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The First Readers’ Choice Results of 2013

March 14, 2013

Well, that was quick. Before the Times Union poll even has a chance to ask its readers the questions, Metroland is already back with their answers. I expect the Troy Record to publish their Readers’ Choice picks tomorrow.

But today in the midst of plenty of head scratching, we have some pretty sweet news. While some people are celebrating, we might need to be talking others down from a ledge. Or maybe failure to place isn’t an indictment on a local establishment, but rather a reflection of our unique local culture.

Frankly, I’m having a hard time sussing it out myself. I keep vacillating between the extreme notions that:
a) Clearly I have had some influence on these results, and
b) Obviously I have no influence on these results at all

How could that possibly be? I’ll lay it out for you using a little bit of data.

I’m going to show you a few sections of the Metroland ballot that I endorsed way back in late February. It will show you the category, my pick, and how it placed in the top three. If my pick was denied, I’ll include parenthetically which place won the category.

Media – 3 entries – 2 placed – 1 best
Best Local Website (news) – All Over Albany – #2
Best Local Website (community) – All Over Albany – #1
Best Local Blog – The FUSSYlittleBLOG (if you please) – DENIED (AOA)

So as you can see, I didn’t win Best Local Blog. It would have been nice, but mine is a niche product. Anyway, for now my readership is still small compared to the TU behemoths.

Congratulations to All Over Albany. Holy cow! They were #1 for community, #1 for blog, #2 for news, #2 for arts, and #3 for media.

Do you know what that says to me? AOA readers vote in the Metroland poll. I write food stories for AOA all the time, highlighting some of the best places to get good food in the region. Could it be possible that some of these might make an appearance in the results of this survey?

The proof will be in the Food & Drink category. The category is super long, so I’ll break it up a little bit with commentary.

Food & Drink – 41 entries – 18 placed – 3 bests
Best American – The City Beer Hall – DENIED (New World Bistro Bar)
Best Italian – Cafe Capriccio – #2
Best French/Continental – Garden Bistro 24 – DENIED (Provence)
Best Seafood – Gene’s Fish Fry – DENIED (Real Seafood)

New World Bistro Bar is American? No it’s not. It’s clearly influenced by cuisines from around the world. Capriccio wasn’t a stretch, so no celebrations there. And frankly I don’t think people consider GB24 when they think of French food. The real story in these first four is that the long esteemed Jack’s Oyster House barely kept a grip on the top three, and came in behind Red Lobster. Ooh. That’s got to hurt.

Best Chinese – Ala Shanghai – #3
Best Japanese/Sushi – Mizu – DENIED (Shogun)
Best Vietnamese/Thai – Sweet Basil – DENIED (Vans)
Best Mexican/Southwestern – La Mexicana Grocery and Restaurant – DENIED (El Mariachi)

Woo hoo! Ala Shanghai made a list! That’s always cause for celebration. It continues to astound me how many people still haven’t heard about the regional, seasonal Shanghaiese cuisine that’s available in Latham of all places. Mizu and Sweet Basil are still too new to have a following. But I had hopes for La Mex. I guess it’s hard to get past the voting block of Downtown Albany favorites  (especially for a hole-in-the-wall out in Schenectady, regardless how good it is).

Best Southern/Soul Food – The Flying Chicken – #2
Best Caribbean – Orchid’s – DENIED – (Roy’s Carribean)
Best Indian/Pakistani – Parivar – DENIED (Karavelli)
Best Greek – Anton’s – #2

In its first year out The Flying Chicken came in second to long-time favorite Hattie’s. That’s an amazing accomplishment. Yes, I wrote about it. But it was then later covered in Metroland’s pages too. So maybe I can be credited for an assist?

Best International – New World Bistro Bar – #1
Best Vegetarian – All Good Bakers – #3
Best Steak House – The Bears – DENIED (Angelo’s 677 Prime)
Best BBQ – Capital Q – #2

Anybody remember the dark days when all anyone talked about for vegetarian food was the simply awful Antipasto’s in Clifton Park? Well for some reason they are still coming in at number two, but I have high hopes that All Good Bakers will finally surpass them next year. Congratulations to the small but mighty AGB. This is one of the places you go to eat and don’t even realize the menu is lacking meat. And my smoky, tangy Capital Q. Long I’ve held it’s one of the best things in the region, and it comes in at number two. Both are great showings, and it’s good to see NWBB top the International category where it truly deserves to be.

Best Brew Pub – Druthers – #3
Best Beer Selection – The Ruck – #2 (Behind the closed Mahar’s)
Best Diner – Dan’s Place Two – DENIED (Latham ‘76)
Best Deli – Ben & Bill’s Slingerlands – DENIED (Gershon’s)

Dan’s Place Two is too small and dirty for popular support. And I can understand people’s reluctance to eat their Jewish deli sandwiches in a grocery store. But it’s great to see Druthers place in year one. The Ruck rules, obviously.

Best Brunch – The City Beer Hall – #3
Best Outdoor Dining – Dinosaur Bar-B-Que – DENIED (Brown’s Brewing Co.)
Best Cheap Eats – Famous Lunch – DENIED (Gus’ Hot Dogs)
Best Burger – Swifty’s Deep Fried Buffalo Burger – DENIED (Five Guys)

Congratulations to The City Beer Hall. Their beer brunch is one of the best ideas ever. So is the deck at Dinosaur on the river, Famous Lunch’s mini dogs and the deep fried burger, but some ideas just oddly lack resonance.

Best Wings – The Ruck – #1
Best Pizza – DeFazio’s (Eat it there, dammit) – #3
Best Bagels – Price Chopper’s Kosher Chopper (155 and Central in Colonie) – #3
Best Sandwiches/Subs – Andy’s – #3

The above foursome just warms my heart.

Best Ice Cream – The Ice Cream Man – DENIED (Stewart’s)
Best Coffee – Caffe Vero – DENIED (Dunkin’ Donuts)
Best Desserts – Max London’s – DENIED (Villa Italia Pasticceria)
Best Wine List – Charles F. Lucas Confectionery – #2

No. No. No. Yes! Way to go Vic and Heather! These guys are going straight up to number one just as soon as more people come to realize that they are actually a wine bar. I’ve come to love the anachronistic appeal of the name, but it’s definitely a marketing challenge. But with such a well curated menu of wine, cheese, charcuterie, sweets, and coffee, it doesn’t really matter.

Best Bakery (desserts/pastries) – Crisan – #3
Best Bakery (breads) – The Placid Bakery – DENIED (Perecca’s with AGB at #2)
Best Indian Buffet – Aashiana – DENIED (Shalimar)
Best Restaurant to Take a Date – Lark Street Wine Bar – DENIED (NWBB)

Congratulations to Crisan and All Good Bakers for breaking through the tyranny of the region’s Italian bakeries. Not that some of them aren’t good. But far too many of them are trading on childhood memories and not the food being baked in their ovens. And officially, New World Bistro Bar can apparently do no wrong. Metroland readers must have never heard about the Lark Street Wine Bar’s makeout table.

Best Restaurant to Take the Kids – Jumpin’ Jacks – DENIED (Red Robin)
Best Restaurant for a Power Lunch – Jack’s Oyster House – #2
Best Tapas/Small Plates – Boca Bistro – DENIED (Midtown Tea & Tap w/LC&WB #2)
Best Place to Eat at 3am – The Brown Bag – #1
Best Breakfast – Mrs. London’s – DENIED (Cafe Madison)

Either Metroland readers don’t have kids or they hate their kids. That’s clear. And why you would have a power lunch at a seafood restaurant that isn’t quite as good as Red Lobster is now a mystery to me. But I should drop the snark for a moment and congratulate The Brown Bag and the Lucas Confectionery and Wine Bar for their amazing place and show in this final quintet. It should be noted that part of what makes the Lucas Confectionery small plates so damn good is all that amazing cheese they get from The Cheese Traveler.

It’s no wonder that one of the best up and coming neighborhoods is Delaware Avenue.

People & Places – 5 entries – 4 placed – 1 best
15. Best Bowling Alley – Playdium (They make their own pizza dough) – #1
17. Best Bar – The Excelsior Pub – DENIED (McGeary’s Irish Pub)
20. Best Wine Bar – Charles F. Lucas Confectionery & Wine Bar – #2
22. Best Bar Staff – Suzie’s – DENIED (McGeary’s Irish Pub with The Ruck #2)
37. Best Up-and-Coming Neighborhood – The DelSo – #2

Congratulations again to the Lucas Confectionery for snagging this sweet spot after only months of being open. I have high hopes that in 2014 they’ll be at the top of all these categories.

Overall it’s a pretty good list. There are a few places to pick nits. You know that Subway made the cut, as did Red Lobster. And the coffee section was just atrocious. But at least that fact was acknowledged, and chided, by the Metroland staff.

Regardless of whether I played any role in the outcome, I think it’s clear that food in the region continues to improve. And that’s great news. Next year will be better still.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Michaeline permalink
    March 14, 2013 12:25 pm

    Can’t win em all Daniel.

  2. March 14, 2013 12:42 pm

    obviously a lot of Metroland readers don’t go to Schenectady that much. Otherwise they’d know The Bier Abbey has by far the superior beer selection in not just the Capital District, but probably in a 250-mile radius.

    • March 15, 2013 12:50 am

      3rd place for best beer selection isn’t bad for their first year in business, especially considering Schenectady seems like the red-headed stepchild of Capital Region cities according to most of the results of this survey (from the names I recognize, at least).

      I didn’t see Tara Kitchen mentioned once, for instance, which is a shame, even if there weren’t many categories it could fit into.

    • March 15, 2013 8:54 pm

      C JUST said to me, “We need to work trips to the Bier Abbey in more often.” Which we do. Except, yeah, it’s a PITA to get over to Schenectady, especially when the plan is to drink. But, I totally agree with you. They’ve got a terrific beer list, and really are worth the trip.

  3. -R. permalink
    March 14, 2013 1:19 pm

    “Anybody remember the dark days when all anyone talked about for vegetarian food was the simply awful Antipasto’s in Clifton Park?”

    Actually, no. Who the fuck goes to Clifton Park for anything? Do you remember Shades of Green of Lark St.? Before your time? The best pure vegetarian food this area has ever seen, in my opinion. And although AGB pleases me, it hits a different note.

    • Brooke permalink
      March 14, 2013 1:35 pm

      Oh how I do miss Shades of Green and their hummus wraps :'(

    • March 14, 2013 2:31 pm

      People who live near CP or the Northway or who like some of the things in CP (don’t know why it gets such a bad rap — there are plenty of good things there these days). I mean, I could say “Who the f— goes to Delmar for anything,” or East Greenbush, ’cause those are both places that are way out of my way and I pretty much never go… but I won’t, ’cause some people do live near there, and I wouldn’t want to insult a whole place just because it’s out of the way.

      • March 14, 2013 5:47 pm

        Come on, I get loving where you come from… But you must admit that Clifton Park is the least charming suburb that most of us can easily drive too. You must admit that it is a pretty good example of how not to plan a community. I dread going up there and I mean that in the most un-insulting way possible. It is just so overwhelming in CP (even the abbreviation is unsettling, “child pornography” comes to mind…). The traffic patterns, the lack of a definable center, the “Stripmallistan” feel, the lack of any real reason for Clifton Park to be there other than as a suburb. I just get the chills in Clifton Park, I can’t help it…. I am sorry I feel this way. I am sure you could introduce me to untold wonders of Clifton Park.

        Also, why go to Delmar? Because I live there and therefore it is awesome by default, haha!

      • March 15, 2013 2:36 pm

        No idea why you’d have such “chills,” etc., going to Clifton Park. It’s easily accessible from the highway, it’s got wide, easy-to-navigate roads (and of course, the town center is near the mall and the Northway, but there’s also the Commons as a gathering spot), it’s got lots of good things (restaurants, some chain but some locally owned and wonderful, and almost any store you might need, and parks and pools), it’s got a mix of housing (apartment complexes and nice homes), and it has plenty of parking. And it’s centrally located, 20 minutes from just about anywhere.

      • March 15, 2013 12:42 am

        Clifton Park has at least one good thing going for it: a cat adoption store in its mall! Granted, it doesn’t say much for the mall’s overall success, but I’ll take that over a Hollister or A&F any day.

  4. DEN permalink
    March 18, 2013 6:12 pm

    Nice rundown.My main gripe is that the Iron Gate in Albany did not place in the Best Brunch category. After Miss Albany shut down, that has been my go-to place and it never has the Cafe Madison wait time. NWBB was a great addition to the brunch landscape last year, but it is only on Sundays.

    On the coffee front, Lucas Confectionery actually puts out a great pour-over coffee. Unfortunately, they are not open mornings, which is a bummer. I grew up drinking Dunkin Donuts, and grab coffee with my Dad and others there from time to time, but I have all but abandoned it after the prices went through the roof around here. For example Last year, I grabbed Dunkin next to my hotel in Chicago. It was $1.95 for a large coffee; the same large coffee costs $2.47 in most DDs here. At that price, your local independent coffee shop is not much more expensive, if at all.

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