After 23 years of serving as a Star Tribune food critic, Rick Nelson is excusing himself from the table.

The 61-year-old James Beard award winner has decided to leave the culinary beat to pursue other interests at the paper, including coverage of local architecture.

"Rick has been a go-to source for food lovers and others who appreciate and support the Twin Cities restaurant scene," said Assistant Managing Editor Sue Campbell, who oversees the Features department. "Readers and restaurateurs alike have grown to trust Rick for his extraordinary blend of inside knowledge, insight, opinion, fairness, and a relatable, inclusive perspective that celebrates the diversity of our food community."

Nelson shared the job of reviewing restaurants until 2007, when Jeremy Iggers took a buyout. He has since been the sole critic. Over the decades, he has contributed to almost 1,200 of the newspaper's weekly Taste sections. He is also largely responsible for creating annual traditions such as Restaurant of the Year, the Taste 50 and the Star Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest, which inspired "The Great Minnesota Cookie Book," a 2018 compilation co-authored with former Taste editor Lee Svitak Dean in 2018.

Nelson will continue to review restaurants and report on the food industry until a replacement is named.

"Our commitment to food coverage remains as strong as ever," Campbell said. "We'll soon be kicking off a nationwide search for a talented writer to fill Rick's shoes and continue to serve up the restaurant criticism and news that Star Tribune readers rely on and value."

Nelson reflected on his decision earlier this week by phone.

Q: Many people believe you have one of the best jobs on the planet. Why give it up?

A: I do think I have the best job at the newspaper, for all kinds of reasons. But I'm getting close to retirement and before I leave, I want to do something different. My role model is our former colleague Claude Peck. We did the Withering Glance column together for 10 years. And then, shortly before he retired, he switched from working for the A&E [arts and entertainment] section to the news side at night. I saw how happy and revitalized he was taking on a new challenge. That inspired me.

Q: A big part of your new role will be covering architecture. Why that area?

A: Someone reminded me recently that when I was a kid, I wanted to be an architect. But when I got to college, I was sort of lured away from it when I realized how much mathematics and physics were involved. I'll also be contributing to the Homes section, which I'm really looking forward to.

Q: The pandemic has caused a lot of people to rethink their careers and lives. Did it play any role in your decision?

A: Maybe a little. As the months went on, I wasn't spending evenings at restaurants and I realized I enjoyed having nights at home with my husband. In a way, I'm kind of grateful for the pandemic because it helped me realize that.

Q: Now that you'll be home most evenings, I expect you'll be cooking more. What's your go-to dish when you want to impress guests?

A: I like to have people over for brunch, because I love eating brunch foods, and they're easier to prepare than a big fancy dinner. Also, expectations are generally lower at brunch than they are at dinner, and this cook is all about low expectations.

Q: What will you miss most about the job?

A: This sounds so sappy, but I'm going to miss the people. Those who create and run restaurants are the most engaging, most hardworking, most generous people. I'll also miss sharing a dialogue with Star Tribune readers who are really into dining out. They are so engaged in the subject matter. That's been a great thrill.

Q: What won't you miss?

A: Filling out expense reports. I hate it with the passion of a hundred burning suns. Food coverage in the Twin Cities is very competitive, and every once in a while, you get beat on a story. Other than those things, it's hard to find a downside.

Q: What about your annual tradition of trying every new offering at the State Fair?

A: That's actually something I don't mind giving up. I enjoyed it, but I won't miss it.

Q: As the restaurant critic, you've spent two decades treating friends and family to dinners. How do they feel about you no longer feeding them for free?

A: A few have lamented the end of an era. But I'm not. If you're a restaurant critic because someone else is picking up the tab, then you're in the wrong line of work.

Q: Any food item that you're relieved you won't have to eat anymore?

A: I'm an omnivore. I'll eat just about anything. But for some strange reason, I can't stand the taste of honey. Maybe it has something to do with those creepy honey bottles that looked like bears I used to see in the refrigerator when I was a kid. It'll be a pleasure to be able to run from it.

Q: Any advice for your replacement?

A: Be cognizant of the fact that this is one of the country's great food cities. That wasn't the case when I started. A great part of this job has been tracking the rise of the culinary scene. It's been a privilege.