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Our critics sound off on the quirky, offbeat things that make our town great.

Critics' choice 

Our critics sound off on the quirky, offbeat things that make our town great.

Best place to buy lychees

OceanGarden

What the hell is a lychee? It's a drupe, man, botanically speaking. What it isn't is a nut, though people often call them "lychee nuts." They come in cans and jars in Asian stores and Asian sections of stores. When you get them that way, you get just the edible part of the fruit, which seems like a sweet version of a ring of squid. And I mean that in the best possible way.

My friend Karin introduced me to the fresh fruits that come in a thin shell and surround a big pit. They're unbelievably fantabulous. They also cost about eight bucks a pound when you can get them at Wegmans. When OceanGarden has 'em (not all the time), they're $1.98 a pound. I've been told by a Chinese friend that it's considered unhealthy or unsavory to eat more than a few, but c'mon! A buck ninety-eight a friggin' pound!

While you're there, squeeze through the tiny isles searching for treasures like ultra-spicy, unknown brands of ramen, or pickled lemon, or... what is that, anyway? 971 South Clinton Avenue, 271-3705. (Adam Wilcox)


Best place to drink Xinomavro

The Olive Tree

The Olive Tree restaurant has an exceptional selection of 17 Greek wines. Joanne and Peter Gekas, and their son, Alexis, don't expect patrons to be able to pronounce Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko, Moschofilero or Assyrtiko. Like many regions of the world, the Greek wine industry has embraced quality wine-making, using both vinifera and even more interesting native varieties that are challenging to pronounce and pair beautifully with Greek food. Why have another Merlot or Chardonnay, when there are special Greek varieties that have evolved with the cuisine over many centuries?

Finger Lakes wines should be highlighted on local wine lists, but exceptions can be made when an ethnic restaurant like The Olive Tree features wines from its region of the world. In the era when Chianti came in bottles wrapped in woven baskets, and Matteus was popular, retsina was the wine associated with Greece. This wine was aged in pine barrels, imparting the tree's unmistakable aromas and flavors. It is definitely an acquired taste, and in the past 10 to 20 years, the Greek wine industry has modernized techniques and styles, while emphasizing their unique grapes. The bottles are full of Greek sunshine! 165 Monroe Avenue, 454-3510. (Michael Warren Thomas)


Best chocolate fix

Sips' Coffee Shop brownie

Rich, dark,sweet, smooth, and sensual. Sounds dirty, but it's not. It's a brownie from Sips Coffee Shop on Pattonwood Drive in Irondequoit. And, for we chocolate fiends always looking for our next fix, our fudgie delicious high, it's the best drug around.

There they sit on the counter. Just $1.95 stands between me and satiation. There are three scrumptious flavors: peanut butter, peppermint patty, and fudge. For the true cocoa connoisseur, the fudge brownie is the pinnacle of perfection. Allow me to titillate: a moist chocolate brick sprinkled with dark chips and drizzled in creamy milk chocolate. Heat it up in the microwave, and do it a la mode with vanilla ice cream. Do it! That's an order. 149 Pattonwood Drive, Irondequoit, 323-9360. (Erin Morrison-Fortunato)


Best choke-it-down beverage

Open Face's matcha tea

"It doesn't even look like you're enjoying it," he observed as I took a swig. "But... it's... so... good...for... me," I sputtered, confident that I would soon get used to the grassy flavor. That's the way it usually goes with matcha, the antioxidant-crammed ground tea found at Open Face Sandwich Eatery. The emerald-hued matcha is Japanese in origin, its preparation beginning just before harvest when the tea bushes are covered to slow down their growth, which results in the intense color and flavor. The fine folks over at Open Face prepare the matcha using a traditional bamboo whisk to combine the tea with hot (not boiling) water and a little honey, so once the sweet notes kick in and mask the taste of freshly mowed lawn, you can unwind and take pleasure in the fact that you're doing something totally beneficial for your body. Open Face also offers flavored matchas, though hardcore purists will no doubt stick with that old-world zest. But I have to admit that for me those initial gulps of matcha have always been --- with apologies to the Misfits --- green hell. 651 South Avenue, 232-3050. (DaynaPapaleo)


Best local snack craze

Kettle corn

I have lived in many cities and have attended many fairs. But never have I seen a populace so firmly in the grasp of one festival food: kettle corn. Yes, fried dough/funnel cakes and cotton candy get some love. But it just doesn't seem like a festival in Rochester if you don't have one of those two-foot tubes stuffed with the puffs, which you nibble on while perusing bird sculptures made out of coat hangers or something. Take a stroll through the summer's Corn Hill or Park Ave fests and you'll see kettle corn booths set barely 10 feet apart from one another. You'll be able to find them by the unwieldy lines spilling out onto the street, stacked with people desperate to get their hands and mouths on some of that salty-sweet goodness. If we're going by snack food alone, Rochester, you have great taste. (Eric Rezsnyak)


Best winter workout

Rock Ventures

Over the years I've played most sports, from lacrosse to golf, baseball to cross-country. I've played the ones that make no sense for a short, spindly guy, like volleyball and football. And now, as I approach my athletic dotage and all my peers turn toward golf or tai chi, I have returned to an adolescent love. Yep, that's right, I find stuff to climb and, well, I climb it. The reaction of pretty much everyone that doesn't climb is: "You're going to kill yourself." Truth be told, that's part of the fun. But I'm not off my gourd. You see, Rochester offers one of the best environments for learning to climb and learning to climb safely: Rock Ventures. I had scoped out the place a few times, but was always hesitant because it sounded like the training process would take forever. I showed up with a companion and we were climbing a half hour later. Even without the crest of a mountain from which to yell, the rush of hitting the top on the wall routes is heady indeed. Rock Ventures is the place to discover your inner gym rat. 1044 University Avenue, 442-5462. (Craig Brownlie)


Best place to leave the Earth behind

Rochester astronomy club

Conventional wisdom dictates that we keep our feet planted on the ground and stay "down to earth," but some of us know that getting carried away is a much better deal. While daydreams and clouds certainly offer their rewards, there's nothing quite like taking in the shimmer of distant celestial bodies to restore a sense of wonder, freedom, and peace with your surroundings all at once. On clear Saturday nights between April and early December, the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science (a.k.a. Rochester's astronomy club) presents free nighttime viewings at the RochesterMuseum & ScienceCenter's Strasenburgh Planetarium telescope. Once you've climbed the 60 steps to the observation deck, which is located at the top of a turret-like tower on the Planetarium's roof, you get to look through the telescope while an astronomy club member explains what you're looking at. Keep in mind that dying stars and Saturn's rings make great dating fodder when beer, music, and movies wear thin. And there's a warm social aspect to craning your neck among strangers to spot a passing man-made satellite. If you prefer naked-eye viewing away from the city's high light level, the astronomy club folks also host what they call "star parties" at various area locations, such as MendonPondsPark. Visit www.rochesterastronomy.org for a viewing schedule. (Saby Reyes-Kulkarni)


Best family tree

ZelkovaSerrata, Highland Park

It's in our neighborhood, but it was a Penfield friend who told us about it. His kids call it "The Octopus Tree." It's a Japanese sycamore of some sort, but it is just so unbelievably cool. If you go up Mt.Vernon to where it elbows to become Alpine, and then walk straight into the park, it's right there immediately on your right.

The base of The Octopus Tree is about 20' in circumference, and it has a bunch of main trunks that split right at the bottom and then climb straight up. Between the trunks is a kind of room with a floor about 3' from the ground, and then there are several places to sit within easy climbing distance. All three of our kids can sit in it and once, and do. For us, no trip to the park is complete without a stop to visit, as Iris calls her, "my friend, Zelkova." (Adam Wilcox)


Best young local musician named Teddy, non-Geiger category

Teddy Nicolosi

All smaller towns do it. You know, cling to any type of celebrity that has an impact outside city limits and drive it into the ground. It's an affection that goes way past hometown pride and into a kind of desperate search for validation.

There's no denying the talent or hard work Teddy Geiger has done to get to where he is, but Christ, enough already. We all love young, good-looking, and talented, but Teddy ain't the only one. There's a new Teddy in town: Teddy Nicolosi. At 14 this younger half of the father/son guitar duo Shared Genes is nothing short of amazing. And it's not just the sensation of his youth that drops jaws; this young man's fleet-fingered fretwork will only improve as he gets older, hits the road, and makes the big time. He's not on the cover of Seventeen yet but when he is we'll all cling to him like we cling to Geiger now. And though I admire both immensely, you'll probably hear me bitchin' about them again at some point in the future. (Frank De Blase)


Best band name you didn't pick

The Shitty Faggots

We're loathe to correct our readers' picks, mostly because you guys do such a great job. But there was one omission we simply could not let go by. When we first heard of the local band called The Shitty Faggots, we were agog. Are they being ironic? Could they be thinking of the British use of the word (a.k.a., cigarette)? Are they begging for a fight?

No on the first two, maybe yes on the last. The Shitty Faggots --- guitarist DiggyPoo, bassist White Trash Willie, drummer E-Log, and vocalist Teddy4Real4President --- formed about a year ago, brought together by a lifelong dream to form a punk rock band. These "Hilton folk," as described by DiggyPoo, picked the name basically to get attention, but also to call attention to people's hypocrisy. "We say everything you think, but don't want to say," says Poo.

The band admits that the nom de guerre has gotten them into a bit of trouble, including one spring show at Montage that erupted into a fight when several women reportedly attacked the band after taking offense at the name. After the Faggots dropped off the radar for several months we wondered if perhaps they'd been beaten to death by an angry mob. But no, the band is back, with shows scheduled at the Penny Arcade (November 18) and the Bug Jar (December 19). (Eric Rezsnyak)


Best guitar face

The Grinders' Todd Dentico

He squints, he grimaces, his tongue wags, his eyes roll back. Yup, it's the guitar face, and The Grinders' Todd Dentico's is the best.

You see, the guitar face is a window to the musician's soul...or libido, anyway. It's been theorized that the facial contortions six-string slingers paste across their mugs on stage are not unlike those worn while in flagrantedelicto. While this may be unsettling to some of you more gentile music fans, I've always thought that the bops --- both horizontal and vertical --- are one and the same; one you do with your guitar, one you do with your lady. And though there are no pilfered Pam and Tommy-type tapes circulating the scene to support this, it's safe to say the faces of ecstasy, joy, concentration, and drunken glee that play across Todd Dentico's face while on stage bashing his Les Paul are the same as when he...well, you know. (Frank De Blase)


Best jazz club impresario

Pete McCrossen

It happened slowly over the last several years, but gradually jazz fans began to realize something very special was happening out at the Lodge at Woodcliff. Horizons Lounge, the restaurant/bar at the hotel/conference center had slowly been transformed into a premier jazz club. Gap Mangione's groups could be found there on the weekends. And the guest artists mid-week just got better and better. The great piano protégé Eldar, wonderful Chilean singer Claudia Acuna, powerhouse saxophonist LewTabackin, breezy chanteuse Tierney Sutton, top jazz baritone Kevin Mahogany --- the list goes on and on. The man behind all of these bookings was Pete McCrossen. He didn't just stick to the tried and true. He took chances on new talent, bringing in future jazz guitar star Sheryl Bailey. He booked local legend Joe Romano for one of his last Rochester gigs before he moved away. McCrossen is no longer presiding over Horizons Lounge. Things are going to swing a little less up on that hill in Fairport. (Ron Netsky)


Best innovative band

Lobster Quadrille

It's tough to harness rock music's electricity without electricity. But through a blend of Southern gothic pathos, old-time religion, and madness, The Lobster Quadrille positively sizzles. The band is essentially plugged into an acoustic sound. Washboards, kazoos, tambourines, and buckets permeate the haunting soundscape recklessly teetering on the brink of sinister. And when frontman Solomon Blaylock gets to preaching and ranting, it's hard to tell just whose side he's on. Good? Evil? Who cares? This is this town's most innovative, interesting band that, by avoiding conventional rock music, comes off infinitely more crushing. Hell, it's almost biblical. (Frank De Blase)


Best free tunes

College music department concerts

Want to hear some glorious singing, a powerful orchestra, or a hot jazz band? Check the websites of area colleges; there's an embarrassment of riches awaiting you. The Eastman School of Music, RobertsWesleyanCollege, SUNY Geneseo, NazarethCollege --- any school that has a large music program is guaranteed to have some serious talent on display. In recent years I've heard concerts that leave me wondering if top professionals could possibly be any better. If it's been a while since you've heard the magnificent force of a symphony orchestra, you can hear some of the major orchestra musicians of the future at the acoustically marvelous Eastman Theatre. Chamber groups regularly fill Kilbourn Hall with performances of otherworldly beauty. And if you've forgotten how powerful the human voice can be when raised in gorgeous harmony, get yourself down to SUNY Geneseo to hear one of the college's choirs. You'll discover the true meaning of an overused word: awesome. (Ron Netsky)


Best evening out west of the Genesee

"Ladies of Illusion" Dinner Show

Drag shows in Greece. It's a little bit of Vegas, right here on Long Pond Road.

Aggy Dune and Kasha Davis brought their "Cher and Friends" show to Golden Ponds in May and August. The shows are big fun, with exquisite costumes, witty repartee, and dead-on impersonations. That Cher, she's a popular girl. Her friends include Bette, Liza, Marilyn, Diana Ross, and even Sonny.

Back in May, I got to dance on stage with Tina Turner, as portrayed by Kasha. For a few shining moments, I felt truly fabulous. Not bad for someone who regularly gets accused of dancing like a character from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The dinner buffet was good, too. I expected some sort of pasta, and was pleasantly surprised by chicken French.

Here are some helpful hints. The best seats --- long tables center stage --- go to the biggest parties, so round up all your buddies. And tip the ladies generously, especially if you're trying to pass for an eastsider.

Aggy and Kasha are back at Golden Ponds with the Big Wigs Holiday Show on December 9. Go to www.stargramsandmore.comor call 723-1344. (Linda Kostin)


Best store mascots

Cockatiels at Mercury Posters

How do I define impersonal? Let me see --- the help line for my DSL service; most high-rise architecture; and chain stores. How would I add some personality? I know --- vocal inflection; granite gargoyles on the second floor; and in-store pets. Just a few suggestions: black cats at Barnes & Noble, Black Angus cows at McDonalds, peacocks at Abercrombie & Fitch. I could go on, but we are here today to honor those establishments that already have a mascot. With nods to golden retriever Kobe at Rock Ventures and the Cinema cat, we select Gordon (R.I.P.), Lucy, and Rocky as our 2006 Best Store Mascots. Gordon moved on to that great birdcage in the sky last December, but Lucy and Rocky continue to greet customers in a way that inspires return visits. Truly, you have never perused posters until you've done so with a cockatiel perched upon your shoulder, shaking its head in disapproval over that cheesecake poster you're selecting instead of the Vermeer reproduction. (Let me tell Lucy just one thing --- that girl with the pearl earring was the Pam Anderson of her day.) On the other hand, Lucy did save me from papering our house with wall-to-wall Thomas Kinkade. 1 Sumner Park, 271-3119. (Craig Brownlie)


Best space-age fluff 'n' fold

The Laundry Room

Doing your laundry isn't supposed to be exciting in either a positive or negative way, so we dismiss losing money at the Laundromat as a matter of course, just to keep our pulse down. Surely there are better things to worry about. But if you're someone who can't stand the thought of even a small rip-off and have zero tolerance for inefficiency and poor service, then you'll be in heaven at The Laundry Room on Monroe Avenue, where the chances of losing quarters to a broken machine are close to nil. The Laundry Room features sturdy Wascomat units with shiny metal exterior plating that, frankly, is a little intimidating. (And that's before you even get to the instruction sticker that practically requires aeronautical training to decipher.) Some of the washers accommodate a whopping four loads, and each dryer has a sign that screams (in red print, no less): "WARNING! ULTRA-EFFICIENT DRYERS." The place is always spic-and-span, has WiFi access and good parking, and you get to watch cable instead of an infuriating RNews loop. Obviously, the management of this joint gives a damn, which is nice to see. Inefficiency be damned!

--- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni


Best way to assuage middle-class guilt

Donate your old kitchen to ReStore

I probably shouldn't have spent a crapload of money getting my kitchen redone last spring, but like lots of women my age, I went and did it anyway. (What is it about peri-menopausal women that makes us want to redo our kitchens? There's got to be a doctoral thesis in there somewhere.) If you succumb to your base urges and rip the innards out of your kitchen just because you can, call ReStore to see if they can use your old cabinets, countertop, sink and appliances. They might even be able to pick up your donation.

Located in the Public Market and run by Flower City Habitat for Humanity, ReStore sells quality used and surplus building materials to the public at a fraction of regular retail prices. Proceeds are used to fund new Habitat houses.

Not only does your donation help people out, it keeps perfectly serviceable stuff out of landfills. I bet you feel better about yourself already. But wait, there's more: donations are tax-deductible, too. Just remember to donate to ReStore again when you squander your tax refund on a new bathroom. For more info check www.rochesterhabitat.org or call 697-2012. (Linda Kostin)


Best (albeit most nefarious) use of the airwaves

Billy Fuccillo

We all have various commercials that we hate yet can't help but watch, though I think we're all in agreement about the ad campaign of Billy Fuccillo, the Central New York car dealer who, along with henchman Tom Park, has recently turned commercial breaks into Must Leave TV. You know who I'm talking about. Sometimes he's clutching an oversized phone number, sometimes he's riding a Segway (and nothing screams "I'm in touch with the people" quite like a useless luxury item), but Fuccillo always ends his commercials with a promise that things are going to be huge --- uh, I mean "heeeuuuuwww-jah." I don't know whether these irritating and ubiquitous ads have translated into actual sales, but if saturation and name recognition count for anything, then the guy's doing something right. But I pray nightly that his catchphrase doesn't seep into our lexicon and bastardize the rest of it: the last thing I want to hear is someone bellow, "Hey, Dayna, that dress is so keeeuuuwww-tah!" (DaynaPapaleo)


Best local political blog

Rochesterturning.com

This year's elections, particularly the congressional midterms, have launched the most impressive crop of political bloggers we've yet seen in the Rochester area. But there's one that stands out above the rest: Rochesterturning.com is a progressive blog that's group-written, which may explain why it's the most frequently updated blog around. And not only do the bloggers keep their content fresh, they often scoop the big mainstream media outlets. It's a sign of their presence in the local races that the bloggers' e-mails show up on official media blast lists of some of the campaigns from time to time. Plus, they do it all with a clean, eye-catching design.

So if you're listening Rochesterturning, we like you. Even when you think we're "losers" and our analysis is "idiotic." (KrestiaDeGeorge)


Best pyrrhic political victory

Bob Colby and Ciaran Hanna

If you're a Democrat in this town it can be a little tough to tow the party line sometimes. Loyalties and power are always shifting among the different players. Republicans, meanwhile, have the opposite problem. The last time a Republican broke ranks and criticized another in public was... well... we can't remember the last time. That's why it was so surprising when GOP County Legislators Bob Colby and Ciaran Hanna crossed the metaphorical aisle to vote with their Democratic colleagues against a bill to move the budget submission date until after elections. The vote still passed --- barely. For their troubles, the pair was stripped of committee assignments a few days later. (KrestiaDeGeorge)


Best local hero

Delaine Cook-Greene, Coalition of Northeast Association, Inc.

Police officers go to her for suggestions. NET officers rely on her, too. Whether she's walking door to door listening to her neighbors' concerns, in her office helping someone find housing, or making sure a young person has shoes and socks, Delaine Cook-Greene has earned the respect of so many people in the community that she is often referred to as the "mother of the northeast." She says she moved here from New York City about 40 years ago, and fell in love with Rochester.

"It was so beautiful, serene and comfortable, I had never seen anything like it before," says Cook-Greene. "We used to sit on our front porches, we looked out for one another, and we were neighbors back then. It was so safe and friendly, no one even thought of locking their doors."

Cook-Greene has been involved in CONEA for more than 10 years. Last year, the organization helped more than 100 people with housing, referred more than 300 to the appropriate agency for assistance, and worked with more than 200 children on everything from clothing to homework to field trips to Albany.

She says her biggest concern is the high school dropout rate, and finding ways to keep young people in school.

"We must do everything in our power to help our young people stay in school and prepare for college," she says. "They need to inherit the values that place priority on education because without an education they are not going to survive." (Tim Louis Macaluso)


Best urban de-tarping

The new roof at Nick Tahou's

You don't have to be an old-train lover or an ardent preservationist to applaud Nick Tahou's for its impressive new roof. The job can't have been cheap, and it's doing far more than providing shelter. The building's the oldest surviving passenger depot in Rochester, and it's a beautiful landmark, highly visible to people coming into the city from the west. (Mary Anna Towler)


Best example of political backscratching

John Stanwix's big pay raise

Yagotta love the way Monroe County Republican leaders take care of their own. Former Republican Party Chair John Stanwix got a sweet deal heading the Monroe County Water Authority: raises amounting to nearly 45 percent in his last three years on the job. And two buddies on the Water Authority board --- big Republican donor Peter Formicola and former Chamber of Commerce exec Tom Mooney --- capped it off with a nice going-away present when Stanwix retired four years ago, at the age of 60. Unearned vacation pay, unearned sick leave, a nice lump-sum payment: it was enough, according to a state audit, to ramp up his state pension by 25 percent. (Mary Anna Towler)


Best ballot stuffer

You know who you are

We had a couple of notable ballot stuffers this year --- a diner, a spa, a hair salon --- but we were especially taken aback by the hardcore campaigning by the folks at one health-minded business. Not only did the ownership send out e-mails encouraging people to vote in multiple categories, but it also encouraged them to vote multiple times and under multiple names. Ain't democracy grand?

To be fair, this isn't entirely the ballot-stuffing businesses' fault. A competitor timed its pale imitation of Best Of (Best Bus Route! Best Driveway Pavement Company! Wow!) to coincide almost simultaneously with our polling, and encouraged local businesses to campaign as hard as they wanted.

We don't play that. You want to win Best Of, play fair. You can encourage people to vote for your business, sure. But when you send dozens of ballots in for them, when you encourage them to vote only for your business and not bother to fill out any other categories, and when you encourage them to create fake aliases on your behalf, well, that's not cool. And it's pretty easy to spot. And those votes won't be counted at all.

Better luck next year! (Eric Rezsnyak)


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