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AAA Reports: Nothing Good to Eat in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and West Virginia

I'm certain the folks in the states above will be surprised to hear that none restaurant garnered the AAA coveted 5 diamond rating.

When did the people who come out to fix a flat tire or jump off a stubborn battery start rating restaurants?

The LA Times ties it all in to the obesity rates in the above states.

Something must taste pretty good or the folks in said states wouldn't be sporting a few extra pounds I reckon.


Hard to fathom the best eating town in our country; New Orleans not meeting the requirements of the tow truck drivers who run AAA.

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  1. Well, Michelin just makes tires, so how did they get into being the defacto standard of restaurant excellence in Europe?

    I'd reckon that these diamond ratings, just like Michelin stars, take into account a certain amount of pomp and decorum regarding the restaurants atmosphere and service, any may even penalize a lack of a dress code. Personally, I prefer places that don't require a jacket and tie and that don't have a nearly 1:1 waitstaff to patron ratio, I don't need someone hovering over me while I'm trying to eat, but for those who dine out more for appearance than for the food those things might be important.

    I'd wager that if you did a 'man on the street' type poll of random people throughout the US about what city has the best food, New Orleans would be at or very near the top.

    1. AAA has been rating restaurants, hotels and resorts in USA longer (I'm going to guess) than you've been alive. and it's not done by tow truck drivers.

      I'm interested they didn't find any top quality food in any of those places though. Not just New Orleans....

      1 Reply
      1. re: ChefJune

        It would interesting to know AAA's criteria. But for the record, I enjoyed my fine dining experiences at Erling Jensen and River Oaks, both in Memphis TN and hope to return for repeat meals in the future.

        Erling Jensen
        1044 South Yates
        Memphis, TN 38119
        (901) 763-3700

        River Oaks Restaurant
        5871 Poplar Avenue
        Memphis, TN 38119
        Phone: 901.683.9305

      2. Several of my favorite places are in the unlisted, ignored states:
        The Greenbriar in West Virginia and Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. Both of these gorgeous places have top-notch food. I also find it odd that Frank Stitt in Birmingham Alabama is ignored .............

        Edit: I just checked the 2010 AAA 5 Diamond list and noted that I've eaten in quite a few of these restaurants. My question remains the same - Greenbriar? Blackberry Farm? Why not? They're certainly in the same league as WA's Herbfarm and The Inn at Little Washington in VA which I've also enjoyed.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sherri

          The Greenbrier used to have 5 Stars, 5 Diamonds for many years. After being there twice, and enjoying fabulous food and exemplary hospitality, I certainly don't understand why they would have lost even a speck of their previous recognition.

        2. Just because no one got a five does not mean that there is no where good to eat.

          1. I'm guessing AAA and Michelin started rating restaurants to accommodate travelers wanting to know where to get good meals in clean surroundings...It's just one of their services to their clients.

            1. It has been a long time since jfood dragged a green marker down those trip-tik maps for a summer job but way back when receiving 5-stars or diamonds was basically a non-opinionated rating system. For the hoghest hotel rating it needed the basics including TV, full bath in the room, a restaurant, etc. Whether it served foie gras or re-heated frozen burgers did not matter. Clean towels garnered another star.

              No idea how it rates today but with all the good info on the internet, jfood does not give a whole lot of credence to AAA ratings and this just adds to him being more convinced. No 5-diamonds in NOLA? Got it... August, Commanders and Brightsens are not? yeah right.

              7 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                >>> . No 5-diamonds in NOLA? Got it... August, Commanders and Brightsens are not? yeah right.

                What does that mean jfood?

                As to the OP, even when there was not the vast resource of the internet, AAA wasn't a reliable resource As I think jfood said, the higer the rating the more likely the room was nicer. Restaurants have always been funky for AAA. Unfortunately I relied on AAA in Arizona for a r esto rec a few months ago. It sucked big ttime

                1. re: rworange

                  Icould be wrong but I think jfood was not subtly hinting at all that the three restaurants would qualify for top ratings. How do you interpret that? I'd hate to go there based on what I think and then be wrong.

                  1. re: rworange

                    It means (pretty clearly, to me) that jfood likes August, Commanders, and Brightsens.

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      please change likes to loves. planning a trip back to NOLA in October and jfood spent an hour waiting for mrs jfood to pick some books in Borders the other night reading John Besh's cookbook. Made him warm and fuzzy thinking about going and eating there and having Chef Frank cook up yet another marvelous meal at Brigtsen's. Love thos guys.

                  2. re: jfood

                    Subjective criteria are taken into account these days, but it's the objective ones that are problematic when it comes to Five-Diamond restaurants. Here's the document describing the rating process: http://www.aaa.biz/approved/files/eva...

                    I guess that the requirement that the restaurant offer a chef's tasting menu isn't beyond the pale. But what about a menu pairing food and wine? Isn't that what a sommelier is for? "Sorry, Mr. Keller, you should never have dropped the wine pairings at The French Laundry - we're going to have to de-list you."

                    And while it would be a little strange to go to a nice place and not receive an amuse buche, the requirement that the kitchen provide at least three "surprise" courses is a little over the top. I guess if there's no intermezzo the server had better know to bring out the chocolates a few minutes after the petit fours at the end of the meal. That gets the third "additional feature" in under the wire.

                    Then there's the departure protocol. The server must call the guests by name and present a "take-home gift." Seriously, if I've got other stuff going on in the evening I don't want to be schlepping around a personalized menu or a box of chocolates. And while I can live with the somewhat artificial process of being repeatedly addressed by name by someone I don't know, what's the staff supposed to do about my wife? Ask for ID so that she doesn't get mixed up with the girlfriend I brought in last month?

                    Long story short, the Five-Diamond rating criteria are arbitrary and faintly silly. Whether or not there's a rated restaurant in a given location has nothing whatsoever to do with whether there's anything good to eat there.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      I work for AAA and want to let you know that it is not required that every item in the list be present or available (except for the basic requirements on page 2 of the document you linked to). However, a preponderance of the items in the list must be present to reach that particular Diamond Rating level. So just because there isn't a wine pairing menu, to use your example, that does not mean that a restaurant will not be rated Five Diamond. In fact, it is never just one thing that earns a restaurant Five Diamonds and it's never just one thing that keeps a restaurant from receiving Five Diamonds.

                      AAA does take member feedback into account when rating restaurants. Your feedback on restaurants can be sent to MemberRelations@national.aaa.com. Hope this information helps.

                      1. re: jgraziani

                        I stand corrected. The document specifically states that "[t]he following guidelines are not mandatory rating requirements, but are components used to determine the appropriate Diamond Rating level."

                  3. I'm particularly surprised neither Stella! nor August, along with the likes of Bayona, Brigsten's, Commander's, etc. do not rate highly enough for 5 stars. It may be based on two things more than anything else: 1)fancy-schmancy atmoshphere; something August, Stella! and others certainly have and 2)exorbitant prices. New Orleans has some restaurants that are very expensive in my book, but perhaps they are not expensive enough for this list.

                    1. I work for AAA and since you asked I’d like to clarify a few things. There are Diamond rated restaurants in every state in the U.S., including the ones mentioned in your headline. Just because a restaurant isn’t rated Five Diamond doesn’t mean the food or the experience isn’t good. But a Five Diamond should not be interpreted as a better “option” than a Three Diamond, for example, because they are within two totally different market segments each with different expectation levels.

                      AAA hired its first full-time inspectors in 1937. Many of the early approved eateries were roadside stops for hungry travelers on the American roadways. In 1989, with assistance from Cornell University, AAA designed and implemented the Diamond Rating system (AAA had other rating systems in place prior to that). Today, AAA’s approved restaurant inventory includes nearly 27,000 restaurants throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. (AAA also inspects more than 30,000 lodgings per year.) Michael Petrone leads the Diamond Ratings team and achieved certified executive chef status with the American Culinary Federation prior to coming to AAA. Michael oversees the entire ratings process including training of the inspectors.

                      AAA inspectors receive extensive training on the Diamond Rating system prior to starting inspections. Most have backgrounds in the hospitality industry. The typical AAA inspector eats in 200 restaurants each year and uses AAA’s published guidelines to assess each property on a scale of one to five ranging from basic, quick-serve operations at the One Diamond level to those that provide a world-class experience at the Five Diamond level. Although the inspector reviews key elements of food, service and décor, AAA’s overall intent is to capture the essence of the total dining experience rather than just validate attributes of the restaurant. The ultimate goal is to ensure Diamond Ratings meet AAA member expectations; therefore all rating levels can and do provide excellent experiences depending on the needs of the diner.

                      The achievement of a AAA Diamond Rating means that an establishment has successfully completed a thorough evaluation process. To learn more on how AAA rates restaurants and what can be expected at each Diamond Rating level, visit http://bit.ly/9cmgIn.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: jgraziani

                        " But a Five Diamond should not be interpreted as a better “option” than a Three Diamond, for example, because they are within two totally different market segments each with different expectation levels."

                        Huh? Then how should it be interpreted? To stay with the New Orleans theme, would Brigtsen's and August be "within totally different market segments each with different expectation levels" since Brigtsen's doesn't provide an amuse bouche? Would Commander's Palace be within a different market than Stella! ? I just don't get it.

                        1. re: ddavis

                          Brigtsen's does not even qualify as a 4D restaurant. jfood guesses 30+ years of perfect preparations does not mean anything.

                          Jfood looked at the list for CT. No 5D's and almost all are associated with a hotel. Think AAA is trying to sell travel services versus having an unbiased opinion on restaurants in CT?

                          1. re: jfood

                            In all of California, there are only seven 5D restaurants, and five of them are in hotels. The others are The French Laundry (natch) and Gary Danko (huh?). Not that it's the be all and end all, but SF Bay Area Michelin guide gave Coi and Manresa two stars each, but neither got four diamonds from AAA.

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              Yup looks like jfood and AB are putting AAA and Zagat's right up there as the No-Go-To reference for restaurants.

                              1. re: jfood

                                Who needs something as simple as star ratings when you can have far-ranging and occasionally heated discussions on Chowhound?

                                Still and all, you can bet that a restaurant that gets four or five AAA diamonds or one or more Michelin stars is going to serve good food in elegant surroundings. The usefulness of those systems is limited, but not nonexistent.

                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                "Yup looks like jfood and AB are putting AAA and Zagat's right up there as the No-Go-To reference for restaurants."
                                ROFL! As long as we're talking inverse recommendations, you forgot Yelp and CitySearch.
                                <OT>This topic reminds me of why I've never used Consumer Reports reco's for autos - they rate for fussy suburbanite families with two kids - not part of that demographic. OTOH reliability reports are worth looking at. Now exiting OT ....

                                1. re: DiveFan

                                  But do you use Consumer Reports' chain restaurant recs?? How bout their wine recs? Expensive chocolates?

                                  "Look honey, there's a Perkins' and a Marie Callender's. Let's see what CR thinks!"