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Ballot Busting

April 5, 2013

This annual campaign of mine is a crazy thing. I totally accept that. For those who can’t quite fathom why I do this, I’ll direct you to last year’s post Why It Matters & What It Can Accopmplish.

What was fascinating yesterday was to see the initial criticism come in for the selections that I’m not just asking you all to vote for, but also to share with your friends, family and colleagues. Some of it I expected. But things I thought would be controversial were ignored, other pushback came from unexpected places.

But I’ve got answers for everything. Today I’ll address your early concerns with the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 4.0 because I want your full support in this project.

More than anything else, you have to remember this:

The selections of the FUSSYlittleBALLOT do not reflect my personal favorites. For the most part they are composed from the outcome of last year’s extensive, public dialog with readers.

However this time there were a few categories that did not appear on the ballot last year. The most difficult of which was the ultimate question of Best Restaurant in the Capital Region. And for that I needed to rely on my wits and ultimately made a judgement call.

Honestly, I wanted to say our best restaurant is The City Beer Hall. It’s by far my favorite. The menu demonstrates great creativity, they use some amazing quality ingredients, food is produced using elaborate preparations, and it’s fairly priced for what they serve. The restaurant doesn’t try to be more than it is. Everything works well together. I’ve had good experience with the service, and given all of its strengths I have no problem dining at picnic tables without backs.

But like I said, this isn’t about the places that are my favorites. And I believe that most people would read this category as being about finer dining, so the picnic tables don’t quite cut it. The best restaurant has to be a bit more refined, still with a strong emphasis on restaurant quality ingredients, a clear raison d’etre, and a dining experience that fulfills the promise of its trappings.

New World Bistro Bar wasn’t an entirely comfortable pick. While it may not be chef Ric’s restaurant, his fingerprints are all over that place. It’s not perfect. I’d love to see them have a menu that changes weekly, or at the very least monthly. And sometimes they fall down on execution. But more than anyplace else NWBB represents that good food doesn’t have to be stuffy or pretentious, nor does one need an expense account to afford it. The place highlights high quality ingredients from local, sustainable producers, and is serious about its fish.

For a moment I considered All Good Bakers for this spot. But in good faith I couldn’t give it to a place that doesn’t serve dinner.

So let’s talk about a place that does serve dinner, the Charles F. Lucas Confectionery and Wine Bar.

You know, they do have a chef. His name is Tim. Tim Gates. And he’s worked in the area for over 20 years, including time under Brian Molino and Un-Hui Filomeno. While his limited cooking may be eclipsed by the Confectionery’s amazing cheese and charcuterie program, he does indeed make their salads, soups and noodles.

But I totally get those people who are reluctant to call the Confectionery a restaurant. I understand them because I fall within their ranks. However, I think dismissing the place as a bar doesn’t quite do it justice either.

Ultimately this is the Times Union’s poll. And without a shadow of a doubt the paper imbued restaurant status on the Confectionery when Cheryl Clark wrote a glowing 3.5 star review of the place. Surely, if The Confectionery is a restaurant, there has been no better restaurant to open up in the last year. Or if you think there is, I’d love to hear about it.

Okay. So with that addressed it’s onto health food.

For arguments sake, let’s say a health food store needs to have a good natural health section. Then let’s also agree that I did an atrocious job at covering the strength of Healthy Living Marketplace’s health and beauty offerings in the All Over Albany piece.

Still, this was a tough call. Despite how hard I am on the Honest Weight Food Co-op, there’s a lot I like about the market. It’s nice that they don’t fetishize all their produce. And one can find some really good values, especially in the bulk bins.

Values are a bit harder to come by at the newest addition to the health food scene in Saratoga. Well, values of the cost saving kind. Because that place is full of values. You know what they value? Their employees. And in an age where retail employees are actively discouraged from full-time employment, HLM&C not only provides the vast majority of its workforce with enough hours to qualify for benefits, but they also provide health coverage and contribute to retirement.

So instead of aisles littered with unpaid volunteers who are marking out their time to get their co-op discount, you have a store filled with energetic employees who are thrilled to be there.

And I have to say, that makes a huge difference. As does an approach to meat that isn’t apologetic. Plus sustainably sourced fish. A juice bar. Really great coffee. And the decision to go into a space that didn’t need to be torn down and rebuilt. Never forget that the greenest building is one that already exists.

While it may be hard to accept, the grim reality is that when it comes to health food markets, Honest Weight Co-op no longer has a lock on being the best.

Hopefully all this will help those on the fence to join the effort in support of the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 4.0. Next week I’m looking forward to explaining how I picked the Niskayuna Co-op as The Best Local Supermarket and a few other choice gems.

But there’s no need to wait. If you are feeling so moved, the Times Union ballot can be found right here or by copying https://www.research.net/s/TUBestOf2013 into your browser.

As always, thanks for your consideration.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Michaeline permalink
    April 5, 2013 10:30 am

    Yea City Beer Hall!

  2. April 5, 2013 12:08 pm

    OK, I’ve never had the Max London burger, but if I recall, that was one you didn’t feel terribly connected to either. Now that the Brown Bag is around, I gotta throw my vote their way. Actually, i think Nighthawk Kitchen’s burger is the best in the area, but know they would not have as much crowd support as the Brown Bag.

    I support your choice of NWBB. My main reasoning is that this is the restaurant I’m most likely to take people to if they are from out of town. I think it has personality, it’s really a showcase of that neighborhood, and everyone can find something on the menu that they can eat. The only other restaurant that I would consider for that category is Yono’s, but the price point is too high to bring every out of town guest there.

  3. April 5, 2013 1:21 pm

    I voted Ala Shanghai as best restaurant overall because it is.

    Otherwise, just like my parents voted for Adlai Stevenson, I voted for a number of Saratoga establishments knowing it’s pointless but feels right. I do believe Healthy Living is the best local market. And I did go with some of your picks though and for the first time actually clicked all the way through to the end of the ballot… geez what a lot of stuff.

    Also, the best local burger is Juicyburger not Max London. If you’re going to drive all the way up to Saratoga, get yourself some pastries at Mrs. London, buy a sub at Roma Saratoga, fill a growler at EBI, then shop selectively at Healthy Living before you head home.

    • April 5, 2013 6:25 pm

      If you’re gonna bring them up, might as well go over to Juicy Burgers for lunch first, then head into the city. :) (You’re right, those are pretty darned good. Yum. :) )

  4. April 5, 2013 2:42 pm

    Everyone write in “Kurger Bing” for everything! Who/what is Kurger Bing? No knows… Could he be Lydia Kulbida’s boyfriend? or is it Scotia’s latest burger restaurant? KURGER BING! Write it in for every category! The TU “best of” poll needs more Kurger Bing.

  5. April 5, 2013 3:22 pm

    Haven’t been myself (or to the Confectionery either), but I believe Tara Kitchen opened within a year. If I’m blindly voting I think I would pick that place.

    I have no problem following your ballot. I did it last year too. I don’t agree with all the choices and since you asked for comments I voiced my

    • April 5, 2013 3:34 pm

      Phone cut me off….my opinion on health food stores. Whether or not Honest Weight is king, Healthy Living isn’t a health food store. From the pictures it looks like a high end supermarket. Hannaford, Price Chopper and Shop Rite aren’t health food stores and they carry gluten free crackers and vitamins too. Health food stores are small and very specialized. Deans, Green Grocer, Uncle Sam’s (although it isn’t the nicest place) . Those are health food stores. No on staff fish monger and they have all been around longer than a week.

    • April 5, 2013 4:40 pm

      Tara Kitchen opened last January, which means it cuts it off for voting this year. :-( Such a shame, really.

      http://blog.timesunion.com/tablehopping/28616/moroccan-restaurant-opening-next-week-in-schenectady/

      • April 6, 2013 1:36 am

        How about Comfort Kitchen then. Haven’t been there either, but from what I have heard it is decent.

  6. April 5, 2013 8:57 pm

    The slate has my support, but you already probably knew that. :)
    I totally agree with your assessment of City Beer Hall. It’s our favorite go-to place, ESPECIALLY once the patio opens.
    Speaking of, I hope I see you and some of the other FLBers at the AOA party. :)

    • April 5, 2013 10:18 pm

      Thank you.

      Your comment however raises another interesting point. One that I don’t think has ever been adequately addressed in the past. Primarily because readers of the FLB haven’t necessarily been inclined to self-identify as such.

      Should you choose to do so, feel free to call yourself an FLB. A group of us would be FLBs. Raf was the original FLB. Over time I’ve come to accept that I’m one too. And if you’ve been able to read this blog for any period of time without suffering from an aneurism, it’s quite likely that you are an FLB too (even if you don’t want to admit it).

      And yes, I’ll be at the AOA party. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. But I’m going to have to be fashionably late. However, I plan to stick it out to the bitter end.

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