If Elizabeth Large isn't hungry for dessert after dinner, very soon she will not order it. The longtime Baltimore Sun restaurant critic plans to retire and start dining out like a civilian.
"It will be nice to be able to order exactly what I want and not order more than I want because I need to test it," said Large, who announced Tuesday that she will retire at the end of the month, nearly 37 years after her first restaurant review.
In that span, Large has seen exotic cuisine, small plates and big names come to a restaurant scene once dominated by crab fluffs and sour beef and dumplings.
"I think she's going to be missed," said Morris Martick, owner of the now-closed Martick's Restaurant Francais, whose tasty food and quirky atmosphere Large captured in a 1992 review. ("What can you say about a kitchen that serves an excellent pate ($5) -- rustic and appealing -- with Ritz crackers and dill pickle spears?" she wrote.)
"I thought she was a very fair reviewer and she had some good insights," Martick said.
Riccardo Bosio, owner of Sotto Sopra, Sotto Cafe and until its sale last week, Pazza Luna, said Large had a hand in improving the Baltimore dining landscape.
"She was a tough critic and we loved her for it," he said. "She kept us on our toes."
Said Tony Foreman, who with chef-wife Cindy Wolf owns Charleston, Petit Louis, Pazo and Cinghiale: "Good for her. She has to have had a tenure about six times longer than the typical Baltimore restaurant life span."
Over the course of her Sun career, Large edited the newspaper's Sunday magazine and wrote feature stories on health, fitness and pop culture. Three years ago, she launched Dining@Large, one of the newspaper's most popular blogs.
"While this is an extremely sad occasion for our newsroom and readers of The Baltimore Sun, it's also a happy time for Elizabeth," said J. Montgomery Cook, the newspaper's editor. "Elizabeth Large is the most trusted voice on dining in Baltimore. People see her byline and they see a name they can trust to be fair, insightful and witty. Her Dining@Large blog is one of the most viewed on baltimoresun.com, and Elizabeth is a model for how journalists can adapt and master digital media. She's devoted to it, and it's not uncommon to find a blog post from her in the wee hours of the morning. That dedication to her audience has brought her a very large and loyal online following."
By the time she'd started the blog, Large said, she'd begun to tire of writing reviews, but the new forum gave her a much-needed boost.
"The blog was very renewing for me," she said. "I had been doing the restaurant stuff so long. It was so exciting to do the blog and I really loved it and didn't want to give it up."
"It's much more personal and the interaction is huge. It's like having a journal. I incorporated part of my personal life into it in a way I couldn't in just story."
The blog also gave Large more control over her writing; she came up with the headlines and chose the art. The critic who recalled the reign of Nouvelle cuisine as "the decade of over-handled food" liked having fewer hands on her copy.
"I love having control over that," said Large, who on her 30th anniversary as a critic printed a list of the most "jaw-dropping" headlines to ever top her reviews. Among them: "The ambience is fine; too bad you can't eat it" and "Muzak wasn't loud enough to drown out drunk in Oak Room."
But Large, who retires Feb. 26, the day before her 65th birthday, has no plans to continue blogging in retirement.
"I won't be taking Dining@Large private," Large said in announcing her retirement on the blog Tuesday. "I'm tired."
Large never tired of dining out -- something she did weekly on The Sun's dime. Nor did she suffer from the obvious occupational hazard. (A passion for tennis and working out two to three hours a day has helped with that.) That didn't stop Baltimore Magazine from assuming or jesting that Elizabeth Large was a nom de plume, declaring the name "worst pseudonym for a food critic" after the byline first appeared in 1973.
"I love going out to eat," Large said. "I just don't love writing about it anymore. ... Right now, I'm never going to sit in front of a keyboard again. That's how I feel."