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April 4, 2011

Today I am feeling optimistic. I’ve already seen some positive support for the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 2.0 from some unexpected places.

What is this ballot? Well, let me tell you.

Every year the Times Union has a reader’s choice poll to determine the best things in the Capital Region. And every year the results are a combination of frustrating and embarrassing. In a region where there are magnificent sandwich shops, truly wonderful small family-run Italian establishments that have been fixtures for generations, Subway should never even be a contender. Except year after year it takes the first prize.

We are also fortunate enough to have a truly world class bakery that a major national food magazine once called the best bakery in America. And I’m with them. However, this temple of pastry and handcrafted bread didn’t even crack the top three of last year’s results.

So instead of getting angry at the results every year, I had another plan. What if a bunch of like-minded food lovers could put aside their trivial differences about which place was actually the best and agree to vote on a set of places that were among the best our region has to offer. This collective action could truly have the potential to sway the results of this poll. After all, in 2010 there were fewer than 19,000 ballots cast. A voting block of even a few hundred could have some influence around the edges, and a voting block of a few thousand or more could have a major impact.

The following is my attempt at a slate of businesses to rally behind.

While on some level my personal judgment was used to evaluate the criteria about what made the list and what didn’t, these aren’t exclusively my picks. I too have made sacrifices for the sake of the common good, and if I were voting on my own, the slate would look decidedly different.

Admittedly, there are a few entries that may seem a bit odd.  Upon viewing them you may find yourself saying, “We don’t have a Trader Joe’s here. Why on Earth is Daniel B. suggesting I vote for them, twice?”

In the days and weeks to come, I will spend some time talking about the decisions that led to these choices. For now, if you have any hesitations about voting for this slate, let me know and we can discuss them here (or in private if you prefer).

Just remember, for this to work, we have to stick together and vote as a group. It also cannot just end at you. So please pass my message of hope and change along to anyone who will listen. And should you not want to vote for the entire slate, I can understand that. But the categories I care about most are highlighted below.

Thank you for your consideration.

Page One
1. Best Local Grocery Store – Write In: Trader Joe’s
2. Best wine store – Write In: Trader Joe’s

3. Best beer store – Oliver’s
4. Best Bakery – Mrs. London’s
5. Best Ethnic Market – Cardona’s
6. Best Farmer’s Market – Troy Four Season Farmer’s Market
7. Best Health Food Store (single location) – Honest Weight Food Co-op
8. Best Drugstore/Pharmacy – Crestwood Pharmacy

9. Best Men’s Fashions – Spector’s, Colonie Center
10. Best Women’s Fashions – Circles, Stuyvesant Plaza, 1475 Western Ave., Guilderland
11. Best hardware store (single location) – Write In: Pfeil Hardware, 63 3rd Street, Troy

12. Best nursery/garden center – Troy’s Landscape Supply, 1266 Loudon Road (Route 9), Cohoes
13. Best appliance store – John D. Marcella Appliances
14. Best pet store
Benson’s Pet Center
15. Best cigar shop – Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe
16. Best bookstore (single location) – Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza
17. Best used bookstore – Dove & Hudson Old Books
18. Best local hotel (single location) – Write In: Adelphi Hotel, Saratoga Springs
19. Best place in the region to gamble – Saratoga Race Course (flat track)
20. Best bank/credit union – SEFCU
21. Best jeweler – Frank Adams
22. Best auto dealer (single location) – Northway Toyota
23. Best auto service – Larry’s Foreign Auto
24. Best hospital – Albany Med
25. Best veterinary clinic – Parkside Veterinary Hospital
26. Best plumber – Farrell Brothers Plumbing Inc.
27. Best car wash – Broadway Auto Clinic
28. Best spa/salon – Write In: Townsend & Company Hair Salon and Spa
29. Best dry cleaner – Write In: Quality Cleaners of Albany, 1704 Western Ave
30. Best shopping mall – Colonie Center
31. Best two-year college – Hudson Valley Community College
32. Best four-year college – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
33. Best H.S. Teacher – Thomas McGurn, Albany High School

Page Two
1. Best restaurant to open in the past year – Garden Bistro 24

2. Best restaurant for kids – Chipotle

3. Best Hamburger
Swifty’s Deep Fried Buffalo Burger
4. Best pizza – Marino’s, Schenectady
5. Best sandwich shop Andy & Sons Importing Co
6. Best Chinese/Japanese/Korean restaurant – Ala Shanghai
7. Best Indonesian/Thai/Vietnamese restaurant – Kinnaree
8. Best Indian/Pakistan restaurant – Write In: Parivar
9. Best Mexican/Central/South American Mr. Pio Pio
10. Best Italian restaurant – Write In: Katrinella’s Bistro
11. Best ice cream – Crisan
12. Best hot dogs – Famous Lunch
13. Best sports bar Graney’s Bar & Grill
14. Best coffee joint (single location) – Caffe Vero
15. Best diner – Dan’s Place Two

Page Three
1. Best regional ski resort – Gore Mountain
2. Best gym/health club – Rudy A. Ciccotti Center
3. Best public pool – Victoria Pool, Saratoga Spa State Park
4. Best H.S. coach – Dave Doemel (Christian Bros. Academy basketball)
5. Best high school athlete – boys (include name and school) – ?
6. Best high school athlete – girls (include name and school) – ?

Page Four
1. Best concert in the past year – Neil Young, Palace Theatre
2. Best singer-songwriter
Matthew Carefully
3. Best band (pop/rock/country) – Sirsy
4. Best play or musical in the past year – To Kill a Mockingbird, Capital Rep
5. Best theater company – Capital Rep
6. Best local comedian or comedy troupe – Sandy Beach
7. Best art gallery – Write In: Kismet Gallery, Troy

8. Best museum – Tang
9. Best movie theater
Jericho Drive In
10. Best place for kid-friendly arts and culture – Children’s Museum at Saratoga

Page Five
1. Best TV news anchorperson – Lydia Kulbida, WTEN Ch. 10
2. Best TV newscast – WNYT Ch. 13
3. Best print journalist – Paul Grondahl, Times Union
4. Best radio personality – Laura Glazer
5. Best radio station
WEXT 97.7 FM
6. Best local Web site –
7. Best local blogger – Daniel B. at the
(if you please)
8. Best local tweeter

Now, go and vote.

37 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2011 10:10 am

    I don’t get the write in for Trader Joe’s. If you’re going to have a write in for grocery store, I’d pick Wegmans over TJ’s in an instant. It’s local to NY and family-owned. And also kick-ass.

  2. April 4, 2011 10:16 am

    Good stuff, Daniel. Sirsy is the only real head scratcher, but I’ll be on board for the food votes. If you want to fill out the rest of the slate, I could suggest…

    5. Best high school athlete – boys (include name and school) – Galal Cancer, CBA
    6. Best high school athlete – girls (include name and school) – Brooke O’Shea, Averill Park

    Both of their basketball teams were in the state public high school championship tournaments (Class AA and Class A, respectively). Cancer is Cornell bound. O’Shea will be a senior next season.

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    April 4, 2011 10:23 am

    I must object to the characterization of RPI as a “four-year college.” RPI is a major research university and those are rarely lumped in with 4-yr. colleges. The 4-yrs. around here are Union, Skidmore, St. Rose, Siena, etc. (IMO, Skidmore’s the best of those).

    • a97blueangel permalink
      May 31, 2011 11:31 pm

      That’s why RPI is the best in the 4 year college category, because it is of such a high quality and caliber. It certainly can’t be in the 2 year college category…

    • a97blueangel permalink
      May 31, 2011 11:37 pm

      I’ve lived in NYS nearly all of my life and have NEVER been to a Wegman’s. I have been to at least 7 different Trader Joe’s locations throughout New England and Ohio. I don’t see Wegman’s fans being this fervent about promoting their choice because I haven’t heard of them trying to get a Wegman’s here. There must be more TJ’s fans, which must mean that if people want it this bad, it must be the best!

  4. Chris permalink
    April 4, 2011 10:42 am

    I like the idea, but you start this post out talking about the wonderful local establishments we have in the area, and then give the first two votes to a national company without a local presence. Now, I love TJ’s as much as the next guy (Wegman’s as well), and I know you’re trying to show the powers that be at TJ’s that the Capital District is a viable location, but why not give your vote to PC/HWFC & Empire Wine/Exit 9 Wine, respectively – afaik, they are all local businesses that are potentially best in category, and what this ballot should be about :)

  5. April 4, 2011 10:47 am

    I completely disagree with writing in Trader Joe’s. First, we don’t have them here. Second, there are some top-notch grocery stores, like Hannaford and Honest Weight that deserve the attention. Third, New York State law forbids selling beer and wine in grocery stores, so writing in a grocery store (that doesn’t even exist in the area) in a wine category is pointless.

    Sorry, Daniel, but starting your choices with stores that exist out of the area lowers your credibility to me. Also, since you’re pushing your preference for things like favorite teacher, media personalities and other things that are completely subjective without giving any reason other than “because I said so”, I just can’t join your movement.

  6. April 4, 2011 10:50 am

    See: America’s 10 healthiest grocery stores 2010:

    Hannaford is the only capital district store that made the cut.

  7. April 4, 2011 11:30 am

    Mr. Sunshine – It’d odd that you’d argue semantics here, because for the purposes of higher ed, “four year college” refers to any institution that offers a Bachelor’s. Also, three of those colleges you mentioned have grad programs (Union, St. Rose, and Skidmore). If youjust want to make the point that you think RPI’s better, well…okay, yeah, that’s what Dan’s saying.

    I’m with Ed – Best Band is subjetive and a wide-open category, but Sirsy’s an unfortunate choice considering the quality of the music scene. I know, you didn’t bold it, but still. And sorry, Sirsy fans.

    Also, I’d love to endorse your pick of Kismet, but my impression is that it’s done. Finished. Finito.

  8. April 4, 2011 11:31 am

    Jes. – If I have to go with PC or Hannaford, I’ll go with PC any day. Hannaford’s produce (in my experience) has been awful.

  9. chezjake permalink
    April 4, 2011 11:59 am

    Nope. I can’t go along with your Trader Joe votes, for all the reasons given by others, but mainly because they are not local at this time.

    I also can’t vote for the three or four restaurants you list that I’ve never even heard of (and I’m a regular reader of Table Hopping).

  10. mr.dave permalink
    April 4, 2011 12:05 pm

    Cardona’s? Really?

  11. April 4, 2011 12:46 pm

    I’m sorry, but writing in Trader Joe’s is just bitter whining. We don’t have one. Case closed. So how can they be the best in the area, if there ISN’T ONE in the area?

  12. April 4, 2011 1:04 pm

    Making my way through the ballot, using your picks whenever I don’t feel really strongly about my own — and I have to say, Mayfair Jewelers is the best. They’re awesome.

    Also, I’m outraged that Emperor’s isn’t even on the ballot for best Chinese. I’ve tried them all, and they’re the best (though Ala Shanghai’s good, too, if you want Shanghainese food).

    And for best print journalist, I picked Kathleen Moore at the Gazette. She’s done some great investigative work and broken a lot of big stories.

  13. GenWar permalink
    April 4, 2011 1:36 pm

    Any careful analysis of grocery pricing would quickly and endlessly reveal that Hannaford is the worst of all local grocers for prices. (not saying quality, just prices.) Honestly, if price is your primary concern, you never buy anything at Hannaford that isn’t on the front page of their weekly flyer.

  14. April 4, 2011 1:39 pm

    I disagree with writing in any business/person not local to the area. This should be about what’s here, not what we want to be here. Otherwise I’d write in Gogol Bordello as best local band, Lin’s Chinese Restaurant (in Vancouver), and so on.

    With regard to Trader Joe’s, it’s painfully obvious that they don’t want to come to this area for whatever reason. There’s an active local group constantly petitioning them to come here, and time and time again the answer is no. So they don’t get our business. Too bad for them. I’d rather focus energy on Honest Weight and help them thrive, perhaps to the point of opening other locations. But that’s just me.

    The main problem I have with these types of “best of” local surveys is that we continually allow national chains to place in their respective categories. I’d much prefer the ballots be exclusive to – at minimum – NY State companies with little to no footprint outside of NY. It would bring the focus back to best LOCAL and not best in the area. But, again, that’s just my opinion.

  15. April 4, 2011 2:29 pm

    @GenWar: Actually, local price-comparison studies have consistently shown the opposite…

    If you want good prices and good stuff, go to Hannaford.

    If you want decent prices and a mixed bag on quality, go to Walmart.

    If you want good stuff at sky-high prices, go to Price Chopper.

  16. April 4, 2011 2:37 pm

    Getting a bit off-topic, but I shop very methodologically. I check the fliers, use coupons, and shop with my wallet in mind, not convenience. I usually make 2-3 stops based on what I need. Many non-perishables end up being purchased during a monthly BJs trip. The rest are split between Price Chopper and Hannaford based on prices and availability. No one store seems to be better than the other, rather like any competing businesses, the deals vary from week to week, usually through brand distributer promotions.

  17. April 4, 2011 2:54 pm

    I’m very glad that this post generated such a healthy discussion. And I think Bill’s last comment hits on some very good points. Still, I stand by the FUSSYlittleBALLOT and will elaborate on your questions, comments and concerns in my post tomorrow morning.

    As it would so happen, this is Supermarket Week on All Over Albany. And I’m working on a piece that also might help contextualize the “Best Supermarket” question. In the meantime, I invite you all to check out their Supermarket Showdown IV.

    • April 4, 2011 3:17 pm

      Thanks Dan. Comment left there. I still stand by “local means local” though with regard to the “best of” polls.

  18. April 4, 2011 8:32 pm

    I actually don’t MIND writing in Trader Joe’s for supermarket. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but I see the merit behind it.

    I am NOT OK with putting it in the wine shop category. Wine cannot be sold in supermarkets in NYS (beer can be, Jes.), and even if it could, and we had a TJ’s here, I wouldn’t buy wine there. Just like I don’t currently buy beer at the supermarket, but at Oliver’s. :)

    My fave wine shop for years was All Star, with Empire inching in as a close second, but Capital Wine on Lark St. has REALLY just been fantastic lately. Small, but quality over quantity, and lots of local stuff represented.

    As for most everything else on the Fussy Little Ballot, I can get behind it, even if it’s not MY favorite. (There are a couple things I feel too strongly to want to support, but most I either agree it is the best or am ambivalent enough for The Greater Good.)

  19. April 4, 2011 8:35 pm

    Oh! And since it is blank, I’ll put a plug in for Dustin Maguire as best HS athlete (Guilderland). He played football for Guilderland, is a hard worker, scholar-athlete, volunteers for some great causes, and is an all-around great kid. :)

  20. Ellen Whitby permalink
    April 4, 2011 10:53 pm

    For best Italian restaurant, Katrinella’s runs pretty close to Bellini’s. I couldn’t say which I’d prefer, though the parking at Bellini’s in Slingerlands is much easier. But I do love Katrinella’s. I’d pick Crisan’s for best bakery. Not Mrs. London’s. Saratoga is a bit further than I’d like to travel for baked goods. Quite honestly, if Mrs. London’s were down the street from Crisan’s, I’d still prefer Crisan’s (though Mrs. London’s has bread/rolls too, but for breads my choice would be the Placid Baker in Troy).

    For best auto service, I agree that Larry’s is a great place but they don’t service Subarus. My pick is Albany Foreign Auto and those guys are great.

    I’m curious, Profusser, how you came up with a pick for best pet store. What, exactly, is your experience in this category?

    Thanks for your enthusiasm. I love it!

    • April 5, 2011 8:35 am

      I agree on Albany Foreign Auto, they are fantastic. My only complaint is that their hours/location are not convenient – if their hours were a little more flexible and/or they were closer to a bus line, it would be a lot easier to get my car to them!

      Never had any experience with Larry’s, but I guess I never will as I too have a Subaru.

      • April 18, 2011 5:25 am

        I was sad to replace my Honda with a Subaru because it meant I couldn’t go to Larry’s. I went there anyway when I needed to get a tire replaced because it didn’t matter that I had a Subaru. I’m still sort of sad and mechanic-less.

        Larry’s also keeps regular business hours that make it a pain to get to if you work a regular-business-hours job. I was able to take a bus right there from my job when I worked at the Times Union, though.

  21. Edison permalink
    April 5, 2011 12:43 am

    Why should be people write-in an art gallery that closed two years ago?

    • April 18, 2011 5:18 am

      For the same reason people wrote in Albany Eye for years after it was shut down: they love it that much and/or aren’t creative enough to think of something else.

  22. April 6, 2011 12:58 pm

    I’ve got to admit, I preferred last year’s pick for “best print journalist” on the Fussy Little Ballot but I’m biased:)

  23. April 7, 2011 9:51 pm

    I don’t really understand the Trader Joe’s hype. Especially if you mostly cook from scratch, it just ain’t all that exciting. I used it some in grad school — which could sell wine — but there was one a few blocks away from my house and I rarely went; you usually had to make another stop because what produce they carried was erratic and the house items vary in quality.

    Not that I wouldn’t like to have one here — more options the better — but I don’t miss it that much. I’d rather have the Fresh Market, frankly.

    • April 18, 2011 5:22 am

      I like it, but I’d rather focus on honoring the grocery stores that we actually have.

  24. April 7, 2011 9:54 pm

    Oh, and I definitely can’t go along with the wine store write-in. All-Star, Empire and Exit 9 (in my order of preference) are all fantastic, have plenty of bargains and also have good liquor selections.

  25. April 12, 2011 11:51 am

    I never vote because I think the resulting ‘best’ winners are often a joke. Will try this time.

  26. April 18, 2011 5:21 am

    The problem with these polls is that they’re so fractured. I will tell you that the best sandwiches come from Pepper Jack’s because it’s in my neighborhood. I wouldn’t say that if I lived a few miles away, let alone in a different city. For a small region, we’re deeply fractured and people don’t like to leave the areas where they’re comfortable. If everyone votes for their favorite local-to-them Italian restaurant, ultimately Olive Garden wins.

  27. joni permalink
    April 19, 2011 12:46 am

    If you hadn’t skipped so many dinners out with your uber-fashionable mom friends you would know the new Evoke boutique in Stuyvesant Plaza (next to Provence) has the best women’s fashions.

  28. Sean permalink
    April 19, 2011 4:57 pm

    I have to disagree with one of them. The best coffee joint in the Capital District is the Tierra Farm Coffee Shop. It is located where the muddy cup used to be on madison. They are a local coffee roaster located in Valatie.


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