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FUSSYlittleBALLOT 2.0 Redux

June 10, 2011

After having several weeks to tabulate the data, the Times Union finally published their 2011 Best of the Capital Region Reader’s Choice Poll results. Let’s just say the results are interesting.

Yes, many are disappointing, but there are a few rays of light. And at the very least if you voted for the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 2.0 you can say that you tried to make a difference in this year’s results.

I did learn a lot from this year’s campaign and hope to improve upon it for 2012. So if you didn’t join us this year, and you are feeling a bit crestfallen about some of our “Best” places, perhaps you’ll consider voting for the full slate of businesses next April. Mark your calendar.

If you did vote along the party line, you may be asking yourself, did it make any difference at all? The short answer is, “Probably.” I’ll show you where we might have made an impact, and where all the cards were stacked against us. First, though I would like to share one big and blinding insight into the Capital Region that is clearly reflected in this poll.

People in this region are slow to change. They like what they like, and they stick with those things forever. Holy cow.

This year’s poll had 72 categories. I tracked 70 of them, since I had absolutely nothing to say about high school athletes. Of those 70 categories, a whopping 55 of them have the same winner as last year, 33 have the same first and second place winners, and a full 20 have the identical results to a year ago (that’s over 25%).

Many others contain the same results but in a different order. For example, the Best Concert from the past year included the Dave Matthews Band and Phish two years in a row. Since DMB took the top billing this year and Billy Joel and Elton John took the top billing last year, this (and a handful of other categories) aren’t even included in the repetitive winners above.

Ok, enough of that. Let’s start with the victories and success stories.

1)    The campaign for Trader Joe’s as Best Grocery Store got enough votes to garner a mention in the comments. At least it continues to be part of the ongoing conversation.

2)    Cardona’s rose from third to second this year for Best Ethnic Market.

3)    FLB selection Farrell Brothers Plumbing appeared at number two this year having not made the top three in 2010.

4)    Matthew Carefully made the list under Best Singer/Songwriter

5)    I wonder if the FLB support for the Jericho Drive In could have funneled enough votes away from The Spectrum to make it fall from #1 to #2.

6)    Garden Bistro 24 took second just behind Dinosaur Bar-B-Que for Best New Restaurant, and that makes me very happy.

7)    While it had nothing to do with the FLB campaign, Olive Garden is finally off the list of our Best Italian Restaurants. Yes!

Still, some places got totally robbed. There is no better espresso to be found in Albany than what they make at Caffé Vero. We are blessed to have authentic Shanghainese food as good as what is served at Ala Shanghai in the region. It’s a sad day when it doesn’t get mentioned and is eclipsed by Koto and Ichiban. Kinnaree also should have made the list for Best Thai, as it is far better than Blue Spice, which got the top spot. And of course there is Mrs. London’s that makes perfect croissants and cream scones all the way up in Saratoga Springs. It lost to the old time Italian bakeries and their beloved brightly-colored cookies by the pound.

Then of course there are the great travesties.

Subway and Panera top the list of Best Sandwich, again. Pizza Hut made the list for Best Pizza (although it was demoted to third). And a place called Bombers that makes horribly bland rice-filled wraps they call burritos somehow placed first in the Best Mexican/Central/South American Restaurant category.

There is still good news is all of this. Every year I look at this information, the better sense I get of the Capital Region and its tastes.

Granted there are still some mysteries there, like why Famous Lunch gets no love while Gus’s, Charlie’s and Mike’s run the Best Hot Dog category. But I do understand why Stewart’s wins Best Ice Cream year after year and Crisan gets the shaft. It may take longer for the Capital Region to come around on that one, but at least I have a grasp of what I’m up against.

The other piece of good news is that there seems to be some voter attrition in the poll. This year the Times Union received nearly 15,000 ballots, while last year they got more than 18,000 ballots. So while I’m just picking up steam, they seem to be retracting. It could make 2012 our year to break the stranglehold that Subway has on our sandwiches and to finally get Pizza Hut off the list.

For all those who voted, thank you for your support. I hope you stick with me, because it’s only together that we can make this change happen.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2011 11:16 am

    Congratulations and thank you for once again fighting the good fight.

    There is a direct line to be drawn between the majority of people who vote in the poll and many of the comments you’ll find on the Times Union blogs: insular, socially withdrawn, narrow-minded people who through their words and votes give the distinct impression that they don’t get out much.

  2. Jenna permalink
    June 10, 2011 11:20 am

    My jaw hit the floor when I saw Pizza Hut on the list. I was pretty disgusted and thought some not-so-nice things about the majority of people who must be taking the poll. We have so many great places to get pizza around here (most recently I had Kay’s at Burden Lake and it was darn good.)Pizza Hut, IMO is the absolute worst, even of all the national chains. Seriously, how is it making the list?? It’s gross!

  3. June 10, 2011 11:23 am

    My main issue with the TU “Best Of” poll is that there is zero control over the criteria for “best”. It’s a popularity contest and nothing more. Honestly, I suggest you abandon the crusade and focus on organizing a true best-of list. Not a poll, but a true investigation into what makes some local businesses shine and have a site dedicated to highlighting these. Use subject matter experts to review their experiences and really articulate why these places shine above others. I think there’d be far more value in that than trying to skew the TU results, as you’ll always have the Capital Region sheeple voting for their usual mega-chain stops. Face it, this area is over-saturated with chains (mainly because they bring in tons of tax revenue – look at Clifton Park). Let the TU run their popularity contest. Focus on a nobler cause.

    • June 10, 2011 12:19 pm

      I agree with you fully here. My frustration with the whole TU Best Of has nothing to do with the fact that readers get to pick what they like; I see nothing wrong with that. However, for a news organization to call that “The Best” is clearly an imprecise usage of the term.

      However, while I appreciate Daniel’s intentions, I am happy for him that his influence may have had an impact on the results.

    • June 10, 2011 5:12 pm

      I second this suggestion, make you’re own damn (better) Best Of list! With all the exposure you’re getting lately, you could have enough readership by next year (at least of foodies) to get a lot of voters.

      • June 10, 2011 5:46 pm

        Ugh, tiny netbook keypad and lack of brain cells…YOUR is what I meant.

  4. June 10, 2011 11:45 am

    I don’t get why Chinese and Japanese are lumped into one category. They’re two different cuisines, and we easily have enough good places to make a top three for each of them. As it was, there was no room for Ala Shanghai (or my favorite, Emperor’s, or any of the other good places around here) with the Japanese places crowding the field.

  5. June 10, 2011 11:47 am

    Subway? Pizza Hut? Who are these people?

    • June 10, 2011 12:40 pm

      The voters? They’re the nonadventurous majority of the population, trained to believe that they can only trust what they see on TV.

  6. RealFoodMom permalink
    June 10, 2011 12:45 pm

    One thing that puzzled me was the fact that respondents didn’t seem to understand what “single location” means. IMHO, The Book House is a single location, Barnes and Noble in Colonie Center is one location of a big chain. Did the TU actually mean for a specific store in a big chain to be counted as a single location?

  7. June 11, 2011 10:38 am

    From looking at the results, I definitely think places like Caffe Vero, Crisan, and Kinnaree suffer due to their perceived inaccessibility to people who live in the suburbs. I constantly have friends who don’t live in Center Square/Washington Park groan about having to come this way and how there is “no where to park.” I usually advise them to park in the park, as it’s well-lit and not dangerous say, before 10-11pm (and if you’re coming for dinner and/or ice cream, particularly midweek, you’re not staying out much later than that, anyway!), but people don’t want to walk the 2 blocks to Lark St. It’s frustrating, but it’s probably not going to change.

    Having said that, for those three categories in particular, at least the nods went to ALL locally owned and/or independent shops/restaurants. I agree Kinnaree is superior to Blue Spice, but Blue Spice is very good, as is Sushi Thai (I’ve never been to Yono’s). Kinnaree is also new this year, so that may change for next year. :)

  8. June 13, 2011 2:26 am

    I love best Chinese/Japanese/Korean was it? In one category! That’s awesome, what’s the common thread there, rice??? Btw, this is a category I am sure you glossed over, but best women’s clothing, made me realize how happy I am to no longer live in Albany. How depressing.

  9. Jessica R permalink
    June 13, 2011 3:01 pm

    I’ve been thinking about @Bill’s suggestion, and I think you should do it. Have your own “Best Of” poll for your readers. However, make a rule that any votes for national chains will be thrown out! Your Best Of is only for local restaurants. You would have to make a judgement call if places like Dinosaur BBQ and the Recovery Room count as “local”, even though they have multiple locations outside the CD (my vote is that these two should) Also, I think you should stick to just food categories, since that is the focus of the blog.

    Do it! I think it will draw people to your blog, and it also might help influence your choices for the FussyLittleBallot next year. If nothing else, it will give everyone some new places to try!

    • June 13, 2011 3:15 pm

      I don’t think a poll would work unless you first do the leg work to get some “finalists” chosen through some informed prescreenings. Then allow the public to choose which of the finalists should get the ribbon.

      I think in general a site devoted to highlighting the many excellent local establishments is needed. Something that really showcases why they’re great. Articles and such, with comments.

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