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Best of Greater Rochester 2003 Critics' Choice Awards 

Our writers have been scouring the city --- or just wearing grooves in the routes to their favorite spots --- and looking inside themselves to choose a small handful of their favorite Rochester-area attractions. You've read their work in the weekly paper --- Bill Chaisson, Peter Conners, Dave Cross, Erica Curtis, Frank De Blase, Christine Carrie Fien, George Grella, Jennifer Loviglio, Josh Mailman, Th. Metzger, Alex Miokovic, Ron Netsky, Chad Oliveiri, Rick Scott, Herbert M. Simpson, Jack Bradigan Spula, Michael Warren Thomas, Jennifer Weiss, Warren Wightman, and Adam Wilcox --- but here's a chance to see what they eat, where they play, what they listen to, where they drive, and how they satisfy their cravings. The picks are quirky and biased, but always heartfelt. Agree or disagree, you'll admire their passion, and their desire to put into words what's so great about our corner of the world.

Best e-evil non-alcoholic drink

Highland Park Diner vanilla milkshake

I never really liked milkshakes until I tried the vanilla shake at Highland Park Diner, located at the corner of South Clinton and Goodman. Now I'm hooked, which is unfortunate for two reasons: 1) Hardly anyone I've found matches Highland's shake-ular excellence; 2) Milkshakes are not the best food group to be hooked on. Made with real ice cream, real milk, and a real milkshake machine (the operation of which they take very seriously), the Highland Park Diner vanilla milk shake is a thing of insidious beauty. 461-5040 (RS)

Best tasty-fresh homemade vittles

Atlantic Family Restaurant

If you opt for it, Chris and Giota Christofilopoulos will flavor your dining experience with old-world gustatory nuance. Chris makes the moussaka himself, guards his secret recipe for hot sauce with uncommon zeal. His spinach lasagna is a must-try. Friday brings a bonanza of fresh and variegated fish: sole, flounder, trout, scallops, broiled haddock, and more. A separate room for parties. Daily dinner specials, soup of the day, grandmotherly turkey stuffing from virgin bread. Even the gravy is made from scratch. Wine and beer to complement your choice. You could have your big Greek wedding here, at 888 Ridge Road, Webster. 671-2149 (WW)

Best place to get the 12"s for the ones and twos

585 Records

Located at 116 Lyell Ave (at the former location of Spot Records, 232-9668), 585 is currently the best and only place in town that deals almost exclusively in 12-inch hip-hop singles. Chubb is the man in charge. He's got all the latest singles up on the wall and most are so fresh they have a date on them. He's got some classics in the racks too. Essential for the vinyl lover and it's the only game in town for its beat. (DC)

Worst repeat performance

The 2003 ice storm

Rochester hadn't even got over the fabled 1991 ice storm when another one struck this spring. The city wasn't at the epicenter this time around, though. Eastern Monroe County and western Wayne County were among the hardest-hit areas. This year's storm took down numerous old trees in historic village centers, as in Palmyra and Newark. Power lines were downed all over, and homes and businesses went without electricity too long for comfort. But nature has been practicing its healing arts. Months ago we noticed leafless woodlots that looked like so many broken matchsticks. Now they've put on new growth and vitality. Probably even enough to withstand the next decade's "storm of the century." (JBS)

Best use of bacon

Park & Oxford Deli, Atlantic Tavern, Scott's Original

Man can't live on bacon alone. But he can surely try. And if bacon's your bag, you've got a few fail-safe options within walking distance of each other. The Park & Oxford Deli (283 Oxford Street, 242-8990) has an entire bacon menu. That alone should earn it bonus points. But the best thing on that menu is what regulars call the "oven bacon": Boar's Head oven-gold turkey with provolone, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo on a grilled Martusciello's roll. Park & Oxford owner Roxanne Armstrong says she tried to create something "kinda like comfort food" with the oven bacon. And while it is certainly comforting, it's also downright delicious.

            Just a few blocks north you'll find the "black and blue burger" at the Atlantic Tavern (60 Atlantic Avenue, 271-2412). The tavern is more of a destination for drinkers than foodies, and its grim atmosphere attests to that. But the "black and blue" could hold its own against anyone's burger. A half-pound of grilled certified Angus beef topped with crumbly bleu cheese and, yes, bacon. It's not exactly subtle. But who needs subtlety when attempting to satisfy a bacon-burger jones?

            Further north, Scott's Original food stand at the Public Market serves the best breakfast sandwich in town. And, at $2.65, it's the cheapest best use of bacon. Granted, you can get it with ham, bacon, sausage, or Canadian bacon. But if you stick with straight bacon, you'll be rewarded by the inexplicably wonderful confluence of cheese, egg, and bacon on a grilled Martusciello's roll. Detect a theme? (CO)

Best place to find your favorite jewelry

Northfield Designer Goldsmiths

Northfield is already a jewelry store above others, with graceful jewelry that can't be found anywhere else in the city. Designer Gudmund Olsson doesn't know the meaning of the word pressure, but shows you his latest pieces like someone else might show off a collection. While you shop, Jonas, Olsson's wire-haired dachshund, will probably come out of his basket to sit on his hind legs for you. But Olsson's shop is absolutely the place to be when only a certain piece of jewelry will do. There's something in the process of seeing your wedding ring go from sketch to finished piece that makes it seem especially beautiful and especially yours. Olsson is solicitous, quick to shape a corner or perfect a curve. And he will tell you more than once that his is an ego that cannot be bruised. You do have to love the clean edges and functionality of Scandinavian jewelry design, because that is his mark. Northfield is at 700 Park Avenue. 442-2260 (EC)

Best place to get flies

Panorama Outfitters

Looking for a Woolly Bugger, Bead Head Zonker, or a classic Royal Coachman? Just curious how to tie one? Panorama Outfitters (900 Panorama Trail, 248-8390) can hook you up in minutes. Managers Peter and Nora Hodson have been helping area fly-fishermen bring in big ones for over 15 years. Recently, they've added another location in a beautiful mid-19th-century store in Canandaguia, and they offer everything an angler would want to fish the fly. Even with the 18K selection of fishing flies (yep, 18,000 flies), they can create a custom fly if you don't find what you need. Picture yourself in hip waders and go. (DC)

Best winery

Shalestone Vineyards

On the east side of Seneca Lake there's a winery with a sign outside that reads: "RED IS ALL WE DO." When I asked Rob Thomas, winemaker and owner of Shalestone, about the sign, he said something about separating the serious wine drinkers from those who really want wine coolers. He doesn't mean that only red wines are serious wines, but he does make some very serious red wines. The production is tiny; The care is fastidious. Rob loves his work and it shows. You can't get the wines in any liquor store, but only at the winery, which is open on weekends from late spring to early fall. Not exactly easy to get, but some of the best things in life are worth the work. If these wines were from California, they would be two to four times the price. For those who would like to try them now: Don't despair. Give Rob a call, a meeting can be arranged. 607-582-6600 (AM)

Best chicken potpie

Apple Tree Inn

Chicken potpies are one of the classic comfort foods, but the large amount of crust versus filling tends to keep me away. Several years ago I discovered the answer at the Apple Tree Inn (7407 West Ridge Road in Brockport), where they serve their renowned chicken potpie in an ironware crock with only a wrinkled filo crust on top. Of course there are the required fresh chicken and vegetables, as well as a reasonable amount of salt (so many potpies are heavily salted). Now diners who could never make lunch at the Apple Tree Inn (Tuesday through Sunday), have the option of dinner Thursday through Saturday. The chicken potpie is not on the dinner menu, but call the day before and they can save one for you. 637-6440 (MWT)

Best inspiration from teenagers

Kids who (are learning to) skateboard outside of Hardpact

Maybe there are experienced, really good skateboarders who practice outside of Hardpact Boardgear on Monroe Avenue, where a slider bar and makeshift ramps periodically appear for that purpose. But the only ones I see are the ones who are (ooh, geez, ouch!) still learning to do the tricks and jumps. These teenagers are focused: At some point they all vehemently embraced the "if at first you don't succeed," mantra of their childhood after-school specials. And maybe they all eventually nail that ollie and there are cheers and whoops and self-congratulatory smirks. I don't know; I haven't seen it. I almost don't want to. Their dogged persistence is what makes anything us passersby do on two feet seem so much more manageable. (EC)

Best meat purveyor

Barry Kucker

There are a lot of good things to say about the Rochester Public Market. One of these is Kucker's Fare Game Food Co. in the market's Union Street building. Every Saturday there is an array of high-end meat, poultry, and sausage, all at reasonable prices. The Niman Ranch pork chops are succulent and to die for. And if you have the time for all-day cooking extravaganza, try the pork butt. (Don't laugh --- it's actually the shoulder.) This cut makes terrific braises and the best damn Carolina barbecue. Barry also has great chickens, and if he has any from Montreal, buy two. Chicken with outstanding flavor, it almost doesn't taste like chicken. While you're at it, don't forget to order your free-range turkey for the holidays. 752-2309 (AM)

Best sense of inevitability

Steve Hendershott

Voters finally put poor, hapless Steve Hendershott out of his misery in September. Only slightly less popular than terminated California Governor Gray Davis, Hendershott lost his primary battle to County Legislator Tracy Logel. During his two terms, the Chili supervisor caught blame for some things that were indeed his fault (secret, back-door dealings), and some things that weren't (Thruway exit). Hendershott remained cluelessly upbeat through it all, proclaiming a skin-of-his-teeth re-election victory two years ago an endorsement of his administration, when, of course, the exact opposite was true. It doesn't take any special brand of clairvoyance to know that when the constituency is picketing your inaugural, your future is in peril. (CCF)

Best quiet children's activist

Lynn Malooley

Activism is usually a showy affair, as much about the activist as the cause. But there are folks in our community who quietly go about making this a better world without the need for praise or notoriety. Lynn Malooley is one of them. Malooley founded and is a principle board member of Lilac Children's Garden, a weekly Waldorf-based program for home-schooled kids. Doing anything that pleases any cross-section of the home-schooling community deserves some acclaim. But LCG goes beyond that, providing a warm, safe, and ultra-positive place for children. She also participates in the children's liturgy for St. John the Evangelist Church on Humboldt Street, volunteers at the youth book sales at the Penfield library, and home schools two of her three children. But, "Lilac," she says, "is my fourth child." Would that we all treated volunteer work like one of our children. (AW)

Best bagels

BrownSteins Deli and Bakery

Sunday morning bagel run. The store window is postered with community events. The bell tonks as the door swings open. No mood music or saturated colors on the walls. A clean linoleum floor and gleaming chrome coolers. "Morning. What can I get you?" Mr. Brown (or Mr. Stein?) has the sleeves of his sweatshirt rolled up. "A dozen bagels, please." A big brown bag is snapped open; A "dozen" is 15 bagels here. There are concessions to goy goofiness in the bins: blueberry, cinnamon. But mostly honest stock; Salt bagels to die for. "Something else?" Chive cream cheese scooped and weighed. The smell in my car. The knife through the perfect texture. My teeth in the dense, chewy bread. I should have gotten some lox. Next Sunday. 442-2770, 1862 Monroe Avenue. (BC)

Best place to find spice

India House Store

Eating at India House --- either the restaurant or the vegetarian café across the street --- is a treat. You may even be inspired to attempt to re-create the dishes in the comfort of your own home. To find the right ingredients, try the tiny, aromatic India House Store that is the third star in this South Clinton Avenue culinary constellation. Not only is it a great place to find an incredibly wide array of groceries at good prices --- spices are a particularly good bargain here --- there also is a wide selection of incense, books, music, and other imported items. You just may find the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for someone. Open daily. 244-9210 (EC)

Best place to find lamp shades

Shady Lady on Lyell Avenue

Dick Kastner started the Shady Lady 19 years ago at 1171 Lyell Avenue (just East of Mt. Read). Since the death of his wife in 1995, Dick has continued the business, although he is no longer designing custom shades. Not only does Dick have a large selection of shades and new and refurbished lamps, he also carries an amazing variety of parts and does all kinds of repairs on lamps from rewiring to polishing and buffing. While you are there at the Shady Lady, ask Dick about his collection of several hundred oil lamps hanging in his basement. He is only closed on Sundays when he goes to church "to pray for more business." 458-1731 (MWT)

Most hidden veggie joint

Savory Thyme Catering

Tucked into an unmarked house on Mount Hope Avenue, Savory Thyme is still alive and well. You may recall it from its days as a restaurant on East Avenue near Gibbs Street. Now Savory Thyme does mostly catering, but that doesn't mean you can't call and order delicious takeout. If only you could find it. Next spring the new patio will be completed for on-site dining. Let's hope they invest in a sign, too. 220 Mount Hope Avenue, 423-0750. (JL)

Best cookies

Fly by Night Cookie Company in Fairhaven

When Emil & Wanda Nymander sold the Corn Hill Cookery and opened the Pleasant Beach restaurant in Fairhaven, I discovered a treasure just down the street: the Fly by Night Cookie Company at 14541 Fancher Avenue. Bonnie Bridson has been baking cookies and pies for years and is probably the only baker with a piano in the kitchen. She makes dozens of varieties of cookies including seasonally decorated cookies and classic pies, right next to a fascinating, three-dimensional, doll-house-size city slowly growing along one wall. Bonnie's son carved the unique columns on the porch, where you can enjoy a cup of coffee as you look out over Little Sodus Bay. Fairhaven is only one hour east and also has a beautiful state park. 315-947-5588 (MWT)

Best brave little theater

Shipping Dock Theatre

For more than three decades, Shipping Dock Theatre has brought Rochester some our edgiest, most social-conscious drama, and performed it with skill and passion. Founder-director Barbara Biddy has had a rough time recently, with eviction from the "shipping dock" at St. John Fisher College, then loss of the space on St. Paul Street, not to mention her life-threatening cancer attack and the loss of her beloved husband-partner. But she is as brave as her valuable theater project, and Shipping Dock Theatre will return to start the 2003-2004 season on December 5 with a revival of what Biddy calls an "antidote to the traditional Christmas Carol." The play is David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr.'s hilarious The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's A Christmas Carol. In it a group of enthusiastic but woefully amateurish women attempt to perform the holiday classic. Because contracts are not yet completely signed, SDT's new location can't be announced right away, but you can call 232-2250 for information or consult www.shippingdocktheatre.org. (HMS)

Best example of public service by a local radio station

Firing Bob Lonsberry

When WHAM (otherwise known as WGOP), a local outlet of right-wing hate radio, removed Bob Lonsberry from the airwaves, the station demonstrated an unwonted responsiveness to the expressed dismay of numerous community groups, including several religious leaders in a heartening display of ecumenism. Its managers may also, of course, have recognized that some members of the public might just possibly stop patronizing some of their sponsors. The combination of moral suasion and the threat of financial loss suggests one of the most effective ways to deal with the querulous bullies of the right. (GG)

Best cheese shop

VM Giordano Imports European Cheese Shop

Finally Rochester has a cheese shop. Vince Giordano opened his own store in September at #6 Rochester Public Market, just a few doors down from his original location in the Union Street Vendors Market. Vince carries about 100 varieties of imported cheese, 30 kinds of olives, specialty meats, and even olive oil from his orchards in Italy. On most Saturdays (the only day the shop is open) visitors will find a dozen or more cheese varieties to sample. The cheese shop complements the other stores in this row of warehouses near the Union Street entrance to the Market, including Java Joe's, Fare Game, and Rich Ports Bakery. There is not a phone in the shop. (MWT)

Best place to be free

Lake Ontario State Parkway

Take West Ridge Road in Clarkson to Route 272 or Monroe-Orleans County Line Road. Jump on the Lake Ontario State Parkway and ride it west. Roll down your windows. With the lake on your right and scarcely another car on the road, it's nothing but freedom between you and Kendall, baby. And if you've got a red convertible? Even better. Just watch out for deer. (CCF)

Best stuffed bread

Martusciello Bakery

It's hard to choose just one thing that I love most about Martusciello Bakery, but the bread has to be near the top of the list: excellent Italian, French, baguette, and torpedo bread, ($1.30), or on a lucky day, pesto bread ($1.75). For $4, you can buy a 15-ounce bread boat split down the center and stuffed with wonderful things like mozzarella, sausage, peppers, and onions, or mozzarella, onion, and garlic. Martusciello also offers subs, grilled sandwiches, and an expansive deli counter embellished with eggplant parmigiana, olive loaf, soppressata, bocconcini, and fontinella. The sweets counters include cakes, pies, cannoli and mini cannoli, sfogiatelle, and the perennial favorite: fig-stuffed cuccidatis. Martusciello Bakery is located at 2280 Lyell Avenue. 247-0510 (SH)

Best high school and jazz connection

Penfield Music Commission Project

A lot of people talk about the need to turn kids on to great music. Penfield High School actually does it, providing students with a personal connection they'll never forget. For the last 34 years the Penfield Music Commission Project has been bringing top jazz performers to Penfield High to work and perform with student ensembles. Ned Corman started the program, bringing in legends like Max Roach. Jim Doser continues the tradition today, hosting concerts and master classes with top stars like Regina Carter and Claudia Acuna. (RN)

Best plate

The Sloppy Plate at the Atlantic Family Restaurant

Nick Tahou's, of course, is the home of the Original Garbage Plate, and despite the rumors of Tahou's general viscosity, the Original is still a damn fine instance of the now-ubiquitous genre. It sports a fine, "Greeky" hot sauce (as burgerologist Stan Merrill would say), very cold mac salad (plate aficionado Polly Barker says this is a must), the option of grilled onions, and not even that much grease. But when we suggested that, of the many we'd tried, the best was at Mark's on Monroe, Stan got indignant and took us to the Atlantic Family Restaurant in Webster (671-2149) for the Sloppy Plate. Some say a plate must have home fries rather than French fries, but the truth is that it needs a crisp, hot potato product, and that's more often the case with the latter. The Atlantic scores big with fresh, crisp fries, the requisite cold mac salad, a spectacular hot sauce --- aromatic and rich --- and burgers that are a cut above. At $5.45, or $5.75 with cheese, it'll get you through two of that day's meals. (AW)

Best legislative victory

SONDA

Albany's passage last December of the Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act was a watershed victory for the civil rights of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. (Unfortunately, transgendered persons were not included, but the future awaits.) The law, says the Empire State Pride Agenda, outlaws "anti-gay discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodation, education and credit throughout New York State." The Pride Agenda adds the law's passage broke a "31-year impasse" in state government. There's hope that the law may smooth the way for state recognition of gay marriage. That would marry New York law to recent progress in the province of Ontario, where gay marriage is now legally recognized --- speaking of another (Great Lakes) watershed development that merits a "best of." (JBS)

Best new-music ensembles

Musica Nova and Ossia

The Eastman School of Music has not one but two new-music ensembles. Musica Nova and Ossia each perform about six concerts a year. The concerts are always free and usually held in Kilbourn Hall at the Eastman School. Music Nova is led by conductor, composer, and professor Brad Lubman. Occasionally Music Nova digs into the early 20th-century repertoire such as Varese, Ives, Schoenberg, or Webern, but primarily the ensemble performs music composed after 1960. Mostly, the works performed are by living composers. Ossia is the student-run ensemble. It focuses almost exclusively on contemporary music --- especially the offbeat and less established: Cage, Reich, Ligeti, Xenakis, to name a few. For info visit www.ossianewmusic.org and www.rochester.edu/Eastman/concerts/calendar.php or call 274-1400 (JM)

Best art gallery guy without a gallery

Scott Laird

While he was exhibitions coordinator at the Visual Studies Workshop, Laird not only put together some excellent and interesting exhibitions, he also created an atmosphere and excitement that is rarely associated with the sometimes-stodgy art world. Laird's openings were events that attacked the viewer on all levels --- aesthetic, intellectual, sensual. Above all, he cared how things looked. He also actively promoted the exhibition space. All of a sudden, people who never heard of the Workshop were talking about it. That's the way the arts survive. Unfortunately, however, Laird's job has not survived. But fear not, there are rumors of independent and collaborative projects on the horizon. (AM)

Best last hope for education

Dale Davis, The New York State Literary Center

In the education field the term "at risk" can mean anything from "skips school" to "skips school to commit armed robbery." Dale Davis has spent the past twelve years working with at-risk students on every level. Using the arts (which in her hands can mean anything from Tupac Shakur to Octavio Paz), Davis has consistently raised test scores and attendance records and taught students how to express themselves through writing. She has also helped adults to better understand how kids become at risk by publishing over 600 collections of their writing, presenting student-written plays, and producing 14 rap-spoken word CDs. (PC)

Best female jazz musician with local ties

Marian McPartland

I've heard Marian McPartland, a jazz pianist with an incredible breadth of talent and experience, call Rochester a second home. In the '30s and '40s, she could often be seen around Gibbs Street with her friend and musical collaborator Billy Mayerl. Pictures of the two of them, along with signed posters, awards, and other pieces of memorabilia from her personal archives, were showcased in a special exhibit at Eastman's Sibley Music Library in 2001. These days, she comes back at least once a year through the Marian McPartland/Eastman Jazz Series and collaborates with a young jazzer. (Last year it was trumpeter Byron Stripling; Two years ago pianist Jason Moran.) Tony Caramia, professor of piano at Eastman, was a guest on her National Public Radio show, "Piano Jazz," this past June. In the show as well as on stage, McPartland's grace and ease allows her to play the kind of great jazz that has survived for six decades. She's nearing 90, but her sound is fresh and she cracks some damn funny jokes. (JW)

Best spontaneous peace group

Rochester Campus Action Network

Contradicting the notion that peace activism is nothing more than "vaguely reminiscent of the '60s," Rochester-area students quickly came together last winter and spring to oppose the US invasion of Iraq. The Rochester Campus Action Network took the lead in organizing some hugely attended street demonstrations here against the Bush war. Many of the students honed their organizing skills in the anti-corporate globalization movement, and they impressed their elders with success in mobilizing the "troops" and promoting the fine art of civil disobedience in the cause of peace. (JBS)

Best band

Wild Geese

Saturday night at the Rochester Irish Festival and the schedule is a mess. I owe Wild Geese a longer set. They only got 35 minutes the night before. Irondequoit has an 11 p.m. curfew. I decide to push it; The Geese are worth it. The crowd is on its feet as the band goes on. They know. Chanting: "Geese. Geese. Geese." The band explodes. Part Pogues, part MC5. Rebel songs you thought you knew. But here, they're furious, headlong, and deeply felt. Ten after 11 p.m. The town says shut it down. But this is rebel music. There will be one more. The band joins hands across the stage. "Irish Ways" is a prayer for peace. Only voices, singing. Just a little larger than your own life. What you need. (BC)

Independent full-service bookstore

Lift Bridge Book Shop

For 30 years, Lift Bridge Book Shop in Brockport has been a bastion of quality in a field increasingly filled with megabuck mediocrity. Borders and Barnes & Noble may move more product. But they can't compete with Lift Bridge for personal service or basic business decency. Buy a new book at a chain store and your dollars go winging off to some corporate coffer thousands of miles away. Buy it at Lift Bridge and it stays here in the community. Even if it wasn't friendly, pleasant, and relaxed, this should be enough to recommend Lift Bridge to new-book lovers in our area. 45 Main Street, 637-2260 (TM)

Best strange business brew

Churi's Taste of Thai

If you want to wear a sarong while eating pad thai before having an ice cream cone, there's only one choice: Churi's Taste of Thai, right across from Sea Breeze at 4615 Culver Road (339-9250). Churi Csaicai is actually from Thailand, unlike most of the people who run Thai restaurants in town, and her pad se eeu and panang dishes stand out in the crowd. I'm also a big fan of the chef's special fish, as hot as you can take it. Save room for the ice cream. It's not homemade, but Churi is demanding, and rather than using a single vendor, goes to many to get the best in each flavor. The prices are great, too. And before you go, browse Churi's racks of imported, colorful, Thai clothing. There're deals to be had there as well. Crazy business idea? Sure, but I'm all for it. (AW)

Best hardware store

Hunt's Hardware

My plumbing: immobile with rust, crumbling under my fingers. At Hunt's I scan the shelves, unable to focus. Too much to do. A clerk at my elbow: "Find what you need?" I mutter something inarticulate. "Well. If we don't have it, Dave can get it from the other store." Sizing up the old parts, she says, "Here's one and here's the other one. Just trim off the extra length." She glances at the rust. "Bill can get that apart for you." Bill and Dave Hunt are in the back room, being handy, efficient, and telling each other what to do. Dave's got my rusty problem in the vise. Bill says, "This way's easier," and moves it, frees it, and cleans it. "That'll work now." Thanks. Hunt's is at 750 South Avenue (271-7877) or 390 Thurston Road (436-9270). (BC)

Best mom-and-pop computer shop

DSM Computers

Over the library in Fairport Landing, this is one of the few small un-chained computer stores still extant. In addition to what you would expect, such as new and used PCs, cables, games, joy-sticks, and other accessories, you may meet Gus and Bandit, two very polite retired greyhounds, and --- if she's not asleep --- Tiffany, Cathy's Pekepoo-Maltese cross. Mark used to race motorcycles, still has two of them. DSM will do a FREE bench-test for a repair estimate or upgrade of your PC, and will guarantee trade-in buy-back for any new computer you purchase. And they make house calls. 106 Fairport Village Landing, 377-2650. (WW)

Best source of (non-recreational) herbs

Jane's Herb Farm

Jane Kuitems has been propagating and selling herbs at 1042 State Road in Webster for 25 years. Jane also teaches classes on everything from planting herbs to making herbal soaps and medicines. The extensive display gardens are worth a visit at almost any time of the year. Instead of the usual mix of herbs in most garden centers, Jane carries a dozen varieties of thyme, many basils, a sterile chive called "Profusion", and Stevia (which is over 200 times sweeter than sugar by volume). She also sells unusual wildflowers and colorful annuals. Jane has regular hours in the spring and through the summer, but is open only by appointment for the rest of the year. 872-3720 (MWT)

Best place to get your fortune told

Psychic's Thyme

A lovely little store hidden away on Edmonds Street behind the Rite Aid at the corner of Monroe and Goodman. Filled with herbs, oils, candles, figurines, tarot decks, and books upon books on subjects running the gamut from astrology to Wicca. Psychic readings are illuminating and reasonably priced. They also offer a nice selection of classes and workshops. Be sure to visit King Tut, the sleek all-black male cat who guards the store from pernicious influences and helps out with readings and healings. 473-4230 (RS)

Best bookstore (for those who love bookstores)

Greenwood Books

You know who you are. And the reason you'll feel at home at Greenwood Books is because owner Franlee Frank loves bookstores too. The basics are there: good-condition used books and some new releases at fair prices, well-organized shelves, rare and signed editions for collectors. But Greenwood is more than a place to buy a book. It's a place to go to remember why you read books in the first place. Take your time and browse the shelves in comfort and camaraderie with other book lovers. If you can't find something, Frank will gladly special order it for you. Browse long enough and you're bound to hear snippets of great conversation, an excellent array of jazz, classical, Tom Waits, and old-time worker songs, and perhaps even spot one of Rochester's literati who have long kept Greenwood a treasured secret. 123 East Avenue, 325-2050. (PC)

Most improved public destination

The Public Market

Six or so years ago, the Public Market was fine. Just fine. Not too dirty, not too pretty. Tables held veggies that looked just okay and jars of various lumpy things. Today vendors, taking their cue from the America's growing fascination with food preparation and presentation, display their wares almost as beautifully as Harrod's. These efforts paid off recently when the Public Market was included in a list of the top farmers markets in the world, along with Barcelona's La Boqueria and Seattle's Pike Place Market. Don't miss Java Joe's café and the Spanish bakery Rich Port. 280 North Union Street, 428-6907. (JL)

Best pre-cherished duds and togs

A Second Thought

In East Rochester's Piano Works mall, between Bell Racquet Sports and Empire Fitness, you will find a very wide assortment of very clean clothing priced to keep your budget from imploding. Multi-generational, multi-sex, brand-name items, occasionally brand-new. How about a can't-tell-from-new dress shirt for $4.99? Suits, blouses, sweaters, outerwear, kid's stuff, shoes. Plus a miscellany of bric-a-brac, old books, silver, golf clubs --- the latter at $1 a pop. Replace that five iron you wrapped around a tree. Sheet music, maybe, in season, but sorry --- no pianos. To get sales update mailings, call 340-5730 (WW)

Friendliest mechanics

Vogel's Collision

They don't bark at you on the phone, they introduce themselves, and they say "please" and "thank you." In a world where our cars say more about us than our clothes do, it's nice to know that after a fender bender you and your car will be treated with a little TLC. Sometimes the cars come back a little dirtier inside than when you left them, but hey, whattaya want? They're mechanics, not maids. Vogel's Collision Service, 100 North Winton Road, 482-9655. (JL)

Best romantic, pseudo-European ruin

Granite Flour Mill (circa 1850) at Brown's Race

After living the better part of a decade in Germany, I have come to sorely miss the presence of age and history in American buildings. Living among old stone and mortar does the soul good. When I need a Euro fix, I make my way down to the Granite Flour Mill ruin at Brown's Race (downtown). It's a multilevel skeleton of a 150-year-old flourmill whose nooks and crannies you can explore and whose aroma of antiquity you can inhale on a lovely fall day. A great first-date warmer-upper. (RS)

Best place to hear world-class jazz for free

Eastman jazz concerts

Where else can you see living legends and future stars of jazz together on the same stage for free? The Eastman School of Music is such a fixture in our community it's easy to take it for granted. But the roster of guest artists --- Toots Thielemans, Bill Holman, Teo Macero, Joe Henderson, and many more --- has been extraordinary. And over the years students writing for and playing in Eastman's jazz ensembles have included Byron Stripling, Jeff Beal, Lew Soloff, Walt Weiskopf, David Finck, and Maria Schneider, to name a few. (RN)

Best nearby getaway

Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara-on-the-Lake, barely a two-hour drive, is the best place I've found to escape daily life. It has bed-and-breakfasts, bike paths, and shops galore. The Shaw Festival, whose season makes the little city even more attractive to potential visitors, often has great shows in its lineup. When the festival isn't in full swing, the area becomes more like a best-kept secret and less like a tourist farm. That part of Canada is gorgeous during off-season, and nearby sights like the Butterfly Conservatory, Niagara Falls, and Casino Niagara keep things interesting. The numerous bed-and-breakfasts, many of them historic buildings, are perfect places to crash after a long day of play. Many are even affordable on a shoestring budget. If you like good eating, Niagara-on-the-Lake has scads of wine and cheeseries. If you like good living and have a budget that's a little more Prada pump than shoestring, the spas in town are ooh so nice. (JW)

Best-looking campus in Rochester

Colgate Rochester Divinity School

Despite the pastoral greenery of Nazareth College and the impressive vista of the Eastman Quadrangle of the University of Rochester, the most attractive collegiate landscape must be that of the Divinity School, on Goodman Street, across from Highland Park. The brick Tudorbethan structures, the hill rolling down to Highland Avenue, with a view that on a clear day extends to the Bristol Hills, combine to create a lovely picture, almost a postcard of an educational institution, and one of the undiscovered spots of natural beauty within the city limits. (GG)

Best FAO Schwartz wannabe

Ridge Road Station

Actually, it's better than FAO because there're no crowds and no hurry. A mecca for model railroaders, this store is a jaw-dropper. Toys you haven't seen since childhood, a play area for kids, and, at Christmas, such a lavish, festive display you'd think you'd stepped into Santa's workshop or one of those cool department stores always featured in movies about the 1940s. It's at 16131 West Ridge Road in Holley. Go. Now. 638-6000 (CCF)

Best skyway to the highway

The downtown entrance ramp to 490 East

Who says an entrance ramp can't be a profound aesthetic experience? Find a reason to get on 490 East from the Inner Loop and you will find yourself climbing to the sky in a perfect circle, suspended in the air with a spectacular view of downtown Rochester. It's especially good at night. Warning: have someone else drive. (RN)

Best venue for the freshest off-beat music and visual art

The All-Purpose Room

Visit this hybrid of an art gallery, concert venue, and sound installation space at 8 Public Market. Created by a local visual artist together with three musicians from the Eastman School, The All-Purpose Room attempts to connect the creative worlds of electronic ambient music, classical concert music, jazz, photography, painting, and dadaist found-object sculptures --- not all at the same time, but in various combinations. Often the exhibitions have a refreshingly humorous element. Exhibition titles such as Cheap Art for Weird People and Wallpaper Predicament give the flavor. Open during Public Market hours and on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 7 to 10 p.m. Check www.allpurposeroom.org or call 423-0320 for info. (JM)

Best west-side light show

Rahway Road

Cars line up on Lyell Road in Gates to enjoy this holiday spectacle every year. Best of all, the whole neighborhood gets into the act. There are so many lights, in fact, one wonders if the block might be visible from the moon. You might even be greeted by jolly Old St. Nick. Great community spirit. (CCF)

Best floor

At Rochester Contemporary

This great new art space which shows some of the more challenging works in the Rochester area (thanks to the best art gallery gal Elizabeth McDade) has a floor worthy of aesthetic praise. A cement floor with squiggles and lines left behind by the glue of carpeting since removed, it is now a palimpsest that records the history of the space. While expressionistic, it also resonates with minimalist grace and elegance, never distracting from the work on the walls. See the floor and the art at 137 East Avenue. 461-2222 (AM)

Best ladies' room at a club

At Club Rain

We girls are used to waiting in a line longer than the Russians' line for bread when the ruble crashed in 1998. Many local bars and clubs offer us no more than a two-stall hole in the wall, making waits longer and significantly more fidgety. Club Rain, however, is an exception. (With its 50-cent drink specials before primetime on the weekends, I suppose it has to be.) The women's bathroom is first-rate, with a long row of stalls, wall-spanning mirror, and generous "lounge" area complete with plush chairs, a Zen fountain, and a punching bag. The windows are opaque to would-be peepers from the outside, but cleverly transparent from the inside to allow you to watch your boyfriend's every move. Should he make a misstep while you're "freshening up," you can unleash your fury on the punching bag before you exit and unleash it on him. 360 Monroe Avenue, 232-1340. (JW)

Best seat in the house

RBTL's slick new commodes

So you've got your loges. You've got your mezzanine. You may even know one of the wigs up top and score orchestra, front row and center: considered a choice seat by most. But as of recent renovations at the Auditorium Theatre, the best seat in the house is downstairs behind the door labeled "Men."

            For centuries, trips to the men's room has been more like going on a bombing mission: You go in, do what you gotta do, and get out. Unlike ladies' rooms the world over, men are not treated to comfy accommodations, bon bons, an abundance of TP (the quilted kind), and eunuchs waving fans.

            When I attended the open house boasting the Auditorium's new 1.6 million dollar facelift, I quickly headed for the head.

            Lemme tell ya, it was lavatorial Shangri-La.

            A whole fleet of urinals to the left, plenty of sinks featuring not just tepid, but hot and cold water, acres of mirrored space to slick the do or straighten the tie, and deee-luxe stalls. The toilets are the perfect height (too low and your legs will fall asleep), and have that little spoiler lip in the back to keep you from skidding off the back.

            So the next time you head downtown to dig off-Broadway at the Aud, take a gander downstairs, and check out where the elite meets relief. (FD)

Best literary contribution

BOA Editions, Ltd.

Established in 1976 by poet Al Poulin, BOA Editions has managed to stay focused on publishing poetry while the majority of their peers have either folded up shop or added fiction to their lists as a matter of survival. Following Poulin's death in 1996, BOA continued to gain national prominence with publisher Steve Huff and editor Thom Ward cobbling together grants, donations, and book sales to publish such prominent poets as Li-Young Lee, Ray Gonzalez, Kim Addonizio, and Anthony Piccione. Along with regular New York Times book reviews, BOA titles are often nominated for awards including two National Book Award nominations in 2000. Lucille Clifton's Blessing the Boats won out; another great BOA title published right here on East Avenue. 546-3410, 260 East Avenue. (PC)

Best rendezvous (for trains)

CSX rail yard

It's not easy to see one of Rochester's most impressive landscapes in all its drab glory. That's because the CSX rail yard --- though it stretches more than a half-mile from North Goodman Street almost to Culver Road, is hundreds of yards wide, sits smack in the middle of one of the city's busiest quadrangle of streets --- is hidden away like an embarrassment. It's also legally off-limits. But you can find some spots from which to observe the rail yard's spatial splendor and post-industrial grit. Get up close from behind the Village Gate: Notice the fine stands of staghorn sumac and young poplars. Or for a long view, try the sidewalk on the East Main Street bridge near Goodman. (JBS)

Best space for classical concerts

Hochstein Performance Hall

Hochstein Performance Hall, at 50 North Plymouth Avenue, has much to offer as an alternative to the Eastman School's slightly gloomy Kilbourn Hall and cavernous Eastman Theatre. Hochstein Performance Hall was refurbished recently and has a bright and cheerful atmosphere. On a nice day, sunlight shines through its beautiful stained-glass windows onto its white walls, crescent shaped balcony, and semicircular stage. The hall is an ideal size; The acoustics seem just right. Doctoral students and alumni of the Eastman School are on the faculty of Hochstein and often give concerts in the hall, as do the Rochester Chamber Orchestra and the Rochester Chamber Music Society. 454-4596, www.hochstein.org. (JM)

Most up-and-coming suburban scene

Pittsford Village

Pittsford has always been a great place to live, what with its massive trees, canal access, and good schools. Now it's finally a great place to visit. The trendy bistro jojo and the canal-side Simply Crepes join fantastic trailblazers like Olives to make Pittsford a worthwhile dinner or lunch destination. Shoppers will enjoy walking through the village visiting a dozen or so specialty stores and Zen-types will groove on the yoga studio-store Breathe. It sure beats the mall. Pittsford Village, Pittsford. (JL)

Best place to get lost

The other side of Ellison Park

For most visitors Ellison Park consists of the stretch of land, creek, and hills bordered by Blossom and Landing Roads. But just across Blossom is the real wonderland. After walking over flat terrain and observing the amazing ability of Irondequoit Creek to transform itself into a giant snake, take a walk through the middle of any number of Alpine gorges that line the south side. You can walk gently uphill or choose a path that's vertical from the word go. Either way, you may never go to the other side of the park again. (RN)

Best ballet

Rochester City Ballet

The best ballet company in the western half of New York State is still growing and performing splendidly, despite the loss of its home in the Village Gate and the tragic, sudden loss of RCB's founder-teacher-director Timothy Draper last February. RCB's new artistic director, Draper's protégé Jamey Leverett, is choreographing new works, continuing the training that has placed grads in America's top three pro companies, and leading RCB in an expanded performing schedule. Catch their Nutcracker with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra at Eastman Theatre, November 28 through 30, and also their Firebird and new Draper memorial ballet April 3 and 4 at the JCC or May 15 at Canandaigua Academy. 320A North Goodman Street, 461-2100. (HMS)

Best place for bubble drinks

K.C. Tea & Noodles

For a tasty treat, particularly on a sunny summer day, visit K.C. Tea & Noodles at the corner of Oxford and Park. It offers entrée-sized portions of noodle soups and fried noodles as well as some nice Asian appetizers such as fresh and fried spring rolls, chicken and beef Teriyaki, and sushi and maki rolls. The main attraction, however, is the selection of bubble drinks. A bubble drink is a usually cold, sweet, refreshing drink with marble-sized tapioca balls in it. These black tapioca balls --- called "pearls" --- come into your mouth through special wide straws in various colors. Most of the drinks are like milkshakes or fruit smoothies and come in exotic flavors like mango, coconut, lychee, avocado, taro root, and honeydew melon. 271-1061 (JM)

Best way to give thanks

Thanksgiving Tasting at Hurd Orchards

I made my first trip to this tasting only last year, but it quickly found its way onto the annual to-do list. The mother-daughter team of Susan Hurd Machamer and Amy Machamer uses its magic to make the Thanksgiving Tasting a true event, the type of thing you'd easily spend an hour watching on the Food Network. The evening takes place in an 1802 barn filled, last year at least, with flowers, wreaths, heirloom apples, and candles. Amy usually welcomes guests by talking about the history of the farm and the significance of the fall harvest. Then the eating begins. And with 22 dishes spread among five stations, there's no shortage of deliciousness. Each dish incorporates at least one element from the farm --- usually freshly picked produce. Winter squashes, root vegetables, cabbages, and especially apples. To quote City Newspaper food critic Adam Wilcox, "served warm on a cold autumn night, they're gifts from heaven." Hurd Orchards is located at Route 104 and Monroe-Orleans County Line Road, in Holley. 638-8838 (CO)

Best theaters doubling as comedy clubs

Geva and Downstairs Cabaret

Local professional comics keep springing up while our regular comedy clubs are dwindling. Fortunately, our two professional theaters have new programs that turn over their drama-spaces to comics roughly once a month.

            Geva Theatre Center now devotes the Nextstage (which has a drink-holder at each seat) to improvisational comedy for late-night performances on one weekend each month. Sean Daniels, Artistic Director of Dad's Garage Theatre in Atlanta, and three other Dad's Garage improvisers will perform with Geva's new troupe, which Daniels is coaching. There are giveaways after the show from 90.5 FM and Mark's Pizzeria. (75 Woodbury Boulevard, 232-4382, www.gevatheatre.org. Tickets are $5.)

            Downstairs Cabaret Theatre is presenting national and local stand-up and sketch comics every Tuesday night, thus far scheduled through the end of November. Their cabaret theater has tables for drinks (hard, soft, and coffees) and yummy pastries from Creme de la Creme. (20 Windsor Street, 325-4370, www.downstairscabaret.com. Tickets are $8.) (HMS)

Best place to hear poetry and fiction

WXXI, 91.5 FM and 1370 AM

Love to hear people read poetry and fiction but hate to leave the house? WXXI's got your back. Bruce Sweet and Steve Huff alternate shows with Sweet reading poetry on his "What's the Word?" segment and Huff reading stories for his "Fiction in Shorts." Both guys have warm delivery styles capable of adding depth and nuance to the written word. Both cover work ranging from local authors to all-time world classics. Each show is broadcast twice a week. Check out WXXI's website for the schedule or tune in right from your computer at www.wxxi.org. (PC)

Best Saturday afternoon triple-header

Ice cream at Bruster's, a matinee at Regal Culver Ridge, and coffee at Starbucks

For a thoroughly satisfying multi-sensory experience, head on out to Culver Ridge Plaza (take 590 north, get off at Ridge Road, go left about half a mile) and proceed as follows: 1) Stroll over to Bruster's (266-0390) and get your ice cream or frozen yogurt; 2) Stroll over to the theater (544-2272) and enjoy your frozen confection during previews; 3) After the movie, stroll over to Starbucks (342-1460) and nurse a (de)caffeinated beverage of your choice over post-film discussion. Extra guilty-pleasure bonus: The Dollar Store! (RS)

Best slice of Chinatown in a strip mall

Hikari Foods & Grocery

Tucked away in Mt. Hope Plaza next to a laundry is the most unlikely find: a tiny store jam-packed with dried, canned, and frozen Asian groceries, fresh fish and vegetables, lottery tickets, ice-cream, colanders, plastic sandals, and rice. The store is in walking distance of the University of Rochester and Strong Memorial Hospital. But even if you're not a member of that audience, it's worth a drive. The international aisle at Wegmans just can't compare. Here you will find a bag of baby bok choi for under a dollar, frozen fish cakes, bags of Asian candy, frozen dumplings and pot stickers, spices and sauces, and dry noodles of every variety. 1667 Mount Hope Avenue, 461-3180 (EC)

Best exclamation revival

Dynamite!

We're not suggesting you should take it to J.J. Walker levels (Dy-No-Mite!). Think Gabe Kaplan. Think Paul Michael Glaser. Think Shaft. If you're exhausted with saying "Cool!" for the past 20 years but still not comfortable with the newer "Dope!" this exclamation could be for you. Allow this skit to illustrate: "Hey, Bill, want to go to Monty's to watch soccer and drink some Bass?" "Dynamite, Doug! I'll pick you up at six." Want more? For situations calling for that extra little something we suggest the slightly subtler follow-up, "Pure TNT." Now we realize that saying "Dynamite! Pure TNT," in public could feel awkward at first, but stick with it. Trend setting is never for the faint of heart. And with this revival exclamation under your belt, my friend, you will be a trendsetter. (PC)

Biggest public eyesore

The Inner Loop

One car. No cars. Four in the afternoon. An empty trench arcing around downtown. Vacant lanes of patched, cracked asphalt. The railing on the bridge is faded green, flaking, and blistered with rust. The slope between the sunken highway and street grade is too narrow and steep to mow. Junk trees sprout in thickets, sporadically hacked back and made more misshapen and forlorn. The train station, post office, and 14621 stare south across thin air and pavement from less-than-splendid isolation. Downtown cuts its losses and turns its back. I dream of dump trucks. They back up to the precipice. The hydraulic groan of a full bed rising. The hiss of fill, falling. Crackling across the empty road. Months later: children play on level green ground, laughing. (BC)

Best dream-catcher (or -smasher)

Chester F. Carlson Patent & Trademark Center

Here on the third floor of the Bausch & Lomb Central Library is a mecca for inventors and wannabes. You can find out if somebody back in 1850 beat you to your great idea for a rubber thumbtack. Now designated as a Patent and Trademark Depository Library, the Carlson Center provides access to US patents going all the way back to 1790. Friendly gurus offer expert advice. The only charge is for printouts. Check out that thumbtack. It could be a winner. 115 South Avenue, 428-8440 (WW)

Best vegetarian grocery spot

Abundance Cooperative Market

We live in a barbecue-loving town, but vegetarians need to eat, too. For groceries to whip up a tasty and satisfying meatless meal (the kind many meat-eaters believe are pure myth), Abundance is a wholesome playground. Though cooperatively owned, the store is also open to the public. It is clean, bright, and stocked full of organic produce, faux meats and other soy products, dry goods, snacks, dairy products, and ecologically responsible cosmetics, gifts, and household cleaners. Their bulk area is probably the biggest draw: Heap organic peanut butter, honey, spices, legumes, granola, or even shampoos and soaps into reusable containers and enjoy that healthy, earth-friendly feeling. 62 Marshall Street, 454-2667 (EC)

Best place to get tinnitus on Thursday night

Fedder Building

Regional folklorist Th. Metzger has said, "Our fathers bowled, we play in bands." Many of Rochester's sweaty, tattooed, and loud white boys gather for band practice at the Fedder Building (1237 East Main Street) on Thursdays. They can't bowl, play bocce, or bat, but they'll beat the crap out of an Epiphone Casino or a Ludwig Super Classic. So far, the location has been a long-held, closely guarded secret, like those of the ancient Freemasons, and the rituals carried on by a large percentage of Rochester's rock groups that practice at Fedder are nearly as mystical and archaic. Regardless of location in the rock family tree --- garage, punk, math rock, surf, or just plain noise --- Thursday night at Fedder is where rock happens in Rochester. (DC)

Speaking of Best Of Greater Rochester 2003

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