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Best of Rochester 2012: Critics' Picks

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RESTAURANTS:

Best Hot Beef Injection

The Sunday Hot Dog Special at Cure

Open since June at the Public Market, Cure (50 Public Market, 563-7941, curebar.net) is winning a place in the hearts of hungry carnivores with its housemade sausages, such as chorizo, a link that marries pheasant and black truffle, and a boudin blanc so lush and pillowy that I sometimes can't decide whether to eat it or hug it. But it's not all prized fungi and French technique; this is Rochester, after all, and Cure honors its working-class roots with an ever-changing Sunday hot-dog special ($9). A recent preparation took a housemade beef frank and topped it with candied bacon, pickled cabbage, and horseradish mustard, then plated it with an heirloom tomato salad. Past adornments have included confit onions and garlic scape relish, as well as themes like Italian and a nod to Rochester, which, if my blissed-out memory serves me correctly, embellished the tasty dog with fresh chopped onions and the warm-spice-and-ground-beef topping we call hot sauce 'round these parts. (DP)

Best Meal in Your Mitts

The Pittsburgh at Harry G's New York Deli & Café

Though you've perhaps tried one of its many incarnations, you may not know about the origin of the Pittsburgh sandwich, essentially a meal between two pieces of bread. First concocted as a convenience to truckers by an Iron City chain called Primanti Brothers, the beef-based Pittsburgh typically crams the coleslaw and the French fries right into the sandwich rather than serving them on the side. And here in Rochester, Harry G's New York Deli & Café (678 South Avenue, 256-1324, harrygsdeli.com) might be the ones setting the Pittsburgh standard, its mega-popular build consisting of chopped steak, melted provolone, spicy shoestring fries, coleslaw, tomato, mayonnaise, and oil. And at $7.99 for a whole 12" sub (or $4.49 for a half), you'll hopefully forgive the hyperbole when I say that it might actually have everything you could possibly want in a sandwich: juicy meat, gooey cheese, sassy potatoes, tangy cabbage, umami-rich tomato, and just the right amount of good mayo. And since the sides are technically part of the sandwich, you should feel no qualms about getting MORE sides, like Harry G's hearty matzo-ball soup or a potato knish, and maybe dessert. Yinz have earned it! (DP)

Best Beer Upgrade

Beer Cocktails at TRATA

Even in light of the 21st-century craft-cocktail movement, the concept of drinks made by mixing beer with spirits or juices is nothing new. But with the exception of libations like the spicy Michelada, or the champagne-and-stout Black Velvet, a lot of beer cocktails — especially the ones that feature shot glasses dropped into pint glasses — seem designed simply to get the imbiber f**ked up in a more expeditious manner. But the imaginative beer cocktail list at TRATA (145 Culver Road, 270-5460, tratarochester.com) gilds the humble hop by taking the flavors in its brew-based beverages as seriously as it does the liquor-centric mixed drinks. The vibrant Lambic Bellini ($5.50), for instance, riffs on the Prosecco-based standard by combining Lindemans Pêche with peach purée and raspberry, while the Chocolate Cherrybomb ($6) blends Buffalo's own McKenzie's black cherry cider with Young's double chocolate stout. And hopefully next year's rumored pig shortage won't hinder availability of the hearty Corporal's Breakfast ($9.50), made from Wolaver's oatmeal stout, Bulleit bourbon, and bacon. Yeah, there's a boilermaker on the list, a pairing of Guinness and Finger Lakes Distilling's White Pike whiskey, but if you're gonna do it, you may as well do it up. (DP)

Best Tantalizing Taste Mystery

Dragon Sauce at Scotland Yard Pub

I've always seen myself as a buffalo-sauce kind of guy. The spice, the heat, the flavor — nothing else really comes close to it (especially barbecue sauce; get that stuff out of my face). And that's how I always assumed it would be. No matter where I eat, if there is buffalo-flavored item on the menu, that's probably going to be what I order. That was before I came face to face with the fiery-sweet mouth orgasm that is the Dragon Wings at Scotland Yard Pub (187 St. Paul St., 730-5030, scotlandyardpub.com). I've been going to Scotland Yard nearly once a week since January for trivia, and every week it came down to exactly what awesome way I wanted to eat the restaurant's Dragon Sauce. Should I get it on wings? On pizza? Just chug a whole bottle of it? Swim in a lake of it? All of the above, please. The worst part is that I can't figure out what is in the secret sauce. It's part Asian influenced, that's for sure, and there may be a hint of garlic in there, but one thing is for sure, nearly everybody that I've had try the sauce loves it, and the rest aren't my friends anymore. And I haven't ordered anything buffalo flavored at Scotland Yard since. (WC)

SHOPPING

Best Nutter Butter

Housemade Peanut Butters at Red Bird Market

You might not find Red Bird Market (130 Fairport Village Landing, 377-5050, redbirdmarket.com) unless you went looking for it. Open since 2008 in the adorably timeless heart of Fairport, Red Bird takes the traditional corner-store concept and does it one better, offering its loyal customers the usual necessities as well as an array of things they didn't even know they needed. Local products abound; Red Bird stocks yummy stuff from places like the Ravioli Shop, Coffee Connection, Baker Street Bakery, and Arbor Hill Winery, but the store's star might be its line of housemade peanut butters ($2.50-$3.50). Red Bird mills the nuts on-site, then blends them with different ingredients to create unique spreads. The cappuccino peanut butter, for instance, features that expected whisper of cinnamon and then a pleasantly bitter espresso finish, while the Kickin' Hot peanut butter is in fact both of those things, as delicious in a savory Thai dish as it is with some raspberry jam on a thick, crusty slab of miche. The newest flavors are a dreamy butter pecan and a white chocolate peanut butter, but on my latest trip to Red Bird I opted to kept it simple: chocolate peanut butter. Like that old ad said, they're two great tastes that taste great together. (DP)

Best Butch Craftiness

Man Crafts

If any of you creative dudes have been feeling a bit left out of the crafting movement, despair not, and dry those manly tears. Two locally based creators have paved the path for handymen to partake of the lady-dominated arts & craft fairs, and give you malefolk something cool to check out while your girlfriends shop for locally made jewelry and paper goods. Man Crafts, a clever endeavor by artists Adam Francey and Joseph Allgeier, offers a variety of goods that, while not exclusively for men, have the XY in mind as a target audience. Creations include beautifully crafted cigar-box guitars that can be plugged in to an amp, glass bottleneck slides, hand-crafted drums, ceramic whistles, instruments made from repurposed goods such as Spam cans, pottery, and some rather righteous drawings. To learn more, visit man-crafts.com. (RR)

Best Global Sweet-Tooth Takeover

Candy Nation Plus

I love candy. There, I said it. I'm a relatively sophisticated eater with a pair of jobs that expose me to some of the best food this city has to offer, but if it were an option, I would dine on candy for at least two meals a day. Rochester is certainly blessed with some excellent candy shops, but Candy Nation Plus (20 Fairport Village Landing, 377-0030) might be unique among them in that its inventory is sourced from far-off lands and even different eras. Consider, for instance, the Cherry Mash bar, first produced just after WWI and made up of a maraschino cherry-flavored fondant surrounded by roasted peanuts and a thick layer of chocolate. Or how about a classic Valomilk, with its creamy marshmallow center? You got your M&Ms, of course, and Mike & Ikes and Bottle Caps and sweets like that. But there's also massive gumballs, Bosco syrups, Kinder chocolates, and British gems like Cadbury's sponge-candyish Crunchie and Nestlé's ethereal Aero (now in limited-edition orange!). And for you diehards, there's even an entire rack of black licorice treats from all over the world. Me, I draw the line at black licorice. As for the rest of Candy Nation Plus, though, it really does make me feel like a kid in a... well, you know. (DP)

LOCAL COLOR

Best Local Scandal You've Never Heard About

Audrey Munson

In 1920, lyricist Ballard MacDonald wrote a song for Fanny Brice about "Rosie, the queen of the models" who posed "with or without her clothes." He could have been remembering Audrey Munson, the first woman to appear completely nude on film. Born in Rochester in 1891, Munson moved to New York where a photographer spotted her at the age of 15. Sculptors soon began to use her as their model for architectural statuary, very popular at the time. Artists and the public liked portrayals of naked women, so long as they had allegorical names. Munson starred in four silent movies, but only a single print — for "Purity" — has survived.

By the end of the decade, a married suitor had murdered his wife to free himself to marry her, but the negative publicity ended her career. In 1920, she and her mother moved back to Mexico, NY, east of Oswego. When she attempted suicide, a judge ordered her committed to a psychiatric facility where she remained for 65 years. She died in 1996 at the age of 104.

Munson posed for some of the most important sculptors of her time, including Daniel Chester French, best known for the seated Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial; Alexander Stirling Calder, whose George Washington as President adorns the Washington Square Arch in Lower Manhattan; and Robert Ingersoll Aiken, best known for the West Pediment of the Supreme Court Building. Although some Munson statues have been destroyed, others still stand in all their unadorned glory in the parks and above the streets of New York — the Manhattan Municipal Building, the U.S.S. Maine memorial in Central Park, and the Pulitzer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza. Though she came to an unhappy end, visitors to Manhattan can still see Audrey Munson in all her allegorical — and physical — extravagance. (ML)

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Best Open Jam

Roc City Pro Am Jam

You might think that The Roc City Pro Jam is just for the musicians, giving them the opportunity to stretch their legs and tread terrain that's different. But the resulting hybrid that gets thrown together is a thrill for music fans as well, as the curious onlookers and on-listeners get a chance to see a band put together for the first — and often, the last — time using its musical wits to figure out how to proceed outside of its members' comfort zones and style. This is truly a jam, as the host band often sets the tone before inviting guests up on stage to sit in. Nobody is in charge and the music dictates its own outcome. You'll likely see a jazzy keyboardist, a funky drummer, and an electrifying guitarist as easily as you'll see a cat with a French horn or a dude pull off a tap-dance solo.

This thing is gaining momentum, too, as more and more people are coming out of hibernation (including yours truly) to get down and participate. Local instrument manufacturers have gotten on board, displaying their wares and encouraging on-stage test drives and the powers that run the whole affair have been recording beautiful, in-the-moment mayhem. The Roc City Pro Jam takes place every-other Tuesday and rotates between Lovin' Cup, Abilene, and Skylark. Come early, stay late. (FD)

Best Big-Top Fun

Rochester Circus Arts Collective

Rochester is teeming with talent, as evidenced by the various artists, musicians, and actors that call this area home. Another artistic discipline is on the rise in your backyard, and you might not even know about it: the Rochester Circus Arts Collective. Also known as ROC Cirque, the group aims to foster circus arts in the greater Rochester area and provide a space in which artists can practice, share, and learn from one another. In addition to circus artists, the space will supply a jam area for the Rochester DJ Collective, allowing the output of both groups to feed off of one another in a mutually beneficial relationship.

The organization's main program in place at the moment is "Whirly Wednesdays." Every Wednesday from 6 to 10 p.m. the public can visit with ROC Cirque at Genesee Valley Park near the Riverbend Shelter (during the winter the event is scheduled to move to the Flying Squirrel Community Space at 285 Clarissa St.). During this open spin jam, hoopers, poi spinners, jugglers, cyr wheel artists, yo-yo freestylers, slack-line walkers, or anyone at all can participate by watching and learning from each other.

In the future, ROC Cirque is looking to establish itself as an official non-profit organization. To get involved, e-mail admin@roccircusarts.org. For more information visit roccircusarts.org. (LD)

Best Pop-Up Dance Troupe

One Dance Company

During the Rochester International Jazz Festival this past summer, you might have noticed the herd of wild animals that took over the streets and green spaces outside of Rochester Contemporary Art Center. Actually, the creatures were dancers involved in One Dance Company, a Rochester and Minnesota-based dance company which has been putting on marvelous pop-up shows locally for the past year. For "Scene & Herd," the dancers were transformed through simple costuming and makeup into various woodland creatures, and accompanied by local gypsy-camp-esque musical group, The Pickpockets, they danced and embodied their respective creatures from within the art center out into a busy East Avenue. Led locally by director and co-founder Erika Ruegemer, the small company often teams up with collaborative art space The Yards at the Public Market and a host of participating artists to present such moving, original works as "In You is Home" and "I Won't Dance." Learn more about One Dance Company by searching its name on Facebook, or by emailing onedanceco@gmail.com. (RR)

Best Use of a Found Space

The Yards

Now celebrating its first anniversary, collaborative art space The Yards is the brainchild of artists Sarah C. Rutherford and Lea Rizzo, who are also members of the art collective, The Sweet Meat Co. The space above Flour City Bread Co. in the Public Market was raw when they found it, and was the site of the collective's second group installation, "Welcome to Sweetsville," which just hinted at how the group was capable of challenging the way we think about unused spaces and cast-off materials. In the past year, The Yards has hosted art exhibitions, dance performances, poetry readings, film screenings, ice-cream socials, private parties, and the Gezellig dinner series, which incorporates visual art, food, and a performance. In addition, The Yards was the main hub of activity for this summer's "Wall/Therapy" mural project, which centered at the Market. Rutherford, Rizzo, and their family of artistic collaborators and supporters are proving what wonderful potential a small space and a lot of heart can offer. For more information, visit attheyards.com. (RR)

Best Therapeutic Dance

Kinections

Tucked away in a small dance studio next to Writers & Books on University Avenue is Kinections, a center for dance therapy run by Dr. Danielle Fraenkel, an internationally recognized expert in what is still a relatively new field. During her workshops, students are guided through using movement and dance as the form in which to access and express emotional truths. The purpose is for them to then go on and use that kinesthetic self-knowledge for personal growth and advancement, expanding their movement repertoires and pushing past perceived boundaries.

The American Dance Therapy Association defines dance/movement therapy as "the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process that furthers the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual." Interestingly, dance therapy was first used in the United States during the 1940's by psychiatric hospitals attempting to provide unreachable patients with alternate means of communication and expression. More recently, it has shown particular success as a therapy in working with victims of sexual and other forms of abuse, as well as with patients with eating disorders.

In Fraenkel's workshops, people from all walks of life gather simply to move, feel, and learn how to more fully inhabit their bodies. They may be given exercises in which they "become" another material — clay or wire, for instance — in order to explore how physical boundaries can be malleable or fixed. Music, discussion, individual and group work are all part of a class at Kinections. Being a dancer is not a prerequisite. Desired outcomes for students include better management of stress, building confidence, improving relationships, succeeding in interviews and presentations, and breaking through blocks.

Fraenkel is a New York State licensed creative arts therapist and licensed mental health counselor. She holds an M.A. in dance movement therapy, and a second M.A. and a Ph.D. with a specialization in counseling from the University of Rochester. Kinections, established by Fraenkel in 1984, is the only institute in the country that is not attached to a university yet still offers all the dance/movement therapy courses required for certification by the American Dance Therapy Association. Fraenkel also teaches dance therapy at the University of Rochester and is the dance/movement therapist for The Healing Connection, a program for people struggling with eating disorders. Class listings, descriptions and schedules can be found on the organization's website: kinections.com. (CC)

Best New Festival

First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival

Putting on a successful festival requires a lot of work, and after being spoiled for many years by the widely successful Rochester International Jazz Festival, Rochester as a city can forget sometimes just how hard it is to start a new one and have it get off the ground running. There's the basic logistical issues, the funding, selecting acts to come and groups to perform, and then of course, getting people out to enjoy what the festival has to offer.

So it's a huge accomplishment that the first year of the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival — which took over downtown Rochester in mid-September — was, by and large, very successful, especially for a brand new festival that focuses on what's outside the norm. And I mean that in a good way.

Both in the scope of the acts and the huge crowd it drew night after night, the Fringe Festival has shown that Rochester has the ability, and the drive, to support another massive arts festival, and that we have just as much pizzazz as any of those other cities that have been having Fringe Festivals for years. Here's hoping Fringe only gets better for Year 2, continuing to grow and foster the creative community that exists here in Rochester. (WC)

Best Cool New Venue

Tala Vera

So you're a musician who likes it spicy, you like it rockin'. No need to burn up a lot of gas stringing together a series of venues to make your night complete. Rather, head downtown and over to Tala Vera (155 State St., 546-3845, tala-vera.com) for some excellent Mexican grub with a California flair. Tala Vera is an intimate setting to get close and personal to the one your with, and the music on the stage. The captain of this ship, bossman Bernie Williams, has the stage wired for recording, so you can go home with proof of your scorching set. And Tala Vera streams a live video feed so your show can go global. Last but not least is dessert. Try a xango — the Mexican answer to canoli — it's better than tantric sex with a whole squad of horny cheerleaders. (FD)

NIGHTLIFE

Best Brainy Alternative to a Night at the Bars

Poetry & Pie Night

Usually when I think of poetry, images of a scholastic-looking individual — donning glasses, a scarf, perhaps smoking a pipe — scribbling furiously at an old desk by candlelight come to mind. Something I have never associated with poetry is pie. Yet, the curators of Poetry & Pie night, Rachel McKibbens and Jacob Rakovan, seem to believe this is a perfectly natural pairing. And why should anyone disagree? Each month a Poetry & Pie Night occurs at which "poetry, prose, pies, pews, and a pulpit come together for a delicious literary buffet." Sounds simply tantalizing. Meeting locations are somewhat of a mystery, and are never published in print. One could say this romantic literary club is Rochester's own version of "Dead Poet's Society." If you're inclined toward the written arts (or even the culinary), meetings are usually held at 8 p.m. You can email poetryandpienight@gmail.com to learn the secret location. For more information, visit Facebook.com/PoetryPieNight. (LD)

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