Frequency/Cost: Quarterly. $12 each, one year for $39.95, or $29.75 for students and retirees.
Target Audience: Intellectual food lovers.
Design: Elegant layout. The magazine is text-heavy but filled with meaningful artwork and photographs (a six-page spread of family dining room photographs, for example).
Contents: Provocative, well-written stories on the anthropology of food around the globe. Some topics have included medieval food, a history of MSG, a Beijing restaurant specializing in animal penises and testicles, and an exposition on roux. The magazine also contains poetry, fiction, humor, book reviews and more.
Best features: Gastronomica is almost devoid of ads, save the back and interior covers. It's also fluff-free and uses a mature narrative style more commonly found in venerable publications like National Geographic.
Drawbacks: There are no recipes. Those with short attention spans take heed.
Conclusion: We wish we were reading Gastronomica's piece on Unicum right now.
Frequency/Cost: Bimonthly. $5 each, or one year for $20.
Target Audience: Super-political vegans, twenty-something women with identity issues, anal-retentive free spirits, herbivores with bad taste.
Design: The abominable layout looks like one continuous ad. An overly liberal use of the color wheel gives the impression of a first-grade classroom and pages feel uncomfortable to the touch.
Contents: Annoying headlines, irritating art, irrelevant recipes, blurbs that look like ads disguised as blurbs. The rest of the considerable space is filled with animal rights propaganda aplenty. Vegans will feel validated.
Best Features: This magazine is a treasure trove of human faces to defile with drawn-on facial hair and thought bubbles. It also uses soy-based ink and is printed on 100-percent recycled paper, so really, it'll only pollute your mind.
Drawbacks: Uncovering the aforementioned information after shelling out $5 scratch for this fish wrap.
Frequency/Cost: Bimonthly. $3.95 each, or one year for $19.97.
Target Audience: Upper middle-class suburbanites residing in planned communities. The kind of woman who likes to play golf.
Design: So painfully plain it prevents us from even wanting to look at the pages, much less commit to reading an article. Upon further inspection, there is a distinct overuse of the cursive font and a shameful lack of imagination in art and photographs (some of which are even out of focus).
Contents: Recipes, travel and leisure, contemplations on social graces and restaurant profiles, but mostly lots of recipes. There are plenty of unappealing ads too, some of which are oddly colored and reminiscent of those you might see in an early ’90s copy of Redbook.
Best Features: One article offered recipes for bath salts, teas, potpourri and dog cookies. The cover pictures a phallic food tower trying to get into our pants.
Drawbacks: The fact that this gets published, mainly.
Conclusion: The headache-inducing design has made us resolve to never again come within 50 feet of anyone with a "passion for cuizine."
Tagline: “A Lifestyle Guide for People with Allergies and Food Sensitivities"
Frequency/Cost: Quarterly. $5.95 each, or one year for $23.
Target Audience: Those with celiac disease (a genetic gluten intolerance), the lactose intolerant, vegans and paranoid eaters in general.
Design: The layout is blah like unseasoned oatmeal, the photographs are as uninspired as your mama’s meatloaf and the chosen font grates on our nerves like the idea of passing up a plate of delicious macaroni and cheese.
Contents: Recipes, recipes and more recipes. (And then a few more recipes.) Sprinkled in with the recipes, there are also articles about diseases, dining guides and interviews.
Best Features: The abundance and variety of recipes.
Drawbacks: With the slight air of propaganda, we imagine this magazine to be a vehicle driving those who are obsessed with their health and diet to further obsession.
Frequency/Cost: Quarterly. $4.95 each, or $14.95 for six issues.
Target Audience: Health food store/organics enthusiasts with a flare for the composition of edibles. People on diets.
Design: Minimalistic and understated. Photographs are both appetizing and artful. Extreme food close-ups (which can sometimes be horrifying) are nicely executed, and attention is paid to details like color and proportion. Unfortunately, some of the page balance is off.
Contents: No long-winded opuses here: Article intros are short and sweet, if not totally absent. Almost every page has a (healthy) recipe, all of which are wrapped up with nutrition information.
Best Features: The nutrition information. Other than that, thematics: This isn't an irrelevant mishmash of recipes. If Healthy Cooking is going to inform you of risotto, they're going to inform you of risotto.
Drawbacks: Mistakes. For a periodical that only comes out four times a year, they could stand to do more proofreading.
Conclusion: A good source of guiltless culinary inspiration.
Frequency/Cost: Bimonthly. $4.95 each, or $15.95 for six issues (one year).
Target Audience: Twenty- and thirtysomethings with limited funds and a passion for cheeky drinks (alcoholic or not).
Design: Watery. Floating photos of cocktails often come across like commercial art ripped from an on-flight magazine or a brochure for an espresso machine. A few pieces of original illustration fare much better.
Contents: The pleasure of all things drinkable. A holiday issue yielded a taste-off between high-end hot cocoas, an exposition on inexpensive champagne, a recipe for Guinness cupcakes and an ode to eggcreams. There's an array of cute, quirky and modern drink accessories, while expanded travel stories use beverages as a portal to cultures far away—drinking absinthe and pilsners in Prague, say, or following coffees to their origin points around the world.
Best Features: Practical answers to questions you've often pondered but never asked. (Is it OK to substitute honey for simple syrup in cocktail recipes? Do wine ratings really matter?) Step-by-step instructions (with photos) on pouring a perfect Irish coffee.
Drawbacks: At times, Imbibe tries too hard to be hip. And there's just no getting around it: Cocktail recipes are boring.
Conclusion: Is anyone really all that passionate about liquids? Still, you're bound to find inspiration for a party or a new appreciation for Lambic.
Design: A meaty volume that's a breeze to navigate thanks to smart fonts and sleek layouts with plenty of space to breath. Photographs mostly hit (when they're clear-eyed and classy) but occasionally miss (when they're dull and grainy).
Contents: Tons of surprisingly simple recipes, restaurant profiles, travel features, books and straightforward how-tos. There's also plenty of celebrity worship—but in sharp contrast to America's toothy, catch-phrase-toting bobble-heads, Olive reveres real chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Joël Robuchon.
Best Features: The Queen's English adds an unexpected pleasure to the whole thing (soured cream comes from the chill cabinet, but never the cooker). Recipes come with small, unobtrusive a "Brilliant Wine Match" blurb. A restaurant review pits a regular reader against a professional critic to amusing and edifying results. British concepts like "gastropubs" will definitely make you jealous.
Drawbacks: Recipes are all in metric, rendering them somewhat useless to math-challenged Americans. There's an unfortunate overuse of the annoying "foodie" designation—it's used 11 times in the table of contents alone.
Conclusion: For people who relish eating, Olive is worth the high price.