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Readers Picks 2009

Dining

Best American

1. T.G.I. Friday’s

2. The Cheesecake Factory

3. Albany Pump Station

In times like these, there’s nothing more American than comfort food; that’s what winner T.G.I. Friday’s offers. (That, and tchotchkes.) The runners-up specialize in two other comforts, dessert and beer. (Mmm, beer.)

 

Best Italian

1. Café Capriccio

2. Lombardo’s Restaurant (of Albany)

3. Caffe Italia

Troy and Schenectady may have Little Italy neighborhoods, but your two favorite Italian dining spots are just around the corner from each other in Albany’s Mansion Neighborhood. (And just down the hill from Metroland, for which we are thankful.)

 

Best French/ Continental

1. Provence

2. La Serre

3. Nicole’s Bistro

Provence won handily in this category for serving up fine French fare in its Stuyvesant Plaza setting; downtown Albany stalwart La Serre finished a respectable second. And the late, great Nicole’s Bistro finished third—her restaurant will be missed, but French-food lovers should also note that the culinary tradition lives on in the same building.

 

Best Seafood

1. Reel Seafood Company

2. Red Lobster

3. Jack’s Oyster House

While we’re a bit shocked to see Red Lobster squeezed in there between two of the area’s finest seafood shanties, we’re pleased to report that Reel Seafood Company (not the chain, mind you) won by leagues and leagues.

 

Best Chinese

1. Ichiban

2. Plum Blossom

3. P.F. Chang’s

Ichiban’s reliably good Chinese and Japanese fare has solidified its place in the hearts and palates of local diners; surprisingly close was the way-out-on-Hoosick Street Plum Blossom, still loved by those in the know. And the new chain in town, P.F. Chang’s, has made a good first impression.

 

Best Japanese/Sushi

1. Koto Japanese Steakhouse

2. Ichiban

3. Hana Japanese Steakhouse

Ichiban finished a close second, but Koto has made its name with excellent sushi, tempura, bento box lunches and the like, and the tastiest habachi-table entertaining around.

 

Best Vietnamese/Thai

1. My Linh

2. Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant

3. Sushi Thai Garden

My Linh wins again. Talk about an institution.

 

Best Mexican/ Southwestern

1. El Mariachi

2. El Loco Mexican Café

3. Pancho’s Restaurant

El Mariachi has great food, and also three locations. Reliable El Loco has great food in one location. And Pancho’s brings the Southwest to the suburbs.

 

Best Southern/ Soul Food

1. Hattie’s Restaurant

2. Magnolias on the Park

3. Capital Q Smokehouse

This wasn’t close at all; Saratoga institution Hattie’s won big. Props to Magnolias, though, and that temple of barbecue on Albany’s Ontario Street, Capital Q.

 

Best Caribbean

1. Roy’s Caribbean Restaurant & Grocery

2. Caribbean First Choice

3. Kenneth’s Taste Bud

We could really go for a heaping plate of jerk chicken, ital stew, calalloo, rice and cabbage right about now (drool), and these three—Henry Johnson Boulevard neighbors Roy’s and Kenneth’s and Troy staple First Choice—serve up the best of those rich island flavors.

 

Best Indian/Pakistani

1. Shalimar

2. Sitar

3. Karavalli

Shalimar is a local favorite for curry and korma, with Sitar close behind. And relative newcomers Karavalli have made a big impression in the past few years, on critics and conissuers alike.

 

Best Greek

1. A Taste of Greece

2. Athos

3. Grecian Gardens

A Taste of Greece is the clear winner in this one, scoring more than twice the votes as its runner-up. Be proud, Taste.

 

Best Vegetarian

1. Antipasto’s

2. Four Seasons Natural Foods

3. The Deli at Honest Weight Food Co-Op

You say tomato, I say tomahto. But almost everyone seems to agree that Antipasto’s is the place to go for vegetarian cuisine. Your second and third place picks offer café and deli eats in market settings. Next time you’re picking up a sack of quinoa, treat yourself to a bite.

 

Best International

1. Avenue A

2. Yono’s Restaurant

3. BFS Restaurant

This is a nice upset for Avenue A. Over the past couple years, you all have chosen Yono’s as your No. 1. This year, Avenue A won by a hefty margin. Savor the victory.

 

Best Steakhouse

1. Angelo’s 677 Prime

2. Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse

3. Outback Steakhouse

Swanky 677 won handily (prices aside, we’ve heard scant few complaints about the steaks themselves), though the old-school institution Delmonico’s made it a race. And you frequent mallgoers love the Outback chain.

 

Best Barbecue

1. Smokey Bones

2. (tie) Giffy’s Bar-B-Q/Capital Q Smokehouse

Smokey Bones was opened by the folks who own Olive Garden and Red Lobster, and was recently aqquired by the owners of Big 10 tires, Boston Market and Lillian Vernon (to name a very few). We concede your selection. Now we recommend that you go suck some meat off some bones at local barbecue legends Captial Q and Giffy’s and get back to us next year.

Best Brew Pub: Brown's Brewing Co.

Photo:Shannon DeCelle

Best Brew Pub

1. Brown’s Brewing Co.

2. Albany Pump StationWell, if we know one thing it’s that our readers like their beer. Lots of votes in this category, and we mean lots. Brown’s and the Pump Station craft their fine brews for Albany and Troy respectively, and both top it off with tasty pub fare.

 

Best Beer Selection

1. Mahar’s Public Bar

2. Brown’s Brewing Co.

3. Albany Pump Station

Mahar’s may not brew its own, but the Madison Avenue landmark is a beer lover’s paradise. Don’t sidle up to this bar for a martini. They serve beer, and only beer, offering a rotating selection of hundreds of international bottles—enough that they offer a world tour of beers—and around 30 beers on tap, including imports, domestic craft beers and cask ales, which are pumped authentically by hand. And, of course, your brew-pub winners place again in this category.

 

Best Diner

1. Latham 76 Diner

2. Gateway Diner

3. Metro 20 Diner

Basically, we love all diners, but we love Latham 76 the most—though Gateway’s sleek new look made this a horse race.

 

Best Deli

1. Gershon’s Deli & Caterers

2. The Deli and Brew

3. Maurice’s Pearl Street Deli

Ask anyone in Schenectady: Gershon’s is the real deal. This was a landslide.

 

Best Brunch

1. Café Madison

2. Gideon Putnam Resort

3. Justin’s

The Gideon Putnam has long had the reputation for doing the best hotel-style brunch, while Sunday eggs, hash and bloodies at Justin’s have long cured the hangovers of those who closed the bar the night before. But it’s Café Madison, with its many gourmet twists on classic breakfast fare, that won easily.

 

Best Outdoor Dining

1. Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In

2. Lanie’s Café

3. El Mariachi (Hamilton Street)

Well, you couldn’t find three more different dining experiences than in this close race. Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In is a Scotia landmark for a riverside picnic of burgers and fries. Lanie’s Café offers bistro Italian on its Loudonville patio, and El Mariachi doles out top-notch Mexican at its Center Square location.

 

Best Cheap Eats

1. Bombers Burrito Bar

2. Gus’s Hotdogs

3. McDonald’s

Bombers Burrito Bar is a Lark Street staple and perennial cheap-eats winner for basement-rolled burritos the size of a newborn. Gus’ grills up burgers and Troy’s famous little hot dogs in its Watervliet weiner shack, and McDonald’s, well, we’ll chalk that up to the economy.

 

Best Catering

1. Glen Sanders Mansion

2. Old Daley Inn

3. Classé Catering

This one was neck-and-neck, but Glen Sanders eeked out another victory.

 

Best Burger

1. Five Guys

2. Red Robin

3. Sutter’s Mill & Mining Co.

This one was even closer, with Red Robin and Five Guys two votes apart. So close. Remember, people, your votes make a difference!

 

Best Wings

1. Wings Over Albany

2. Bombers Burrito Bar

3. Ale House

Up in the sky, they’re hot, greasy, and guaranteed to soil your power tie. Wings Over Albany soared to first place, while Bombers proved that pizza isn’t the only food wings go with, and the Ale House reminded you all that chicken goes best with cold libation.

 

Best Pizza

1. I Love NY Pizza

2. Paesan’s Pizza

3. The Fountain

I Love NY Pizza remains your pie in the sky.

 

Best Bagels

1. Breugger’s Bagels

2. Uncommon Grounds

3. Price Chopper

Although there is arguably no fresh New York- or Montreal-style bagel to be had around here, Breugger’s hardly disappoints: It outpolled its nearest challenger, big-fat-bagel specialists Uncommon Grounds, by more than 275 votes. meanwhile, the fresh-baked bagels at certain Price Choppers are one of the region’s best-kept secrets.

 

Best Sandwiches/ Subs

1. Subway

2. Debbie’s Kitchen

3. Mr. Subb

Madison Avenue favorite Debbie’s Kitchen is . . . ahem . . . sandwiched between the two big chains. Jared’s been stuffing the ballots again.

 

Best Ice Cream

1. Stewart’s

2. Ben & Jerry’s

3. Cold Stone Creamery

Stewart’s remains a favorite for the wide variety of quality ice cream. The shingled shoppes have been an integral part of the Capital Region’s character for generations. Ben & Jerry’s rich concoctions came in a close second, with Cold Stone Creamery’s custom creations pulling up the rear.

 

Best Coffee

1. Dunkin’ Donuts

2. Starbucks

3. Uncommon Grounds

A gentle reminder: The category is best coffee, not most pervasive coffee. Congrats to Uncommon Grounds to showing in a mega-chain-dominated category.

 

Best Desserts

1. The Cheesecake Factory

2. Villa Italia

3. Bella Napoli

The votes for best dessert seemed to roll in like pastries on a conveyor belt. We suspect that Cheesecake Factory may have streamlined public opinion, not unlike the product. Congrats to Villa Italia and Bella Napoli for being so darn Italian.

 

Best Wine List

1. Wine Bar & Bistro

2. Vin Santo

3. The Ginger Man

As with the “Best Wine Bar” category in People & Places, the tallying was muddied by the fact that a number of people voted for “The Wine Bar” without specifying whether they meant Albany or Saratoga. However, enough voters did specify the Lark Street bistro to make it a clear winner in the wine list category, with Latham’s Vin Santo and Albany’s Ginger Man close behind.

 

Best Bakery (desserts)

1. Bella Napoli

2. Villa Italia

3. Crisan

The clear leader in this pack, there is nothing—nothing—that we want more right now than a pastry from Bella Napoli.

 

Best Bakery (breads)

1. Bella Napoli

2. Panera

3. Perreca

The hometown favorite edges out the national chain in this category. That’s awesome.

 

Best Chinese Buffet

1. Capital Buffet (Wolf Road)

2. Dragon Buffet (Central Ave)

3. Golden Phoenix (Niskayuna)

This one was a barn burner, and we’re willing to bet it all came down to whose crab rangoon was more real. Capital Buffet edged Dragon Buffet by one dumpling, but good fortune surrounds the Golden Phoenix, whose lucky numbers are 27, 4, 16, and 32.

 

Best Restaurant to take a Date

1. Justin’s

2. Angelo’s 677 Prime

3. The Melting Pot

We don’t suspect that any of this year’s winners offer tableside accordian players, but Justin’s has the lockdown on dinner jazz, Angelo’s 677 Prime has swank in abundance, and the Melting Pot lets you gaze deep into your date’s eyes while you dip stuff in other stuff.

 

Best Restaurant to Take the Kids

1. Friendly’s

2. Red Robin

3. Chuck E. Cheese

We think Friendly’s might actually be the best place to take someone else’s kids. That way you can drop them off before the strawberry-caramel-gummybear- sundae and cotton-candy-soda uber sugar high kicks in.

 

Best Restaurant for a Power Lunch

1. Angelo’s 677 Prime

2. Jack’s Oyster House

3. Panera Bread

We completely understand the close race here between 677, where the hefty prices and stately surroundings demand that your business proposal be taken seriously, and the venerable Jack’s, where you can almost hear the whispers of O’Connell, Corning, et al., deciding the fates of Albany. But we can only scratch our heads over what a power lunch at Panera would look like.

 

Best Tapas/Small Plates

1. Vin Santo

2. Midtown Tap & Tea Room

3. Apertivo Bistro

The trendy tapas craze that never really took hold in Albany did manage to leave in its wake these great restaurants and their small-plate offerings. Good.

 

Best Best Place to Eat at 3 am

1. Denny’s

2. Bob’s Diner

3. Latham 76 Diner

Let’s face it, if you’re trolling for a bite at 3 AM, your palate is not going to be—how you say—discerning. Diner food tends to do the trick, so we suppose one Denny’s is as good as the next for late-night munchies. Bob’s and Latham 76 will stuff your gullet but spare you the pleather booths.

 

Best Breakfast

1. Denny’s

2. Café Madison

3. Bob’s Diner

Café Madison and Bob’s Diner are well-loved and have turned up in multiple categories; here, though, where the question is about basic eggs, bacon, pancakes and toast, Denny’s rules.

 

Goods and Services

Best Optical Store

1. Empire Vision Centers

2. Dinapoli Opticians

3. LensCrafters

The eyes . . . er . . . ayes have it. Empire Vision Centers wins again.

 

Best Appliance Store

1. Sears

2. Best Buy

3. Lowe’s

Thanks. Now we know where to get the perfect chest freezer for our fallout shelter.

 

Best Antiques

1. Aunt Katie’s Attic

2. Bournebrook Antique Center

3. At the Warehouse

An eclectic selection of exciting locations to unearth that ancient treasure.

 

Best Bookstore

1. Barnes & Noble

2. Borders

3. The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza

They no longer shout at each other from across Wolf Road, but the competition beetween Borders and Barnes & Noble is still fierce, and only three votes separated them in this poll. Pulling a very respectable third place was your favorite indie bookstore, the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza.

 

Best Newsstand

1. Coulson’s News Center

2. Westmere News

3. Borders

Apparently, Coulson’s has managed to build a loyal client base over the last 114 years.

 

Best Internet Provider

1. Road Runner

2. Verizon

3. AOL

Road Runner High Speed Online obliterated the competition yet again. Beep beep!

 

Best Garden Store/Nursery

1. Hewitt’s Garden Centers

2. Faddegon’s Nursery

3. Lowe’s

Readers went out on a limb (yeah, ouch) for Hewitt’s once again.

 

Best Florist

1. Price Chopper

2. Lark Street Flower Market

3. Emil J. Nagengast Florist

We think perhaps our readers do not differentiate between a “florist” and a “place were you can buy flowers.” So we’ll toss our plug to third-place florist Emil J. Nagengast. Five generations of Nagengast florists have been helping the Capital Region say it with flowers for 99 years.

 

Best Home Electronics

1. Best Buy

2. Hippo’s

3. Radio Shack

Best Buy for the camera and computer, Hippo’s for the custom home-theater system. Radio Shack for, um, the remote-control dragonfly?

 

Best Kitchen Store

1. Different Drummer’s Kitchen

2. Bed Bath & Beyond

3. Williams-Sonoma

Different Drummer’s Kitchen ran away with this one, which makes us smile because it’s the only non-national chain in the group; three of its four stores are in our distribution area (Stuyvesant and Newton plazas and Lenox, Mass.), and the fourth is in our day-trip fave city Northampton, Mass.

 

Best Furniture Store

1. Taft Furniture Warehouse

2. Old Brick

3. Huck Finn’s Warehouse

People drive from miles around to vist the state’s largest furniture showroom—Taft—right here in our backyard. Old Brick holds strong again at No. 2, but this year Huck Finn snuck into third place. Is it the beguiling TV spots, or the bargain blowouts?

 

Best Pet Supply Store

1. PetSmart

2. Petco

3. Benson’s Pet Center

The big two top the list again, but we implore you readers: Take a spin through local chain (and close-third) Benson’s Pet Center. You may find yourselves converted.

 

Best Gift Store

1. Romeo’s Gifts

2. Wit’s End Giftique

3. Pearl Grant Richmans

Romeo’s is a perennial favorite, packing a surprising selection in the Lark Street walk-up. Wit’s End is the Clifton Park wonder emporium of gifts, and Pearl Grant Richman’s at Stuyvesant Plaza delights the gift gourmand.

 

Best Wine/Liquor Store

1. Empire Wine

2. Exit 9 Wine & Liquor Warehouse

3. All Star Wine and Spirits

In their second year of eligibility, the folks at Empire Wine clawed their way to the top of this category, using that rare combo of wine knowledge and good bargains to edge Exit 9. The always- dependable All-Star finished a close third.

 

Best Vintage Clothing

1. Plato’s Closet

2. Salvation Army

3. Goodwill

We guess when you’re 14, Abercrombie’s Fall 2007 collection seems “vintage,” but if you can legally purchase alcohol, may we suggest the thrift-store standbys.

 

Best Women’s Clothing

1. Macy’s

2. Ann Taylor

3. JC Penney

It is no surprise that Macy’s tops your pick of best clothing stores, with regular sales and top-quality wares, we know that it is hard for us to stay away.

 

Best Men’s Clothing

1. Macy’s

2. JC Penney

3. Kohl’s

Macy’s sales are the stuff of legend.

 

Best Children’s Clothing Store

1. Gap

2. The Children’s Place

3. Target

Get them started early and they’ll be shopping at Gap Senior one glorious day.

 

Best Women’s Shoe Store

1. DSW

2. Shoe Depot

3. Macy’s

Your No.1 is always our first stop on any trip to Crossgates, because rows and rows and rows of gleaming, tasty and affordable shoes are too hard to resist.

 

Best Men’s Shoe Store

1. DSW

2. Macy’s

3. Shoe Depot

DSW never fails to provide awesome shoes for even awesomer prices.

 

Best Consignment Clothing

1. Plato’s Closet

2. (Tie) The Closet Shop

Fifi’s Frocks & Frills

Plato’s Closet swept this category with its trendy, gently-used styles for the youth set. Or, if you’ve outgrown the tweener look, take a spin through the Closet Shop and Fifi’s Frocks & Frills and try to break the tie.

 

Best Hair Salon

1. Jean Paul Salon

2. Rumors

3. Fantastic Sams

We’ve heard dern good things about Jean Paul Salon and Rumors, but we’d put the office Flowbee up against Fantastic Sams any day.

 

Best Sporting Goods

1. Dick’s

2. Sports Authority

3. Goldstock’s Sporting Goods

Once again, big-box stalwart Dick’s knocks this category out of the park. But if you’re looking for that human touch you can find only in a locally owned store, Goldstock’s still has it after all these years.

 

Best Head Shop

1. Déjà vu

2. Northern Lights Smoke Shop

3. Shining Star

We know nothing about this, so we guess we’ll have to take your word on it.

Best Holistic Shop: Peaceful Inspirations

Photo: Alicia Solsman

Best Holistic Shop

1. Peaceful Inspirations

2. Honest Weight Food Co-Op

Just your top pick’s name puts us at peace.

 

Best Art Supply

1. Arlene’s Artist Materials

2. Michaels

3. A.C. Moore

Always and forever, Arlene’s.

 

Best Bike Shop

1. Downtube Cycle Works

2. Plaine’s Bike Ski and Snowboard

3. Freemans Bridge Sports

Every year by a landslide. It’s like racing a LeMond against a Big Wheel.

 

Best Toy Store

1. Toys ‘R’ Us

2. G. Willikers

3. KB Toys

Toys ‘R’ Us, everybody’s favorite toy chain, won this in a landslide; KB Toys, now in its death throes, finished a distant third. But a small, local store with lots of personality, G. Willikers, managed a respectable second.

 

Best Video Rental

1. Hollywood Video

2. Netflix

3. Blockbuster

Netflix climbs a notch to No. 2 and Blockbuster tumbles, as we continue our slow farewell to the age of video rental.

 

Best Tattoo

1. Lark Tattoo

2. Tom Spaulding Tattoo Studio

3. Dead Presidents Lounge

Lark Tattoo remains, far and away, our reader’s favorite place to get inked, but stalwart Spaulding and Dead Presidents’ fresh talent earned top rankings.

 

Best Cellular Service

1. Verizon

2. AT&T

3. Sprint

Can you hear me NOW beeatch? Also: We wonder if the iPhone has anything to do with AT&T’s runner-up status?

 

Best Jeweler

1. Northeastern Fine Jewelry

2. Hannoush Jewelers

3. Glennpeter Jewelers

Honestly, we really don’t know much about the shmancy jewels, but we’ll trust your picks. This one was a close race.

 

Best Day Spa

1. Kimberly’s A Day Spa

2. Jean Paul Spa

3. Complexions Spa

Our readers can pamper themselves with the best of ‘em. And according to you, Kimberly’s is the best of ‘em. Enjoy your hot stone massage.

 

Best Musical Instrument Store

1. Parkway Music

2. Guitar Center

3. (TIE) Hermies Music Store and Drome Sound

We’re happy to see local favorite Parkway pull ahead of music mega store Guitar Center this year, while Hermies and Drome Sound continue to bring the beat.

 

Best Apple Orchard

1. Indian Ladder Farms

2. Goold Orchard

3. Bowman Orchards

The crisp apples, the pastoral heldeberg setting, the petting zoo, shop, café and bakery, and the doughnuts, oh, the doughnuts, make Indian Ladder Farms the top pick by a landslide.

 

Best Farmers Market

1. Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market

2. Saratoga Farmers’ Market

3. Schenectady Greenmarket

How to choose among these three? They’re all great, and they all provide a fun and healthy way to spend a couple of weekend hours stocking up on fresh food and catching up with the neighbors in a pleasant setting. But our readers did have a clear preference: Troy won this by more than 200 votes.

 

Best Produce

1. Price Chopper

2. Hannaford

3. Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market

The improvements to Price Chopper’s produce sections in recent years paid off with our readers, who “picked” them by a more than 2-to-1 margin over Hannaford.

 

Best Place to Buy A Computer

1. Best Buy

2. The Apple Store

3. Dell

Best Buy boasts rows and rows of computers, and now that it also offers Apple products, no wonder it is the leader.

 

Best Place to Service A Computer

1. Best Buy Geek Squad

2. The Apple Store

3. Capital Systems Integration

It isn’t called the Geek Squad for nothing.

 

Best Shopping (Plaza)

1. Stuyvesant Plaza

2. Mohawk Commons

3. Newton Plaza

Stuyvesant Plaza triumphs again, with its winning mix of independent shops, spas eatieries and boutique chains. Mohawk Commons is a big-box shopper’s heaven, and Newton Plaza offers a little bit of everything.

 

Best Shopping (Mall)

1. Colonie Center

2. Crossgates Mall

Colonie Center pulled ahead of Crossgates this year by a significant margin. Guess the massive renovations paid off.

 

Best Shopping (City)

1. Saratoga Springs

2. Albany

3. New York City

Saratoga Springs—its thriving shopping district contained within a pleasantly walkable, several-block-square area—seems a no-brainer. Albany, whose downtown business district is not exactly a shoppers’ mecca, does have a lot of interesting stores spread out in several neighborhoods, and our readers obviously like this. And every year, a bunch of you have to write in “New York City” with smirks on your faces. When high-speed rail makes Manhattan that much closer, maybe we won’t groan so loudly.

 

Best Shopping (Outlet)

1. Prime Outlets—Lee, Mass.

2. Factory Outlets of Lake George

3. Woodbury Common Premium Outlets

We don’t know who doesn’t like outlet shopping, or who wouldn’t be satisfied at any of these three. We think pure geography may be at work here, as these were ranked neatly in descending order of travel time from Albany.

 

Best Supermarket

1. Price Chopper

2. Hannaford

3. Honest Weight Food Co-Op

A fierce divide exists between Price Chopper and Hannaford loyalists, making it a farily close call. As always, we’re happy to see Honest Weight bringing up the rear.

 

Best Health Food Store

1. Honest Weight Food Co-Op

2. GNC

3. Green Grocer

And here, Honest Weight shines in a clear victory. As always, there’s no better place for the conscientious connoisseur.

 

Best Record Store (used)

1. Last Vestige

2. FYE

3. The River Street Beat Shop

With two locations, both worn in like a favorite pair of jeans, this annual winner is holding strong in the digital music revolution—a true last Last Vestige for vinyl lovers.

 

Best Record Store (new)

1. FYE

2. Best Buy

3. Last Vestige

FYE was the clear winner here, but it was a close race for second and third. Hit the box chains for your bargain shopping. Last Vestige stocks an array of albums by local musicians, and an impressive collection of new music on vinyl.

 

People & Places

Best Park

1. Washington Park

2. Thacher Park

3. The Crossings

Washington Park won this by a big 150-vote margin. That said, these are three very different parks (urban, rural, suburban) with distinct, and wonderful, qualities.

 

Best Playground

1. The Crossings

2. Washington Park

3. Central Park

Your kids will love playing at any of these parks. But there’s something about the size and newness of the playground at the Crossings that just dazzles.

 

Best Day Trip

1. Lake George

2. New York City

3. Thacher Park

So you all like big lakes more than you do big skyscrapers? While we can’t exactly agree with you there, we can agree that a lazy day of boating sounds about perfect right now.

 

Best Bike Ride

1. Mohawk-Hudson Bike Trail

2. Corning Preserve

3. Thacher Park

There is just no topping the Mohawk-Hudson trail for ease and access, for sure. And don’t panic about riding under the Twin Bridges—you probably won’t get hit by anything thrown from the cars above.

 

Best Running Trail

1. Corning Preserve

2. Mohawk-Hudson Bike Trail

3. The Crossings

People tell us all the time that running is great exercise, and addictive. We’re going to have to take their word on it.

 

Best Hiking/Nature Trail

1. Thacher Park

2. Five Rivers

3. The Adirondacks

We very much enjoy the lovely and varied hiking at Thacher Park, which won by more than 50 votes. And we also love hiking the trails at Five Rivers. And for those who can’t narrow their favorite spot down to a manageable several hunderd acres, there’s always No. 3: the Adirondacks. We’re sure there’s some good hiking to be had in there somewhere.

 

Best Rock Climbing

1. Albany’s Indoor Rock Gym

2. The Shawangunk Ridge

3. Electric City Rock Gym

We have never understood the desire to climb up big rocks, but we know that if we one day had that desire we’d rather do it inside than outside. Seems like there must be less chance of terror.

 

Best Gym

1. Planet Fitness

2. Gold’s Gym

3. YMCA

Imagine what life would be like on Planet Fitness. Healthy. Happy. Annoying? Nah. Getting fit is the best thing you can do for yourself. So go, now.

 

Best Massage Therapist

1. April Ashbee

2. Mary Panza

3. Chris Minehan

Oh, our aching shoulders. Our twitchy hamstring. We’ve never been fortunate enough to sample the talents of your top three favorites (hint, hint), so we have to take your word on this. But the top practioners in this category are people we’d like to know.

 

Best Yoga/Pilates

1. HeartSpace Holistic

2. Orenda Yoga & Healing Arts

3. Albany Pilates Center

Finally, we all agree. The trainers from HeartSpace graced our cover this year, and you obviously really, really like them. Yay.

 

Best Golf Course

1. Saratoga National Golf Club

2. Town of Colonie Golf Course

Saratoga wins again.

 

Best Mini Golf

1. Hoffman’s

2. Oasis Family Fun Park

3. Pirate’s Cove

Oasis edged its way into the top three this year, but Hoffman’s is still the reigning champ.

 

Best Skiing/ Snowboarding

1. Gore Mountain

2. Jiminy Peak

Excellent skiing, one very close (Jiminy), and the other not all that much farther (Gore).

 

Best Ice Skating

1. Empire State Plaza

2. HVCC

3. Swinburne Park

We will take the victory of the ESP rink as a protest against its closing for budgetary reasons. Are you listening, Gov. Paterson?

 

Best Bowling Alley

1. The Playdium

2. Sunset Lanes

3. Spare Time

Set ’em up, and knock ’em down. Another strike for the Playdium.

 

Best Pool Hall

1. Diamond 8 Billiards

2. Golden Cue

3. Trick Shot

We wouldn’t hustle ya, Diamond 8 is at the top of their game.

Best Bar: Tess' Lark Tavern

Best Bar

1. Tess’ Lark Tavern

2. The Bayou Café

3. Lionheart Pub

Tess Collins took an Albany institution and has made it even more popular than it was before. The Bayou Café brings a touch of Louisiana to the North Pearl Street strip and the ’burbs, and the Lionheart Pub remains a Center Square favorite.

 

Best Hook-Up Bar

1. Jillian’s

2. The Bayou Café

3. Café Hollywood

Jillian’s scores.

 

Best Gay Bar

1. Oh Bar

2. The Waterworks Pub

Oh, of course, is an institution in Albany, and easily wins this category year after year.

 

Best Wine Bar

1. The Wine Bar & Bistro

2. (tie) Wine Bar Saratoga and Vin Santo

Oh, you crazy nonspecific readers. You see, there are two “Wine Bars”: the Wine Bar in Saratoga and the Wine Bar & Bistro in Albany. Unfortunately, many of you wrote in, simply, “The Wine Bar.” Fortunately, enough of you did make a distinction that gave the Wine Bar & Bistro an insurmountable lead. Meanwhile, our mathematical projections on splitting the nonspecific votes leave second place, between Saratoga’s Wine Bar and Latham’s Vin Santo, too close to call.

 

Best Happy Hour Bar

1. Tess’ Lark Tavern

2. Lionheart Pub

3. Bombers Burrito Bar

You can feel and hear it when you walk in the door at Tess’ Lark Tavern—happy people. The fact that the two runners-up are also Center Square mainstays means Albany’s Lark Street is your go-to destination for after-work libations.

 

Best Strip Club

1. DiCarlo’s

2. Night Moves

3. Double Vision

It wasn’t even close. DiCarlo’s won by more than 100 votes. It’s the gentleman’s club’s gentleman’s club.

 

Best Bartender

1. Kevin McLaughlin, Potter’s Tavern

2. Jamie Brill, Delmonico’s

3. Michael Callagan, The Mill at Round Lake

Treat your big winners this year with a generous tip.

 

Best Server

1. Michael Callagan, The Mill at Round Lake

2. Marshall Morgan, 1228 Grill

Considering that most people couldn’t remember their server the second after leaving the restaurant, your top picks must be hella likable, and lucky.

 

Best Public Official

1. Jerry Jennings

2. Kirsten Gillibrand

3. Jim Tedesco

Since this is an election year, Albany’s mayor can’t help be happy with this result. He finsished about as far ahead of Gillibrand as she finished ahead of the man trying to replace her in Congress.

 

Best Public Advocate

1. Alice Green

2. Kirsten Gillibrand

3. Barbara Smith

Alice Green is the face of advocacy in the Capital Region. Two elected officials, our new U.S. senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Albany Common Councilwoman Barbara Smith, finished well behind Green.

 

Best Animal Advocate

1. Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society

2. Steve Caporizzo

Bob Barker would be so proud.

 

Best Charity

1. Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society

2. Equinox

3. Ronald McDonald House

Especially in times like these, charitable giving is essential. These three organizations provide very different, very valuable services.

 

Best Swimming

1. YMCA

2. Lake George

3. Grafton Lakes State Park

We prefer the lakes to swimming pools, cause our idea of a good swim involves beer. Wonder if you all would have voted differently in the summertime?

 

Best Campgrounds

1. Lake George State Campground

2. Thompson’s Lake State Park

3. Moreau State Park

We guess that having “campground” in your name counts for something.

 

Best In-Store Pet

1. Barkley at Brunswick Harley

2. “The Dog” at All Star Wine and Spirits

There was a wee bit of confusion over this category, as we were looking for specific critters that serve as in-store pets, not conducting a poll as to which kind of critter makes the best in-store pet. (We got a lot of votes for “dog” and “cat.”) No matter, because Barkley won in a landslide!

 

Media

Best TV News

1. WNYT News Channel 13

2. Capital News 9

3. WTEN News 10

Even without the much-loved Lydia Kulbida (see below), WNYT won this category comfortably. “Weather on the nines” Capital News 9 remains popular for its reliability and (it’s no sin) predictability. WTEN repeats as number three, not far behind its cable-based rival.

Best News Anchor: Lydia Kulbida

Photo: Joe Putrock

Best News Anchor

1. Lydia Kulbida

2. John Gray

3. Liz Bishop

There wasn’t much of a gap between the top vote getters, and three conclusions can be gleaned from your picks. One, you are still mightily pissed that NewsChannel 13 let Lydia Kulbida go. Two, John Gray absolutely did the right thing leaving that same station for Fox 23. Three, WRGB bosses better hang on to Liz Bishop, or the wrath of the Capital Region will be on them, too.

 

Best Meteorologist

1. Bob Kavochik

2. Steve Caporizzo

3. Paul Caiano

Another close contest between WNYT’s Kovachik and WTEN’s Caporizzo; both have won the category in past years, and they’re clearly the region’s favorites. We’re glad Paul Caiano made the top three because he’s terrific, but also so that we could apologize for hideously misspelling his name last year. (Our offense? “Pail Caino.” We’re pretty sure we were drunk—or at least, isn’t it pretty to think so?)

 

Best Sportscaster

1. Rodger Wyland

2. Doug Sherman

3. Joe Calderone

NewsChannel 13 has a deep bench; sportscaster Rodger Wyland, who won this by a wide margin, is one of the reasons the station still wins Best TV News. WRGB’s Sherman and Capital News 9’s Calderone clearly know their way around a diamond (and green and field and court and rink), too.

 

Best News Radio

1. WAMC

2. WGY

3. WROW

WAMC won with a comfortable 100-vote margin over WGY, which in turn led WROW with an almost equally cushy 80-vote margin. The difference is obvious: WAMC has quality news all day; WGY has quality news in the morning, before syndicated talk-radio blowhards take over; and WROW still hasn’t snapped back from its previous successes.

 

Best Music Radio

1. WEQX

2. WGNA

3. 104.9/The Edge

This result actually helps us. One, it reinforces our own belief that Vermont’s WEQX is still the best commercial radio station in the area. Two, the second place finish by WGNA tasks us to maybe think about country music more often than we do. Three, the third place finish by the Edge (not so far behind WGNA, actually) lets us know you still like it hard. Rock hard.

 

Best Radio DJ

1. Ralph Renna

2. Kevin Richards

3. Darwin

Congratulations to you, discerning readers, for keeping it loud and local in honoring Ralph Renna (and his Sunday night stint on the Edge) in this category. Renna had a comfortable—but not too comfortable—lead on WGNA’s Kevin Richards and WEQX’s Darwin.

 

Best Publication

1. Metroland

2. Times Union

3. Daily Gazette

Aw shucks . . . you guys really are the best.

 

Best Arts Coverage

1. Metroland

2. Times Union

3. WAMC

We realize these surveys went out mainly to Metroland (print and Web site) readers—so we know beter than to gloat over these landslides—but we’re still flattered. Thanks again.

 

Best Print Journalist

1. Paul Grondahl

2. Fred LeBrun

3. Greg Haymes

The Times Union scored a hat trick with these three very different writers: Grondahl’s got a way with long-form journalism like nobody else in town; LeBrun casts an impassive eye on the local scene from a columnist’s perch; and Haymes is a thoughtful critic and observer of the music scene.

 

Best TV Commercial

1. Fucillo

2. Martin, Harding & Mazzotti

3. Koto

Mr. HUGE, Billy Fucillo, scored a HUGE victory in this category for his auto commercials over legal “heavy hitters” Martin, Harding & Mazotti and Koto, the ads for which make viewers crave Asian culinary delights.

 

Best Web Site (news)

1. Times Union

2. Capital News 9

This one wasn’t close: the Times Union is the clear go-to place on the Web for up-to-the-minute local news.

 

Best Web Site (community)

1. Times Union

2. All Over Albany

3. Metroland

This category produced a sobering result, in that it was one of the least voted on categories. Capital Region Web users seem to lack enthusiasm for any of these sites.

 

Best Web Site (arts)

1. Metroland

2. Times Union

3. 518 Fever

We’ve seen the Web page view totals. We know what you mean by “arts”—Metroland’s online movie schedule. Those responsible for creating this page thank you very much.

 

Best Web Site (music)

1. CRUMBS

2. Metroland

3. 518 Fever

CRUMBS is an acronym that’s too long to write out, mainly because we want to save room to praise the site for its scope and quality. We were close behind them in votes. (Thank you.) As for 518 Fever, they are doing their best to be the home of the hotness.

 

Best Blog

1. All Over Albany

2. Table Hopping

3. Sirsy (on the Times Union site)

Perky newcomers All Over Albany managed a one-vote victory over Steve Barnes’ savvy restaurant blog, Table Hopping. As for the third-place winner: You people love Sirsy.

 

Arts & Enter-tainment

Best Cinema

1. Spectrum 8 Theatres

2. Regal Colonie Center Stadium 13

3. Regal Crossgates Stadium 18

Perennial winners Spectrum 8 Theatres won again, this time edging their nearest competitor by 200 votes. (Almost as big as Al Franken’s current lead over that worm Norm Coleman!) The surprise is that the new—and quite wonderful—Regal Colonie Center multiplex thumped its nearest mall rival by a wide margin, too.

 

Best Museum

1. New York State Museum

2. Albany Institute of History & Art

3. Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

The New York State Museum won this in a walk—by an over-200-vote margin, to be exact. Why not? It’s a history museum, an art museum, a children’s museum and a nature museum. The AIHA remains the closest local fave; MASS MoCA’s strong finish proves you dig the modern art—and a nice drive.

 

Best Art Gallery

1. Albany Institute of History & Art

2. Upstate Artists Guild

3. (TIE) Clark Art Institute and Amrose Sable Gallery

A head-scratcher of a result, which means it’s our fault and we need to refine the category. These are fine institutions all, but the Clark and UAG don’t exactly have a lot in common.

 

Best Local Performing Arts Organization

1. Capital Repertory Theatre

2. Saratoga Performing Arts Center

3. New York State Theatre Institute

Capital Rep has been keeping professional theater alive on Pearl Street for decades; SPAC has showcased arts high and low for decades; NYSTI has been making great theater for decades. You like the long-timers.

 

Best Children’s Arts Programming

1. Steamer No. 10 Theatre

2. Albany Art Room

3. RPI Young Actors Guild

Congrats to our friends at Steamer No. 10, who make great kids’ theater (and are a parent’s godsend with their school-vacation-time programming). The RPI Young Actors Guild came within one vote of tying newcomer Albany Art Room.

 

Best Local Visual Artist

1. Janet Tanguay

2. (TIE) Tommy Watkins and Samson Contampassis

Art N Soul’s Janet Tanguay is not only a visual artist, but an educator and life lecturer. She slighty edged out former Local Hero Watkins and Samson Contampassis.

 

Best Live Theater Venue

1. Proctors

2. Capital Repertory Theatre

3. Palace Theatre

The verdict is in: You love the kind of big Broadway shows that the Proctors expansion made possible; Schenectady’s grand venue won by a big margin.

 

Best Local Filmmaker

1. Mike Feurstein

2. John Sayles

3. Sean Cranston

Schenectady natives Mike Feurstein (eScape, the Lost-like film series about a group of lost kids) and John Sayles were a close one and two; may we gently suggest that Sayles is no longer a “local filmmaker” and plead with y’all not to vote for him anymore?

 

Best Local Poet

1. Mary Panza

2. Dan Wilcox

3. R.M. Englehardt

Hit up any open mic in town and you’re likely to see one of the above, if not reading then organizing the whole shebang. These three are, indeed, the word on the street. Rest assured, there’ll be no bad blood here.

 

Best Local Author

1. William Kennedy

2. James Howard Kunstler

3. Vincent Zandri

Had ye any doubt? Kennedy’s pretty much immortalized Albany in his work, and you all never seem to forget. Kunstler’s cultural criticism and Zandri’s crime fiction seem to have earned their keep too.

 

Best Local Solo Musician

1. Mike Grosshandler

2. Sean Rowe

3. Kevin McKrell

Singer-songwriter Mike Grosshandler just edged soul man Rowe and local Celtic-music icon McKrell for this honor.

 

Best Live Music Venue

1. Revolution Hall

2. Saratoga Performing Arts Center

3. Northern Lights

Great sound and great beer in a great space beat out big names under the stars for this one. And handily, we might add. They’ve had a rough go of it these past couple years, but Northern Lights won’t stay down, and for that you all seem grateful.

 

Best Open Mic

1. Muddy Cup

2. Lark Tavern

3. Caffe Lena

The winner in this catergory proves that legacy only goes so far when it comes to the amateur showcase. Caffe Lena can boast a pretty impressive list of visiting songwriters, but the Muddy Cup and the Lark Tavern consistently take it into the wee hours.

 

Best Karaoke

1. Oh Bar

2. Bourbon Street

3. Bombers

We’re willing to bet that “More Than a Feeling” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” sound just about the same at all of the above, but karaoke’s not about how you sing, it’s about who you subject to your howling. Evidently Oh Bar’s the place for the sympathetically tone-deaf.

 

Best Dance Club/ Night Club

1. Fuze Box

2. Jillian’s

Yes, we’ve heard tell about this Fuze Box. Friends of friends have whispered about Jillian’s. All that carousing, cavorting, bumping and grinding . . . it’s indecent. But if you must gyrate, we guess it’s best that you not do it in the street.

 

Best Country Band

1. Back 40 Band

2. Loose Cannons Live

3. Aged in the Hills

When we asked for the best country band, you didn’t give us no namby-pamby indie alt-country outfit. Back 40 Band are the true red-white-and-blue, boots-and-spurs, countryfest-rocking deal.

 

Best Local Blues/ R&B Band

1. Ernie Williams

2. Foy Brothers

3. Solid Smoke

It’s gonna take more than 80 years of experience to edge out Ernie Williams for this honor. You all understand that blues is not a democracy. The Foy Brothers and Solid Smoke sure get around, but Williams is like royalty.

 

Best Local Jazz Band

1. Brian Patneaude

2. Adrian Cohen

3. Keith Pray

It’s (already) been a big year for Brian Patneaude, so he’s earned his landslide victory in this catergory. The guy’s a mainstay . . . but then so are Cohen and Pray. Good thing jazz music’s nothing like wild-west gunfighting. This town’s big enough for the three of them.

Best Local Rock Band: Ten Year Vamp

Photo: Joe Putrock

Best Local Rock Band

1. Ten Year Vamp

2. The Velmas

3. Super 400

Ten years is starting to seem like a modest amount of vamping time, judging by the number of times these guys have taken top honors. The Velmas were a close second this year, though. And it must be something about that power trio thing that earned Super 400 the bronze. Oh yeah: They rock.

 

Best Local Hip-Hop Artist

1. Broadcast Live

2. Sinister

3. Oddy Gato

We’ve been seeing those Oddy Gato stickers all over town, but the only votes we’re counting are the ones we got in the mail. That’s why top honors go to Broadcast Live, the socially-conscious group who just celebrated their second CD release.

 

Best Local Punk Band

1. Society High

2. Kode Blue

3. (TIE) Blasé Debris and Bulldog Courage

This contest can be the kind that ends in black eyes and bloody noses. Society High are the last band standing this time, but more surprising is the tie at third place. Can we propose a little merger, though: How cool would a band called Blasé Debris and Bulldog Courage be?

 

Best Local Alternative Band

1. Sirsy

2. Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned

3. Dead-Lift

Ah, Sirsy—it wouldn’t be a readers poll without you. If Albany had a house band, Sirsy would be it. Sgt. Dunbar are a scrappy lot though, and—dude—there’s like 80 of them. Even if they all just voted for themselves, Dead-Lift still wouldn’t have stood a chance.

 

Best Metal/ Hardcore Band

1. The Viking

2. Last Call

3. Brick by Brick

Known for their looting, pillaging, horns and exceptional chest hair, Viking reign supreme here—was there any doubt? In a town that’s about as hardcore as they come, though, it’s still a big honor.

 

Best Local Cover Band

1. Audiostars

2. Soul Session

3. Refrigerators

How exactly does one determine the best local cover band? Largest repertoire? Best Axl Rose impression? That’s for you to decide and us to report. However you sliced it, Audiostars lived up to their name, burying the competition.

 

Best Local Club DJ

1. DJ Dread

2. DJ K-oz

3. (TIE) DJ Turnstyle and Lady Luck

We’re going to yield to your good judgement on this one (that’s what this whole poll’s about, anyway), and straight-up admit we’ve lost track of who’s mixing what where. We’ve come a long way since our days as a disco rag, but so long as Dread spins the Bee Gees from time to time, we’re sure it’s awe sooky sooky.

 

etc.

 

Best Use of Public Funds

Public libraries; New York State Museum; SPAC; public parks; Alive at Five; public transportation; animal shelters; fixing potholes; food stamps; snow plowing

 

Best Misuse of Public Funds

Ghost tickets; Albany Convention Center; anything with Joe Bruno’s name on it; no-show state workers; charter schools; legislative salaries; BrunoMobile; Gov. David Paterson; Schenectady Police Department

 

Best Way to Lure People to the Capital Region

AMD; better schools; more live music; autumn; pie; Albany Aqua Ducks; don’t tell them about the weather; ether; fenced-in dog parks; cut government and lower taxes; high-speed rail; jobs

 

Best Time to be Had in the Capital Region for Under $10

Washington Park; New York State Museum; Troy Night Out; Victoria Pool; Corning Tower observation deck; 50-cent skating at Swinburne Park; Spectrum 8 Theatres; poetry open mics; 1st Friday; Thatcher Park; Albany Art Room; LarkFest; roller derby; Indian Ladder Farms; Valley Cats at the Joe; Sirsy

 

Best Place to See and Be Seen

Alive at Five; Lark Street; SPAC; lunch vendors at Empire State Plaza; Angelo’s 677 Prime; Pearl Street; Saratoga Race Course; Bayou Café; Vapor; Crossgates Mall; Colonie Center; Jillian’s; Lake George; Saratoga in the summer

 

Best Thing That Could Happen to Albany

A new mayor; convention center; no convention center; no more crime; Trader Joe’s; more parking; better public transportation; ghost tickets for all; reopen churches; fund schools; develop waterfront; demolish I-787; high-speed rail; lower taxes; more jobs; Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

 

Best Thing That Could Happen to Troy

A new mayor; get rid of Bob Mirch; continued small-business growth; reopen library branches; a grocery store; widen Hoosick Street; lower crime; lower taxes; fix and open Proctor’s; better snow removal; free STD screening for hookers; Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

 

Best Thing That Could Happen to Schenectady

Better police department; less crime; lower property taxes; more jobs; redevelopment grants; move Schenectady Museum downtown; GE would develop alternative energies; GE comes back; a decent train station; oil deposits discovered under the vast tracts of vacant property

 

Best Thing That Could Happen to Saratoga Springs

Improved parking; extended racing season; moratorium on condo building; hoof-and-mouth disease; better shows at SPAC; sudden virus that attacks yuppies; affordable housing; high-speed rail; Trader Joe’s; nothing—they got the life of Reilly up there

 

Best Thing That Could Happen to the ’Burbs

Reliable public transportation; sidewalks; diversity; Democrats; light rail; bike path to downtown; Sabrett Hot Dog Carts; the realization that voting Republican is stupid; your lazy neighbor mows their unkempt lawn; Dirk Diggler

 

Best Evidence That the Great Depression II Is Upon Us

Center Square hoboes are happy with a quarter; Mary Lou Whitney canceling her gala; 6-year-old girl clutching the bars of the closed Libby Lu store . . . no makeover for her; foreclosures; layoffs; supply crisis at food pantries; my 401K; I am filling out this form on a Saturday night; Latham Circle Mall; I can’t afford to shop or eat at any of the “best” places I just listed

 

Best Evidence That the Region Is Looking Up

AMD; Jennings is being primaried; Bruno indictment; I don’t hear Troy referred to as “Troylet” as much; Downtown Schenectady; home values are stable; gas prices are going down; two Indian restaurants in Clifton Park; New World Home Cooking is coming to Albany; ROLLER DERBY!

 

Best Local Celebrity Whom You’d Like to Marry for Their Money

Mary Lou Whitney; Alan Chartock; Shirley Ann Jackson; Joe Bruno; Rachael Ray; Benita Zahn; E. Stewart Jones; Yolanda Vega; Bob Kovachik; Mona Golub; Liz Bishop; Chet Hardin

 

Best-Kept Secret in the Capital Region

Cohoes Falls; our daughter Hannah, national dance champion; Palace Theatre movie nights; first-rate music program at Albany High; Stephen Leon’s millions; Crandell Theatre in Chatham; Schenectady Greenmarket; Peace Pagoda; that brothel in Troy; I’m Batman; I’m a lesbian

 


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