The Capital Region’s Most Entrenched
What can I tell you, I’m a glutton for punishment. Every year, when the Times Union’s Best of the Capital Region poll results come out, I’m curious to know what those who vote in this survey think are the area’s crowning jewels.
Sometimes it fills me with hope. Other times it’s despair. Usually, it’s a combination of both.
We talked about this year’s poll a couple of months ago when the voting was open. And no longer do I care enough about this long standing barometer to execute a formal campaign to try and sway the results. This year, it seems like Tipsy Moose did a pretty good job of that.
Congratulations to them. I’m serious. It’s no small feat. But besides the accomplishment of being able to achieve some movement in the poll results, more importantly it helped to put some fresh new businesses on the list, which by and large are fairly lacking.
Much like Albany itself, this is a town where reputations are long entrenched. Things get done the way they’ve always been done. So Uber has an uphill climb, we’re not getting wine in grocery stores anytime soon, and the fact we can now have a mimosa with brunch is somehow a staggering political accomplishment.
Grumpiness aside, let’s look at some of the highs and lows of this year’s results.
Think about the best locally owned restaurant in the region. What do you come up with? If you’re a foodie, it’s probably Peck’s Arcade. If you like to be charmed a bit and don’t mind spending a good bit more, maybe you said 15 Church. Or if you’re old school perhaps you went with 677 Prime, Yono’s, or Cafe Capriccio.
Well, you would all be wrong. Because the poll results say that Tipsy Moose comes in at the top, followed by Berben & Wolff’s Vegan Delicatessen.
Funny story. I actually really like both of these places. Tipsy Moose is all about elevated tavern fare with a killer beer list and no pretense. And Berben & Wolff has allowed vegans the joy of going to a restaurant and ordering anything off the menu that strikes their fancy. And it’s all good, too. I’ve heard it called “junk food for vegans.” I’m still jonesing to try the wing burger there, or to make it in for one of the Wednesday wing nights.
The interesting thing about this poll is that the respondents are getting it right. Just not the majority of the respondents.
For example, Best Burger lists Jack’s Drive-In as the top pick. Again. And while I do cherish this regional roadside seasonal burger joint for its excellent caramelized onions, it’s not our best burger. The third place Crave is a much better pick. But this small, relatively new, independent burger place made the list. That on its own should be cause for celebration.
Kay’s Pizza took the top spot for its namesake dish. Again. While my top choice, Marino’s in Schenectady didn’t make the list at all, DeFazio’s in Troy came in fourth. And let’s not forget this category used to contain Pizza Hut. Thank god those days are long behind us.
Once again, Plum Blossom tops the Chinese list, but Ala Shanghai gets the number two slot. And still, there are locals who have never heard of this local treasure which makes Shanghaiese soup dumplings that rival the best places in Flushing.
Professor Java’s isn’t bad. At least Dunkin’ Donuts no longer makes the list for Best Coffee. But kru coffee in Saratoga Springs isn’t even on the list. Nor is Superior Merchandise or little pecks. Thankfully Stacks scored the number two spot. It means that there were at least some Albany-centric coffee aficionados who answered the survey.
Koto again takes Best Japanese. El Loco is still Best Mexican. Gus’s is still Best Cheap Eats. Empire is still Best Wine Store. Bella Napoli is still Best Bakery. Roma is still Best Ethnic Market. Augie’s takes Best Family Restaurant again. Ric is once again declared our best chef. According to readers of the Times Union, little has changed in years.
Interestingly, the TU readers voted Yono’s for best Vietnamese, but the editors wouldn’t let an “eclectic contemporary American restaurant” win that category. Yes, the restaurant does have an Indonesian side to its menu. But that’s still not Vietnamese. At all. It’s not even close. Although the paper can not wash its hands of this result, as this survey had a “Best Indonesian/Thai/Vietnamese” category for many years.
The Memphis King totally got shafted and wasn’t even included in the Best Barbecue list. In the top seven, there are three chains, and a place all the way out in Oneonta. I’m starting to wonder if TU readers are scared of Schenectady. Seriously, 20 North, Marino’s, and La Mexicana were entirely ignored. Gershon’s and Blue Ribbon were the only two Electric City places to crack any of the top three. That’s a travesty.
But there are upsides too.
Olive Garden had been our best chain restaurant. Now it’s Five Guys. I don’t know about you, but I see that as an improvement. Lucas Confectionary snagged the first place spot for Best Bar For Wine, and the place doesn’t even have “wine” or “bar” in its name.
I guess the bottom line is that there is still room for improvement. This is a far cry from the horrorshow of this list when I moved to the region almost ten years ago. But it also demonstrates how hard it is to get people out here to change their minds about a place they’ve been told is good for years.
Restaurants change. New places open. Let’s be nimble, people. Let’s support the great ones, and encourage our old favorites to elevate their game. Otherwise there’s just stagnation. And that’s never pretty.