Buffalo Spree's 2015 Best of WNY winners



 

You know the drill. Every spring we ask for your votes and convene our panels to determine, as best we can, WNY's bests in a couple hundred categories. The reason we use panels plus the voting process is that we want to make sure that the recommendations we are making are as accurate as possible. This list isn't so much about who won as it is a resource for readers. Use this list when you're making weekend plans, have out-of-town guests, or need to buy a special item. Use this list when you have a hankering for a great Manhattan, some refreshing gelato, or a crusty loaf of fresh bread.
This is the tenth year Spree has published a Best Of issue; those ten years have seen dramatic changes. In 2006, we had no best food truck category; why would we? There were no food trucks then. We didn't bother with best local brewery because there was only one. There were no local distilleries—at press time there were three—and many new wineries have popped up as well. Change is good when it means progress. Enjoy both and enjoy Western New York.

Panelists and writers: Bruce Adams, William Altreuter, Nina Barone, Jeff Biesinger,  Harper S.E. Bishop, Donnie Burtless, Joseph DiDomizio, April Diodato, Ess Eastmer, Ron Ehmke, Jana Eisenberg, Michael Farrell, Nick Guy, Erin Habes, Donna Hoke, Carolyn Human, Cheryl Jackson, Meg Knowles, Donny Kutzbach, Elizabeth Licata, Jane Mogavero, Nancy J. Parisi, Mike Puma, Maria Scrivani, Christa Glennie Seychew, Alli Suriani, Wendy Guild Swearingen

 

Best soup
Sato
739 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; satobuffalo.com or 931-9146
Open since January 2014, Sato offers a menu filled with delicious Japanese-inspired dishes, but its exceptional ramen has caused a sensation in the Buffalo food scene. Each bowl of scratchmade noodles and broth is a tantalizing experience. From the heady tonkatsu (pork) and torigara (chicken) broths to the flavor reinforcement supplied by soft yolky eggs, tender slices of meat, bamboo shoots, sprouts, kimchi, and pickled ginger, there’s no shortage of big, bombastic, ramen-soaked flavors. With its recent announcement of a ramen-focused outpost in University Heights, Sato might be a contender in this category for years to come.

Best steak sandwich
Allen Street Bar and Grill (aka The Old Pink)

223 Allen St., Buffalo
You are crammed against that beaten up old bar on a Saturday night as you peruse the usual intermingling of hipsters, freaks, boozers, and pretty people to a soundtrack by The Stooges. Just as you take a deep, meaningful sip from your drink, the barkeep drops a foil wrapped object in a plastic basket in front of you. Contained within is a thick slab of steak nestled into a roll. Your pretty good Saturday night just got a whole lot better. It seems improbable that the king of all Buffalo dive bars—a storied pit of loud rock and roll and dark, late night venality—would also be so celebrated for its food, but the steak sandwich at the bar deserves every bit of press it’s gotten (GQ, Lucky Peach, etc.). Don’t believe us? $10 is all that separates you from the truth.

Best subs: TIE
Marco’s Italian Deli

Multiple locations; marcosbuffalo.com
It may seem odd to give our best sub award to a joint that specializes in “sangwiches,” but most everything here comes on a sub roll, so don’t argue—or one of us will end up wearing cement shoes. Clever names and great combinations make up the Marco’s sub menu, with a favorite standby being an excellent representation of what else you’ll find: the Forget About It! is a heap of turkey, red peppers, provolone, red onion, lettuce, and the shop’s housemade chili mayo, which turns everything it touches into edible gold. Looking for something a little more “Eye-talian”? Try the Uncle Guido with salami, hot peppers, mozz, and marinated eggplant, or the capicola (or shall we say “gabagol”) epiphany known as the Don Corleone.
John & Mary’s
Multiple locations; johandmarys.com
There is something to be said for a sub shop in a sea of pizza and wing joints. Sure there's serviceable pizza on the menu, but everyone knows that John and Mary's is all about the submarine sandwich. Starting with a fresh Costanzo's roll that’s toasted until it is just slightly crispy, a John & Mary’s sub is exactingly built, almost as if someone behind the counter was using a T-square. All that care pays off when your sub maintains its structural and textural integrity, first bite to last, without a single  tomato slice ejected or a drop of mayo spilt.

Best chicken parmesan: TIE
Sinatra’s

938 Kenmore Ave., Kenmore; sinatraswny.com or 877-9419
Chicken parmesean might be one of  WNY’s most ubiquitous entrées. Served by red sauce joints, diners, pubs, and family restaurants, renditions of this American favorite are everywhere, but, honestly, few of them are actually good. Frozen breaded chicken, cheap cheese made with more vegetable oil than milk, and bland tomato sauce abound—but not at Sinatra’s. Here the hand-breaded chicken is cooked until tender, married to housemade marinara, and topped with enough good quality mozzarella to make any parm eater happy. Sinatra’s makes this classic (and many others) the way your favorite Italian grandmother did.
DiTondo’s Tavern
370 Seneca St., Buffalo; 855-8838
Its hours may be limited (weekday lunch, dinner service on Friday only and closed on the weekend), but savvy foodies rearrange their schedules so they can dine at DiTondo’s, one of WNY’s best classic red sauce joints. With a simple menu of Italian-American classics, this cash only, unassuming establishment on Seneca Street serves up generous portions at low prices. DiTondo’s chicken parm is made of crispy cutlets smothered in a killer house red sauce and a cozy blanket of bubbly mozzarella cheese. The portion size might be large enough to feed a family of four with leftovers for the next day, but who’s complaining? Wear your stretchy pants.

Best steak
Hutch’s

1375 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; hutchsrestaurant.com or 885-0074
The first time someone described Hutch’s to us as a steakhouse, we were taken aback. Sure it offers good cuts of beef and some traditional sides, but this place, known for its highly seasonal and lengthy list of specials doesn’t strike us as a traditional steakhouse. Maybe that’s why we like it so much. It does without the machismo, giant televisions, and crushed velvet upholstery and instead simply serves solid steak. Old school au poivre still has plenty of fans, and how could it not? Peppercorns and brandy cream might be one of the best things that ever happened to beef. Or go classic steak frite, amped up at Hutch’s with a good slathering of black truffle butter. A prime filet of sirloin makes up the basis of the restaurant’s Bistro Steak, served with grilled mushrooms and a sauce made with Maytag and cabernet. If you want to skip the pomp and circumstance—raw meat rolled out on a cart, dry-aging rooms with glass doors, waiters who talk you into a $300 bottle of wine you don’t want—and you want instead to simply enjoy a good steak, Hutch’s is the place.

Best diner breakfast
Sophia’s Restaurant

749 Military Rd., Kenmore; 447-9661
There are plenty of places in WNY where a great omelet or a decent souvlaki can be had, but there is only one Sophia’s. The little joint exists in a converted house at the end of a quiet neighborhood near Military Road’s industrial stretch. Despite its unassuming appearance, Sophia’s transcends the average with a flair for truly scratchmade breakfast fare that is both generous in proportion and a delight to the palate. Even the simple stuff isn’t taken for granted here. You want toast? Don’t just get the usual white/wheat/rye, order the crusty, rustic housemade bread instead. And it just goes on from there: an array of eggy options, mammoth piles of fluffy pancakes, bloody marys stacked with edible garnishes, a delicious breakfast burrito, and specialties like the Giambotta, an awesome Italian frittata made with housemade sausage, peppers, and onions.

Best sushi: TIE
Kuni's

226 Lexington Ave., Buffalo; kunisbuffalo.com or 881-3800
Sushi hardly seems a complicated affair: raw fish plus cooked rice. More proof of its no-big-deal status? There are cases full of little plastic trays of sushi in every supermarket, and more than a few suburban restaurants featuring sushi bars. But despite the appearance of simplicity, hardly any of these offerings come close to getting it right. This is why Buffalo needs Kuni Sato. Pristine fish fillets of the highest quality and freshness turn into jewel-like slices under the blade of his knife. The fish is always served at a comfortable temperature, either sashimi style or draped over fingers of rice that are never gummy or overly sweetened. Rolls are simple affairs as well, highlighting the rice and still crispy nori wrapper, sans all the Americanized drek. This is the sushi you seek out when you tire of the gimmicky rolls that look like  caterpillars or are covered in goop. This is sushi.

Seabar
475 Ellicott St., Buffalo; seabarsushi.com or 332-2928
Boasting excellent and well-loved entrees like a brilliant take on chicken and waffles or incredible twenty-four-hour beef short ribs, it’s easy to forget that the anchor of Seabar is first and foremost its sushi. Taking the freshest ingredients and crafting rolls with equal parts skill, care, and flair, Seabar’s sushi offerings are always perfectly presented on the plate but are even better when they hit the tongue. Beyond the traditional sushi menu, chef Mike Andrzejewski’s hallmark has been adding bold new creations to the lexicon, like his now famous take on a Buffalo favorite with Seabar’s salty-sweet edible sensation, the beef on weck sushi roll.

Best appetizers (casual)
The Hollow Bistro & Brew

10641 Main St., Clarence; thehollowclarence.com or 759-7351
There’s no shortage of flavors at The Hollow. Here the Italian and Asian-inspired dishes are all creatively and lovingly prepared with fresh ingredients—from the charcuterie plate and mozzarella stuffed banana peppers to the pork potstickers with sesame slaw and Thai mussels. It’s as if your Nonna and Ninai were at work in the kitchen competing to create dishes that would please you the most. Enjoy while sitting at the cozy Craftsman bar or on the patio in summer.

Best appetizers (fine)
Buffalo Proper

333 Franklin St., Buffalo; buffaloproper.com or 783-8699
Listed as “Small Plates,” at first glance, Buffalo Proper’s initial round of offerings appear to be relatively simple, but don’t be fooled. An array of complex flavors awaits anyone wise enough to dive into the top half of this chic downtown restaurant’s menu. Since chef Edward Forster prefers to use local and seasonal ingredients, the menu changes often, but even in the dead of winter, the flavors are impressive. Take the roasted head of cauliflower—crisp and charred in places, the alabaster vegetable is dressed with vanilla tahini and spicy cilantro yogurt, providing the diner with a bounty of sensory experiences in every bite. Another favorite is the soup of the day. Regardless of the offering, it is always an exquisitely satisfying experience—smooth corn puree highlighted with soft huitlacoche pudding, celery root bisque poured upon rich liver mousse, creamy mushroom soup topped with hazelnut and truffle streusel—you name it, it’s delicious, and good for you, too.

Best Mexican food
Jaguar at the Bistro

110 Main St., Youngstown; jaguaratthebistro.com or 745-7141
You’ll have to travel north for Jaguar at the Bistro’s creative and authentic menu of modern Mexican fare. With offerings like Chilaquiles Rojo and Braised Lengua, chef and owner Victor Parra Gonzalez has quickly won the hearts and stomachs of local chefs and diners alike. His molé—a combination of twenty ingredients and days of labor—is worth the drive to Youngstown all on its own. In addition, Jaguar’s tequila selection is among the most diverse anywhere.

Best vegetarian menu
Taj Grill

2290 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; tajgrill.net or 875-1000
In 2015, non-meat eaters in WNY are finally having their day with many of the area’s best restaurants dedicating large portions of their menu to vegetarian dishes. But Taj Grill still comes out on top in a field of worthy competitors with a staggering selection of veg-friendly entrees, breads, and appetizers that will find favor from seasoned Indian food gourmands to those who are new to the rich and complex flavors of Indian cooking. Our favorite (for non-vegans) is the paneer shahi korma a delicious dance of ginger, cashews, raisins, and spices with traditional Indian cheese. A buffet is available at lunch and dinner and provides ample opportunity to sample a wide variety of Taj’s fare. Since the buffet is popular, it is well attended and refilled often, guaranteeing fresh options.

Best healthy menu options
Ashker’s Juice Bar and Cafe

1002 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; 886-2233
Although it’s much more than just a juice place—fresh breakfasts, sandwiches, and salads take up a bulk of the menu—Ashker’s really shines in the beverage department. There are smoothies, with or without a “vegetable booster,” and then there’s the juice. Made fresh to order, ingredients include apple, carrot, beet, and kale. Delicious at any time, these juices are a great alternative to morning coffee, especially on a hot summer day.

Best brunch: TIE
Shango Bistro & Wine Bar

3260 Main St., Buffalo; shangobistro.com or 837-2326
Shango does brunch better than almost anyone in town and that’s why they’ve won this award so many times. No, the menu hasn’t changed much over time, but if it’s great, why should it? Classic southern dishes like BBQ Shrimp and Grits or Stuffed French Toast (filled with brie and topped with banana caramel rum sauce) will help any diner understand why this place is always popular on Sunday mornings.
Martin Cooks
346 Connecticut St., Buffalo; martincooks.com or 259-9306
A vibrant winter market scene plus brunch at Martin Cooks makes Horsefeathers the place to be on weekend mornings. The menu generally leans toward the lunch side of the equation, and it’s always eclectic. Don’t be surprised to find Mexican next to Asian next to good old steak and eggs. And it wouldn’t be brunch without cocktails, including the Martin Cooks Bloody Mary.

Best bagels
Bagel Jay’s

Multiple locations; bageljays.com
We’ve seen some great riffs on bagels in recent years, but it’s hard to replicate the good, old-fashioned (and labor intensive) methods that have made bagels one of our country’s most popular breakfast items. Sure you can make bready rolls with holes in the middle, but that’s not a bagel, even if it looks like one. Really, it isn’t, even if it’s labeled “bagel.” However, Bagel Jay’s nails it, and always has. With a variety of flavored bagels and a menu of offerings suited for breakfast and lunch, this homegrown bagel joint does it better than anyone else in WNY.

Best bread (city)
BreadHive Worker Cooperative Bakery

123 Baynes St., Buffalo; breadhive.com or 980-5623
In just over a year, Breadhive has grown its operation dramatically while maintaining the quality of its bread. The star is the West Side Sourdough—made from a mother started in 2010, each batch is fermented for half a day. In addition to the bakery’s popular standards, every week brings a different special. Sometimes they’re sweet, sometimes they’re savory, but they’re always delicious. Stop by Breadhive’s take-out window for a loaf, or pick it up at select local markets.

Best bread (Northtowns)
DiCamillo Bakery

Multiple locations; dicamillobakery.com
DiCamillo’s bread has been a WNY staple since 1920. The local chain of bakeries sells a lot of delicious things—scones, cookies, donuts, panettone, biscotti, and well, we could go on—but we know families who would sooner call off Christmas dinner than go on without a loaf of DiCamillo’s sliced Italian at the table. Sometimes traditions are meant to be broken, but that’s not the case with DiCamillo’s Italian bread, a bread with a dedicated following and a rich history.

Best bread (Southtowns)
Elm Street Bakery

72 Elm St., East Aurora; elmstreetbakery.com or 652-4720
This fine establishment has won the best bread category consistently since it opened. Serving artisanal breads made from wholesome ingredients is a great thing, but serving bread that is perfect? Well, that’s another. From its chewy, flavorful crust to the texture, density, and moistness of its crumb, whether you devour (and that’s exactly how it will go, so don’t fool yourself into thinking this bread will sit on your counter long enough to go bad) sourdough, baguette, rye, or multigrain, ESB’s breads are winners.

Best restaurant desserts
The Black Sheep

367 Connecticut St., Buffalo; blacksheepbuffalo.com or 884-1100
Even though The Black Sheep is a carnivore’s paradise, Ellen Gedra’s pastry prowess is a force to be reckoned with. Remaining true to the restaurant’s roots, she concentrates on local and seasonal fruit and produce within her ever-changing menu of sweet, satiating plates. Ranging from decadent to whimsical, Ellen’s desserts are superior to most due to her dedication to scratch baking and high quality ingredients, as well as her conscientious and unexpected use of salt.

Best Donuts
Paula’s Donuts

Multiple locations; paulasdonuts.com
In the winter of 2015, a prankster posted a picture online insinuating that Paula’s Donuts was opening a downtown location, and it nearly broke the Interwebs. This random gag demonstrated how dedicated and obsessed the fans of Paula’s really are. With a (confirmed) third location opening in West Seneca later this year, Paula’s is on its way to taking over Western New York with its huge selection of decadent, delicious, and fresh donuts.

Best ice cream shop (city): TIE
Parkside Candy

3208 Main St., Buffalo; parksidecandy.com or 833-7540
From the outside, you might think the University Heights location of Parkside Candy is just another chocolate shop, but don’t be fooled. Inside this shabby beauty is a wormhole to the pre-World War II era. No, the ice cream isn’t gourmet, but when was the last time you had ice cream served to you in a tall, footed glass with a long, thin silver spoon? And when was the last time you nuzzled your sweetheart in a custom booth built for two? The iconic and original detailing of this space made it the perfect backdrop for several scenes in The Natural, and the current ice cream prices hearken back to at least the Reagan administration. A visit to Parkside may be an under appreciated experience to the uninitiated, but we think it’s one all Buffalonians should have.

Gelateria Luca
998 Elmwood Ave., gelaterialuca.com or 882-5353
Gelato is such a beautiful thing. Typically lower in calories, fat, and sugar than its counterpart, ice cream, gelato is a rich, luscious, satisfying treat. While some high quality gelatos are certainly available in your supermarket’s freezer section, the Gelateria Luca experience is preferable. Samples can help you find a flavor you’ll love, and the small Elmwood shop also serves coffee, a small selection of Italian pastries, and crepes.

Best ice cream shop (Northtowns)
Lake Effect Artisan Ice Cream
79 Canal St., Lockport; lakeeffecticecream.com or 201-1643
Two high school teachers who decided to dabble in the frozen arts have made Lockport home base for America’s favorite summertime treat. Lake Effect’s scoop shop is home to dozens of flavors, ranging from step-up standards such as Silver Cloud Vanilla to unique originals. Gin and Juice Sherbet, anyone? The sundaes are killer, using local ingredients to supplement the scoops. Expect an ice cream truck to hit the road shortly. We can only hope more brick and mortar locations will pop up across Western New York.

Best ice cream shop (Southtowns)
Fran-Ceil Custard

3411 South Park Ave., Blasdell; franceilcustard.com
Minutes from the I90, you’ll find a South Buffalo gem that’s been holding its own for sixty years. Using the original owner’s custard recipe, Fran-Ceil is about more than just delicious homemade custard. In addition to featuring a unique flavor each week (chocolate and vanilla are always served), those screaming for ice cream will also discover sherbet, frozen yogurt, hard ice cream, sorbet, milkshakes, custard lattes, and so much more. Open seven days a week seasonally, Fran-Ceil is the epitome of what an ice cream stand should be.

Best fries (gourmet)
Winfield’s Pub

1213 Ridge Rd., Buffalo; winfieldspub.com or 821-0700
Plenty of fries in Buffalo are fresh cut, and it’s not uncommon to find a restaurant that has figured out the frying technique that achieves a crispy exterior with a soft, fluffy interior. Winfield’s Pub certainly has, then goes a step further, topping its spuds with a special ingredient that pushes them above and beyond: hops. That’s right, the same hops that go into making beer. This adds a pleasant floral earthiness, making these fries a must-have.

Best fries (city)
Soho Burger Bar

64 W. Chippewa St., Buffalo; sohoburgerbar.com or 856-7646
The conversion of Soho the bar into Soho the Burger Bar has been quite successful. Between rooftop brunch, a busy dinner service, and the evolution from bar to restaurant now happening with even more of its neighbors, on most nights it’s hard to remember what Chippewa used to be like. Soho’s burgers are custom blended, hand-formed, and cooked using a combo plancha-then-grill method that renders a juicy burger with that touch of char flavor we all like. But enough about the burgers; we’re here about the fries. Hand cut, well prepared, and perfectly seasoned, Soho’s housemade potato chips, fries, tater tots, and shoestrings are hard to beat. Crunchy on the outside, soft (but not too soft) on the inside, these golden brown potatoes, in all their forms, are the ideal match for a good burger and a cold beer, but they’re also good enough to stand on their own.

Best fries (Northtowns)
Ted’s

Multiple locations; tedshotdogs.com
Ted’s does a lot of things right. Known for their char-grilled hot dogs, this local fast food chain has served good food at good prices since 1927. Clean, efficient, and consistent, it’s one of our area’s most iconic restaurants. While Ted’s hot dogs have provided a notable benchmark in the history of the wiener, it’s their fries we really love. Slim, crisp, and salted perfectly, these blonde beauties are perfect when partnered with ketchup, vinegar, or, if you’re a little daring, a quick dip in a thick Ted’s milkshake.

Best fries (Southtowns)
Bar-Bill

185 Main St., East Aurora; barbill.com or 652-7959
French fries largely exist in the staid middle ground of mediocrity. We eat them a lot —stacked alongside a burger, fish fry, or sandwich—and they are usually okay and that’s normally good enough. The rare instances when fries rise above the norm to something special is worth raving about. And rave we will about Bar-Bill’s heavenly slices of deep fried potato. Sure, the heavy-hitting all stars at East Aurora’s most storied tavern will always be the chicken wings and beef on weck, but the french fries are the prized utility player, always arriving at the table in a state of evenly cooked crispy perfection.

Best new restaurant (city)
Buffalo Proper

333 Franklin St., Buffalo; buffaloproper.com or 783-8699
Since opening its doors in August of last year, Buffalo Proper has become one of the hottest regional destinations for dinner and drinks. Owner and bartender extraordinaire Jon Karel has created a bar that feels both welcoming and fun. The knowledgeable bar staff serves  unique, handcrafted cocktails featuring fresh squeezed juices and interesting spirits. In the kitchen, esteemed chef Edward Forster (winner of Spree’s 2013 Chef to Watch award) is serving consistently well executed and innovative dishes using high quality and local ingredients, including a spatchcocked Oles Farm chicken that will rock your world.

Best new restaurant (suburban)
Black Iron Bystro

3648 South Park Ave., Blasdell; blackironbystro.com or 240-9830
After working in kitchens in and around Buffalo for most of his young career, Bryan Mecozzi has opened his own place, Black Iron Bystro. Located in his grandfather’s former print shop, the restaurant serves Southtown diners creative and approachable dishes. With a dedicated staff—including former Tabree chef Dustin Murphy—an open kitchen, and a well decorated dining room that pays homage to our city’s industrial past, this bistro feels like a little oasis. The menu is small, seasonally driven, and changes just often enough to keep things exciting. Ahh, we can't help but imagine the paradise that WNY would be if every suburban restaurant were this good.

Best food truck: TIE
Betty Crockski

Mobile; bettycrockski.com
We’ve never had such expertly prepared, delicious Polish food as that we’ve had from Betty’s; the fact that Betty's is a food truck makes that even more impressive. Owners Dana and Kate make their incredible kielbasa from scratch, same with the pierogi—which come in a variety of flavors; the pork is our favorite—and both are even better with a slathering of Betty’s sweet and spicy housemade mustard. End your meal with a richly decadent Crockski truffle brownie, and you’ll be converted.
Frank Gourmet Hotdogs
Mobile; findfranknow.com
Frank launched its second truck this year, so now it's able to dispense killer, housemade hot dogs topped with incredible concoctions at twice the rate. After partnering with a downstate farm to produce healthy, antibiotic-free beef and pork dogs, and the Brooklyn Hot Dog Company for all-beef dogs, the already delicious hot dog mash ups Frank is known for are even better. Heck, they even have a meatless dog made from brown rice and veggies. If you’ve never tried Frank before, we’d suggest the Holy Moley (guacamole, Sriracha, fried jalapenos, and cilantro), the Proud Mary (bacon, Tijuana cream cheese, and caramelized onion), or the Violet Beauregarde (blueberry bbq sauce, cheddar cheese, and crunchy onions).

Best place to dine at the bar: TIE
The Black Sheep

367 Connecticut St., Buffalo; blacksheepbuffalo.com or 884-1100
Bourbon & Butter
391 Washington St., Buffalo; bourbonbutter.bar or 253-6453
Mothers
33 Virginia Pl., Buffalo; 882-2989
Oliver’s
2095 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; oliverscuisine.com or 877-9662
We love dining at the bar. Alone, or with one or two others, there is no finer seat in the house as far as we are concerned.  When it’s time for a quick bite, a drink, great service, and some pleasant conversation, dining at the bar is the way to go. There are so many paces in town where this experience is done well, from casual joints to the fanciest of locations, but these are our favorites. The Black Sheep and its very global approach to local food will thrill and amaze you and your palate. Tony Rials and the bar staff at Bourbon & Butter make enjoying the restaurant’s excellent food at the bar an easy and courteous experience, plus the cocktails are impossible to beat. Mothers serves food until the wee hours, making it a favorite haunt for restaurant folks after work. (The wine list is also a great value, so get a bottle.) Oliver’s is quintessential old school—the bartenders are funny and wry, the food is always interesting, and the vibe is straight out of a Dean Martin flick.

Best caterer: TIE
Black Market Food Truck

Mobile; blackmarketfoodtruck.com
Black Market Food Truck has gained a lot of local attention since appearing on the scene in 2013. Since then, it has steadily built a dedicated legion of fans with every street corner and festival it pulls up to. Spree readers have been keen to notice that chef/owners Christian Willmott and Michael Dimmer have also been quietly building an impressive catering business. What brings voters to proclaim this beloved food truck “best caterer”? Well, from what we gather, in addition to BMFT’s consistently good and innovative food offerings, it’s also their attention to detail, willingness to create inventive, unique menus crafted for every special event they are a part of, and the ability to appease vegans, gluten avoiders, and carnivores alike. Look forward to Marble + Rye, the duo’s new brick and mortar restaurant, opening downtown this summer.
Buffalo Catering Company
325 Tacoma St., Buffalo; buffalocateringco.com or 873-4000
Buffalo Catering Company has won this award numerous times over the years because it focuses on offering consistently excellent fare at a good price. Looking for a meal of fine steaks and a raw bar?  Up for barbecue with all the fixins or a taco bar? How about a seated chicken dinner for 400? No matter what you want to offer your guests, BCC has got you covered. And they'll do it with a smile.

Best chef (established)
Michael Obarka, Ristorante Lombardo

1198 Hertel Ave., Buffalo; ristorantelombardo.com or 873-4291
You’d be hard pressed to find another forty-year-old restaurant in WNY that has remained as relevant and fresh as Ristorante Lombardo. Some of that credit is due to executive chef Michael Obarka’s ability to balance familiar, comfortable, deep flavors with modern plating and trends. Self-trained, Obarka might be one of the most well-adjusted chefs we’ve met—his staff loves him, and his peers do, too. Whether it’s a simple margherita pizza to go or a multicourse meal with no expense spared, guests leave Lombardo’s satisfied. Obarka’s dedication to fresh, high-quality ingredients and scratch cooking sets this, one of WNY’s many Italian restaurants, apart from all the rest.

Best new chef
Brad Rowell, Elm Street Bakery

72 Elm St., East Aurora; elmstreetbakery.com or 652-4720
To say that chef Rowell put East Aurora on the map as a destination for those seeking modern and delicious food would be an understatement. Using ingredients primarily made in-house or sourced from local farms, the young chef’s offerings are well-conceived, expertly executed, and developed in a manner that allows each ingredient to shine. His success as a restaurant owner in Denver and his tenure in the kitchen of April Bloomfield at her popular NYC restaurant, Spotted Pig, has given Rowell the opportunity to develop a solid skill set and a unique culinary point of view. If you’ve ever wanted to see a chef in his element, firing on all pistons in an open kitchen, do yourself a favor and immediately book a reservation at Elm Street Bakery.

Best restaurant for a large group: TIE
Salvatore's Italian Gardens

6461 Transit Rd., Depew; salvatores.net or 683-7990
Few establishments in Western New York have the capacity to successfully serve large groups without compromising food quality. Salvatore’s is one of the best options for this scenario; whether you’re hosting twenty family members for Easter dinner or having a five hundred-person wedding, Salvatore’s can accommodate your party and provide something for everyone with its broad selection of American favorites.
Tappo
338 Ellicott St., Buffalo; tappoitalian.com or 259-8130
Modern, sleek, and filled with large family-size tables intended for groups of eight-to-twelve, Tappo might be the most chic-yet-approachable family restaurant in WNY. The cork-covered tables act as a stage for plates of rigatoni with pork ragu, lasagna, and Italian beef sandwiches every day, but Sunday’s family-style service means everyone eats for $16 from a simple menu of meatballs, Bolognese sauce, cheese bread, and salad. The $15 bottles of wine (over forty to choose from) mean everyone will leave happy.

Best wait staff
Ristorante Lombardo

1198 Hertel Ave., Buffalo; ristorantelomabrdo.com or 873-4291
The commitment to service is apparent from the moment you leave your keys with the complimentary valet. With an abundant number of staff, even on a sleepy weeknight, there's hardly a break in the attention paid to each guest, but it somehow never feels plotted or overbearing. When delivering food, serving wine, or clearing the table, the coordination and efficiency displayed are incredibly impressive, and so low-key that their combined efforts may go entirely unnoticed—the sign of perfect service, indeed. So bring some friends and let the wait staff at Lombardo's make you feel like you are the only people in the world for a night.

Best wine list (bottle)
Bacchus

56 W. Chippewa St., Buffalo; bacchusbuffalo.com or 854-9463
The wine list at Bacchus, clocking in at eleven pages in length, has been Wine Spectator awarded for several years and includes wines from around the world, divided by country of origin, but also with a list of twenty great wines under forty bucks, making a great bottle of wine an attainable goal for neophytes on a budget. Curated by Michael DePue and owner/chef Brian Mietus, the wine list is a people pleaser, but also loaded with surprises, like a solid selection of grower champagnes, some carefully selected wines from Greece, and five wines from the California winemakers’ group known as In Pursuit of Balance, which focuses on non-manipulation in the cellar. The other reason why wine service at Bacchus rocks? It’s neither snooty nor uninformed—your server is your best ally here.

Best wine list (by the glass)
Just Vino

846 Main St., Buffalo; justvino.net or 725-0166
There very few—if any—wine-by-the-glass lists in town, no matter how extensive, that afford patrons the opportunity to try three or four different whites that aren't chardonnay, three or four reds that aren't cabernet, and maybe a couple dry roses in the same evening. Just Vino has an extensive list, organized by color and country or origin, that can be power tasted via flights or slowly sipped via full glasses. The prices are reasonable, and there is no ceremony or intimidation. The servers and bartenders are knowledgeable, but maintain a friendly, casual atmosphere. Come in for a full tasting experience, a couple glasses after work, or even just a beer. You will feel welcome.

Best use of local ingredients: TIE
Elm Street Bakery

72 Elm St., East Aurora; elmstreetbakery.com or 652-4720
Craving
1472 Hertel Ave., Buffalo; cravingbuffalo.com or 883-1675
Western New York is the axis for high quality farmland, healthy livestock, and dedicated, hard working farmers. With dozens of farmers markets and eager chefs, it is now easier than ever for diners to enjoy local produce and meat. Both Elm Street Bakery in East Aurora and Craving on Hertel Avenue are exemplars of how the use of quality local ingredients can elevate a menu. Chef Adam Goetz of Craving often uses social media to highlight his use of local ingredients while creating his daily specials menu around what he received from farmers that week. Similarly, the crew at Elm Street Bakery, headed by chef Brad Rowell, pride themselves on incorporating local ingredients into nearly the entire menu while also running a dedicated fermentation shed that allows the restaurant to preserve seasonal ingredients year round.

Best local farm
Promised Land CSA at Oles Farm

2112 County Line Rd., Alden; promisedlandcsa.com or (585) 599-3462
The Oles family has been farming for over fifty years and currently offers almost one hundred varieties of sustainably raised fruits and vegetables, as well as hormone- and antibiotic-free livestock. They also feature a generous CSA program with winter, summer, and egg shares. Diners in the know will tell you that Oles supplies some of the areas best restaurants, including Buffalo Proper, The Black Sheep, Toutant, and Ristorante Lombardo.

Best local winery
Leonard Oakes Winery

10609 Ridge Rd., Medina; oakeswinery.com or 585-318-4418
Located at the furthest outpost of the Niagara Wine Trail, Leonard Oakes has been blazing a trail of its own here in Buffalo, NYC, and elsewhere with its superior offerings. You may be familiar with its very popular Steampunk Cider or award-winning ice wine, but the vintages released thus far in 2015 are nothing short of impressive. Here are a few: Edible Manhattan recently wrote excitedly about Leonard Oakes’ new orange wine (no, not wine made of oranges, but white wine fermented on its skins long enough to change its color and develop a heady flavor). A recently released pétillant naturel (or pét-nat) is a sparkling Riesling made through the use of old world methods. It features a nuanced palate and delicate bubbles sure to thrill Champagne drinkers. The 2012 Blaufränkisch is loaded with berry and black pepper notes, and other releases, like the pinot noir rosé, are also noteworthy. Look for Leonard Oakes’ wines on store shelves, or, better yet, take a trip out to the winery’s tasting room.

Best local brewery
Community Beer Works

15 Lafayette Ave., Buffalo; community beerworks.com or 759-4677
With the recent boom in Buffalo’s brewery scene, this year’s race for Best Brewery was tighter than ever, which makes Community Beer Works’s continued supremacy all the more impressive. Despite arguably newer and flashier brewery debuts, CBW is still serving WNY’s best locally made beer and gaining national attention along the way. We’re convinced that if they could find a way to start putting that beer into tall silver cans, folks would drive from miles away to wait in line for it.

Best local distillery
Lockhouse Distillery

41 Columbia St., Buffalo; lockhousedistillery.com or 768-4898
Lockhouse was the first distillery to open in Buffalo since Prohibition. And while others are following in its wake, Lockhouse remains ahead of the curve. In late 2014, it launched its gin, following a year of vodka sales augmented by long lines and a routinely sold-out warehouse. This year will hold even bigger changes for the local booze makers, as they relocate to the Cobblestone District, open a tasting room and bar, and prepare to release the whiskey they’ve been barrel aging. With a great public profile, availability in bars and retail stores, constant participation in cool openings, and the desire to build a brand of note, Lockhouse stands at the top of the heap.

Best restaurant décor: TIE
Oshun

5 E. Huron St., Buffalo; oshunseafood.com or 848-4500
For many years it sat empty. It had been a shoe store previously. And before even that, the beautiful art deco styling of 5 East Huron belonged to Waldorf Lunch, a quick serve restaurant chain from the forties. Since then, no  tenant of the building has done its architectural details as much honor as Oshun has, the downtown oyster house and restaurant owned by Shango’s Jim Guarino that opened in fall of 2014. With a spectacular modern Art Deco interior that successfully marries the building’s original pastel-hued wall frescos with contemporary design, tasteful trims and finishes, and top-notch branding, Oshun is easily one of Buffalo’s most beautiful restaurants.
Allen Burger Venture
175 Allen St., Buffalo; find it on Facebook or 768-0386
Stepping into ABV you might think you’ve entered Brooklyn’s coolest craft beer bar. Replete with custom tap handles made from worn farming tools, a whisky selection framed out in old crates, the beloved seventies-era Pepsi machine from Home of the Hits standing watch near the door, and a wall covered with classic LP covers, ABV is comfortable, beautiful, cool, and so very refreshing. Just hip enough to be hip, but not so hip it’s alienating, this space, marked by pools of light spilling out from uber-chic light fixtures, is simultaneously homey and too cool for school.

Best outdoor patio: TIE
Resurgence Brewing Company

1250 Niagara St., Buffalo; resurgencebrewing.com or 381-9868
It’s hard to say what’s the bigger draw at Resurgence Brewing: the beer or the beautiful environment. In the warmer months, there is no better place to drink than on the new brewery’s outdoor patio. Picnic bench seating makes it easy to make new friends, while the fire pit is a great place to huddle on cool summer nights. Not a bad use for an old warehouse on Niagara Street, right?
Cecelia’s Ristorante & Martini Bar
716 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; ceceliasristorante.com, or 883-8066
Cecelia’s comfortable and spacious al fresco space welcomes the hungry, the thirsty, the weary masses yearning for martinis (or a cold glass of pinot grigio and tasty morsels to nosh on). And you won’t have to keep your head on a swivel watching for your server; the outside service is prompt and attentive, which is rare among outdoor dining areas. Plus, the people watching along Elmwood can’t be beat.

Best new hotspot (city): TIE
Hydraulic Hearth

716 Swan St., Buffalo; hydraulichearth.com or 248-2216
Exposed brick walls, a reclaimed redwood bar, an assortment of craft cocktails and beers, a wood-fired oven churning out bar food, and friendly staff—Hearth has it all. It’s trendy and stylish without being arrogant and unwelcoming, and this is why its dining room is packed virtually every night of the week. This summer, the Hearth nearly doubles in size with a new outdoor beer garden that includes  seating and shuffleboards.   
Ballyhoo
211 South Park Ave., Buffalo; find it on Facebook
Simultaneously, Ballyhoo manages to pay homage to the factory and canal roots of its location with au currant, chic décor, a balance many would find impossible to strike. Couple this with craft cocktails, a mercurial tap list that will win the heart of even the staunchest beer geek, and a list of housemade sausages and sides, and you have what might be the coolest tavern in town. Even when it’s packed to the gills with Buffalebrities, Ballyhoo manages to feel like a rare find, a place that you’re less likely to be “made” than most anywhere else in town. Is that because of its proximity to the Ohio Street bridge? Its second floor location? Or maybe its simply because the bartender doesn’t give a damn who you are. Whatever it is, ’Hoo has it in spades.
Public Espresso + Coffee
Hotel Lafayette at 391 Wahington St., Buffalo; publicespresso.com or 249-2205
Bringing the best of the third wave coffee movement to Buffalo, Public Espresso + Coffee started by roasting its own beans and selling them at farmers markets. In just over a year, the team behind the popular coffee company has opened a location in the lobby of the Lafayette Hotel and begun work on a stand-alone location, a very large facility on Grant Street which will open in 2015. Pour overs, nitro-tipped coffees, modern cold brew, and the best espresso drinks we've ever had in Buffalo are just a few of the things Public is doing right. WNY, can we have more of this, please?

Best new hotspot (Northtowns)
Moor Pat

78 E. Spring St., Williamsville; moorpat.com or 810-9957
When Mike Shatzel wants to open a new bar, he does it right. Located in the village of Williamsville, Moor Pat offers a new and exciting watering hole for locals. With a casual cool vibe, its eclectic beer list is second to none in the Northtowns, and it features exclusive events featuring breweries and rare beers from around the world. Additionally, a simple menu of Spar’s sausages and frites does the trick for late night eats.

Best new hotspot (Southtowns)
Hamburg Brewing Company

6553 Boston State Rd., Hamburg; hamburgbrewing.com or 649-3249
Once used to hold corporate events and a collection of classic cars, Hamburg Brewing Company’s taproom has quickly become an essential stop for any beer lover in the Southtowns. The sizeable compound overlooks a lake that truly shines in the summer, while the fireplace is used to heat the space in the winter. All that, plus a great selection of beers brewed onsite, wine, and snacks makes HBC the hottest spot in the Southtowns.

Best craft cocktails
Bourbon & Butter

391 Washington St., Buffalo; bourbonbutter.bar or 253-6453
Among the city’s strong collection of craft bartenders, Tony Rials quietly presides as the most talented of the bunch. His menu at Bourbon & Butter offers perfectly prepared classics, but what really distinguishes the cocktails here from any other capable craft bar in town are the originals. Rials uses the best ingredients in new and complex ways, creating cocktails that are simultaneously thoughtful, playful, and incredibly nuanced. Attention to detail— including a crystal clear, hand-carved, ice cube program—provides a refined and delicious cocktail experience unparalleled in WNY.

Best Manhattan: TIE
Mothers

33 Virginia Pl., Buffalo; 882-2989
Oliver’s
2095 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; oliverscuisine.com or 877-9662
Though its provenance is oft debated, it is unlikley the Manhattan’s creator had any inkling it would become the unofficial cocktail of the Rat Pack, or that it would see a resurgence in the early twenty-first century after several seasons in the hand of Don Draper. Manhattans went through a rather sad period—namely the past thirty years—where bourbon was considered a reasonable substitute for rye, or juice from the neon-colored maraschino cherries used as a garnish was dumped into the drink for reasons no legitimate cocktail maker or drinker can fathom. Thanks to the craft cocktail movement, good Manhattans are far easier to find today than ever before, but the two places in town where a solid Manhattan has always been available are Oliver’s and Mothers. At Oliver’s, the old school barkeeps, dressed in white dress shirts and ties, will gladly serve you at the beautiful horseshoe-shaped bar. Arrive on a weekend and enjoy your cocktail to piano accompaniment. Or experience a timeless level of casual luxury at Mothers, perfected by owner Mark Supples when he opened the place in the nineties. Relatively unchanged since then, the camaraderie, late night menu, affordably priced wine list, and reliably well-made Manhattans have made this under-the-radar hideaway a Buffalo favorite for decades.

Best bar beer selection (city)
Blue Monk

727 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; bmbflo.com or 882-6665
You’ll need both hands and those of about fourteen other friends to help you count all the different beers typically available at Blue Monk. Quantity isn’t the only draw here, though it certainly helps. If you’re unsure of what to order, you’ll get some great assistance from knowledgeable staffers who seem to have tasted every beer on the board. A little roomier than it looks, the tastings and DJ sets at Blue Monk share the same thoughtful, celebrated taste as the beer selection.

Best bar beer selection (Northtowns)
Pizza Plant

7770 Transit Rd., Williamsville; pizzaplant.com or 632-0800
With a couple dozen beers on tap at any time, Pizza Plant’s smartly selected beer list virtually guarantees options for everyone. Whether you have an experienced palate or a young one, there’s likely a brew you haven’t yet had and plenty of quality pulls from local and well known crafters to enjoy as well. Couple that with tasting nights featuring all kinds of craft breweries and other beer-centric promotions, and it is easy to see why the Plant is the perennial place for a pint in the Northtowns.

Best bar beer selection (Southtowns)
Aurora Brew Works

191 Main St., East Aurora; find it on Facebook; 652-2337
Aurora Brew Works has only six taps, but the draw to this three-year-old bar is the geeky passion for beer that permeates the premises. The small bar has taps with really rare options, but it is also coupled with a substantial beer store, which is where that enthusiastic vote for best selection comes from. Buy a bottle and pay an additional dollar to drink it in-house, or skip the fee and take it home. Quieter than most bars and studded with clever growler light fixtures, Aurora Brew Works exudes the charm and handmade feel of craft beer.  

 

Best small music venue
Pausa Art House

19 Wadsworth St., Buffalo; pausaarthouse.com or 697-9069
Pausa lives up to its billing as an “art house.” Nestled in a residential neighborhood around the corner from busy Allen Street, it’s home to both gallery exhibitions and concerts. A low admission fee (typically $10 or less) gains you entrance to an intimate venue where the emphasis is on work you won’t see or hear anywhere else. On any given night, that may include local jazz and classical luminaries (Bobby Militello, George Caldwell, John Bacon, Jonathan Golove) trying out new material, an international touring act, or something completely unclassifiable. Seating is limited and ultra-casual; between sets you can hobnob with the performers over sandwiches, wine, and microbrews in the front-room bar. It’s a labor of love for proprietors Jon and Lázara Nelson, and we love everything about it.

Best large music venue
Asbury Hall at Babeville

341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; babevillebuffalo.com or 852-3825
It’s not a coincidence that prominent acts like Modest Mouse, Andrew Bird, and a reunited Neutral Milk Hotel have decided to make unexpected tour stops in Buffalo over the past few years. Sure, the city’s ever expanding music scene is a draw between Toronto and Cleveland, but the chance to play in Ani DiFranco’s angelic venue is the real carrot. Carved out of the repurposed Asbury Delaware Methodist Church, the space is both celebratory and ceremonious, allowing fans to pay reverence to pitch perfect tracks while acts’ offerings are aided by Asbury’s complementary acoustics. Simply put, it’s a jewel of a setting, tucked in the heart of the Queen City.   

Best bar for live music (Northtowns)
Shannon Pub

2250 Niagara Falls Blvd., Tonawanda; shannonpub.com or 743-9348
To borrow inspiration from Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller, Niagara Falls Boulevard moves pretty fast. If you don’t slow down while traversing it once in a while, you could miss an ideal Irish enclave like the Shannon, offering live Irish music and comfortable pub atmosphere on one of the area’s busiest thoroughfares. Whether during its packed St. Patrick’s Day schedule or throughout the year’s other fifty-one weeks, the locale—relocated in 2004 after spending a decade inside Snyder’s Lord Amherst Hotel—the Shannon’s raised landing, barroom hearth, and walls of framed Irish songbooks provide the ideal setting for those looking for some peace and a pint under Celtic rhythms.   

Best bar for live music (city)
Mohawk Place

47 E. Mohawk St., Buffalo; buffalosmohawkplace.com or 312-9279
It’s baaaaaack. The fate of one of downtown Buffalo’s most cherished venues hung in limbo for a while, but thanks to new owner Rich Platt, the story now has a happy ending—or, to be more precise, an intriguing new chapter. Improvements are subtle—a spiffy floor,  revamped sound system,  larger beer menu—but welcome. Purists, fear not: the Mohawk is still an amiably funky dive bar at heart, and the lineup of acts both local and national remains diverse and adventurous.

Best bar for live music (Southtowns)
189 Public House

189 Main St., East Aurora; oneeightynine.com or 652-8189
Located right next door to—and sharing an owner with—perennial Spree favorite Bar Bill, 189 Public House is simultaneously a restaurant (albeit with a very different and more varied menu than its neighbor), a whiskey-centric bar, and the most exciting place to catch a concert in EA. While it’s been in operation for only a little more than a year, the 200-seat venue has already generated buzz for its roster of touring Americana acts and earned praise from the region’s musicians who have performed there. It’s a welcome addition to EA’s thriving Main Street and to the cultural scene of WNY as a whole.

Best new hangout
Allen Burger Venture

175 Allen St., Buffalo; find it on Facebook or 768-0386
The coolest thing about ABV—aside from the mountain-man-bearded habitués and the repurposed-industrial ambience—is its name. Ostensibly short for “Allen Burger Venture,” the acronym has another meaning entirely for beer geeks. “Alcohol by volume” is the measuring stick brewers use to announce the strength of their offerings. Sure enough, high quality, hard-to-find microbrews flow from twenty-four taps at Buffalo’s latest Mike Shatzel joint. (The mastermind behind Blue Monk and MoorPat, he’s joined here by head chef Dino DeBell and man-about-town Johny Chow.) The hamburgers have been drawing raves, the canned music doesn’t sound like it comes from a can, and the bike-friendly vibe is perfect for Allentown.

Most innovative theater production (2014)
All Quiet on the Western Front, New Phoenix

“Devised work” is all the buzz in the theater world, with companies nationwide creating ensemble-driven pieces through improvisation, workshops, and rehearsals.  These meet with various degrees of success, as they’re often in dire need of a conscientious overseer to clarify and unify the voices, make impartial decisions about what stays and goes, and shape the resulting narrative. With this past season’s All Quiet on the Western Front, director Robert Waterhouse ably took on that role and presented a depiction of war that was both intimate and chilling in the tiny New Phoenix space. Waterhouse began with existing source material—the 1929 novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque—supplemented with personal research in Europe, and gave the script humanity, humor, and unique personality through the assemblage and devised work of a charismatic cast. A visceral production that’s rumored to have broken a record for sound cues, the story chronicled the lives, and deaths, of four friends who headed off to war—and took us with them every step of the way.

Best production of a contemporary show: TIE
Water by the Spoonful, Road Less Traveled Productions

Putting on a show that’s seen many iterations can often be an exercise in replication rather than creativity, but with a show like Water by the Spoonful, which so recently won the Pulitzer in 2012, a theater company choosing to stage it—presumably without budget enough to mimic the New York production—is largely left to its imagination. In this, Road Less Traveled excelled. From Dyan Burlingame’s stunning set design complemented by John Rickus’ haunting lighting, to Scott Behrend’s intuitive blocking and direction, to the stellar ensemble cast, this production succeeded on every level and allowed WNY theatergoers to experience a new work in a way that didn’t make you wish you’d seen it off-Broadway.
The Drowsy Chaperone, MusicalFare
Beginning its existence as an in-joke-filled bachelor party entertainment in Toronto many years ago, The Drowsy Chaperone has evolved into one of the giddiest, most inventive new offerings on Broadway in ages, and MusicalFare deserves major props for selecting it to lead their twenty-fifth anniversary season. Under the direction of ever-reliable Chris Kelly, the solid, charming ensemble spoofed the conventions and clichés of 1920s-era stage musicals with boundless energy and quick wit, resulting in a nuanced, crowd-pleasing production that was superior to the bus-and-truck version that played Shea’s several seasons back. Pure delight from beginning to end.

Best production of a classic show
Death of a Salesman, Irish Classical Theatre Company

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is often a high school English requirement; if only every high schooler could have seen this production instead of reading the words on a page.  Better, if only everyone who read this play in high school and found no resonance with Willy Loman and his family could have experienced Death of a Salesman anew with the benefit of life experience, hindsight, and this first-rate production. Certainly, this version at Irish had no less tragic an ending, but the journey—a visceral tour-de-force exquisitely rendered by a uniformly talented ensemble helmed by John Fredo and Ellen Horst—was one not often taken from a theater seat, and one that left no doubt as to why this Arthur Miller work is a classic portrait that rewards revisiting.

Must-see art exhibition, large gallery (2014–15): TIE
Barge, Burchfield Penney Art Center

Its real name was Displacement Barge Prototype, but most of us knew it as the barge—a gigantic wooden vessel built to order in the BPAC East gallery and taking up most of that space. From August through most of October, this boat carried a full cargo (on two levels) of paintings, sculptures, multimedia installations, drawings, photographs, and digital artworks from WNY-based artists. And the cargo changed regularly, with new art loaded in on most weekends. It was a prototype because BPAC plans an even much more ambitious project involving a real barge next year. But even if that voyage never leaves harbor, the gallery version was exciting and innovative enough to be celebrated—and maybe repeated.
Portraits and Work, Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Overtime: the Art of Work was a collection-based exhibition that included work loaned from outside sources. This organic strategy for formulating new shows is not only cost-saving (compared to the Monet or Chilhuly blockbusters of yore), it brings more of the AKAG’s impressive collection out of the storerooms. Juxtaposed with collection classics like Buffalo News Boy, curator Cathleen Chaffee’s vision included surprising multimedia installations that were among the most exciting elements of the show. Harun Farocki’s Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades is a series of televisions placed on the ground in one gallery, each displaying the notion of “work” in archival clips showed the shifting perception of the economies of work over a century of media depictions. Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ 1977 Touch Sanitation Performance pays tribute to New York City sanitation workers, as Ukeles documents her attempt to individually shake hands with and thank every sanitation worker in the city over the course of a year. Kudos to the Albright for acknowledging the working people of Buffalo by offering free admission to the show on Sundays. This show paired beautifully with Eye to Eye: Looking Beyond Likeness, a show of portraiture curated by Holly Hughes, entirely culled from the collection. From Edgar Degas to Chuck Close and Cindy Sherman, portraiture and self-portraiture are displayed in a creative, salon-style hanging that creates fascinating alliances in mood and style.

Must-see art exhibition, small gallery (2014–15)
John Pfahl, Nina Freudenheim Gallery

This beautiful and fascinating selection of photographs completed in the 1970s demonstrates why Pfahl is considered a master of contemporary landscape photography. It’s his eye for the subtle oddities of nature, especially when they intersect with the manmade. Ironically, the new prints—made possible by digital technology—also demonstrate how straight photography can be as bizarre and otherworldly as anything created with digital intervention.

Best movie theater
Dipson Theatres

Multiple locations; dipsontheatres.com
In our recent film issue's survey of local movie screens, Dipson came out on top for several reasons:it offers the widest array of programming, including indie and prestige films; it hosts Buffalo Film Seminars on Tuesdays at the Amherst; it offers WNY's only D-Box technology; and, very important, Dipson has the best popcorn. Nuff said.

Best small concert (2014–15)
Elliott Brood at Sportsmens

Most times, the greatest small shows are the ones no one saw coming. In the case of Toronto alt-country trio Elliott Brood’s January 17 appearance at Sportsmens Tavern, it was a show not many people saw—at all. Those who did—which numbered around fifty—were treated to no lines at the bar, as well as a rollicking two-hour set of back-catalog stompers and homespun tracks off 2014’s Work and Love. But despite the sparse winter crowd, Brood’s Casey Laforet (drums), Stephen Pitkin (guitar, vocals), and Mark Sasso (guitar, vocals) cranked out a polished show with enough bombast to lead a Town Ballroom-sized affair.

Best large concert (2014–15)
St. Vincent at Asbury Hall

A lot has changed since Annie Clark (whose stage name and band name is St. Vincent) first hit the scene as a slightly awkward singer/songwriter and art-rock guitar nerd. In 2013, Clark spent a year on the road with master stage performer and former Talking Heads front man, David Byrne, and it shows. The Digital Witness tour, in support of her latest self-titled album, was a polished tour de force of precision musicianship deftly enhanced through idiosyncratic staging and costuming. Each song was a tonally unique bit of performance art set to music, with tightly choreographed stage movements, backed by crisply audible sound. The set included something from all four of Clark’s solo albums, with sonic moods spanning from dreamily evocative to blisteringly frantic, all performed with virtuosic musicianship.

Best outdoor concert (2014)
Hall & Oates at Artpark

Did the majority of attendees at last June’s Hall and Oates Artpark show realize that they were in the midst of greatness? Did they anticipate the Philadelphia duo’s performance would not only be worth the pittance required to enter the Tuesday in the Park concert date, but would also be one of the summer’s best outdoor shows? Not sure, but based on the Rock and Roll Hall-of Famers’ unrelenting blue-eyed soul revue and revisitation of MTV standards like “Maneater” and “Out of Time,” I’m sure more than a few fans left Lewiston having chosen their favorite show of the summer.   

Best fundraiser (long-standing)
Fabulous Feast

shakespeareindelawarepark.org or 856-4533
Buffalo has no Medieval Times franchise, but we do have a homegrown version of Elizabethan times presented once a year by Shakespeare in Delaware Park in a pretty fair approximation of a medieval fortress—the Connecticut Street Armory. It stands out from other fundraisers because of the costumes, the singing, the dancing, the swordfights, and all the other novel entertainment too often lacking at other such events, however worthy they may be.

Best fundraiser (new)
Hallwalls’ brunches with artists

Various locations; hallwalls.org or 854-1694
Art lovers are invited to come as they are to these intimate Sunday afternoons in artists’ studios.  The food is deliciously prepared by Buffalo Catering Company, the Bloodies are strong, and the company is relaxed. So far, the roster of artists has included local favorites A.J. Fries, Ani Hoover, Bruce Adams, and former News art critic Richard Huntington.

Best outdoor programming for kids
Explore and More

300 Gleed Ave, East Aurora; exploreandmore.org or 655-5131
This hands-on wonderland, founded 1994 in East Aurora, has always emphasized creative play and learning, and now there a new 40,000-square-foot museum  planned for Canalside. While those plans take shape, enjoy free Family Fun Fridays at Canalside through September 4, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.

Best family fun (summer)
Erie County Fair

Erie County Fairgrounds, Hamburg; ecfair.org or 649-3900
Who doesn’t love the fair? Founded in 1841, and situated on 275 acres of land in Hamburg, New York, the Erie County Fair has something for everyone, from swine showmanship competitions to midway thrill rides to deep-fried cookie dough, deep-fried jambalaya, deep-fried butter, and various other deep-fried gastronomical delights and popular fair food. Within the eighty-six permanent fairground buildings, you will find prize vegetables, spectacular flower arrangements, amazing wood-carvings, talent and livestock competitions, and home brews, among many other things. For entertainment there are hypnotists, baloonologists, a high-diving act, nightly fireworks, concerts, and, of course, chainsaw artists. Over the past two seasons, the fair has upped the educational ante with an Agricultural Discovery Center and a new interactive program in which kids can experience farmwork for themselves. All this and much more for a ten buck admission charge, with kids under twelve free. How can you go wrong?

Best family fun (winter): TIE
The Ice at Canalside

Canalside, Central Wharf, Buffalo; canalsidebuffalo.com or 574-1537
Holiday Valley
Ellicottville; holidayvalley.com
If you build the rinks, they will come. That was amply proven in December when open ice skating began on the huge expanse of shallow canals that are part of the Inner Harbor attractions. As long as favorable conditions prevail, you can skate here every day from November through March—for free. Skate rentals, ice bikes, and curling lanes add just a few dollars to the tab. Judging by the crowds that instantly appeared to take advantage of this new waterfront amenity, those who insist that the waterfront will be deserted in winter have lost their credibility. Since 1958, Holiday Valley has been offering the ultimate winter getaway for families. With thirteen lifts, fifty-eight slopes and trails, three base lodges, two hotels, and  heated winter pool and hot tubs, HV provides the complete winter recreation package. The resort ranks among the favorites of skiers throughout the northeastern US and Canada.

Best event (winter)
Pond hockey

labattbluehockey.com
For those Western New Yorkers who love to play hockey, time can be split into BPH (before pond hockey) and APH (after pond hockey). The Labatt Blue Buffalo Pond Hockey Tournament celebrated its eighth year of existence in 2015, and this wildly successful, hugely enjoyable event featured nearly 150 teams and almost 1,000 (!) athletes. Buffalo RiverWorks was the location, and that only added to unforgettable vibe. Scoff at the Labatt Blue silos all you want, but the Canadian brewer should be applauded for the tournament. And while the talent level varies, we guarantee that more fun was had here than at every home Sabres game last season. See you at the ninth annual event next year.

Best event (summer)
City of Night

Silo City, 29 Childs St., Buffalo; find it on Facebook
Since its start in 2012, City of Night has matured. Not only has the event brought Buffalonians a new appreciation for the grain elevators, but it has quickly become the one summer event you cannot miss. While most people only experience the grain elevators from the highway, getting up close and personal brings a new perspective. The calls for their demolition to free up precious land for new development have dwindled dramatically, and much of the credit goes to this amazing arts fest. City of Night has a little something for everyone: live music, interactive art, food trucks, and a chance to experience Buffalo industrial history. This year’s installation will see a change in venue as the event migrates from the grain elevators into the adjacent First Ward neighborhood. It will be interesting to see the impact of this move.

Best event (indoor)
Small Press Book Fair

buffalosmallpress.org
Who could have imagined that an event devoted to the printed word could be so loaded with aural, visual, and tactile stimulation? This is not your grandfather’s book fair. Vendors offer everything from posters, broadsides, zines, comics, small sculptures, videos, and, of course, books of all types. It’s necessary to attend both days to take it all in and, most important, meet and converse with the fascinating writers and artists who come from all over the US to participate.

Best place to see everyone you know
Wegmans

wegmans.com
As far as we know, no one has ever gotten from one end of Wegmans to the other without running into a relative, friend, acquaintance, coworker, or some less definable degree of separation. It’s important to keep this in mind when you impulsively dash in to pick up a few items for dinner. If your hair is a mess, or you’re wearing your dirt-caked gardening clothes, you’re not going to get in and out without seeing someone you know. People shop at Wegmans, sure, but they also eat, learn to cook, listen to live music, and watch movies there. Businesspeople hold meetings in the café. There are lots of public places where you might see people you know. At Wegmans it’s guaranteed.  

Best festival
Dyngus Day

dyngusdaybuffalo.com
Let the rest of America have its chain-restaurant celebrations of Mardi Gras and Cinco de Mayo; we prefer Buffalo’s homegrown megaparty, thank you very much. Dyngus Day is part nostalgia for our city’s Polish past and part cheerleading for the East Side’s future resurgence.  An all-day affair for the most dedicated, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure smorgasbord: as you walk or ride the shuttle through the heart of Polonia, you can enjoy your polka old-school at church social halls like St. Stan’s, or go postmodern with a dash of hip-hop and metal in the jam-packed back room of Adam Mickie’s. You can explore mom-and-pop bars on side streets; take in the parade (favorite float: the human butter lambs); or even hit a BPO concert. Don your brightest red-and-white ensemble, grab a handful of pussywillows and a Tyskie, and let the locally sourced fun begin.

 

Best new retail business
Paradise Wine

435 Rhode Island St., Buffalo; paradisewinebuffalo.com or 332-5396
Adding critical mass to burgeoning West Side neighborhood, this unique shop offers a carefully curated selection of wine and spirits that focuses on small producers and sustainable methods. Add to that the expertise of local booze veteran Paula Paradise, and you’ve got a winner. We’d like PW to add a little more info to their website and Facebook pages, but, quibbles aside, we salute them for the warm reception they’ve gotten in just a few months of doing business.

Best new clothing boutique
Village Designs Elmwood

448 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; villagedesignselmwood.com or 881-7800
A “mild obsession with denim” led Michelle Voit to open her stylish women’s clothing and accessories emporium on the quieter end of the hip strip, near Bryant.  Though she admits to shelving forty pairs of jeans in her own closet, Voit didn’t think an all-denim store was a great business model.  So, although she is the exclusive local purveyor of the Black Orchid line and showcases other denim distributors in her fun shop, she also offers dresses (London-based designs by Darling that live up to their name) and trendy tops by the likes of Bella Luxx and Michael Stars. In addition, Village Designs is stocked with accessories, including roomy vegan bags and a few elegant Italian leather clutches, plus an array of scarves, hats, jewelry (some from local designers), candles, and other gift items for the home.  Customers can shop online or book a private shopping party in the airy space, where a breezy comfort level prevails, appealing to a broad age range. It seems Voit, who grew up here, is on a personal mission:  “I’m just trying to bring some style back to Buffalo.”

Best clothing boutique (established)
Anna Grace

799 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; find it on Facebook or 332-7069
It happens during any casual stroll down Elmwood: the moment you spot Anna Grace. It doesn’t matter if your closet is already bursting at the seams—the mere sight of the carefully curated window display is enough to stop anyone with sartorial sense in her tracks. Shoppers in need of a stylish, unique dress that can be dressed up or down for any occasion, or a striking accessory to elevate her wardrobe will find it here. For a shopaholic, it’s nearly impossible to leave Anna Grace without a neatly wrapped purchase in hand.

Best place for formal men’s clothing: TIE
Bureau

830 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; find it on Facebook or 259-8141
Riverside Men's Shop
3063 Sheridan Dr., Amherst; 833-8401
Located in the heart of the Elmwood Village, between Lafayette and Lancaster, Bureau has captured the stylish hearts of fashionable men around town since its opening. Co-owned by Joseph Stocker and Jon Eisenberg, the small and well-appointed shop's specialty is bespoke suits. After a forty-five-minute fitting Bureau creates two-piece or three-piece, distinctive, modern suits. Even the jacket linings are  works of art. For off the rack masculine glam, look no further than Riverside, which offers suits and tuxedos from such makers as Hart Shaffner & Marx,  Ralph Lauren, Bernhard Altmann, and others.

Best shop for formal wear (women’s)
Made by Anatomy

391 Washington St., Buffalo; madebyanatomy.com or 882-1500
Buffalo girl Ali Eagen dreamt of becoming a fashion designer. She went to FIT, launched her promising career by designing for Abercrombie & Fitch, but decided to come back to her hometown to build her own brand. We’re glad she did. Eagen’s Anatomy is all about bespoke, timeless beauty; she creates made-to-measure garments, does reconstructions and alterations, and her custom bridal wear is unlike anything you’ll find off the rack at a big-box store. The accessories are local and handmade as well. If unconventional finery is what you’re after, Anatomy is the destination.

Best shop for handmade jewelry
The Museum Store at Burchfield Penney

1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; burchfieldpenney.org/visit/the-museum-store or 878-3595
Just inside the main lobby of the Burchfield Penney Art Center sits a mini-gallery, also known as the Museum Store. Its wide-ranging inventory showcases the work of local artists, and everything is for sale. With a focus on organic materials—wood, ceramic, gemstones, silver, and some gold— the shop is totally in tune with nature, nodding to the work of Charles Burchfield. A large array of handmade jewelry is curated by manager Mia Schachel, who seeks out the unusual at local craft festivals and also buys from established and emerging artists who bring in their work for consideration. Dramatic necklaces with chunky stones set off by silver are the work of Buffalo artist Sarah Blackman, who has been featured in the shop since its opening in 2008.  Delicate chains sport tiny “canvases” with drawings by Rochester ceramic artist Carrianne Hendrickson, who is widely known for her whimsical sculptures.  Recent Buffalo State graduate Sarah Kieffer, a Williamsville artist,  shapes silver into sculptural items of personal adornment. “Ninety percent of what we sell comes from local artists, predominantly Western New Yorkers,”  says Schachel, noting that the store stocks items for all ages in a range of prices, and some pieces for men (cuff links and tie pins). If you’re looking for a one-of-kind piece that benefits the local arts community, this is the place.

Best shop for traditional jewelry
Abraham’s Jewelers

798 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; abrahamsjewelersbuffalo.com or 873-0734
Featuring both jewelry and “jewelry services,” Abraham’s prides itself—with good reason—on its one-stop “shopability.” The thirty-three-year-old business is Diamond Certified by the Gemological Institute of America as well as a member of Jewelers of America; they’ve earned the experience and know-how to buy, sell, design, and repair your fine jewelry and watches. Owner John Abraham will gladly explain his various offerings. Have a non-working watch you’re not sure is worth fixing? (Most of us do.) Come by for a consult! Men, shopping for a gift of jewelry for a woman? “Men don’t know what they want,” says Abraham. “We help them out.” And, attesting to his taste, acumen and success rate, he adds, “We've had very few returns.” The bright shop on an Elmwood Village corner is both elegant and welcoming. The lines it carries—including Andréa Candela—range in price and style. And if you have a piece of jewelry that you want to trade in, update or repurpose, bring it on in. Work with Abraham’s staff to redesign or design a brand new piece. And be happy.

Best shop for funky accessories
Modern Nostalgia

1378 Hertel Ave., Buffalo; modnosbluecollar.wordpress.com or 844-8435
Modern Nostalgia is known for its fresh, fun fashions but its distinctive accessories from local designers have an equal hold on the spotlight. If you are looking for the perfect cross body bag or a bold patterned scarf, you're covered. For those who like jewelry with a little bit of an edge, be sure to check out the Mahina pieces with natural gems and stones or pick up a “716” necklace by Gretchen Meyer, creator of Peg’s Hardware, to show your Buffalo pride. And if you’re ready to tap into your own creative side, check out one of the store’s Makers workshops.       

Best shop for furniture: TIE
Ethan Allen

3875 Sheridan Dr., Amherst; ethanallen.com or 839-4484
Manuel Barreto
430 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; manuelbarreto.com or 867-8937
A tried-and-true venue and a new kid on the block both offer fresh choices for local consumers. For those looking to refurnish a room, Ethan Allen can handle it all, from sofa and loveseat to side tables to drapes, with free design services thrown in. Manuel Barreto is the place for a unique, handcrafted statement; at this showroom, each piece of furniture is a work of art.

Best shop for vintage furniture
Adornment

313 Cleveland Dr., Cheektowaga; find it on Facebook or 374-4997
One step into this slightly off the beaten path store and there’s no question that its name perfectly describes what you’ll find. Adornment means “to make something attractive by decorating it” and that’s exactly what owner Trish Folts does to almost every item she sells in her store. You’ll find beautifully refurbished dressers and tables, funky picture frames, quirky signs, colorful jewelry and sparkly handbags. But the best part? The affordable prices on quality, unique furniture. You might even luck out and hit a flash sale; we did. Plus, the inventory is always changing. Trish has another full time job—and runs the store herself—so make sure you check Adornment’s Facebook page for its current hours. Have a piece of furniture that you want to refresh in your own home? Trish will take custom orders.

Best interior design
Michael P. Design

83 Saranac Ave., Buffalo; room-buffalo.com or 931-9362
Award-winning designer Michael Poczkalski, whose work on the Hotel Lafayette restoration garnered widespread acclaim, opened room in North Buffalo with his partner David Brugh a decade ago and has since established himself as the area’s premier interior designer. Michael P. Design offers a full range of design and decor services for residential and commercial projects. “My design aesthetic hasn’t really changed over the years, though I’ve matured a bit as I’ve traveled,” says Poczkalski, whose recent collaborations with HGTV have further expanded his repertoire.   He has served as design producer on American Rehab Buffalo, with six episodes airing this summer; as project manager/designer for House Hunters: Renovation Buffalo, and recently worked on a third show for the network.  The television experience has been a real education, he says, “opening my eyes to the use of textures, and layering—I’ve used wallpapers I would never have used before.” Despite the celebrity turns, Michael P. remains true to a design ideal that eschews pretension. “The biggest compliment I get is when people say my spaces are so warm and comfortable.”

Best shop for home décor

732 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; rohomeshop.com or 240-9387
Like clean Scandinavian design and natural materials? Like fine craftsmanship and coziness without clutter?  You’ve come to the right place—Ro (Danish for restful, calm, tranquil) is local artist and designer Hayley Carrow’s homage to home as haven. Here you will find furniture created in-house, including rustic bar stools and tables made to order—Carrow collaborates with local artisans in the creation of sustainable home furnishings. She offers design services and stocks Ro with other-sourced home goods like Iittala glasses. Perhaps you didn’t know you were hankering for a hand-dyed wine bag, or a forged-leaf cheese knife—either would make an excellent gift for yourself or some lucky other. Bring it with a handpainted card from the WNY Book Arts Center—there is a basketful from which to choose.  This shop is the kind of place where you want to linger, enjoying the wall display of paintings by local artists while noticing the pair of Mexican dolls hovering on a shelf above a collection of bamboo spoons that you suddenly must have. We love the furniture, design, and art that constitutes Ro.

Best Thrift Store
Saint Vincent de Paul Society

1298 Main St., Buffalo; svdpwny.org or 882-3360
Hot tip for thrifters: Saint Vincent de Paul Society's shop on Main Street near Bryant Street is a goldmine. While throngs of thrifty shoppers head to other outposts with multiple locations, this single store has everything on the second-hand shopping list: clothing, books, toys, housewares, furniture, and more. Look for the double doors of this tidy and unobtrusive building façade: to the left is thrifting central; to the right is a community dining room where volunteers feed those in need. The shop has a parking lot to the right of the entrance, and there is also a donation box in the lot. On a recent expedition, Saint Vincent de Paul had some great summer blouses and good vintage china.

Best shop for unique gifts
Hyatt’s

910 Main St., Buffalo, 884-8900; 8565 Main St., Williamsville, 632-0001; hyatts.com
It’s technically not a gift shop, but this well-loved art supply destination has a surprisingly diverse array of items that make creative and fun gifts. We love their collection of Pantone accessories, their beautiful blank books, their novelty writing supplies (perfect for stocking stuffers) and much more. And we can’t think of a better gift that keeps on giving than an entry-level set of paints or drawing supplies. Or maybe a gift certificate for a class in watercolors, portrait painting, or calligraphy.

Best shop for men’s gifts
New Era Cap Flagship Store

160 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; neweracap.com or 604-9000
What’s the coolest thing about New Era? Is it the fact that the exclusive supplier of official major league baseball on-field headwear is headquartered right here in Buffalo? Is it that NE has been run by the same family for over nine decades? Is it that NE also has agreements with the NHL, NBA, and many other sporting entities? Stop in at their smartly styled shop in the beautifully renovated former federal reserve building on Delaware and decide for yourself. Don’t leave without buying a fitted, snapback, or stretch piece of statement headgear for one of the men in your life.

Best shop for women’s gifts
Blush

1005 Elmwood Ave. Buffalo; shopblushny.com or 768-0110
Lexie Furlong brings her NYC fashion buying experience and chic style to the Buffalo shopping scene, offering product lines you won’t find anywhere else. She’ll even open up her store to you and your friends for a private shopping experience—just ask. If you feel slightly challenged by the idea of putting a trendy outfit together, follow her Instagram account @Blushbuffalo for daily inspiration from her store and an update on her inventory. Get ready Southtowners; Lexie is opening a second store in Orchard Park.

Best sporting/outdoor life store
Oak Orchard Fly Shop

5977 Main St., Williamsville; oakorchardflyshop.com or 626-1323
This is a specialty experience at its most obsessive. Not a catch-all sporting goods store—don’t come in looking for cleats or running pants—Oak Orchard is all about the flies, the flies that catch the fish. Upon entering the shop, located on a nondescript Main Street strip heading east, you see a fairly drab wooden room, its walls lined with tiny packages of fixings: baubles, feathers. and crafting materials. These are the materials to make your (fly-fishing) dreams come true. With these tiny hooks, lines, sinkers, feathers, and iridescent beads, the challenge of besting nature, tricking a wily fish into biting, is attempted. The time-honored art of fly-tying is one, like any exacting human activity that requires experience and technique, and one that people love to sit and talk about (think golfing, knitting, or filmmaking). Oak Orchard provides a haven for fly geeks—on the day I visited, a customer was leaned back in a chair jawing with Nick Pionessa, who mans the shop and is also a renowned fly-tyer. Regardless of your level, this is the place that you come to plan and dream. Take a workshop, sign up for a guided trip. Get your waders on.

Best place for organic food
Lexington Co-op

807 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; lexington.coop or 886-2667
There are many more ways to obtain great organic and/or local food in WNY than there were in 1971, when a small group of people organized themselves to bring in food made without pesticides and offer it to like-minded local consumers. We’re thankful that those pioneers are still with us in the form of the Lexington Co-op, and that the Co-op is still committed to its mission of offering sustainable food that’s locally grown/produced whenever possible.   

Best small garden store
Urban Roots

428 Rhode Island St., Buffalo; urbanroots.org or 362-8982
Newbies and gardenistas alike will find a haven at this welcoming West Side shop, which—for its size—has a surprisingly large selection of unusual perennials, beautiful pots, heirloom vegetable seedlings, and high-quality tools. Started in 2004 by a group of nearby residents who felt the lack of a garden center in the heart of the city, Urban Roots is Buffalo’s first and only cooperative garden store. They’ve improved every year since they opened.

Best big garden store: TIE
Lockwood’s Greenhouses

4484 Clark St., Hamburg; weknowplants.com or 649-4684
Menne Nursery
3100 Niagara Falls Blvd., Buffalo; mennenursery.com or 693-4444
Do WNY gardeners know how lucky they are? While many regions throughout the US—especially in the heartland—have to depend on corporate behemoths and their cookie cutter selections of plants and supplies, here we have an abundance of independent, (often) family-owned nurseries to choose from. It makes it really hard to pick a winner, but this year we’re going with Lockwood’s, for its amazing selection of perennials, annuals, shrubs, and mixed baskets; and Menne’s, which adds a large and knowledgeable houseplant department to its equally excellent outdoor gardening offerings. Both nurseries provide truly enjoyable shopping experiences.

Best record store
Record Theatre

Multiple locations; recordtheatre.com
If you’re searching for any CD in any musical genre from any decade, chances are Record Theatre will have it. It’s easy to spend hours sifting through the store’s expansive collection. The back room is where you’ll find the old vinyl for a hot deal, and if you’re trying to pin down something specific, the staff is happy to help.

Best flower shop
Maureen’s

441 Ellicott St., Buffalo; maureensbuffalowholesale.com or 852-4600
If you want a big selection of flowers, real, live flowers—not stuffed animals, not figurines, not metallic balloons—this is the place to go.  This bustling shop is usually in full throttle event mode, but walk-in customers will always find friendly faces and many buckets of fresh flowers, as well as flowering branches and other seasonal items.

Best environmentally conscious business
Blue Sky Design Company

95 Perry St., Buffalo; blueskydesignsupply.com or 852-1680
Five-year-old Blue Sky should be on every thoughtful gift-giver's list: their eco-conscious, lifestyle objects are uncommon and will never be mistaken for chain store finds. Much of the store's square footage is devoted to non-toxic materials for home projects – milk paint, chalk paint, and wood finishing products made (in part) with whey. Beautiful knobs, artisanal stencils, and kits to create crackled surfaces are also sold. Eco-friendly wood products, beeswax candles, fair trade scarves, and thermal stainless steel water bottles made by S'well, and more fill the shelves. At the time of this writing Blue Sky is in the process of relocating from Perry Street in the Cobblestone District to a larger space on Elmwood Avenue, a testament to their popularity and raging eco-success.

Best customer service (retail)
Animal Outfitters

986 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; shopanimaloutfitters.com or 884-2420
In the heart of Elmwood Village, Animal Outfitters is your one-stop pet shop with fashionable accessories, a wide variety of specialty dog foods, and every color leash imaginable. Add to all that an incredible staff. Celebrating ten years in business, Omar Zahzouhi and his team are devoted to providing gold star service to pets and their two-legged companions. The result is a pet oasis where all customers (especially the furry ones) are greeted like old friends. On a nice summer day, you can sit on the patio while your pet enjoys a frozen treat. Or you may find Omar and other customers huddled around the TV cheering for their favorite futbol team.  

Best place for wine tasting
Gates Circle Wine & Liquor

1430 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; gatescircleliquor.com or 884-1346
Recent events here have included tastings from local favorites Lockhouse Distilling Company and Arrowhead Spring Vineyard, as well as wine selections from the area’s important distributors. The staff here is very friendly and helpful at this compact but comprehensive favorite. Check the website for schedules.

Best large liquor store
Global Group

Multiple locations; global-wineandspirits.com
Think of Global Wine & Spirits, McKinley Wine & Spirits, and Colonial Wine & Spirits as bacchanalian triplets: the stores are related and have similar floorplans so you won't wander aisles looking for your preferred wine. Open daily—and late—each of the locations is bright, well laid out, and staffed with knowledgeable (yet un-pesky) employees, who can offer suggestions when needed. There are frequent tastings at each location of wines and liquors: upcoming in-store events are posted on the Global website (global.global-wineandspirits.com). And, if you happen to purchase a festive, heavy cartful, all locations offer carry-out service. Of special note is the wine-tasting dispenser at the McKinley Parkway location, an excellent amenity.

Best boutique wine store
City Wine Merchant

715 Main St., Buffalo; citywinemerchant.com or 931-9114
There’s the perfectly curated wine selection, there are the weekly tastings, and, most important, there is the private client list. It behooves you to get your name and email on this, stat. Recently, CWM has delivered on a series of superb brunellos. In addition to their serious attention to the great wines of Italy, CWM specializes in delicious grower champagnes, wonderful rosés, white Bordeaux and Beaujolais, and much more.

Fun place to shop
Buffalo Vintage & Industrial

17 Pearce Ave., Tonawanda; buffvintage.com or 362-0799
Tucked away in an office park in Tonawanda lies a vintage and antique oasis. Part of the adventure is finding the place, but once you step through the doors of this huge warehouse, you are confronted by epic finds located in every nook and cranny. From boxes of vintage artwork to antique letters and industrial tables to cool cabinets, everything is fun and funky. Make sure to keep tabs on their social media, as they post when new things arrive daily: facebook.com/buffvintage.

Best fitness classes
Hive Lifespan Center

9570 Transit Rd., East Amherst; hivelifespan.com or 625-4483
There is an amazing range of classes here, and they go well beyond the usual Pilates, spin, and yoga offerings. Hive pays special attentions to such areas as abs, arms, legs, and what they call “assets,” in a wide range of specialized sessions with their expert instructors. Hive also says they put the glamour in sweat; one visit and you’ll see what they mean.

Best dance classes
Baila Salsa Dance Company

Pucho Olivencia Center, 261 Swan St., Buffalo; salsabuffalo.com or 807-7363  
Do you salsa? Yes, you can, thanks to Buffalo native Calvin Rice and Fanny Olaya of Lima, Peru, founders of Baila Salsa Dance Company. They offer many opportunities to learn: group lessons are held Sundays for dancers with different levels of expertise and several varieties of Latin dance are offered. Every Wednesday is Noche de Salsa (Salsa Night), with beginner level lessons at 7 p.m., followed by social dancing until 10. Noche de Salsa is a fun, lively Wednesday night outing and a great way to meet people—no need to bring a dance partner; everyone dances with each other.  At Epic Restaurant & Lounge (413 Elmwood Avenue) each Friday, it’s Dancer’s Night Out; take a salsa lesson at 10:30 p.m., then show off your newly acquired moves on the dance floor. Says one devotee who took her skills to the streets, “My friends said, ‘Whoa—I never knew you could move like that!’”

Best Yoga Studio
Healing Waters

542 Quaker Rd., East Aurora; centerathealingwaters.com or 655-3924
Nestled into a small valley alongside Cazenovia Creek, the yoga studio of Healing Waters overlooks a lovely field of wildflowers, trees, and a Buddha out amongst the surroundings. Founded in 1997 by yoga instructor Felicitas Kusch-Lango, Healing Waters is truly a restorative destination—perfect for yoga, meditation, and recharging. Open yoga classes are offered daily at several times from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; courses on meditation, stress-reduction, and such treatments as the use of essential oils are offered throughout the year. A book club focused on yoga-related topics, and an open meditation circle meets regularly. There is something lovely and perfect about leaving the city/town hustle-bustle behind to practice yoga amid such natural beauty.

Most beautiful salon
Groom Service

391 Washington St., Buffalo; groomservicebeautybar.com or 322-1838
Beauty junkies, listen up! Pro makeup artist Katie Ambrose brings her favorite beauty finds to the Hotel Lafayette lobby. Groom Service Beauty Bar offers a dazzling array of beauty inspiration, blowouts, and makeup applications in a glamorous interior that radiates with all white furniture, a crystal chandelier, and silver metallic zebra wallpaper by Scalmandre.

Best customer service (salon) and Best spa treatment (Northtowns)
Excuria Salon & Spa

5725 Main St., Williamsville; excuriasalon.com or 839-3106
After a hectic day, week, or even year, Excuria is the place to come and unwind. Just breathe a sigh of relief as someone takes your coat and hands you a glass of wine. If you want some privacy and solitude for your spa treatment, Excuria offers enclosed spaces in the expansive salon where you can truly relax and enjoy the experience.

Best spa treatment (City/Southtowns)
Corto's Salon and Seasons Spa

Multiple locations; cortosalonandspa.com
There’s a reason why Corto’s has been in business for more than fifty years. “Our clients are always first,” and that’s what makes its spa experience superior. A vast menu of different spa services is offered at each of its three locations.

Best salon for weddings  
Capello Salon & Day Spa  

Multiple locations; capello3.com
A bride must leave nothing up to chance. Capello has earned its reputation as the best for handling your big day, never leaving a detail unchecked. With three locations throughout the region, on-location services, and an experienced team of wedding specialists that take care of everything from your updo to your pedicure, Capello has got you covered.

Best hair color (Northtowns)
Chez Ann Salon & Day Spa  

Multiple locations; chezannsalon.com
Maybe you have a signature color and need to keep it looking spot-on. Perhaps it’s time for a change. Trust the experts at Chez Ann—you’ll never leave with your coif looking anything less than fabulous.

Best hair color (City/Southtowns)
Fawn & Fox Salon

1363 Delaware Ave., Buffalo; fawnandfoxsalon.com or 881-4400
It’s hard not to fall in love with Fawn & Fox’s hip aesthetic and convenient city location. Don’t try to handle it yourself, armed with a box of dye, YouTube, and courage; make an appointment. At Fawn & Fox, you know you’ll be in good hands.

Best massage (Northtowns)
BeautyQuest Medispa & Skin Care

5483 Sheridan Dr., Williamsville; beautyquestwny.com or 633-7546
BeautyQuest Medispa & Skin Care’s motto is to make you look and feel the best you can be. Their result-oriented techniques administered in a tranquil spa atmosphere ensure nothing short of a blissful massage.

Best massage (City/Southtowns)
Spa at Falling Waters

3385 Orchard Park Rd.; Orchard Park; spaatfallingwaters.com or 677-9700
The Spa at Falling Waters offers so many choices, you may have to try several different massages before you discover your favorite. There are several options including stress fix, hot stone, pregnancy, and more.

Best manicure (Northtowns)
Serendipity Salon & Spa

466 Evans St., Williamsville; serendipitysalonandspa.com or 634-4058
Serendipity Salon & Spa offers a great basic manicure. Kick it up a notch and go for the spa manicure, where you’ll enjoy the “exfoliate, massage and moisture” treatment. Add the paraffin dip and say, “Ah!”

Best manicure (City/Southtowns)
Hush DaySpa

4250 Southwestern Blvd.; Hamburg; hushdayspallc.com or 202-4030
Hands will look and feel beautiful following a manicure from Hush Day Spa. Detailed nail shaping, cuticle care, sea salt exfoliation, paraffin wax treatment, and a soothing hand massage are included. All you have to do is choose the polish color and enjoy.

Best pedicure (Northtowns)
Hair Works Salon

671 Delaware Rd., Kenmore; hairworkswny.com or 873-3163
At Hair Works Salon you’ll find fully equipped areas offering spa pedicures. Nail technicians offer the Gelish line, which dries faster and lasts longer.

Best pedicure (City/Southtowns)
Cielo Salon

674 Main St., East Aurora; cielo-salon.com or 652-7633
The word “cielo” translates into “heaven.” Your feet will look and feel heavenly after a pedicure at Cielo Salon. You may even feel like you’re walking on a cloud.

Best facial (Northtowns)
Très Auraè Spa

5195 Main St., Williamsville; spabuffalo.com or 478-7546
Très Auraè Spa offers express treatments that allow you to experience a facial on your lunch hour. Clients sit upright, are draped with a cape and receive a custom conditioning or deep pore cleansing facial treatment in thirty minutes or less.

Best facial (City/Southtowns)
Blu Spa & Salon

3030 Orchard Park Rd., West Seneca; bluspaandsalon.com or 675-2258
At Blu Salon & Day Spa, you can choose from a wide variety of facials geared to everyone from teenagers to those needing an anti-wrinkle treatment. Men are encouraged to try the skin fitness facial.

Best hairstylist (Northtowns)
Studio M Hair Design, Inc.

5987 Main St., Williamsville; studiomhairdesign.com or 632-9670
Studio M Hair Design has been in business for more than thirty years. People of all ages and walks of life come in, are made to feel comfortable, and leave with a great style.

Best hairstylist (City/Southtowns)
Michele for Hair & Day Spa

775 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; micheleforhairanddayspa.com or 882-1180
The philosophy at Michele for Hair & Day Spa calls for connecting beauty, environment, and well-being. This is also an AVEDA concept salon.

 

Best looking historic building
Darwin Martin House

darwinmartinhouse.org
We’re talking about the main house, not the full complex, which we’ve recognized before. As Phase 5 of the restoration approaches completion, the main house is close to its original 1907 appearance; finally, interior tours of this structure are more about what has been accomplished rather than what the spaces might look like. Much of the proper furnishings have been brought back to the house, along with about half the windows. As the complex prepares for a major landscape project, there is plenty to be celebrated. Join the celebration this summer.

Best looking new building
Conventus

conventusbuffalo.com
Designed by Kideney Architects for contractors LP Ciminelli, the sleek façade of Conventus is the most prominent addition to the Main Street section of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus so far. It will soon be joined by the new University at Buffalo medical school building to the south. For now, though, Conventus stands as a stunning silver beacon of growth, one of the few contemporary structures on this section of Main. As its name implies, Conventus is a collaborative facility that combines clinical, educational, and research components of the medical enterprise.

Best makeover of an existing building
The Planing Mill

planingmillbuffalo.com
Originally home to the E. M. Hager & Sons lumber company, which helped build late nineteenth century Buffalo, this structure was most recently known as the home of Spaghetti Warehouse before it lapsed into vacancy. It is now a handsomely restored apartment and office complex, with new windows that replicate the original windows of the industrial complex (replacing a 1980 storefront addition and windows). The simplicity of the cleaned up brick façade is matched by the interior renovation, which has left structural columns and floor joists exposed. This building pays homage to the men who created Buffalo’s most iconic structures as it houses those who are creating Buffalo’s future.

Best sight you won’t see anywhere else  
Frozen Niagara

Niagara Falls is pretty amazing on any day. Its majestic size, unfathomable power and volume, its incredible ability to attract tourists and news coverage are all great assets. Humans have flocked to it literally for ages, locals view it as a point of pride, and we all agree that it is a marker of nature’s bounty and mystery. As is our wont, we attempt to best it by surviving a ride over it or a walk suspended above it. We impose our will on it, lighting it up with colored lights for a cause, for entertainment, or just because. And frozen? This year, it did partially freeze. Experts say that it’s never really frozen solid. But during the long and (even for us unseasonably, unreasonably cold) winter of 2014–15, there was a solid enough swath of frozen mist for two Canadian ice climbers to summit. And the national news got in on the game, showing pictures and marveling at the stunning view of solid white plumes where usually there is a foamy-green and roaring flow. If winter is going to be this long and frigid, we might as well have something magnificent to ponder.

Best new construction (2014)
RiverWorks

buffaloriverworks.com
It has has not gotten nearly as much press as Harborcenter, but we love this smaller rink complex for its creative integration with its industrial surroundings. We’ve even gotten fond of the blue silos. RiverWorks was not completed at presstime, but when it is, it will house a brewery, a 5k concert venue, and three interior bars as well as its existing hockey, curling, and roller derby rinks. The most interesting feature is the outdoor beer garden, nestled amid silo remnants along the Buffalo River.

Best preservation project
North Park Theatre

northparktheatre.org
The job done here is nothing short of spectacular. Sadly, we’ve lost several historic movie palaces, which makes the North Park restoration even more of a key save. From the art glass windows to the Raphael Beck murals to the iconic neon marquee, Buffalo companies Swiatek Studios and Flexlume, under the guidance of owners Tom Eoannu and Michael Christiano, have done a magnificent job.

Best use of taxpayer dollars
43North

43north.org
In February 2014, Buffalo proudly launched the world’s largest business idea competition—as part of Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative—with the goal of attracting some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs and startups from around the globe. In October, 43North exceeded all expectations when it narrowed a field of nearly 7,000 applicants from ninety-six countries and all fifty states down to eleven finalist teams. The teams received $250,000, $500,000 or $1 million to move their business to Buffalo for one year. Now with year two underway and a new crop of finalists soon arriving, the competition has quickly become an important part of growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Buffalo and a great marketing tool nationally and internationally.

Best nature preserve
Tifft Nature Preserve

tifft.org
Within a short bike ride or even shorter drive from the heart of urban Buffalo lies Tifft, with its five miles of trails, three boardwalks with viewing blinds, and delightful marshes and ponds—all open year-round. Everything is well marked and viewings of such species as Baltimore orioles, yellow warblers, Green herons, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, and more are guaranteed, depending on the time of year. Tifft is designated an official Important Bird Area by Audubon, but there are plenty of other creatures, including turtles, snakes, and, of course, deer.

Best Garden Walk Buffalo garden
Ellie Dorritie

415 Summer St., Buffalo; gardenwalkbuffaloniagara.com
Try visiting this lovely combination garden—a full-sun front border bursting with color and a shaded back yard walkway—during Open Gardens, if you can. If you go during Garden Walk, you’ll find it’s one of the most popular gardens in the most popular—and crowded—area of the entire walk. Dorritie has managed to beautify a small and difficult space with rock dust and unique raised beds, where trees and shrubs are grown in containers. Dorritie has also spread her enthusiasm up and down Little Summer, helping to make the Cottage District  one of the most popular neighborhoods on the West Side.

Best regional garden walk
Village of Williamsville, July 18

walkablewilliamsville.com
Start with over twenty-five charmingly diverse gardens within a one-square mile village. Add a sprinkle of fairy dust by inviting the public to create and enter their very own portable Fairy Garden for the village’s first annual Fairy Garden Contest, and you have the ingredients for a splendidly fabulous way to spend a summer Saturday. Given the area’s trendy shops, sidewalk dining spots, a bustling farmers market, and peacefully serene Glen Park, there is plenty to do before or after your garden tour. Snag your map and swag bag at the tent in front of Village Hall. A delightful day in the ‘ville awaits you!

Most beautiful public art
The back lawn of Albright-Knox Art Gallery

albrightknox.org
Spectacular any time of the year, the back lawn of Albright-Knox Art Gallery, facing Hoyt Lake, offers several post-modern sculptures that may be viewed at arm's length. Some even invite touches. With seating built in alongside the gallery steps, accessibility from Lincoln Parkway, and beautiful views of Delaware Park, this public space is beloved and oft-visited. Over the last few years, AKAG curators have added new works of art to their back lawn, including Stacked Revision by Liam Gillick, a striated cube; and Underlife by American artist Jason Middlebrook, a Gothic construction of gnarly tree roots covered in small mirror pieces.

Most beautiful under-the-radar city block
Argyle Park

If you don’t know it’s there, you will miss this one-block-length beauty—it really isn’t on the way to anything. (Hence it’s “under-the-radar” designation.) Argyle Park is a one-block long north/south running residential street between Delavan and Potomac, one block east of Elmwood. The block boasts handsome entry columns and a narrow divider, which is planted with blooming flora during the spring and summer. It’s also a lovely place to live, with a sweet array of medium-sized houses (not the mansions of nearby Lincoln or Chapin Parkways). Many on the north side of the street have driveways, garages, and sizable backyards, as the northwestern portion of the street backs both Elmwood and Bidwell, becoming semi-triangular. Argyle, like other Bidwell-adjacent and near-West-Side blocks (Dorchester, Ardmore) is defined by the Olmsted grid—adorable doglegged sections or one-block streets are one of the defining qualities of the urban designer's original parkways.

Most beautiful under-the-radar park
Franklin Gulf Park

Once known as Larkin Woods, Franklin Gulf Park sits on the border between Eden and North Collins. It’s undeveloped, partially unmarked, and noteworthy for its creeks and waterfalls. In the summer, consider this park for hiking adventures; in the winter, use it for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Enjoy Franklin Gulf’s natural beauty with care; there are steep ravines and drop-offs, and it’s important to bring a map and a compass, or a GPS-enabled device, just in case.

 

Best friend of the arts
John McKendry

The owner of Hi-Temp Fabrication at 79 Perry Street, John McKendry takes his support of local art very personally—so much so that he has made his business into a itinerate art gallery. McKendry has also served on the boards  of such arts organizations as Hallwalls and Squeaky Wheel. First, McKendry provided studio space for artists in his building. Then, starting in 2010, McKendry began opening his cavernous warehouse to artists in need of installation space. Over the past five years, McKendry has provided a place to exhibit for graduate students, pop-up shows, performance art events, installation art, and just about anyone needing a place to show their work for an evening or two. Though the exhibition space is painted white, and lights have been added, Hi-Temp is still one of the strangest art spaces in town. Guests enter through a loading dock and are brought up via freight elevator, but at the end of their journey, they’re welcomed by one of the most affable art lovers in Buffalo.

Best local hero
Stephanie Barber Geter

Buffalo is lucky to have someone as dedicated and talented as Stephanie Barber Geter. In one of her many roles, Stephanie dutifully serves as the president of the Hamlin Park Community and Taxpayers’ Association in a long line of dedicated community leaders. As the community association celebrates its fiftieth anniversary next year, Stephanie has made great progress in stabilizing the neighborhood, beautifying the community, and turning problem properties around—among many other things. Stephanie’s monthly community meetings bring together neighbors, code enforcement officials, community police offers, business owners, and often Mayor Byron Brown and Councilman Demone Smith. Additionally, Stephanie is heavily involved in the Restore Our Community Coalition, which advocates capping the Kensington Expressway and restoring Olmsted’s original vision for Humboldt Parkway.

Best actor
Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly is as busy as ever in local theater, but these days, it’s mostly as director. No doubt, his hand behind the scenes results in top-notch presentation (we named him Best Director in 2014) but we still relish—all the more as it’s such a rare treat—the opportunity to see him onstage. This season, Kelly appeared in back-to-back performances at Irish Classical Theatre. It was his performance as Pato Dooley in Beauty Queen of Leenane that reminded us exactly why he won those four Artie Awards (and has been nominated twenty-one times). Gliding seamlessly between humor and heartbreak, hope and humility, Kelly hit every beat in such a way that Pato’s presence remained palpable even when he was absent from the stage. More than that, it lingered in patrons’ memories even as they exited the Andrews Theatre.

Best actress
Barbara Link LaRou

With today’s theater trending toward shorter works—ninety minutes or less with no intermission is a new standard—the classic play has become a harder sell; indeed, even the Shaw Festival mission has finally been tweaked to the point where it accommodates contemporary works alongside Shaw staples. But to assume that a wordier, longer classic is a recipe for boredom is a mistake, because you might then miss a performance like Barbara Link LaRou’s in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. In the hands of a lesser actress, Amanda’s meaty role would be just so many words on a page and recited as such. But LaRou found every nuance, beautifully illustrated Amanda’s precarious balance between illusion and reality, drew humor from every nook, made sense of every contradiction, and commanded the Lancaster Opera House stage.

Best character performance
Anthony Alcocer

Though the entire Drowsy Chaperone cast gets kudos enough to land it a tie for Best Production of a Contemporary Show, Anthony Alcocer’s Adolpho deserves special mention. Adolpho is a tricky role—intended to be humorous, but too easily (and too often) turned into caricature—and Alcocer captured the perfect balance, creating riotous laughter without getting carried away. Though Alcocer always delivers as the go-to choice for dark and brooding roles—this year, his season included Treat in Orphans, Elliott in Water by the Spoonful, and Tom Sawyer’s Injun Joe—he proved with this role that he’s got more range than we’ve seen to date. Here’s to more of it in the upcoming season.

Best emerging comedian
Allie Brady

Friends of Allie Brady have always known about her whip-smart comic intelligence and super-human ability to pull obscure cultural references out of thin air. Her takes on Facebook selfies and female self-obsession, along with other glibly astute observations can be seen on her blog at stilltoosoon.blogspot.com. Brady uses her moon-shaped eyes, movie star smile, and button nose (“I have the nose Michael Jackson wanted”) as nimble tools of comic articulation. This year she began doing stand-up in area clubs, including Helium. It’s a work in progress, but the buzz has been good. How often do you get to watch an emerging talent develop before your eyes? Catch a performance now and some day you can say you saw her when. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Best columnist/cartoonist
Adam Zyglis

Buffalo can claim yet another Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist. Adam Zyglis, who was hired by the Buffalo News eleven years ago, immediately after graduating from college, replaced Tom Toles, also a Pulitzer Prize winner for the News. Zyglis is now syndicated internationally in hundreds of papers, including the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times. His incisive editorial cartoons range from critiques of Congress and the president to issues like data mining and freedom of speech. The Pulitzer judges said he uses “strong images to connect with readers while conveying layers of meaning in a few words.”

Best reporter (broadcast)
Claudine Ewing

Reporters often come and go in the dog-eat-dog world of local TV news, but we’ve come to rely on the knowledgeable work of veteran channel 2 reporter Claudine Ewing. This homegrown talent paid her dues in Buffalo radio before starting her seventeen-year career at WGRZ, and we’re lucky that family ties have kept her award-winning skills here.

Best reporter (print)
Tim Graham

Covering pro sports in Buffalo since 2011 has been no easy gig, given the playoff droughts for both the Sabres (2010–2011) and Bills (Clinton/Bush/Obama administrations). There have been coaching and ownership changes, traded or waived players, and a possible deliberate sabotage of a hockey season that didn’t yield its ideal reward. Through it all has been Buffalo News reporter Graham, always able to deliver detailed, researched, and distinctive coverage on Bills items like the team’s high profile hiring of head coach Rex Ryan or his March feature on the ethics associated with purposefully losing. The ESPN.com vet is an award-winning leader in his field for a reason, and, thankfully, he works for our daily.  

Best curator
John Massier

Throughout the fourteen years since John Massier assumed the curatorial helm of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center’s Visual Arts Program, he has done more than simply program the gallery space.  First, he instituted Hallwalls’ popular Midsummer Night's Draw (and Midwinter Night’s Draw), essentially a curated live drawing rally. Then, he introduced the Science and Art Cabaret, a quirky mash-up of pure science and high art that let guests witness a robotic rock band and hold a human brain, among other delights. Massier also has partnered with artist/writer Ron Ehmke to put on Some Kindsa Love—Private Writing Made Public, which is just what it sounds like. Most recently he brought in artist Kyle Butler and curatorial intern Rebecca Wing to cocurate Amid/In WNY 2015. This year-long “conversationally derived casual survey of the art of our region at this moment” helps fill a gap left by the Albright-Knox-led Beyond/In regional biennials, but it’s more than that. It really is a conversation—between the often disparate artworks found in the show’s (so far) three installments, the artists, and the viewers.

Best arts administrator
Anthony Conte

Every year, Western New Yorkers get new reasons to be thankful that a retired businessman and longtime Shea’s volunteer decided to take over as CEO of the indebted and endangered theater. Stabilizing Shea’s finances was only the beginning for Conte; since then, the theater has undertaken an ongoing restoration process that included, this year, the proscenium and other interior features. Shea’s continues to attract top-notch touring Broadway productions (thanks in large part to its expanded stage), maintain an excellent education department, and manage the precarious existence of 710 Main. Take a drive on the recently reopened Main Street and see what has been accomplished under Conte’s formidable leadership.

Best power couple
Terry and Kim Pegula

It’s one thing to wield financial power as a big fish in a mid-market pond like Buffalo. It’s another to breeze into town and use that power to purchase the Sabres, spearhead the construction of Harborcenter, add a downtown sports bar with the country’s largest television screen, and—as an encore—save and solidify the Buffalo Bills football future. That’s a career’s worth of achievements for any couple hoping to have their likeness bronzed in Western New York, and Terry and Kim practically just arrived. Not even five years into a whirlwind residency in their now-adopted hometown, the couple’s set the standard on making a shape-shifting local splash—and they’ve only just begun.     

Best local music act (original)
Aqueous

There’s no way to predict which band will break out of Buffalo’s scene and carry the city’s banner on the road. But for the jam-favoring foursome of Mike Gantzer, Dave Loss, Evan McPhaden and Ryan Nogle, outside success has already been achieved—and furthering their brand of instrumental insanity is a foregone conclusion. The Queen City groove ambassadors have already gained favor on Northeast college campuses with albums like Live Nugs, performed alongside Widespread Panic and Moe. at annual outdoor gatherings like Illinois’ Summer Camp, and headlined June’s Buffalove Music Festival. After that, they could go from Buffalo-loved to internationally lauded—so catch them while you can.

Best blogger (independent)
Donnie Burtless/Alli Suriani  of BuffaloEats.org

Buffalo Eats is still Western New York’s most prominent food blog. It visits every new restaurant and tells the truth about any given dining experience as entertainingly and with as much important detail as possible. And now there’s a new offering—a weekly podcast entitled Grain of Salt joins the regular restaurant reviews, foodie profiles, food news round-ups, and breaking food stories that make up this site’s entertaining content.

Best blogger (professional media)
Alan Pergament

In 2010, when Alan Pergament took an early retirement package after twenty-eight years as the television and media critic at the Buffalo News, he just couldn’t stop writing. He posted daily for WNYmedia.com, wrote briefly for Spree, and his blog, Still Talkin’ TV, took on a life of its own. After two years of “retirement,” Pergament returned to the news part-time to write his current column and blog. “Talkin’ TV” is a particularly rewarding read because Pergament brings his long-term knowledge of the local broadcasting scene to his coverage of the television industry. This has two aspects. He keeps a close eye on the revolving doors at local Buffalo television stations and their changing methods of news delivery. His recent column on what he would change in local TV and radio if he had the power could not have been more spot-on or written by anyone else. He also takes care to emphasize the local reaction to national shows (through close analysis of Nielsen ratings), which are often in remarkable opposition to national trends. As Pergament puts it, “WNY doesn’t follow the national script;” we’re lucky to have him to tell us how and why.

Best Tweeter
Mark Poloncarz

It's always easy to tell when public figures are having PR people handle their social media. In fact,  if they realized how fake posts-by-committee sound, maybe they'd rethink it and either not bother or start doing their own. We're lucky to have a few public figures in WNY who clearly handle their own Facebook and Twitter accounts. County Executive Mark Poloncarz is one of them. His constant presence on Twitter during the Snowvember and other extreme weather events was comforting and informative. We knew he was out there, trying to report as accurately as possible on what was happening and what county agencies were doing to help.

Best Facebooker
Dana McKnight

In a world where we have instant access to information wherever and whenever we want it, the question becomes how to prioritize it all. When it comes to Facebook, it's worth following Dana McKnight devoutly. Happily. There isn’t enough space or time to tell you the wonders of why. But if you’re looking for smart, critical analysis of the world in which we live, combined with the arts, queer politics, a good sense of humor, and an outspoken homage to offbeat everything, look no further; the cofounder of Dreamland, a not-so-easily definable arts collective on Franklin Street, has got that down. Do yourself a favor, "Friend" and/or "Follow" her today.

Most outspoken WNYer
Dan Sack

The idea behind democracy is that people care about what their government does, inform themselves about the issues, and participate. Right off, that’s a lot to expect. Real Housewives  isn’t going to watch itself, after all, and lots of times civic engagement feels an awful lot like homework. That kind of thinking is why Buffalo is fortunate to have Dan Sack, who goes to meetings like other people go to the movies. On any given day he can be found at the Erie County Legislature, the Buffalo Common Council, the Zoning Board, the Preservation Board—you name it, and he’ll be there, almost always the person in the room who has put in the research to know more about what he’s talking about than just about anyone else. Benjamin Franklin would be proud of him. The rest of us should be thankful for him.

Best activist group
Project Slumlord

As Buffalo neighborhoods come back to life with beautifully rehabilitated homes, blighted properties continue to bring down the revival. Any given neighborhood on the rise has its fair share of absentee landlords, zombie properties, former drug houses, and poorly maintained homes. The path to getting those issues resolved requires patience and determination, which is where Project Slumlord comes in. Organized by dedicated community members on the West Side and headed by Patty Macdonald, the group is quickly making waves throughout the city. Navigating housing court, city hall, bank foreclosure departments, and tracking down owners is no easy task, but Project Slumlord has been making quick work of it. As their efforts continue, expect more eyesores across the city to start seeing investment and new ownership as they keep the pressure on bad owners.

Best college sports game (2014/2015)
St. Bonaventure BB vs. VCU (2-5-15)

Any college basketball player would consider tossing in a buzzer-beater—whether regular or postseason—a career highlight. But after notching two such shots in back-to-back games at the start of February, St. Bonaventure junior guard Marcus Posley now has the luxury of choosing which highlight he likes best. Because of the high stakes and home court crowd in the second, it has to be his bucket against eighteenth-ranked VCU inside SBU’s Reilly Center. Tied at 71 with time ticking away, Posley drove right against Rams defenders and flipped a shot in at the horn to score a big Atlantic 10 upset—and cause Bona students to rush the floor after the Bonnies’ wildest 2014 win.

Best player - Sabres (2014)
Tyler Ennis  

You can count the positive takeaways from the Buffalo Sabres 2014–15 season on one hand, but at the top of the list was the play of Tyler Ennis. The 5’9” winger finally broke out, and—ponder this—he did it in a lineup of mostly sub-NHL talent. (Okay, there was Ennis, and Zemgus Girgensons, and Rasmus Ristolainen, and, well, that Jack Eichel is something, isn’t he?) Ennis also developed into one of the team’s true leaders, a straight shooter off the ice and a whirling dervish on it. That speed and shooting accuracy is nothing new, but the maturity certainly is. It’s a great indicator of the role he may play in the years to come. Just think of what he’ll be able to accomplish once he has a real centerman feeding him the puck. Preferably one whose name rhymes with “Back Michel.”

Best player - Bills (2014)
Marcell Dareus

It was an interesting year, to say the least, for Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. The third overall pick in the 2011 draft was named to his second straight Pro Bowl, and had his most dominant run-stuffing year to date. Okay, so he was arrested in Alabama last May on drug charges, and followed that in June with (alleged) drag racing near the McKinley Mall in Hamburg. But did you see him on the field last season? There is no other Bill, and very few other players in the league, capable of his level of defensive disruption. Dareus is the lynchpin of the Bills “D,” and if he can avoid the drug and driving infractions, could be in the early days of a Hall of Fame career. Something tells us Rex Ryan is much happier to be coaching Marcell rather than searching for ways to stop him.

Best local sports team
UB Basketball

Maybe the best event in sports is the opening of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, when it seems like everyone has an opinion about Baylor or Butler or Belmont or some other school that you’ve probably never heard of. Just like a $2 bet makes the Kentucky Derby exciting, the annual office pool makes everyone feel like Dick Vitale. Until this year WNY didn’t have a hometown team to cheer for, but the UB Bulls changed that. In their third game of the season the Bulls were leading Kentucky at the half, and although the perennial contender Wildcats regrouped for the win, from that moment forward it was obvious that this was going to be a special season. UB went  23-10 on the year, and waltzed with West Virginia at the Big Dance. Every bar in town was packed, and the collective exhale at the final buzzer was one of those Buffalo sports moments that we all cherish. Now, can we put “Buffalo” on the team jerseys?

Best local scandal (2014)
Redskins/Squaw Island
What’s in a name? In January, a resolution introduced by Joseph Golombek Jr. proposed changing the name of Black Rock’s Squaw Island to Deyowenoguhdoh—or Divided Island—which was its original Native American name. Golombek cited the residents of Buffalo’s desire to avoid racist and derogatory terms like “squaw,” which are offensive to many. This occurred after petitions to the Council by Jodi Maracle, a Mohawk, and Agnes Williams, a Seneca, followed by a supporting letter from Seneca Nation President Maurice John Sr., requesting a name change for the island. [editor’s note: at presstime, the proposal before the Council was to rename the island Unity Island.]
By March, it seemed like a natural progression of the region’s will when the Lancaster School District School Board voted unanimously to eliminate “Redskins” as the team nickname, in addition to removing the name from uniforms and signage. The vote came after several schools with Native American students refused to play Lancaster due to the offensive nature of the loaded nickname.  To the board’s surprise, the decision was met with vocal protests from some residents of the community, who held to the school motto, “Once a Redskin, Always a Redskin.”  A firestorm of attention ensued: students marched in protest over the end of a tradition, debates raged in newly formed groups on Facebook and in town meetings, and, in May, residents rallied against the School Board to vote out key members who had supported the resolution.  The story was covered in Buffalo broadcast and print media for weeks and even made the New York Times due to parallels with the national controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name. By June, Lancaster students had voted in a new name and mascot. The Lancaster Legends are depicted by a knight in armor.

Best local politician
Sean Ryan

Assemblyman Sean Ryan’s district covers much of the West Side and a portion of downtown. After spending a decade away from Buffalo, Ryan returned over twenty years ago to serve as a staff attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services. Before his time as a politician, he was active with PUSH Buffalo in its efforts to create a stronger West Side for current residents and to draw new residents. Ryan has also been instrumental—well before the tragic accident on May 30—in  efforts to redesign the Scajaquada Expressway to make it friendlier to pedestrians and more in keeping with the original parkway design. Additionally, Ryan has tried to turn around the archaic IDA tax incentives, has worked with developers to convince them that their projects don’t need to be surrounded by swaths of parking, and has been a champion for the “park first” movement on the Outer Harbor.

 

 

 

 

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