New York City's Health Department has handed down its first letter grade to a restaurant, presenting Jose and Antonio Araujo of Long Island City with an A for Spark's, a "well-kept deli" that the Department heralds as "a model for the city's 24,000 other eating establishments." Having aced an unannounced inspection, Spark's has become the new face of a city initiative to raise public awareness of sanitary conditions. Restaurants are required to visibly post their letter grades, and a corresponding website allows users to sort eateries by name, borough, cuisine type and inspection score. If you're seeking, say, a lower Manhattan Sicilian joint free of mouse excreta, you'll find plenty of options on the Health Department's database.
More Intelligent Life spoke with Tony Araujo, a Spark's co-owner, who exclaimed that he was "very thrilled, very proud" to receive the honour. He also mentioned that Dr Thomas Farley, the city's Health Commissioner, had visited Spark's earlier in the day to congratulate the owners. What sort of fare is Spark's known for? "Breakfast, lunch, and dinner," Araujo replied. "And also hot sandwiches."
The restaurant grading system newly adapted by New York is modelled after one
implemented by Los Angeles in 1998: inspectors visit restaurants at least once a year and tally points for violations. The lower the score, the better the grade. A restaurant receiving zero to 13 points receives an A grade; restaurants scoring 14 to 27 points receive a B, and restaurants with 28 points or more earn a C. Restaurants that pose imminent health dangers are shuttered.
The Department's online database may not be flawless, but it is indeed easily navigable. A moment's research reveals information that may give foodies pause. JG Melon, a hallowed yuppie burger joint that charges $8.50 for its signature item, racked up a whopping 51 health code violations, whereas a midtown Burger King (cost of hamburger: $2.69) breezed through inspections with zero violations. Café Habana, a trendy SoHo restaurant (cost of a Cuban sandwich, salad and fries: $19.25), got slammed with 64 violation points, while homey Queens restaurant El Sitio (cost of same meal: $9.30) received only nine points.
Muckrackers will be jazzed to learn that the database can be filtered according to grade, though gird yourself for the stomach-turning discovery of your favourite eateries on the list. Afraid to find out what dark, vermin-infested secrets your old standby may be hiding? Look on the bright side: perhaps it's a good time to invest in Pepto-Bismol.
Picture credit: Bascom Hogue (via Flickr)