being dissatisfied. There are even a couple of poorly worded thumbs ups that I am convinced are genuine.
But a lot of the praise is fairly well written, what I might call very shiny prose. Despicably obnoxious to read, but practiced and intelligible, quite possibly the work of a trained writer trying to make a place sound desirable and fun – a must try! A couple of them even suggest this "dynamic" "gem" of place is destined to usurp all the business lining up over at Phil's BBQ. Now that's just silly.
I'm somewhat offended as a food consumer. I'm mostly offended as a food writer. And, hypothetically, if I were to start a business and enlist professional social media marketing assistance, I sure hope my guys would turn out more believable work than what passes for a Yelp review these days.