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BEST OF ROCHESTER '08: Critics' Picks

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Best Excuse for a Heart Attack: South Wedge Skillet

In the thriving South Wedge neighborhood, a nondescript brick building on South Avenue houses the South Wedge Diner. This no-frills eatery serves up classic diner fare with a classic diner attitude. There are no towering, artful presentations or over-the-top ingredients to be found here. What you will find, however, is efficient service with unpretentious, solid food.

            What draws me back time after time is a skillet that reminds me of a late-night Rochester favorite. In "plate" style, the South Wedge Skillet masterfully combines a scrambled egg disc as the base, followed by tender home fries and a mountain of shredded cheddar cheese. These breakfast staples are then topped with so much sausage gravy that the entire dish floats with glee. Knowing you'll need something to sop up all of that goodness; the cooks graciously include a large biscuit ready to accomplish the task. -- BY TRICIA SEYMOUR

Best Corruption of a Healthy Food: Orange Glory Spinach Burger

Spinach is so good for you. It's loaded with iron and calcium and all kinds of vitamins. For proof of its power, look what it does for Popeye. And yet it's...not exactly appetizing. When you put it in a salad, it's tough to choke down unless drenched with bacon and mushrooms and dressing. When it's boiled, you best break out the salt and butter.

            Or just head over to Orange Glory Café. The tiny café on East Avenue, right next to The Little, has created an absolutely scrumptious solution to the spinach dilemma. Owner Jaquelyn Powers has created the spinach burger, mixing the boiled leaf with a hearty amount of asiago cheese (and do I detect a little polenta?), grilling it up, and then serving it on a delicious whole-wheat bread. It's earthy, moist, and cheesy, and since you're chomping through it like its ground-beef mainstay, gives you the satisfaction of feeling like you're cheating while you remain (relatively) healthy.

            If spinach isn't your thing, consider one of the other gourmet sandwiches or salads at the café (it's only open for lunch on weekdays), and don't hesitate to spring for the box lunch, which comes with a side and one of Orange Glory's legendary cookies. -- BY ERIC REZSNYAK

Best Place to Feed Your Family on the Cheap: Cherry's European

The first time my best friend and Public Market partner in crime Dave broke away from our face-stuffing Saturday morning tradition of delicious empanadas at Juan & Maria's, I might have kicked him -- hard, too -- if he hadn't come up with an option that was a total win. Lucky for him (and his shins), he dragged me to Cherry's European, where I had the best breakfast sandwich I've eaten since returning to Rochester five years ago.

            Cherry's sign touts "Polish Ukrainian American Cuisine," and as such, diners can get their fill of delicious pierogies, crepes, potato pancakes, polish sausages, and cabbage rolls that melt in your mouth and stick to your ribs, just like good homemade cabbage rolls should. Yet if the kids (or finicky adults) aren't feeling adventurous, Cherry's also has standard fare, such as omelets, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, pancakes, or French toast. Best of all, nothing on the menu is over $4. Seriously: nothing.

            A family of four can get their grub on for less than $20 -- including a candy treat if you ask nicely before you leave -- all while taking in the chaos and cacophony of our magnificent Public Market. A meal and entertainment for a family of four for less than $20? Try to do that elsewhere. Go on, try, and let me know how it works out for you.

            And about that breakfast sandwich. It's simple -- egg and cheese on a hard roll, with your choice of bacon or polish sausage if you're carnivorous -- but damn, it's good. Best yet, it costs a mere $2. I devour mine, with hot sauce of course, in about six bites.

            Cherry's European is located near the Railroad Street entrance of the Rochester Public Market and is open 7 a.m.-2 p.m., Thursday-Saturday. -- BY LAURA KEENEY

Best $2 Can of Beer: Porkslap

So usually if you're after a cheap can of beer at the bar, it's something like a PBR. Well, since Abilene opened, the can's gone classy -- kind of. Porkslap is just as cheap as PBR, but 10 times tastier. Plus, it comes in this cute peachy-orange can that'll capture your attention for at least a full minute once it's in your hands, if just for the illustration: two hefty porkers posed, mid-jump, legs splayed, big bellies facing each other. You can just imagine the sound they'd make on collision: it's a porkslap! The beer is a pale ale brewed with a little chocolate malt (for color) by the folks at Butternuts. The regulars at Abilene lap it up. -- BY JEN GRANEY

Best Bling: Crystal Icing

What do superstars want that they can only get in Rochester? No, it's not white hots. It's bling. J Lo got some. So did Eva Longoria and Lindsay Lohan. And Paris Hilton says hers is hot. Tommy Lee listens through his. What they all have is accessories frosted by Crystal Icing.

            Far from the red carpet, Crystal Icing is located in Village Gate. The business takes practically anything you've got and covers it with Swarovski crystals. You pick the design -- or choose from one of the biz's products -- and each crystal is hand glued to your phone, your laptop, your guitar, or even your asthma inhaler. Anything you want to bling. And out comes a sparkling spectacular.

            Or if you're a DIY kind of star, purchase one of their kits. Don't look for a storefront, however. Orders can be placed by phone or over the internet only (check it out at crystalicing.com). And now that Britney Spears was recently spotted sporting some Crystal Icing sparkle, expect a small wait. But don't be discouraged. Your item is given its very own Icing appointment, so you won't be parted for long. -- BY DALE EVANS

Best Way to Get to NYC at 1 a.m.: Chinatown Bus

If you need to skip town quick -- or if you're just planning a trip -- grab your suitcase and head down to 733 Monroe Ave around 1 a.m., when you can hop the clean and quiet white bus that comes our way from Buffalo. Before you know it, you've been dumped in the deserted streets of New York City's Chinatown at 6 or 6:30 a.m. You couldn't get there faster unless you flew. The ride back is equally speedy -- just make sure you get to Canal Street by the 5 p.m. departure time -- and there's a quick stop for lunch or dinner if you need it. The bus costs $50 each way for students with ID, and $60 for the rest of us. You should probably bring your own water or a snack. There's a bathroom on the bus; just don't sit near it, or your head will be reeling by the time you hit the big city. Order tickets online at gotobus.com, or call 271-6210.-- BY JEN GRANEY

Best place to pick up 80's movies on the cheap: Rick's Recycled Books

Sometimes the urge to watch random 80's movies strikes at the most inopportune times. So what's one to do when a Thursday night "Grey's Anatomy" session suddenly digresses into the need to see "Can't Buy Me Love" right now? Head to Rick's.

            Rick's Recycled Books has been in its current location on Monroe Avenue for roughly 10 years. The unassuming storefront has definitely seen better days, and at first glance the store's inventory looks like it was organized by kindergarteners on a Sugar Smacks high. But don't judge this book by its cover. More than 25,000 titles, DVDs, and VHS tapes are crammed into the 1300-square-foot shop in a surprisingly organized manner; owner Rick Briggs can tell you exactly where anything can be found.

            As for getting your pre-Dr. McDreamy Patrick Dempsey fix, hit the wall of VHS tapes, where you can fulfill your 80's movie needs faster than that zany Ferris Bueller kid can outwit Principal Rooney. I've picked up "Pretty in Pink," "The Lost Boys," "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Romancing the Stone," among other gems, for $2 each. Bring them back as a trade-in and your next batch is half-price. The added benefit of horrifying your kids with the Molly Ringwald dance and 80's hairstyles and fashion is an added bonus. -- BY LAURA KEENEY

Best New Rochester Band: Velveteen Fox

Picking the best anything when it comes to Rochester's music scene opens you up for arguments you can't win. Honestly, it's a futile endeavor; we're talking Sisyphus, hamster-on-a-treadmill shit. But I can safely say Velveteen Fox is the Best New Band Of 2008. Here's why:

            Experience: This is a band made up of numerous veterans who've spent years getting their kinks and ya-yas out while getting their rocks off in a fistful of Rochester outfits.

            Sex appeal: As The Earl Cram Revue, the band personified a psycho-sexual urge and blasted it out with a classic, borderline-garage attack. But the band's soul -- one of its crucial elements -- and especially what came out of Suzie Willpower's throat, could no longer be contained.

            Change we can believe in: A name change and focus on full-on soul music served with some good ol' preacher-without-a god fever and Velveteen Fox was born. And now you will be, too.

            Redemption, satisfaction, boners: Get drenched in the band's tight grooves. It's hot and loose. And just dig Willpower's voice as it loosens ceiling tiles, blows doors off, and shortens your trousers. -- BY FRANK DE BLASE

Best Hollywood Hopeful: Zoje Stage

Rochester has been home to some pretty famous people: Garth Fagan, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Teddy Geiger, Taye Diggs. And soon, we'll be able to add one more name to our proud list: Zoje Stage. While not yet a household name, the local filmmaker recently won the prestigious New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship for screenwriting, placing her in the ranks of previous winners like Spike Lee, Mira Nair, Todd Haynes, and Julie Taymor. Many NYFA Fellows have gone on to win Tonys, Oscars, Pulitzers, and MacArthur Fellowships.

            Stage is currently trying to secure funding for her award-winning script, "The Machine Who Loved," which she also plans to direct. The fascinating story defies categorization: it's part science fiction, part romance, and part drama. It's artsy and accessible at the same time. It combines familiar story arcs, yet it's like nothing you've ever read. So keep your eyes open because it's a project that has a very high chance of lifting off -- and soon. It's already been compared to the work of Ingmar Bergman by someone in the biz, and Stage is in the process of attracting Viggo Mortensen for one of the leads.

            So, Rochester, next time you brag about how your city often fosters some of Tinseltown's biggest talents, throw out the name Zoje Stage. Once she makes it big, you can pretend you knew her when. -- BY SUSIE HUME

Best Place to Oooh and Ahh: Artisan Works

I don't think it's physically possible to see everything in Artisan Works. The 60,000-square-foot facility off Blossom Road is packed nearly floor to ceiling with artwork, craft pieces, gewgaws, and décor of just about every conceivable type. We're talking classic-style paintings, modern sculpture, photography, installation pieces, even giant wooden replicas of household items like cameras and rollerskates.

            The space is divided into a variety of themed spaces, from a Japanese-style tea room to a replica of a fire station (with bunks, sliding pole, and yes, a truck) to gorgeous rooftop garden to a private movie theater to Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired dining room/loft space/wine cellar. Or you can stroll down the so-called Boulevard Garibaldi and peek at some of the workspaces of the artists in residence.

            I've been there a couple times and I'm still not entirely sure what it does. It's not quite a museum (although it does open to the public on weekends; great place for a date). It's not quite an art studio. It's not just an event rental location (although it books plenty of those). It's kind of all those things rolled into one, and more, and one of the most amazing venues in our fair city. -- BY ERIC REZSNYAK

Best Connect-The-Dots: Ann McCracken

Our lives are punctuated by specific places, people, and events. But while we're careening through space and time, mostly waiting, what fades to the background? Amid the flashing stepping stones, artists work to point out the crucial lost things to other people. To Ann McCracken, art is a lifestyle. She's a bundle of barely contained creative-chaotic energy, full of the desperate search for meaning, and loves the stories and the journey. Talking with her allows a glimpse of the universe's invisible, tangled web of connectivity -- a place where McCracken seems more than at home.

            Her rapid-fire conversation is a reflection that she's constantly thinking, her hands in several projects at once. "I'm genetically wiggly, so it's great," she says. For 25 years, McCracken has owned and run A Good Sign Company (she painted the Station 55 sign near the Public Market entrance). Much of her sign-painting work comes from immigrant-based, mom-and-pop businesses, which she calls "a great vehicle to hear people's stories."

            Her quiet little fine art works seem at odds with her personality, until you hear that she also possesses the tranquil center for gardening and yoga. McCracken grew up in a rural area outside Philly, and recalls riding the school bus and wiping away the frosted windows to view stretches of fields along the road. Her art imitates this; the tiny colored pencil compositions of rural Rochester are nostalgia-inducing windows full of cloud-muted sweeps of land, populated with silos, water towers, barns, fields after harvest, the essence of winter, and tall grasses. Pale weather abounds; it's enough to make a rustic-rooted gal like me remember her school years fondly. What utter loveliness existed on the periphery of adolescent drama! McCracken's tiny works never fail to point out the crushingly delicate beauty in the seemingly mundane, reminding us to look around while we're just waiting for the point. -- BY REBECCA RAFFERTY

Best Nonpartisan Media Site: The Smugtown Beacon

Curt Gerling coined the nickname "Smugtown" in the 50's to describe the oblivious, upper-class arrogance often found in this community. About a year ago Christopher J. Wilmot and Aaron Wicks adopted the name for their website, The Smugtown Beacon (smugtownbeacon.com), which offers cogent opinions and editorials about issues facing the Rochester area and beyond. It shouldn't come as any surprise that the aisle-hopping former legislator and the unaffiliated Ph.D. in political science both follow their learned consciences rather than any particular party line, with a recent post by Wilmot taking both major camps to task while copping to a vote for Obama/Biden. (The dealbreaker for the Republican Wilmot?Palin, duh!) Even City Newspaper isn't immune to skewering, having recently been nominated as the Most Smug Media Outlet. The Beacon asserts that "City has always been well intentioned, yet it consistently succumbs to knee-jerk, left wing opinions that are neither progressive nor terribly interesting any longer." Ouch. But then: "Good film reviews, though." Aw, forgiven! -- BY DAYNA PAPALEO

Best Local Sci-Fi Legend: What Lies Beneath

It goes like this: there is a secret installation beneath the City of Rochester where experiments in time travel and mind control take place. The facility is connected to another, larger facility in Rome, New York, by a tunnel beneath the AndrewsStreetBridge. Electric cars take you from one installation to the other. I read about this in a book called "Weird New York," and have seen it on the Internet, too. I love stories about unsolved mysteries and unexplained phenomena. Wait, am I a geek? -- BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN

Best Political Comeuppance: Alice Kryzan's Democratic Primary Victory

When Alice Kryzan upset Jack Davis and Jon Powers in a Democratic Congressional primary in September, it stunned the Western New York political world. Until that point, Kryzan had fluttered in the background, receiving less attention than the party's handpicked candidate, Powers, and Davis, whose idea of a campaign was buying ads, gas, and people. (Remember, local Independence Party leader Rafael Colon was forced out after it came out that his wife was on the Davis campaign payroll.)

            Kryzan kept a low profile while her opponents ripped each other to shreds. She ran one ad during the whole primary, and it picked on her opponents for getting a little too scrappy. It proved a smart strategy, and she won the primary. Afterward, there was a mad scramble to realign the party, labor, and other groups behind her.

            Kryzan went on to run a solid campaign against Republican Chris Lee. But the issues got lost in the noise created by some ridiculous negative advertising -- if I never hear the phrase "liberal trial lawyer" again it will be too soon -- that saturated the airways. They were some of the nastiest in the year's races. Kryzan lost the general election, and Lee will go on to represent the 26th Congressional District, but for a few short months it was quite the Cinderella story. -- BY JEREMY MOULE

Best Resignation: Steve Minarik

When Steve Minarik said his job as chair of the countyRepublican Party was never about collaboration, it was an understatement. For Minarik, it was always about winning elections. And he was good at it, though his tactics were often questionable -- remember the Pac Man ad during the Maggie Brooks-Bill Johnson race for county executive?

            But those days are behind him. On June 27 of this year, he quit. County Executive Maggie Brooks asked him to resign the post and said she wanted a more collaborative approach within the party. Minarik was fine with it -- or said he was, anyway.

             The past year or so was a rocky road for countyRepublicans and, in retrospect, Minarik's time had passed. The party lost seats in the Legislature, and there was significant backlash when the administration and GOP legislators rammed through a budget plan that took money away from suburban schools. The debacles of the public defender and MCC president selection, too, angered the public. -- BY JEREMY MOULE

Best Defiance of Rochester's Climate: Tuesday Night Urban Assault Rides

It is no secret that Rochester's winters can be extreme: slush-filled streets, snow that seems to land on our city in that all-or-nothing fashion, and winds that blow one front after the next right through us.

            But every Tuesday night from October to March, a group of bicyclists take whatever Mother Nature throws our way and tackles it head on. Scott Page, owner of St. Paul Street cycling store Full Moon Vista, hosts what's called Tuesday Night Urban Assault Rides. The weekly rides begin at 6:15 p.m., and attract anywhere from 25 to 75 riders that gather in the Corn Hill neighborhood and ride their mountain bikes around an ever-changing route throughout the city and surrounding towns.

            They might not break any speed records as they pedal through the salted and plowed roads, but that's also not the objective. The point is to ride -- and that they do. While others seek out anything warm, these riders take what's thrown at them and pedal past. Hats off to them (well, so long as it's not too cold out). -- BY BRENDAN GIUSTI

Best Graffiti'd Women's Bathroom: Dinosaur BBQ

For all the graffiti in every public bathroom, the Dino sticks out for its audacity to leave every last bit of sketch and scribble on the walls and -- look up! -- the ceiling. Colors bleed, clash, and cross; it's a work of art by default. Though it's probably not so, it's easy to imagine that some of the name-calling and tagging is left over (like El Destructo's ceiling work in the front hallway) from the Dinosaur's days as the nightclub Carpe Diem.

            We also have to give special mention to Lux for its creativity. The place provides colored chalk to fuel your scribbling impulses, and wipes the walls clean every so often, leaving a blank slate for fresh hands to dirty up all over again. -- BY JEN GRANEY

Best Reason to Remember Your Safe Word: Rochester Kink Society

People's hobbies are as arbitrary and varied as snowflakes, but on any given day like-minded souls are communing to celebrate their common interests... or, as they're known in certain circles, fetishes. Existing among all of the movie clubs, hiking groups, stitch-n-bitches, and bonsai rings is the Rochester Kink Society (rochesterkinksociety.com), an organization that has discreetly catered to the BDSM aficionados of our fair city since 1996. Yes, those are the call letters for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism, but before you start tsk-tsking, know that the RKS is populated by dues-paying adults over the age of 18, and cardinal among their many rules is mutual consent, confidentiality, respect and safety. As a matter of fact, the interaction isn't even about sex; penetration and exchange of bodily fluids are not allowed at RKS "Play Parties." So if the wine tastings and book discussions just don't do it for you anymore, there are always other manners in which to, um, socialize. -- BY DAYNA PAPALEO

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