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BEST OF ROCHESTER '07: Critics' Picks

Best Mobile Late-Night Fried Food: All Good truck

Walking out of a bar close to last call and purchasing fast food items from a street vendor is often a desperate act. It's easy to lower your standards when you know that you and your insides are going to pay a heavy price in the morning. But you don't have to with All Good, a mobile food truck that's parked outside the Bug Jar on Monday nights. All Good's food is tasty -- damned tasty. The tender, delicious ground beef used in these burgers rivals the patties at those "gourmet" joints, and the fries are deep fried to perfect crispness in All Good's distinctly flavorful oil and sprinkled with the truck's special seasoning powder. Pick up a tray and you're guaranteed to make a bunch of friends real quick. -- BY SABY REYES-KULKARNI

Best Affordable Snack Selection: Abundance Co-Op bulk section

While Abundance has its share of high-end products for discriminating health- and eco-conscious tastes, its bulk section contains several items that make you feel rich even if you've only got $2 to spend. Banana chips and wild rice sticks, for example, are really cheap ($1.59/lb and $2.69/lb respectively) and weigh practically nothing, so you can go to town spending as little as 50 cents on each. The price tags on soy energy chunks and coconut date rolls may look more imposing ($6.19 and $6.49 respectively), but these are rich, delicious items where a little goes a long way. And you can't beat the friendliness of the Abundance staff or the casual, inviting atmosphere. -- BY SABY REYES-KULKARNI

Best Italian Cookie: Savoia Pastry Shoppe

Savoia is one of the last Italian bakeries of its kind in the Rochester area. There's nothing fancy or slick about it; cakes, pies, bread, and rolls are baked fresh every morning. But it's the cookies that bring back memories for many of us. We're talking about the kind of cookies usually found in New York's Little Italy. Chocolate and citrus meatball cookies -- those little round beasts with a crusty sugar frosting -- are a must. The sfogliatelle, layers of crispy pastry with a ricotta cheese filling, are also impossible to resist.

            Leave it to the Italians to come up with a designer fig cookie. It's a traditional holiday favorite, and many families have recipes that are five and six generations old. To make them is a labor of love. But fuhggedaboutit! Savoia makes a fig cookie Mama will approve.

            Michael Petrantoni and his wife, Theresa, opened Savoia in 1929. Theresa passed away quite a few years ago, and two years ago the business was sold. Savioa's new owners, Kathy and George Privitera, carry on the tradition at the store's Clifford Avenue location.

            Savioa, we salute you.-- BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO

Best Donut: Ridge Donut Café

Tom and Josephine Marcello know a thing or two about donuts. They've been in the business for nearly 40 years. Located on Portland Avenue across from Rochester GeneralHospital, Ridge Donuts is the all-American roadside coffee shop with fry cakes and donuts that are in a class by themselves. Glazed, filled, powdered or plain -- they make them all. Forget about the Pearly Gates. A plate full of Josephine's hand-cut creations, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, should be waiting for all of us when we reach the other side. We'll know we're in the right place.-- BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO

Best Spirit: Tournedos' Fruit-Infused Vodka

The first time I tasted it, I felt duped. Sure, its flavor was the chaste essence of fruit: liquid alchemy worthy of an OWL from Hogwarts. But at $10 a glass I was looking for some essential bang for my bucks. There wasn't any alcohol in it! Or so I thought. Served in a chilled martini glass with a slice of fresh orange, this delicious liquid is shaken with ice, creating a canopy of soft foam that can become a telltale sign on the tip of your nose if you're not careful.

            Tournedos Executive Chef Tom Polizzi brings this spirit to life. About every two weeks, he layers the vase with artfully sliced pineapples and oranges (blood oranges when in season, and sometimes some grapefruit) and fills it to the brim with Absolut Vodka. Usually done at closing time on Saturday nights, by Monday it has soaked up the flavors. Hence, no revealing tastes of alcohol. So even though it tastes like heaven, contact this spirit with respectful caution. -- BY DALE A. EVANS

Best Excuse for Road Rage: 490 Gateway project

Stuck at the 390 split in the morning. Backed up beyond the new Freddy-Sue bridge on the way home. Ah, bliss. Late mergers compound the agony of the State Department of Transportation's 490 Gateway (to Hell) project, slated to last -- yikes! -- until winter 2009. Close to 100,000 motorists gas-brake this section of Interstate every day, including the poodle-perm who cut in so close I didn't need to shave for a week. And then she had the nerve to wave a mock howdoyado! (Still looking for you, lady.) Drivers pinball from lane to lane to avoid closures and curse the one hard hat out there, forever digging, digging, digging at the same spot. Alas, I am addicted to my paycheck, and my son to his "Caillou" DVDs, so it's back in the Chevy for the 45-minute, 10-mile commute. -- BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN

BestBuilding to Give You Wings: Dancing WingsButterflyGarden at NationalMuseum of Play

This strange -- and strangely beautiful -- building on Monroe Avenue looks like a cross between a manta ray and an accordion, and is home to hundreds of tropical butterflies and moths. Though geared for children, the butterfly garden offers people of all ages an opportunity to do and see something really cool that you just wouldn't expect to find in this area. So many butterflies live and flutter about the garden that you have to be careful not to step on them, and it's common to have one land on you. ("Butterflies taste with their feet, and want to know if you are sweet!" exclaims a voice on a video monitor at the entry to the exhibit.) Some of the specimens look, on first glance, to be as big as birds, and the concrete path that winds through the lush, jungle-like vegetation feels so surreal and incongruous to Rochester that images from the famous Ray Bradbury story "A Sound of Thunder" spring to mind. Watch your step -- and bear in mind that it's humid in there, but also that the heat only adds to the charm of the experience. -- BY SABY REYES-KULKARNI

Best Blatant Example of Nepotism: Riga's Pamela Moore

Politicians like to give their buddies and relatives jobs. It's one of the time-honored spoils of political victory. We know it's true, but the more egregious examples still shock us.

            And this year we only had to look to Riga for an excuse to be outraged. Town Supervisor Pamela Moore hit a nerve with her constituents (and anyone who advocates for open and responsible government) when, in May, she stripped Town Board member Kenneth Kuter of his deputy supervisor title, then appointed her husband, Gilbert Budd, to the position.

            Before this happened, Riga Republicans passed over Moore and endorsed Kuter to run for her job in the November elections. So a lot of people were convinced that Moore's actions were petty politics. But she said Kuter's demotion was based on her concerns over his performance as deputy supervisor.

            In towns across the state, the supervisor is an elected official and the deputy supervisor is typically a member of the town board -- they are also elected officials. The cries of nepotism could be heard across the county. -- BY JEREMY MOULE

Best Dramatic Exit: Webster's Jack Judge

When Webster Mayor Jack Judge quit his post mid-meeting in September, it was a stunning political exit. He stood up, said he was sick of being criticized, and quit. And he hasn't spoken publicly about it since. By all accounts, nobody saw it coming. And even though Judge was the central figure in a year-long scandal in the village, residents and other village officials tried to keep him from officially resigning, which he did on October 1.

            Here's the back story: Judge removed an employee's files from Village Hall, which he wasn't supposed to do. And while those files were in his possession, some of the employee's paperwork went missing. When an unnamed employee lodged a complaint about the matter, the Village Board hired an attorney to investigate. He said Judge and Trustee Patricia Cataldi, who also was involved, broke no laws. And then he charged the village $12,000.

            That resulted in a protracted dispute between village trustees over who should pay the bill and whether the attorney's findings were credible. According to media reports, Judge tried to pay the legal bill, but his check was returned by the firm, who said the money must come from the village. There were also questions about who actually hired the attorney.

            Judge was clearly under pressure, though all anybody really wanted from him was an admission of wrongdoing and an apology, which it appears they never got. And probably never will.-- BY JEREMY MOULE

Best Bus Stops: ARTWalk bus shelters

The new bus shelters on University Avenue, completed late this summer, add another dimension to the urban vision called ARTWalk. Functional but aesthetic and engaging, the shelters are the work of local artists, designers, and architects led by Nancy Gong, Ed Stringham, and John and Laurie Grieco.

            Some are more whimsical, such as the colorful umbrella stop at Elton and Goodman. Some simply look sleek and chic, like the minimalist glass encasing posted on the corner of University and Goodman. But all of them give an already character-filled neighborhood some additional pizzazz.

            Recognition should also go ARTWalk's Doug Rice and Paul Kramer. The two have helped transform the University Avenue corridor into something that is not only a commercial success, but an urban housing and lifestyle success. -- BY TIM MACALUSO

Best Cure for Cabin Fever: Highland Park's Lamberton Conservatory

The first thing that hits you is the brightness. Then the pretty colors.Then the smells. And best of all, outside the wind chill may cut to the bone marrow, but inside the Conservatory it's a warm paradise. It's like taking a mini vacation.

            The seasonal room changes throughout the year, but it's always filled with brightly colored flowers. Delicate orchids peek out of crevices in the exotic plantings area and the sound of a waterfall gently trickles in the background. It is so green and lush, but not as much as the tropical forest display under the main dome. The banana tree, decorated with sprays of its fruit, shows evidence of nibbles from the resident chipmunk. Above the goldfish pond is an observation deck. There are benches and chairs throughout the building, but this perch is my favorite place for a coffee break. I sip from my to-go cuppa and try to spy on the turtle. I've only seen him twice. He lives a satisfyingly sheltered life amongst the heavy foliage.

            Don't let the snake scare you in the desert room. It's fake. The "economic use" room has things like a coffee tree, but I like the Venus Flytraps. I'm not sure how they're used economically, nor the house plants, some of which are for sale. Believe it or not, by the time I've made it through the whole place, I'm hot, and almost want a breath of cool air. -- BY DALE A. EVANS

Best Saturday Morning Hangout: the Public Market

The Public Market is everything wonderful Rochester aspires to be, and is. The market is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, but it's more of a Saturday thing. Farmers and vendors from Western New York to the Finger Lakes make the trip in the wee hours to set up before dawn. It's a state-fair-meets-urban-chic atmosphere, which makes it the best shopping in Rochester.

            Of course, you'll find all sorts of fruits and vegetables. Much of the produce is grown locally by small farmers. There's a whole cadre of specialty food vendors offering cheese, baked goods, handmade sausages, and local wines. And if you're feeling like grabbing something quick to eat, you can have anything from Polish pierogi to barbeque chicken to rice and beans. It's all good Rochester soul food.

            But what really makes the Public Market percolate is the people. It's the best people-watching hangout in Monroe County. It's the great equalizer: everyone is invited, from the newly arrived and the well established, the young and the old, the urban singles and the minivans from the suburbs.

            Yes, the parking gets hairy in the summer months, but it's worth the walk from a side street. And sure, maybe the city could widen the lot and add a few more shops. But if they spruced it up too much, it wouldn't be the same. It would be, um, Wegmans.-- BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO

Best Free Movies: Monroe Avenue Public Library

They say you should never judge a book by its cover. Thankfully, they don't say that about movies. At the library I usually just flip through the laminated DVD cards, picking out movies I've never heard of but that look like they might be interesting. I'm willing to hedge my bets and it almost always pays off.

            After one rental adventure yielded a man on a high stool silently observing another man's kitchen movements, a young man obsessed with stalking random strangers, and East Indian go-go dancers on a giant typewriter, I asked the librarians how they chose their films. Most of them come recommended by the neighborhood's patrons, and many of those patrons frequent The Little. And if you like the British mysteries shown on PBS, they have them too, along with many of the Brit-coms. And all of it is absolutely free for the borrowing. -- BY DALE A. EVANS

Best Movie Snuggle Buddy: Princess the Cinema Cat

The Cinema Theatre at the corner of Goodman and Clinton offers many amenities: cheap tickets, low-cost concessions, and quality flicks. And it's also home to Princess the Cinema Cat. Princess is actually the second Cinema cat that owner Jo Ann Morreale has had over the past 23 years; the first one, Nadi, passed away several years ago. Princess has free reign of the theater, and will often cuddle up with random patrons during the run of a film. Morreale says that she has one couple that comes in every weekend with a pillow so that Princess can sit between them, while others complain that Princess passes them over for snuggle time. Princess is something of a film buff too, Morreale says, and makes her opinions known if she doesn't like a flick - especially if a movie involves birds. "When we had 'The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill' she went wild," Morreale says. "And 'March of the Penguins' was very disturbing to her." You and me both, Princess.-- BY ERIC REZSNYAK

Best Place to Shoot a Fake Deer: Acme Bar & Grill

Normally, booze and guns aren't a good combination. Acme Bar & Grill seems to have found the exception: Big Buck Hunter. It's just a video game, so you can drink beer and shoot at things, and nobody gets hurt.

            The game's premise is simple: use the plastic shotgun to shoot the animals. I have no idea why shooting at fake animals on a screen is fun, but it is. I do feel a little guilty, and there's definitely a moral conflict -- I've been a vegetarian for years and make a conscious effort (though sometimes half-assed) not to contribute to animal suffering. But I'm only human. And humans are complex, confusing creatures.

            Acme isn't the only place where you'll find the game. But it is a great neighborhood haunt and has good beer on the cheap, so it's the best place to play it. -- BY JEREMY MOULE

Best Acoustic Holler from a Blue Collar: Dave McGrath

Dave McGrath is one of the hardest-working men in showbiz 'round these parts. After slaving away all day, the man works all night as the crowds in the bars he plays work it all off. Just dig his schedule at davemcgrath.com; the cat is playing out just about every night. And where a musician could cop a world-weary tone under these circumstances, McGrath shoulders his guitar in lieu of his burdens and shares the joy with his big smile, and in his sweet tenor and puts it in perspective the way only a classic singer/songwriter can. -- BY FRANK DE BLASE

Best Local Band Website: The Isotopes

The Isotopes have it down; a surf instrumental extravaganza with on-stage sci-fi effects, go-go girls, four dudes named after "Simpsons" characters, and guitar playing so wild it'll make your Dick Dale.

            Here's a band that needs no pimping or preening or corporate rot to pitch what they got. But it does get the smartass message out with its website. Just dig theisotopes.com: public service announcements, commercials, video clips, and girls, girls, girls. This is so much more than a "dig our band, buy our swag, come to our shows, look how cool we are" website. This is a page on which you can proudly waste hours of valuable work time. Warning: The Topes' use of nuclear puke green throughout the site may damage your retinas. -- BY FRANK DE BLASÉ

Best Jukebox: Marge's Lakeside Inn

There's great music to be had every night of the week in this town. But duck into a bar without a band on stage and things can go downhill fast. Top 40 blares at eardrum-destroying levels from the radio, the new digital jukebox demands all your money, or it's midnight at Lux and your Pixies song is never gonna play because some dude just fed the box with bills to last 'til the chairs are on the tables.

            There are a few options at this point. You can drink until the music doesn't matter, or head home to your own records. But to get that juke joint fix, hop a cab toward the lake and pay a visit to the real thing. At Marge's the jukebox is waiting -- a real jukebox, from before the word "digital" was invented -- aglow with flashing lights and stocked with a coveted collection of 45's from the 50s and beyond. At five songs for a buck, the first set could sound like this: Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, the Everly Brothers, Elvis, the Rolling Stones. Songs come crackling over the speakers and suddenly the year's up for debate. If you want to live dangerously, select one of the mystery songs hand-labeled 'yuck' by past bar patrons and see if the current clientele pushes the override button on you. -- BY JEN GRANEY

Best Sound Institution: Roman Stecura

I'm not sure he's the Roman referred to in The Bible, but soundman Roman Stecura, 52, has been at the board mixing for a long, long time. If you haven't ever had Roman mix your band -- even once -- then you really haven't played in Rochester. Stecura's been mixing since 1974 and has toured with acts like Survivor, Bonnie Raitt, and Spyro Gyra. He's an institution with a salt 'n' pepper mop top, and he still gets a thrill hearing the diversity in up-and-coming bands. "But the volume," he says. "These kids gotta turn down." Check out Stecura at his regular gig at Water Street Music Hall, plus at random outdoor shows during the summer. -- BY FRANK DE BLASE

Best Pointless Crusade: The D&C's "Unplug Gangsta Rap"

For the past three years the Democrat and Chronicle has pushed its "Unplug Gangsta Rap" project, an initiative spearheaded by Editorial Page Editor James F. Lawrence, who decries the negative impacts of this "vile" music on the African-American community. The sentiment is a good one, no doubt, but...has anyone at the D&C actually listened to the radio in the past 10 years? Or been in a record store? Or perhaps heard of iTunes? "Gangsta" rap is as outdated as the term "fo'shizzle." The genre's most notable progenitors are either dead or Hollywood actors (Ice-T plays a cop on "Law & Order" and Snoop Dogg is about to get a reality show in which he golfs, for pity heaven's sake). The current rap sound is melodic, fun, danceable and much more concerned about getting the girl than it is with popping a cap in somebody's ass. What's next, a commitment to eradicating polio? -- BY ERIC REZSNYAK

Best Place to Find an Anonymous Hook-up: Craigslist

You can find almost anything on Craigslist: furniture, cars, real estate, and, yes, sex. Good old, get down to it, humpty hump is what Criagslist's personals are all about.

            There are nine different categories of personals ads. The ones that seem to get the most postings are Women Seeking Men, Men Seeking Men, Men Seeking Women, and Casual Encounters. From reading the postings, it's clear that the emphasis is on "let's do it on now," and younger is better than older.

            Craigslist has its own quirky protocol. Endless emails are a no-no. And pictures are a big deal. But if you don't have photos, don't worry -- some one will probably take photos of you. You might want to be careful with recognizable surroundings, tattoos, and scars.

            There's the occasional "Looking for Lasting Love" posting; walks on the beach, hiking in the country, romantic movies and backrubs. Those ads are kind of like the oldest dog at the pound.

            You might not find the love of your life on Craigslist, but you'll have a good laugh reading the postings. And, who knows?-- BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO

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