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April 4, 2013

Here we go. Again.

Last year, thanks in a large part to your help, a lot of the more egregious reader picks from the Times Union’s annual Best of the Capital Region poll were eliminated. Hooray! No longer was Subway our best sandwich. Pizza Hut didn’t crack the top three for Best Pizza. And All Good Bakers even took the top spot for Best New Restaurant.

Part of me wanted to go out on that high note and forget all about this year’s survey entirely. But the blog has grown in readership, and there is still work to be done. The fact is that Mrs. London’s did not crack the top three for Best Bakery, Caffe Vero doesn’t rate for Best Coffee and Ala Shanghai is absent from the Best Chinese.

It’s a crime that these truly best-of-class places are entirely off the region’s collective radar.

For the past three years I’ve assembled a slate of picks for establishments that rise up and represent the best their respective categories have to offer. I should note that even from the start these were never my own personal favorites. Rather, I cross referenced multiple sources and applied the filter of my own judgment.

Last year for the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 3.0 I decided to be much more inclusive. Readers of the FLB extensively discussed picks in each of the categories over the course of months. I’m pleased to say that most of these have held up to the test of time, and most of them have returned.

Let’s look at this year’s slate, and then I’ll ask you for two big favors.

Dining (20 Selections)
1. * Best Restaurant to Open in the Past Year – Charles F. Lucas Confectionery & Wine Bar
2. Best Family Restaurant – Jumpin’ Jacks (no longer a write-in)
3. Best Fish Fry – Off Shore Pier (no longer a write-in)
4. Best Hamburger – Max London’s (no longer a write-in)
5. Best Pizza – Defazio’s
6. Best Sandwich Shop – Andy & Son’s
7. Best Chinese/Japanese/Korean – Ala Shanghai
8. Best Indonesian/Thai/Vietnamese – Kinnaree
9. Best Indian/Pakistani – Aashiana (no longer a write-in)
10. Best Mexican/Central/South American – Mr. Pio Pio
11. Best Italian – Cafe Capriccio
12. * Best Ice Cream – The Ice Cream Man
13. Best Hot Dog – Famous Lunch
14. * Best Sports Bar – Graney’s
15. Best Coffee Joint – Caffe Vero
16. * Best Diner – Bob’s Diner

* new 17. Best Barbecue – Capital Q
* new 18. Best Restaurant for Outdoor Dining – Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
* new 19. Best Restaurant for a Romantic Dinner – Lark Street Wine Bar
* new 20. Best Restaurant in the Capital Region – New World Bistro Bar

Foodstuffs (9 Selections)
1. * Best Local Grocery Store – Niskayuna Co-op
2. Best Wine Store – All Star Wine & Spirits
3. Best Beer Store – Hoosick Street Beverage (no longer a write in)
4. Best Bakery – Mrs. London’s
5. Best Italian Market – Cardona’s
6. Best Ethnic Market (not Italian) – Asian Supermarket
7. Best Farmers Market – Troy Waterfront Farmers Market
8. * Best Health Food Store – Healthy Living Market & Cafe
9. Best Standalone Butcher – Roma, Latham

One small change I made this year in order to make voting easier for everyone is to limit the slate to those businesses that made the Times Union’s drop down menu, thus eliminating the need for write-ins. The good news is that most places that were write-in picks last year have now finally made the ballot. Those of you who participated last year made that happen. You rock!

There were a few new categories added this year too. Pretty much anywhere you see an asterisk represents a change from last year.

Now here’s what I would like you to do.

Number one
Please, please, please click on this link and vote for the full slate. This is open to citizens of the world, not just Albany. Remember, this only works when we all stick together and put aside our personal preferences in order to collectively support some of the truly great places in the region. Yes, you can vote for places you’ve never directly experienced. And yes, you can do it with a clean conscience because it’s for the greater good.

Here is an example. Even if you may think that Crisan or Placid Baker or All Good Bakers are better than Mrs. London, I would hope we could all agree that Mrs. London is clearly among the best. But if we split the vote, the best bakery will go to Bella Napoli. Again. While their donuts are amazing, our best bakery they are not.

Now for bonus points, if you wanted to see something really amazing you could check out page 4 of the survey that covers local media. Down at question 6 you can vote for All Over Albany in the best website category. And there’s the FLB and my name under question 7 for best local blog. That’s crazy that this little independent food blog would be listed there among the big guys. But I’d love to have your vote. Maybe this year I can even crack the top three. Dare to dream.

Number two
Please share this effort with your friends. It really only takes a couple thousand people to affect the results, and that’s totally doable. There are even easy buttons down at the bottom of this post that should let you share away on Facebook, Twitter, email and the like. Ask your friends around the world for their support too. Because what’s at stake here is more than just a badge for a restaurant window. This is an opportunity to expand the horizons of Capital Region residents. It’s a chance to show the community that change is in the air. And I know that in my heart of hearts if we can improve dining in the Capital Region, we are on the way to elevating the region in other ways too.

Yes, I know it sounds crazy. But I thank you for your consideration.

If you have any questions or concerns, please ask. I’d rather have the chance to win you over, than to have you just shake your head and leave. And over the next few days and weeks, I’ll explain how we got to some of these decisions. However, they are mostly consistent with the comments left over the past few years.

Online voting is open until noon on April 25. I hope you’ll vote for the above slate here and use the nifty little buttons underneath this post to spread the word.

– – –

Here’s the full text link to the poll for those who like to cut and paste:


21 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2013 11:41 am

    I still dispute that a place that doesn’t serve meals is a restaurant. The Confectionery is a bar — a wine bar, but still a bar, a place that’s primarily about drinking, with a few snacks thrown in. When I can go there and get a full dinner, then I’ll think about voting for them.

    • -R. permalink
      April 4, 2013 12:10 pm

      Uh oh profussor, not this again!

      That said, I too agree with KB – Chas. F. Lucas is NOT a restaurant, it’s a bar with high-end snacks. There’s no way I can support your position on this. I was willing to give a little with AGB last year, but this is stretching it too far.

    • April 4, 2013 12:45 pm

      I’ll do a dedicated post on this and we can discuss the matter further. But for now I’ll lay out the 1000 foot view on the matter. This is the Times Union’s poll. Their paper. Their rules. And ordinarily, I would agree with both of you. The Confectionery doesn’t seem to be a restaurant to me either. However, the Times Union clearly feels otherwise. I’m sure you are both familiar with the paper’s 3.5* glowing review of the place.

      Hopefully you will agree that if indeed The Confectionery is a restaurant, than it was the best restaurant to open up in the last year. But as I said, I’ll lay out the rest of my arguments soon.

  2. Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
    April 4, 2013 12:50 pm

    I voted for most of your foodstuff slate with a few quibbles, but couldn’t agree on two of them, even for the “greater good”. I’ll take Gus’s Hot Dogs over Famous Lunch, and nothing short of a substantial bribe would make me vote for Cafe Capriccio or to ever eat there again. As to the Chas F. Lucas, I’m not going to call something “the best” without eating there.

    • April 4, 2013 1:43 pm

      I like Famous Lunch, but I was really, REALLY underwhelmed by Capital Q. Ick.

      • April 4, 2013 2:06 pm

        Please do share the details about your Capital Q experience when you get a chance. I’m always curious to learn more.

      • Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
        April 4, 2013 2:42 pm

        I like Capital Q, but I like taking home Barbeque to eat in the comfort of my own home – plus they are just a couple blocks from me.

      • April 7, 2013 1:24 pm

        If there’s a place with better collards than Capital Q please let me know.

  3. April 4, 2013 2:17 pm

    I have to say, while this slate is decent, do you *truly* believe that new World is still the best restaurant in town? It’s good, sure, but I want more creativity from them. More frequently changing menus and new items, and less just making things spicy rather than nuanced flavor.

    • Delaware permalink
      April 4, 2013 7:20 pm

      Nice to see someone else not afraid to critique NWBB. Their food underwhelms me, even though I like their service and the local ingredients.

    • albanylandlord permalink
      April 5, 2013 2:14 am

      While there are a few, very few, restaurants where I like the food better than NWB (cough, cough, Gastropub), NWB is the complete package. They may not be perfect, but they do everything really really well. Food, service, bar, ambiance, creative, local, eclectic… IMNSHO nobody even comes close to the complete package.

      • April 5, 2013 2:24 pm

        I agree with you on Gastropub! That place needs more attention (and, erm, better decor). They put out some really fantastic food. I also agree that there is no one in Albany proper doing a total package great dining experience. I miss Providence’s food scene terribly.

  4. April 4, 2013 4:05 pm

    There are a handful of choices I could nitpick (and I agree the Confectionery is a bar) but the one that stands out to me is the health food store pick. I’ve never been to the new Healthy Living store and every thing I know about it is from your AOA write up. When I think health food store, I don’t think head to tail butcher and lots of produce. I think vitamins and herbal remedies. A health food store has a selection of flax seed oils instead of a selection of craft beers. I’d pick Deans on Central. Just my 2 cents.

    • Delaware permalink
      April 4, 2013 7:21 pm

      Vitamins and remedies aren’t *food*. Neither is flax seed oil. Meat & produce are.

      • Lulu permalink
        April 24, 2013 11:17 pm

        yeah, but really, the way people use that term and have for decades, really, describes a place like Dean’s or the Co op, not grocery store

  5. Awesomedude permalink
    April 4, 2013 4:53 pm

    just filled this out…can’t believe 102.3 KissFM isn’t in the best radio station category…

  6. April 5, 2013 12:12 am

    Except for votes for Stewart’s, Rolf’s, and Hot Dog Charlie’s, I wrote “Kurger Bing” in for every single other category. Some people just like to watch the TU polls burn…

  7. April 5, 2013 4:04 pm

    Sorry but I still do not agree with this whole exercise. Many many years ago, when I wrote the Dining Out – Restaurant Review column for the Gannet paper in Poughkeepsie, that paper ran an annual “Best of the Hudson Valley”, similar to TU’s annual beauty contest. We had a restaurant on the river that won “Best Restaurant” every year, year after year. They were, in my mind, one of the worst restaurants that I had ever eaten at, and I went out of my way to avoid the place. This contest predated “on line” balloting, so when the paper with the annual ballot came out, the owner (according to his employees) would buy up half of the circulation, have the employees fill it out, and mail them in. We knew they did it but there was little we could do about it. They then used the “win” in all of their advertising for the rest of the year. BTW – I would have been just as upset about the story if they were the best restaurant in town. It was unethical.
    As honorable as your intentions may be, this process is unethical. Asking people to “pool votes”, even if they do not agree with you – even if they have not eaten at a place – is unethical. The ends to not justify the means. If the current system lets Subway lay claim to a “Best Sandwich” award, so be it. If you really think that would drive traffic away from a more deserving winner, I think you are mistaken, but even if you are correct, so be it.
    You should utilize your excellent blog as a platform to inform the local Subway loving population of the error of their ways. You do that very well. There is no need to stuff the ballot box.
    (notice I didn’t use any question marks ;-) Sorry – just sayin…….

    • April 5, 2013 5:01 pm

      Agreed. A poll altered by this list is just building a Potemkin village. The original problems remain…

  8. Susan L. permalink
    April 8, 2013 12:36 pm

    Here’s the thing… I don’t read area newspapers or watch local TV news to find the latest and greatest in the Capital Region. Too much influence by proprietors looking for free promos or people cheering on familiar cheap eats. I look to outlets such as you, AOA, and other bloggers/tweeters for the goods. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

  9. foodiemom permalink
    April 8, 2013 5:33 pm

    The fried rabbit on the NWBB spring menu was a game changer for me. Unbelievable. We tend to only get the specials there-I’ve eaten things there that have left lasting impressions on me. Its worth it alone to get the Korean BBQ Pork Belly, so glad its back on the menu. Heaven in one bite.

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