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The Best of Greater Rochester 2002 

In this issue, City Newspaper unveils the winners of the 2002 Best of Greater Rochester poll. Over the past few months, City readers have sent in their ballots, voting for the restaurants, stores, people, places and things that they think make this region a great place to live, and it's time to announce the winners. The City poll is a true and honest reflection of readers' interests; no ballot stuffing is allowed here.

And in our critics' picks section, City writers have contributed their ideas about what constitutes the Best of Greater Rochester. Our writers share tips on some of their favorite stores, food and drink, interesting people, outdoor pleasures, and local innovations. You may agree with the City writers' choices, or not; some of them will be familiar to you, and some you'll be learning about for the first time.

City Newspaper remains Greater Rochester's favorite forum for the exchange of ideas. Read on, and as always, let us know what you think.

City Newspaper's readers have voted, and the results are finally in! Here are your picks of the Best of Greater Rochester...

TIME OUT! THE BEST...

Live music club: Milestones

Neighborhood bar: Johnny's Irish Pub

New nightclub: Tied- The Montage Grille and Tilt

Closed nightclub: GQ

Gay bar: Muther's

Band: Uncle Plum

Musician: Tied- Gap Mangione and Jeff Tyzik

Drag performer: Darienne Lake

Non-professional theater: Blackfriars

Small art gallery: Tied- The Elizabeth Collection and the Oxford Gallery

Movie theater: The Little Theatre

BEST RESTAURANTS

Chinese:  Golden Dynasty

Indian: India House

Italian: Mario's Via Abruzzi

Thai: The King and I

Middle Eastern: Sinbad's

Vegetarian selections: Aladdin's

Coffee bar: Spot Coffee

Best place to have your last meal: Rooney's

Best place to eat outside: Aladdin's

Best spicy food: The King and I

Best meal under $10: Aladdin's

BRIGHT IDEAS ...

Category to get rid of next year: Drag performer

Category to add next year: There was no clear winner in this category. Readers' ideas included "best place to meet single gay men," "best day trip," "best sushi," and "best martini."

Best reason to live in Rochester: The people (also the weather, the cost of living, and cultural life)

BEST FOOD & DRINK

Pizza: Chester Cab Pizza

Bakery: The Little Bakery

Burgers: Bill Gray's

Fish fry: Pittsford Seafood

Desserts: Phillips European Restaurant

Wings: Jeremiah's

Local beer: Genesee

Beer selection: MacGregor's

Margaritas: Mex

Cheap breakfast: James Brown's Place

Donuts: Krispy Kreme

PEOPLE ...

Best bartender: Karrie Laughton at Lux Lounge

Best school principal: Tied- David Paddock of Fairport High School and Edward Witaszek of School #15

Best Public Market vendor: No clear winner for this category, but our readers like "the cheese guys," "the banana guy," and the Mennonite vendors.

Politician you trust most: Mayor Bill Johnson

Politician you trust least: County Executive Jack Doyle

Next job for Jack Doyle: Top votes included "retirement" and some type of caregiving position at the Seneca Park Zoo. Other suggestions: CEO of Enron, governor of Florida, fast ferry captain, and anything out of state.

Next job for Clifford Janey: Janitor, with teacher coming in a distant second. One reader complained that this category was mean-spirited, and he's probably right. No such complaints were lodged about the "Next Job for Doyle" category.

Most annoying public person: Jack Doyle

Funniest person: Tommy Mulé, WCMF

BEST SPORTS

Professional team: The Raging Rhinos

Golf course: Oak Hill Country Club

YMCA: Carlson MetroCenter

Downhill skiing: Bristol Mountain

Local sports web site: Tied- Red Wings and Raging Rhinos

BEST STORES & SERVICES

Record store: Record Archive

Book shop: Barnes & Noble

Computer store: Comp USA

Clothing store: Kauffman's

Shoe store: DSW

Hardware store: Home Depot

Video rental store: Blockbuster

Home furnishings store: Tied- Pier 1 and Arhaus

Adult toy shop: Show World (Readers' other great ideas included Mann's Jewelers, John Holtz, and Dan's Crafts and Things.)

Salon massage: Scott Miller Salon

Best place to buy an unusual gift: Parkleigh

Most honest auto repair: Craig Autometrics

PLACES & THINGS

Best public library: Central/Rundel

Park: Highland Park

Festival: Park Avenue Festival

Place to view the skyline: Cobbs Hill

Best new use of an old building: Spot Coffee (formerly the Hallman's Chevrolet building)

Swimming hole: Durand Eastman

Regional winery: Casa Larga

Worst street to walk across: Top votes included Ridge Road and Jefferson Road. A frightening number of readers voted for Route 490, and we ought to point this out: you're not supposed to walk across 490.

Most culturally diverse neighborhood: The Southwedge

Most socially conscious business: Wegmans

MEDIA: THE BEST ...

Morning radio: WCMF

Best radio station: WXXI

Best weather forecaster: Kevin Williams

Critics' picks

After careful deliberation, the City writers have selected their picks for inclusion in our 2002 Best of Greater Rochester issue. The selections here are highly subjective and deeply personal, and cover everything from the best Turkish-style coffee to the best method of waking up in the morning in Rochester. Contributing writers Dave Cross, Tim Goodwin, George Grella, Susan Herman, Jeffrey O. Jones, Jennifer Loviglio, Th. Metzger, Cindy E. Mindell-Wong, Ron Netsky, Chad Oliveiri, Jon Popick, Jack Bradigan Spula, Michael Warren Thomas, Warren Wightman, and Adam Wilcox are using this opportunity to point out the little things that make Rochester a wonderful place to live. Read on and enjoy.

BEST RESTAURANTS

Best low-budget succulence

Victor Grilling Company's $10 meatloaf

At most high-end restaurants, you'd be lucky to spend only $10 on dessert and coffee. At the Victor Grilling Company (75 Coville Road in Victor; 585-924-1760) you can buy one of the best dinners you'll find in the area for that price. The VGC's grilled meatloaf hits the trifecta: it's meat, it's grilled, it's affordable. And it ain't your mother's meatloaf. The VGC prepares this dish with ribeye trimmings. Depending on the time of year, you might find it sitting atop a thick slice of bacon and a pile of mashed potatoes, or smothered in a homemade Worcestershire sauce with sautéed mushrooms. Try it the next time you're jonesing for something high-end and low-budget. (CO)

Best trucker's breakfast

Mount Hope Family Diner

No, you won't see any 18-wheelers parked outside. There's no room. But seven days a week, the Mount Hope Family Diner serves up a breakfast that any cross-country knight would appreciate. It's hard to find grits in Rochester restaurants, but here they're plentiful. Indeed, the Mount Hope serves more grits than any place in the city. If you're hauling freight, you'll need sausage gravy and biscuits, too. And you won't be disappointed by the diner's version of that, either. Affordable, greasy, hot and filling: just what the road doctor ordered. The Mount Hope Family Diner is located at 1511 Mt Hope Avenue; (585) 256-1939. (TM)

Best cheap lunch

Mr. Shoes Pizza

Living paycheck-to-paycheck? Lucky thing that English degree you spent years reading for can easily disguise itself as the record store degree or the hardware store degree. Mr. Shoes has a damn fine large cheese pizza for six bucks. Feeds four. And Mr. Shoes' sauce can't be beat. Since the math graduates can afford bigger plates at swankier joints, we'll run the figures for you: a buck-fifty each. Hey, use that spare change for a soda. Now that's tummy-rubbing good. Mr. Shoes has several locations around town, including 4364 Culver Road; (585) 323-1700. (TG)

Best restaurant bathroom

The Rio Bamba

Although I cannot claim to have checked all restaurant bathrooms (women's as well as men's), the Rio Bamba spent some serious time and money making theirs a destination rather than just a necessity. Have a companion or one of the wait staff check the other bathroom, so you can take a peek at both. The carved stone sink in the men's room and the counter in the women's room are the highlights. What does all this have to do with food? Restaurants that care about their bathrooms usually care about their kitchens. After several years as sous chef to David Bouley in NYC, Jay Cohen gives Rochester a big city dining experience at the Rio Bamba, 282 Alexander Street; (585) 244-8680. (Honorable mention honors go to Soccer Sam's Pizza & Pasta Café on Empire Blvd. There is a locker room motif with jet black fixtures; I've never before seen a black porcelain toilet.) (MWT)

BEST FOOD & DRINK

Best coffee drinks

The Olive Tree and Oasis

One of my running gags in my "Gut Instincts" column is that I hate everybody's coffee. My preference runs for deeply-roasted, single-source beans, and it's hard to find that in town. Often I try espresso, only to be disappointed by its bitterness and, surprisingly, lack of depth. But for years I've been in love with the preparation method that results in Turkish coffee. You start with very fine grounds put directly into water in a small pot called an ibrik. Boil until it foams, then stir it down. Repeat twice, then pour carefully into demitasse cups. Depending on your taste, it might be cooked with sugar or various spices.

            Typically, just about every Mediterranean culture claims to have invented Turkish coffee. Thus, at the Olive Tree Greek Restaurant (165 Monroe Avenue; 585-454-3510), it's "Greek coffee," and owner Joanne Gekas can read your fortune in the grounds when you finish. At Oasis (687 Monroe Avenue; 585-473-0050), "Lebanese coffee" is made with lots of strong cardamom and is a bit sweeter. It's not a drink for the faint of heart, unless you're trying to get that faint heart pounding. (AW)

Best bison dish

Bison Bolognese

While there are not many bison dishes on Rochester menus, the Bison Bolognese at the Grill at Strathallan also qualifies as one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. A little grated Asiago over this Central Italian based sauce is the final touch. The Bison Bolognese is available on the lunch menu. The owner of the Grill, Mike Tadich, recommends a hearty Chianti or Barbera with the bison. Another bison dish on the dinner menu rivals the Bolognese: Bison Carpaccio with truffle oil. Health-conscious diners might be interested to know that roasted bison has less fat and 500% more iron than roasted skinless chicken breast, and nearly half as much fat as lean pork tenderloin. I have not seen bison available in the supermarkets, but there are two local herds (CrowfieldFarm.com and Wildside Beef in Bloomfield) and Barry Kucker of Fare Game carries it at the Rochester Public Market. The Grill at Strathallan is located at 550 East Avenue; (585) 461-5010. (MWT)

Best 'happy birthday' to you

The Oven Door Bakery

It's that magical combination of butter, chocolate, and of course, love, that makes a cake really special. When Betsy Hutton took over the Oven Door Bakery last year, she poured generous portions of all three ingredients into the Bushnell's Basin bakery. Okay, so it's a long haul to get there from the city, but the flaky puff pastry and fresh fruit pies alone are worth the trip. The Oven Door Bakery is located at 665 Pittsford-Victor Road in Bushnell's Basin; (585) 248-5749. (JL)

Bacon of the gods

Heiden Valley Farms

Rick Austin can be found most Thursday nights outside the Abundance Food Coop selling his poultry, beef, lamb, and pork. Raised outdoors, grass-fed, with no hormones and no routine antibiotics, the meat that Austin produces is amazing. Best of all is the bacon. Imagine a fine slice of marbled pork with the perfect flavor of hickory smoke. Since buying Austin's exquisite side-meat, we'll never be able to go back to the store-bought stuff, which now seems like gristly scraps soaked in fake smoke flavoring. Surely in heaven, BLTs are made with Heiden Valley bacon. (TM)

Best selection of weird stuff

Lee's Oriental Food

To get a full appreciation of Lee's Oriental Food & Gifts, 900 Jefferson Road, you need a guide. City writer Th. Metzger and I got a guided tour from our friend Yuko Matsukawa a couple of years back, and it was astonishing. You want 20 types of tofu? A nebula of noodles? It's all there. Yuko took us up and down the aisles, pointing and explaining, sometimes throwing her hands up in the air. When we saw the bin labeled, "pork uteri," we asked, "Are those pork uteri?" Yuko answered, "Well, that's what the sign says." I never want to know for sure.

            It's become a regular stop in my far-flung shopping, and being located in the Genesee Regional Market, it's close to other interesting places like Tadco, Lori's Natural Foods, and Palmer Seafood. But Lee's is the draw for me. I buy rice, noodles, Thai curry pastes, Asian vegetables, Thai basil, kafir lime leaves, oils, rice vinegar, and fish and hot sauces. Of course, it's also the source for strange, jelled sweets for my three-year-old. Phone: (585) 272-7020. (AW)

Most delicious altruism

The School of the Holy Childhood pies

Apple pie with a crumb topping, pecan pie, blueberry, cherry, cran-apple walnut, and the fabulous "bumbleberry" pie: at restaurants all over town you'll find these excellent pies from the School of the Holy Childhood's Special Touch Bakery on the menu. It's much easier to rationalize ordering dessert when it's in support of a good cause, and this is a great cause. The bakery provides workplace training and income to adults with developmental disabilities. You can also arrange to buy whole pies directly from the bakery, or order a gift-pie for a friend. Most varieties are $7-$8 per pie. If there's a better treat for Thanksgiving, we haven't found it. The School of the Holy Childhood is located at 100 Groton Parkway; (585) 359-3710. (SH)

Best adult slurpee

"Suffering Bastards"

Show up at the Cathay Pagoda at 488 East Main Street on any given evening and you'll likely be able to have a whole room to yourself. Sure, the atmosphere's a tad surreal. But the drinks, particularly the Suffering Bastard, are bound to make you feel right at home in no time. Some ungodly combination of hard alcohol and partially frozen fruit juices will approximate the best frozen slush drink you've ever had. But this one bites you back. Lightweights might need to have their drinks diluted (more fruit, less burn). But if you can handle it, you'll enjoy the fruitiest buzz you've ever had in Rochester. Phone: (585) 325-5540. (CO)

Best peppermills

Le Lemongrass

In even the fanciest restaurants, you will seldom, if ever, find actual peppermills on the tables. As everyone with even the most passing interest in food knows, ground black pepper and freshly ground black pepper are practically different spices. No amount of the ground variety will provide the aromatic pop that pepper lovers crave. Often, a waiter will proffer a totemic mill when serving salad, but your opportunity for a grind is gone in a moment, and what of the entrée?

            But stay, oh pepper people, at least one establishment bucks the trend! Le Lemongrass chef-owner-carpenter-mason-hair-stylist-visionary Huey Luong is on our side. Each table gets its own matched salt and pepper set, with a clear, 8-inch mill with wooden top and bottom, and a high-quality grinding mechanism. Nothing beats a coarse grind atop Huey's spectacular pho, or perhaps a bit over the bun. The point is, it's up to you, and wouldn't it be nice if more restaurants would follow Luong's lead? Le Lemongrass is located at 942 Monroe Avenue (585-271-8360). (AW)

Best soup and bread combo

O'BagelO's

It has to be the oyster-artichoke bisque at O'BagelO's, 165 State Street, Rochester:

fresh-shucked oysters and succulent artichokes in a rich and creamy, beautifully seasoned broth. It's a high falutin' dish at a down-home price. A cup is $3.65, but go for a bowl at $5.95 with homemade bread or bagel accompaniment. (Kalamata olive-and-bell-pepper bread offers an especially nice balance.) Owner-chef John Vito's pasta e fagiole ($3.65 per bowl) is also worthy of a white-tablecloth restaurant. To feed the brain, don't miss the Daily Almanac, a blackboard posting of epigrams, historical notes and philosophical observations. Phone: (585) 232-9070. (JJ)

Best Italian food fix

Lombardi's Gourmet Imports

Lombardi's stocks all kinds of wonderful imported Italian foods, specialty oils, cheeses, and homemade pastas and sauces. We like to drop by Lombardi's to pick up squid ink fettuccine or tiny striped ravioli, a quart of fresh sauce and bread for dinner on Sopranos nights. The store also carries gift baskets loaded with imported Italian treats, as well as china, cookbooks, and cookware. Lombardi's is located at 124 North Main Street in Fairport; (585) 388-1330. (SH)

PEOPLE ...

Easiest entrée to cool

Boo Poulin's jewelry

Invariably, whenever you wear a piece of Boo Poulin's jewelry around town, a stranger will sidle up alongside you and sigh dreamily, "You've got a Boo Poulin!" Poulin's elegant-industrial designs are immediately recognizable, drawing the eye with perfect, engaging simplicity. Trying to describe one of her pieces (a slim loop bracelet, say, embedded with three tiny metal disks and one pearl) is like trying to describe the moon as a big white circle hanging in the sky: the poetry gets lost in translation. Poulin's jewelry is sold at the Memorial Art Gallery store, 500 University Avenue; (585) 473-7720. (SH)

Most eclectic voice teacher

Colleen Liggett

One day she's playing banjo with a Dixieland band, the next she's a cantor at St. Anne Church. Following this, she might be leading her Gregorian chant group, Schola Feminarum, or singing American folk songs with hammer dulcimer accompaniment. Colleen Liggett's specialty is medieval and Renaissance vocal music, and in these areas she's one of the best around. But as a vocal instructor, she's reached a much bigger clientele: rock musicians who want to preserve their voices, country singers who want a more plangent twang, folks interested in show tunes or choral music. One of her students, for instance, went from the Goldfinger theme to Hank Williams' "I Saw the Light," and Liggett had lots to say to make both performances shine. (TM)

Best subterranean musician

Chris Zajkowski

A long time ago in a basement not so far away, somewhat in reaction to the XTC psychedelic side project, The Dukes of Stratosphere, former Essentials drummer "Christopher Earl" Zajkowski dubbed himself the Squire of the Subterrain and started making tapes full of wonderful, off-beat, four-track psychedelic pop. That's right, tapes, folks. After six of those, including classics like Admiral Albert's Apparition and Royal Slumber, the Squire put out a retrospective on CD called, fittingly, Pop in a CD.

            In the last year, he's released all the original Squires material on CD, and just this past month, a new collaboration with original British Invasion legend Pete Miller, titled Big Boy Pete Treats. If you miss wild, low-fi, pop experimentalism and serio-comic lyrical witticism along the lines of Ray Davies, look no farther. Check out www.squiresofthesubterrain.com for more info on all the esoterica available from the Squire. (AW)

Best Thursday night drone
Feadan Or
Do you think I'd have moved into my house here in Penfield if I knew a 25-member bagpipe band was going to practice every Thursday night out back behind my house? Probably. Can these cats ever blow! Even though they play over a third of a mile away, I can still hear those ancient melodies clearly over the hill, the haze, the heat and the hoards of happy kids screaming on the playground of the schoolyard they practice on. Drone on, Feadan Or, drone on! Visit www.feadanor.org, or call (585) 234-1465. (DC)

Best chance to say "Gabba Gabba Aaah"

At the office of Scott Stein, DDS

At first glance, Scott Stein seems like, well, just another orthodontist, but looks can be deceiving. Instead of the usual light chitchat about the weather between rinse-and-spit commands, Stein conducts a rock world commentary worthy of its own E! segment. He reviews recent concerts, comments on changes in band line-ups, and, although he's too humble to admit it, he's friends with some of the big-name acts who come through town. Let's just put it this way, if Phish had an overbite, Stein would be the man to fix it. Scott Stein's office is located at 20 North Main Street in Pittsford; (585) 586-4080. (JL)

BEST STORES & SERVICES

Best humidor
The Havana Room
If you're looking for the right place to pick out something special for
that "big game" and you don't want to look at a wall of bongs when you do it, you want the Havana Room. It's located at 1220 Fairport Road (behind the Abbott's Frozen Custard) and you might not see it unless you really look. The selection of cigars here is completely top-notch: they cover all the top lines, styles, lengths, and ring gauges in premium condition. There's no kid stuff at the Havana Room, baby, they only sell cigars, no monkey business. The kicker is the back room. (I mean, you can't smoke in your house, right?) If you ask the manager, he might just let you have a look; it's near the school locker-sized humidors (all connected to the main humidor room) that are available for rent. They do have smaller set-ups, in case you're not a trust fund baby. Phone: (585) 385-4420. (DC)

Most entertaining auto ER

Roosevelt Service

At Roosevelt Service at 305 Roosevelt Road in East Rochester (585-586-5573), veteran vehicle surgeon Sparky is the spark that fires the spirit of inspired mechanical fixes. This is more than a repair shop: you're likely to get generous dollops of personal advice along with the needed automotive transformations, like, "Why don't you clean out your car more often?" Ouch!, but right on, and forgivable, because his touch with your car is outstandingly deft. Many amenities nearby if you're waiting. Appointments advised. (WW)

Grooviest vinyl venue

Analog Shock

Plenty of record haunts have a good selection, occasional live performances, and a friendly, helpful staff, but only one combines these attributes with a floor plan that actually allows a plus-sized patron to turn around without completely destroying the section formerly known as "Le Tigre through Mudhoney." Instead of raking you over the coals on trade-ins, the staff at Analog Shock seems genuinely concerned about your desire to unload your entire Butthole Surfers collection (yes, Weird Revolution was that bad). Plus they have vinyl! Analog Shock is located at 674 South Avenue; (585) 742-2860. (JP)

Noblest craft-supply store

The Recycle Shop

Local businesses and manufacturers donate their clean cast-offs at the Child Care Council's Recycle Shop, and you can buy most of them by the bag, from $1.50 to $5.50, depending on the size. You keep the office paper supplies, packing materials, and crafty scraps out of the landfill, and all proceeds support the not-for-profit Child Care Council, Inc., at 595 Blossom Road, a child care resource and referral organization. Stock changes often and you never know what you'll find. A recent visit found reams of printer paper and three-foot-high clear plastic bottles, each selling for 75 cents. Call the shop at (585) 654-4791. (CEM)

Best genuine hip hop experience
Hip Hop World

I really have to show my appreciation for Hip Hop World at 413 Lyell Avenue. Despite some slight setbacks recently realized from a neighboring fire, the store really goes for an all around hip hop experience and carries CDs, videos, DVDs, posters, pagers, cell phones, and there's even a recording studio out back. Hip Hop World owner Steve King is working hard to create a positive environment for the neighborhood, bringing local talent to light, and letting area kids get their hands on computer and recording technology: all big ups. Phone: (585) 458-6827. And an honorable mention also has to go out to Eddie Colon's Spot Records at 116 Lyell Avenue, which has a nasty selection of 12" singles, mix tapes, and CD's you are definitely not going to find at the mall. (DC)

PLACES & THINGS

Best sea-shore-at-a-gas-station

The Lobster Trap

The Lobster Trapat the corner of Fairport and Marsh Roads has everything but sand. All the seafoods you can name: Live lobsters personally selected in Maine and transported in Steve Jacobs' own refrigerated trucks; king and soft-shell crabs; shrimp and clams in season, and other delicacies freezer-fresh. The Trap has tools too, to crack claws and extricate hidden morsels, plus shore stuff like carved wooden sea-captains to augment the ambience. Sea gulls wheel and keen in the adjacent plaza. Hand-painted signs contribute to the aura of natural informality that beach life never quite can shed. Phone: (585) 586-9980. (WW)

Best bike-side banter

Freewheelers

After decades on Culver Road, Freewheelers bicycle shop moved to 1757 Mt. Hope Avenue a few years back. But the relocation hasn't changed owner-mechanic Roger Levy's style. Waist-deep among beautiful machines and accessories, Levy and customers share actual conversations. It's like the mythic barbershop, or other small businesses whose stock in trade includes character and tradition: There are comments on the news, dreams about sane transportation policy, or debates on the technical merits of assorted bike parts. And on warm days, the action centers on Levy's outdoor workstand and toolbox, clearly visible from the mad rush on the street. Phone: (585) 473-3724. (JBS)

Best 68 seconds in a movie theater

Dryden Theatre

The difference couldn't be more obvious. As you wait for a film at the MultiGenericPlex you're subjected to an endless string of obnoxious trailers. Booming bass, explosions, empty hype, T and A: It's all the same. But in the final moments before a movie starts at the Dryden Theatre, you get to see a gorgeous gold curtain ascend. It's almost hypnotic to watch the heavy cloth fold and pucker and rise. It's quite peaceful, like watching a waterfall in reverse. Now, if the Eastman House would dump the spoken introductions, we could go back to a nearly perfect pre-film experience. The Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman House, 900 East Avenue; (585) 271-4090. (TM)

Best city farm

Greater Rochester Urban Bounty

Most people don't realize there is a farm within several blocks of the Rochester Public Market. There are several acres of vegetables, grape vines, and fruit trees. The produce from the farm is available at the Public Market in the GRUB (Greater Rochester Urban Bounty) stall near the Railroad Street entrance. You can also buy the produce from the front of the warehouse along the edge of the Market (Commission House Row, just East of Rich Ports Bakery and Java Joe's). This farm is beginning a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project, where participants pay a set fee and receive a mixed bag of produce each week during the harvest season. Another option is to work several shifts on the farm to reduce the CSA fee. Last year I bought the best tasting tomatoes of the season at the GRUB warehouse. (MWT)

Best poem written in the vicinity of a local Great Lake

"By Blue Ontario's Shores"

It has to be Walt Whitman's "By Blue Ontario's Shores," (apparently the lake really was blue 150 years ago), which throbs with the great poet's characteristic drum beat of vigor and hope for the nation and its people. As he writes, "These States are the amplest poem," and in 20 long stanzas calls for the American poet to take up great tasks and responsibilities, to sing the great hymn of America, to instruct its citizens in the lessons of democracy and brotherhood, even in fact to lead the nation in peace and war. Noble sentiments nobly inspired: "Thus by blue Ontario's shore,/While the winds fann'd me and the waves came trooping toward me,/I thrilled with the power's pulsations, and the charm of my theme was upon me ..." Walk in Whitman's footsteps -- blue or not, the lake may still possess the potential for truth and inspiration, with or without the fast ferry. (GG)

Best pre-schooler happy hour

Barnes & Noble storytime

The cheering and singing you hear as you enter Barnes & Noble may be loudest from the accompanying adults, but be assured that the kids they've brought to the second floor are having a great time, too. Every Wednesday morning at 9:30 and again at 11 a.m., staffmembers offer a children's hour of participatory entertainment. They read specially selected books, invent games and songs related to the stories, and then turn the kids and their adult companions loose at teeming craft tables. Kids go home with funky headgear or creations to hang at home. The early session includes a sign-language interpreter. Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 3349 Monroe Avenue, Pittsford; (585) 586-6020. (CEM)

Best place to feel like a kid

The Seneca Park Zoo

Let's get over all the drama and just talk about how much fun the zoo is. Big animals! Little animals! Swimming animals! Funny-looking animals! Did you know the zoo has the only African elephants in all of New York State? Plus giraffes, butterflies, alligators, and there's nothing like hot dogs, popcorn, and a laughing Hyena. When's the last time you were face to face with a swimming polar bear, separated by a few inches of plexiglass? The Seneca Park Zoo is located at 2222 St. Paul Street; (585) 266-6846. (TG)

Best atelier for your little Picasso

Creative Workshop

Of course your ankle biters are geniuses, but how to bring out their talents for all the world to see? Take 'em to the Creative Workshop, where they can roll clay, smudge oil pastels, and cover acres of butcher paper with patterns. The teachers are talented and patient and, best of all, they think your kids are geniuses, too. The Creative Workshop is part of the Memorial Art Gallery at 500 University Avenue; (585) 473-7720. (JL) 

BEST OUTDOOR PLEASURES

Best "big sky" bargain

The Alabama Swamp

The Alabama Swamp, as it's popularly known, covers thousands of acres mostly in northern Genesee County, 40-50 miles west of Rochester. The area is also one of Western New York's prime wildlife habitats, particularly for migratory birds. And most of the swamp is protected public land, in three big chunks: the federal Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge and the Oak Orchard and Tonawanda state wildlife management areas.

            This being a wetland, the landforms are low, almost flat over great expanses. And that means distant horizons and a "big sky" effect like few you'll find in these parts. Travelers taking the back way from Buffalo or Toronto to Rochester late at night will discover this as they pause for a few minutes in the wildlife refuge parking areas along Route 77: stars, planets, and more stars, with little interference from the lights of Buffalo to the west, Rochester to the east, or nearby Batavia. (JBS)

Best alternative front yard

282 Winchester Street

Joahn Fox has been gardening in the city for 40 years. A City Newspaper article several years ago chronicled her goats and mini-city farm. Although she no longer keeps goats, rabbits and chickens, Fox has continued to grow all kinds of vegetables and fruits. There are plum, peach, apricot, five apple and two pear trees, along with grapes, raspberries, rhubarb and strawberries. The vegetables are in about 14 5' by 15' raised beds and produce corn, potatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, beans, peas, carrots, onions, tomatoe,s and much more. A hedge makes the garden at 282 Winchester Street a bit difficult to see from the road. And Fox has very little mowing to do! (MWT)

Best place to contemplate infinity

The Upper Falls

"Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, "and is not reminded of the flux of all things?" Few cities can boast a waterfall in the middle of their downtown, so anyone drawn to Emersonian meditation should take advantage of Rochester's special opportunity and stand on the Pont de Rennes to gaze at the Upper Falls of the Genesee. The endless northward flow, the precipitous drop, the crash of the water, the spray and spume, make it the best place in Rochester to discover the truth of Emerson's perception, and understand perhaps that in that stream of bright falling water, we exist in a moment of light between two eternities of oblivion. (GG)

Best place to consider human folly

The Charlotte Cemetery

Again, the Upper Falls of the Genesee, followed by a short drive up to the Charlotte Cemetery. At the first, the legendary Sam Patch, a genuine folk hero of the 19th century, who had already jumped off the Passaic Falls in New Jersey in 1827 and Niagara (really) in 1829, met his end on Friday the 13th of November, 1829, on his second leap off Rochester's cataract. His modest motto, "Some things can be done as well as others," remains a true, if homely and unheroic, statement of ideals and intentions. Patch is buried in the cemetery in Charlotte, where a gravestone marks his permanent resting place, but like Homer's heroes, he may have attained his true immortality in a poem, William Carlos Williams's Paterson. (GG)

Most whimsical garden

"Florawood"

 "Florawood" is located at the corner of Roosevelt Road and Westfall Road in Brighton, next to the vine-covered Cape Cod-style house of creator Janice A. Baylis (or her horticultural alter-ego, Flora Jardain). Inspired by the celebrated Monet Gardens of Giverny, France, this garden juxtaposes tidy sections of mowed lawn with great tufts of wild grasses and riotous hedges, found-object sculptures, and a beautifully wrought cupola gate. It sits comfortably at the boundary between chaos and art. (JJ)

Best local sounds of silence

Mt. Hope Cemetery

Rochester's Mt. Hope Cemetery is best of the best in various categories. But one of its prime qualities often goes unnoticed, probably because it's necessarily undemonstrative. That quality is quiet. The cemetery, built over part of the post-glacial Pinnacle Range, is sliced by small dry gullies -- vales, we might call them, apropos of Mt. Hope's Victorian design and ambience. At the bottom of each vale is a zone of blessed isolation, cut off acoustically from Mt. Hope Avenue and other noisemakers nearby. Yes, planes taking off and landing at the airport across the river do intrude. But overflights will getcha even on the most distant mountaintops. Come to think of it, the somber recesses of Mt. Hope are much quieter than the peak of Mt. Marcy. (JBS)

Best public roof-top garden

Tonic

Have a drink at Tonic on East Avenue and enjoy the view of Rochester from the roof-top patio. Each year, more flower pots and containers are added. This past summer, general manager Joe Prattico installed a trellis/planter system in one corner and the gardener has requested more. The gardener responsible for the oleander, roses, herbs and perennial sunflowers is the restaurant owners' mother. Phil and Charlie Fitzsimmon's mother, Julie, does the flowers for the dining room indoors as well as all the planters outside on the patio. The bathroom entrances on the patio are disguised with big pots filled with ornamental grasses, perennials and annuals. Of course, the herbs on the patio are a great source for the chef, Dan Eaton. Tonic is located at 336 East Avenue; (585) 325-7720. (MWT)

Best little bridge that could

Red Creek Bridge

In Genesee Valley Park, just a stone's throw north of River Road, a low-profile concrete bridge crosses Red Creek, connecting a wide-open field and picnic area to the more restricted golf course. The paved surface of the bridge, though, is anything but a thoroughfare: Barriers now prevent motor traffic from crossing, and a rough-looking snow fence completes the effect on one side. And on the other side, beside the golf course, there are unsightly piles of sand covered by tarps. Altogether a different effect than the one sought by park designer Frederick Law Olmsted. But back to the Red Creek bridge: Like others in the park, it has special charm, though it's less graceful than the vaulting foot-bridges over the Erie Canal not far away. But it's well worth a stroll to check out -- and it's a good place to contemplate what a structure like this could be. (JBS)

Best view of Mont Sainte-Victoire

Ayrault Road

In Perinton, go north on 250 from Route 31, and turn left on Ayrault Road. Suddenly on your left is a near replica of Cézanne's favorite scene: rectangular slabs in the foreground, the mountain rising behind. A lightning-white steeple stabs heavenward (an accent not included in the early cubist's vista). Paint the mountain 60 times and you qualify as a true disciple. On your right, the concrete wall has even more paint-overs to cover the snaking graffiti that periodically grows back like moss. (WW)

Best movable bridge

The Lift Bridge

The 2003 Erie Canal navigation season is only six months away. When it comes, hasten to Lift Bridge Lane in Fairport, and wait for a tall-enough vessel to trigger the mechanism of the eponymous span. A good place to wait is the deck of the canal-side Lift Bridge Café, where you can nibble a sandwich while studying the structural details of the bridge. Note the design of the stairs which provide pedestrian access whether the bridge is low or lifted. (JJ)

Best gathering of eminent Rochesterians

Mt. Hope Cemetery

Mt. Hope Cemetery, where one can stroll through a picturesque landscape among graves of both the good and great as well as the bad and obscure. Prominent historical figures - Frederick Douglass, of course, among them, noted poets (Adelaide Crapsey comes most immediately to mind) and hundreds of politicians, community leaders, veterans of far too many wars, and ordinary decent people lie there under the sheltering trees. Consider their lives, the final democracy of death, and remember that the paths of glory lead but to the grave. (GG)

Best walk on the moon

Lake Ontario

In the dead of winter, when you're sick of shuttling dully between car and work, head out to the Lake. Slog down to the water's edge, where you'll be transported to an eerie landscape where hulking ice floes roll back and forth, sometimes piling up in bizarre formations. These gray sculptures of foam and snow are straight out of some sci-fi flick about life on other planets. It's an out-of-this-world escape right here in our own backyard. (JL)

Best natural light show

Schoen Place

Visit the area around Schoen Place in Pittsford as viewed from the Pittsford Library parking lot: mid-afternoon on a sunny autumn day is a fine time to savor how light plays along the facades of the granaries, warehouses, shacks, and barns that are remnants of the Port of Pittsford's heyday. Cross over the canal to the shops in Schoen Place, grab an ice cream cone, and get a close-up view of the textured surfaces of these delightful structures before they get gussied up. (JJ)

MEDIA: THE BEST ...

Best tunes

WDKX's Memory Lane

Tired of hos, bitches and the incessant bleeping sounds you hear blocking out the obscenities in the current crop of tunes? Did I say tunes? There are no tunes! Turn off the radio until Saturday when Memory Lane brightens up the airwaves from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 103.9 WDKX-FM. You'll find André Marcel and Tony Boler playing songs from the heyday of Rhythm and Blues: The Spinners, the Chil-Lites, Sam & Dave, James Brown, Betty Wright -- they're all back, sounding as great as ever along with friendly chat, phone calls, joking around, and the run-down on what's happening in Rochester. (RN)

Best wake-up call

Simon Pontin's birds

Those of us who cherish our sleep probably don't spend much time being lucid before 6 a.m. But one thing makes the very early morning a very worthwhile time to be awake: Bird sounds. Particularly, the brilliant field recordings played at 5:58 a.m. by host Simon Pontin at the beginning of his Sunshine Show (6 to 10 a.m. weekdays on 91.5 WXXI-FM). Many of the bird sounds come from a wide collection of CDs that Pontin has collected over the years: Environments 2: Dawn and Dusk at New Hope, Pa; Dawn Chorus; Songbirds at Sunrise. But some of them come from recordings which Pontin himself made in Malvern, Worcestershire, England. "I particularly love the songs of British birds heard during my youth," he says. Pontin's inspiration? The late Robert J. Lurtsema, who used birds as the opening to his show, Morning Pro Musica, in New England for many years. (CO)

Best beats and diva action
The slowFlow Show
How is your morning office ambience? Need some new air? Try joining host jaythreeoh as he puts down his thing every weekday morning from 9 am to noon on 89.7 WITR-FM, right there on the left of your dial. The beats are fresh and the flow is always a thrill as jaythreeoh mixes up the hip hop and r 'n b with his own unique sense of humor. (DC)

BEST INNOVATIONS

Best street seat

Along the ARTWalk

When Doug Rice began organizing ARTWalk it seemed like a pipe dream: take a long neglected strip of University Avenue near Goodman Street and use the work of local artists to make it into a showpiece of urban design. Now that it's done, you can sit in the colorful hand-bench by Karen Iuppa and Brian and Walter Morey, the Art Deco bench by Michael D. Thompson, the copper checkerboard bench by Laurie A. Grieco, the coffee cup benches by Kevin J. Doyle, and more. Or you can follow the red brick road past the mosaic lampposts to the 14-foot steel sculpture by local artist Juan Carlos Caballero-Perez. (RN)

Happiest first anniversary

Gallery 15

Opening a new gallery is never easy. Installation problems -- track lighting and divisions of space -- can be tricky enough, without the daunting task of attracting enough customers to stay open beyond a year. Gallery 15, located in an attractive old house at 15 Prince Street, has just entered its second year thanks to the dedication of former Rochester Institute of Technology sculpture professor James Thomas and his wife, Gail. Exhibitions of work by artists like Arch Miller and Thomas himself have made the gallery one of the primary destinations on the art trail. Phone: (585) 256-2310. (RN)

Best party-house alternative

Artisan Works

If the conventional Rochester party house isn't classy enough for your next do, Artisan Works will drop your jaw and thrill your guests. A former factory located at 565 Blossom Road, the 40,000-square-foot space is crammed with a huge collection of original artwork, and the decorated rooms are all for rent. Book the rooftop garden for starry cocktails, the Japanese dining room for a cozy dinner party, or the massive museum showroom for a riotous reception. Rental costs vary by room and range from $200 to $2,000. Tempt yourself at www.artisanworks.net or call (585) 288-7170. (CEM)

Best swing

The Rochester International Jazz Festival

The Rochester International Jazz Festival swung into town last spring with seven days of music at the highest level. With the three-day Swing 'n Jazz festival -- featuring John Faddis, Freddy Cole, Fred Wesley and others -- as a prelude, the RIJF brought the brightest stars -- Sonny Rollins, Joe Lovano, Diane Reeves, Norah Jones and Aretha Franklin -- to town and awakened downtown streets, restaurants, and hotels on an unprecedented level. For one week in June, festival organizer John Nugent made Rochester the place to be. (RN)

BRIGHT IDEAS ...

Best way to feel smart

Attending local theater

The phrase "local theater" has an unfortunate one-horse-town ring to it, bringing to mind Christopher Guest's scathing parody, Waiting for Guffman. But in Rochester, the words translate to first-quality theater that challenges, surprises, and delights. Savvy audiences look forward eagerly to every season of the Shipping Dock Theatre, the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, Blackfriars, the JCC's Hart Theatre, and regular performances by a dozen other, smaller groups. (SH)

Best reason to get cable TV

Local sports venues

From the gloriously musty, partially renovated Blue Cross Arena, where scoreboards loom like giant sacks of wet cement, threatening to crush fans and players, to the soon-to-be partially renovated Frontier Field, (home to a baseball team that receives financial rewards for drawing small crowds, a soccer team that desperately wants to leave, and a lacrosse team completely shanghaied by local political appointees), it's no wonder that attendance is declining across the board. Heck, let's just forget about our teams -- there's enough coverage of the Bills and Sabres to quench the thirsts of local sports fans, isn't there? (JP)

Best pandering

The St. John Fisher College billboards

You've seen them along the expressway: Tenacity: we teach it. Courage: we teach it. These billboards look like a hybrid of the old United Colors of Benetton ads and the US Army's "Be All That You Can Be" campaigns (not that there's anything wrong with that). The St. John Fisher College advertising campaign seems to say more about flattering alumni into opening their checkbooks than it does about the quality of academic life on campus. (SH)

Best yelling drive

Lake Ontario State Parkway

People deal with aggression in different ways. Abercrombie-types get drunk and bang their shins on stuff, then punch stuff. If the girl you've been pining for gives you the ax, take a late night drive west on Lake Ontario State Parkway. It's one long-assed expanse of road that doesn't further depress you by taking you to Buffalo. Pop in your favorite angry CD or cassette (may I suggest something from the Violent Femmes' or Nine Inch Nails' catalog?) and get hoarse. (TG)

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