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Building the Ballot – Irrefutable

February 27, 2012

The process of building the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 3.0 has been fascinating for me. Hopefully those playing along at home have found it to be equally engaging.

What I’ve been hoping to do is gather enough information from people about their preferences in each category of the Times Union’s 2012 Best of the Capital Region poll, in a vainglorious attempt to reach some kind of consensus.

This is why I ask for your three top picks, in the hopes that if your first choice doesn’t make the ballot, that you might consider voting for your second or third pick if it means promoting some of the truly best places in the Capital District that might otherwise be overlooked by its residents.

Now in most of the categories, as you all have shown, there isn’t one obvious answer for Best of the Capital Region. But there are three categories where the best of the region are abundantly clear. So today’s exercise is a bit different. It’s not to nominate your three top picks, but try to refute why my pick for the best bakery, health food store, and single location coffee joint are off the mark. Because I don’t think it can be done.

Best Bakery
We’ve got a lot of  great bakeries that are notable for a variety of reasons. We have Italian bread bakeries from Schenectady to Troy that are pillars of the local culinary landscape. There are the amazing sweets from Crisan in Albany. The dedicated farm-to-table advocates at All Good Bakers have many impressive offerings. The placid baker in Troy does a solid job with crusty loaves. And there are a host of other small producers who sell at farmers markets across the region.

But who among you can tell me that Mrs. London’s isn’t the best?

You can tell me that they are really expensive. You can say that it’s too far to drive when you need a baguette for dinner. But when it comes to the crust and the crumb and the flavor, without going down to Hudson, whose is actually better? I love Nick and what he does with local ingredients. But side by side there isn’t a comparison, especially when one starts to consider the rest of their product line beyond just bread. Because the Mrs. London croissant remains one of the best I’ve ever had anywhere. And their cream scone is amazing too. If you haven’t been, you simply must. Go now before the tourists come. Should by some off chance you think it’s not the best, let me know before April 1.

Best Health Food Store
I’ve had more than my fair share of squabbles with the Honest Weight Food Co-op, but you are always hardest on the ones you love. While I may not quite believe the hubris of their recent member communiqué where they announced having no competition in the marketplace, for now that is still mostly true.

At least it’s true enough that there isn’t any other market that could be in the running for Best Health Food Store in the 2012 Times Union Poll.

Next year is another story. They will have the mega Healthy Living Market in Wilton to contend with along with the newly opened Trader Joe’s. Okay, so Trader Joe’s isn’t exactly a health food store either. But dammit, I still say it’s going to replace a significant number of purchases that would have previously been made at the Co-op.

But for now, it’s nothing but HWFC.

Best Single Location Coffee Joint
This is a category that has stayed stagnant for years in the Times Union poll. It goes to Professor Java’s in Colonie, followed by MochaLisa’s in Clifton Park, with Perfect Blend in Delmar bringing up the rear.

To its credit, this category is respectable in that it focuses on local places with some character.

The Professor is a funky place on Wolf Road, which is an area that direly needs a little funk. MochaLisa’s is an independent among a sea of chains in our most soulless northern suburb, and the Perfect Blend is a nice place to sit in a cute suburban retail strip to the south.

But the only one of those with any real coffee cred is Professor Java, which roasts their own beans in house. That’s serious.

However, it’s not quite as serious as Caffe Vero, which not only roasts their own beans, but grinds them to order for each double ristretto of espresso. And what seals the deal for me is that every espresso drink is built with a new pour of fresh, cold Battenkill Valley milk. As far as I can tell, they are the only place that consistently makes espresso that’s worth drinking and they also brew a decent cup of drip coffee.

The place isn’t quite as comfy as the previous winners, but the espresso is in a whole different league. If this isn’t the best place for coffee, I don’t know what is.

Still, I’m keeping an open mind. I’d love it if there were some competition to these three places. But I’ve just never found it. Which is not to say that it doesn’t exist. What say you?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2012 11:01 am

    I’ll go with you on Mrs. London’s and, reluctantly, with HWC. (On a goodie per square foot basis, Four Seasons in Saratoga blows them out of the water.) But we need a way to differentiate giant coffee chains like Starbuck’s from home grown establishments, and saying they must restrict to a single location isn’t the right way to do that.

    So I’m going to go with Uncommon Grounds and stipulate that having a store in Saratoga and a store in Albany qualifies as “single location” because, in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t that far apart. Same logic applies to Roma’s in Saratoga/Latham, of course, in the deli category…

  2. February 27, 2012 12:29 pm

    agreed on all 3!

  3. February 27, 2012 12:59 pm

    I’m alright with all three — I like Mrs. London’s, I never shop at health food stores so I’ll take your word for it, and my only favorite coffeehouse has been closed for years (damn you, Sbux). I guess I’d say Uncommon Grounds in Saratoga Springs for that one, if pressed to make my own choice, since I’ve never tried Cafe Vero (which is on Lark Street, where I never go), but I don’t go for coffee enough to have a strong opinion.

  4. Matt permalink
    February 27, 2012 9:49 pm

    Uncommon Grounds in Saratoga roasts its own beans and makes great coffee drinks (and also the best bagels outside of New York City. Should it really be off the list because there’s a second store in Albany?

    Totally agree with you about Mrs. London’s. Frankly, I’d call it the best baker on the East Coast. Saveur magazine calls it the best baker in America.

  5. February 28, 2012 1:06 am

    Mrs. London’s isn’t the best.

    • Eric Paul permalink
      February 28, 2012 9:15 am

      Your short post conjurers a short response — why?

  6. Kate H permalink
    February 29, 2012 9:27 am

    My choice would be Crisan but that’s basically based on my buying opportunity. I’ve only had Mrs. London’s once and that was from the Farmer’s Market. My favorite is actually Cafe Le Perche in Hudson.

    Since our health food stores are limited, HWFC is the best in the area.

    And I rarely buy coffee when I’m out I’ll go with Caffe Vero because I trust your opinion on coffee places.

  7. March 1, 2012 8:00 am

    Just a note – if coffeehouses that have more than one location cannot be chosen for this category, then Caffe Vero is, sadly, out – they have another (actually, the first) location in Lake George Village. They also have some kind of connection to the Chocolate Mill, though I’m not sure if it is a business agreement or if it is more connected than that.

    If it is just, single location of a certain coffeehouse, whether it be a standalone or a “chain” (2 locations does make a chain, technically), then carry on.

  8. maryonhudson permalink
    March 27, 2012 3:47 pm

    Finally got cake from Crisan, would have voted for Mrs London, now I have a real dilemma.
    Crisan cake was wonderful. People there were wonderful too. Does bakery mean patisserie or bread?

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