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Wednesday, March 28,2012

Top of the Town Awards: Staff Picks

by City Pulse

To bring City Pulse’s ever-growing Top of the Town awards down to basics, I was going to tell you about the best stump for sitting and thinking in greater Lansing. It had a great view of the Red Cedar River on three sides. It even had a back, just like a chair. The curvy roots at the bottom made a perfect drink holder.

I went there last week and it was gone. 

I wish I’d patronized that stump more often.

Top of the Town is more than a contest. Our goal is to whip up appreciation for the finer things in our world, the same way a carnival man whips up cotton candy, and this year we piled up a lot of it. Participation went through the Capitol dome in 2012: Over 13,000 people voted for their favorites in dozens of categories, from people to restaurants to merchants to musicians and miscellaneous bests (pronounced “bestices”) of all kinds. 

The surge in voting — last year we were a mere 3,700 — gave the awards extra heft, but it didn’t change the results much. The perennial favorites stand like the Pyramids: DeLuca’s for Best Pizza, Golden Harvest for Best Breakfast, Mac’s Bar for Best Local Music Venue, and so on.

See pages 20-21 for all the winners, awards went to places and people all over town, but Old Town’s businesses took a tad more than their share. Old Town itself got two nods, as best place for a first date and best place to take out-of-towners. We leave the rest of the trends to the reader who cares to monger them. 

To mix it up this year, City Pulse staff has added its own picks in a variety of arcane and fanciful categories.

I draw your attention to one category that is not so funny: “Woulda, shoulda, coulda.” It’s a sad day when that restaurant you meant to check out, but never got around to, goes out of business, or when you look for a theater schedule and find the theater folded. Or when you go to sit on a stump and it’s gone.

If nothing else, think of the Top of the Town awards as a handy reminder of what’s good and the need to support it. Even the Pyramids won’t last forever.


Dr. West

Person most likely to be mistaken as our leader by North Koreans

Why are you not smiling, citizen? Approach Lansing from any direction and you will pass under the Orwellian smile of Dr. West, the DDS from Charlotte who offers “twilight sleep” dentistry (all work done while you are unconscious). Wherever we go in greater Lansing, whatever we do, Dr. West’s eyes follow us from dozens of billboards, ready to valve the happy gas if we don’t cooperate. Still not smiling? Run and hide that rebelliously closed mouth — if you can find a hole deep enough. Extrapolating from his face, the iconic doctor is more than 140 feet tall. 

— Larry Cosentino


Udon Sushi and Bakery

Best ‘go for the atmosphere, stay for the food’ restaurant

There’s no shortage of contrived dining rooms around town, from Vegas-lite to country craft chic. If you want a truly unique experience, though, head to Udon Sushi and Bakery. The order menu is on the ceiling, tea is kept warm in a self-serve barrel that looks like it should be on a sports sideline, seating options include both toilet stools and couches, photos of kissing couples in the little night-spot line a wall and ceiling, there’s video games, TVs that broadcast Korean game or talent shows, sticky notes with hastily scribbled hopes and dreams, and something new to see every time you visit. If eclecticism isn’t your thing, Udon is still a trip worth making: the soups are delicious. 5 p.m.-3 a.m. daily. 134 N. Harrison Road, East Lansing, (517) 332-5995. — Joe Torok



Best Place City Pulse is Banned

Emil’s

Ban-wise, City Pulse has had a good year. First, though, what does this category even mean? Well, I don’t consider us banned if some place simply turns down having City Pulse there. There has to be a good reason, like, “That stupid rag?” or “I like tongue on my sandwich, not on the cover of my newspaper.” Now, since last we met, City Pulse remains banned at a lone Biggby’s in Holt because of a cover story we did on lapsed Catholics (by a reporter who was fired, but not because of that story, which was pretty good). And one place, Grand Traverse Pie Co., not only lifted its ban (a manager  had told us we were too liberal), it started advertising. That leaves Clara’s, Emil’s and Xiao, which banned us because of negative reviews. And, it’s almost a toss-up which is the best place. I really like the atmosphere at all three (as I remember, anyway; I’m afraid to go into any of them now). Emil’s is closest to the office , so I pick Emil’s. — Berl Schwartz


Best Meal-By-Phone

Jon’s Country Burger

Don’t phone ahead — pick up the phone at your booth or table. That’s the routine at the out-of-the-ordinary Jon’s Country Burger, where you call in your order instead of flagging down a server. An assortment of entrees and sandwiches are available, but the place prides itself on its breakfast menu, which leans heavily on the traditional side: eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries and corned beef hash. 3109 S. Cedar St., Lansing. 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.  (517) 393-0679, www.jonscountryburger.com

— James Sanford 

Best Place to Hide from the World

Esquire Bar

If you want to go where no one knows your name, the Esquire Bar in Old Town is the place. The exterior is non-descript, completely lacking any indication of a business behind its recessed portal. Take a chance and go in, and you’ll find a dark and cozy neighborhood bar. Bring cash: They don’t take credit. You won’t need much, considering that two ex-pat Hawaiian party girls and a frustrated writer were able to drink for three hours with a total tab of $28. The bar has chips and hot nuts, but they look the other way if you bring in your own bag of Cravings popcorn.  1250 Turner St., Lansing. (517) 487-5338. — Mary C. Cusack


Saddest Adios

That Little Mexican Place

Despite its extremely reasonable prices, great buffet, sensational salsa and sterling reviews on Yelp, That Little Mexican Place did not survive its move from a Frandor strip mall to the hubbub of South Pennsylvania Avenue — so no more Wet Burrito Wednesdays, and no more tantalizing elotes (Mexican corn on the cob spritzed with lime juice, dipped in mayonnaise and dusted with chili powder). Let’s hope owner Virginia Valdez returns to a kitchen near us in the near future. — James Sanford


Best In-Store Refreshment

Horrocks Farm Market

Plenty of stores offer free cups of weak coffee. But at Horrocks Farm Market, you can enjoy a cup of Jamaican Flower Tea while you pick out produce, brave the chilly walk-in dairy room or select the right bottle of wine. Rich in flavor, it’s made from hibiscus flowers; add a few drops of lemon to give it an extra tangy touch. 7420 W. Saginaw St., Lansing. 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. (517) 323-3782, www.shophorrocks.com. — James Sanford


Worst Luck

Pizza Pi

Pizza Pi: alas, we hardly knew you. During its short run along the Grand River strip in East Lansingthat ended last year, Pizza Pi, with its local and organic mission, a homemade wood-fired oven, and inventive recipes, offered a happy alternative to the all too prevalent chains and the more locally famous restaurants that heap on so much cheese it’s like buying a block of bulk mozzarella to chew on. Unfortunately, after being robbed twice within one week (!), the Pizza Pi owners hastily closed the doors, never to serve another pie. — Joe Torok


Best Source to Lunch With

Virg Bernero

I first met Virg Bernero on a Saturday afternoon in Wyandotte. He was campaigning for governor and I’m sure had better things to do than get to know the new guy at his hometown alt-weekly.

But, as luck would have it, Wyandotte’s also home to Michelangelo’s Italian Bistro: “Best cannolis in Michigan,” he said. I was flattered, but I’m certain he was more excited for the Italian food.

But Michelangelo’s didn’t open till early evening, so we settled on this family-style Mediterranean joint that serves an odd combination of shawarma, falafel, hot dogs and grilled cheese. The mayor had tabbouli and onion rings.

Historically, he’s appeared in this issue because TOTT voters have considered him at once the best and worst politician in the area. He was gracious that Saturday afternoon to let me break bread with him and his wife.

I knew I’d get to know him over time, but his preferring the best cannolis in town left an impression on me. Had his first choice for lunch been the hot dog/Mediterranean place, he would have been my pick for worst source to lunch with. — Andy Balaskovitz


Unfriendliest Door to a Friendly Place

The Golden Harvest

For years, I dreamed of opening a nightclub so hip I could call it “Hitler’s Armpit” and still have to drive people away. Old Town’s most popular breakfast mecca is invitingly called The Golden Harvest, but its skull-and-cutlery-emblazoned doorway bristles with at least six warnings etched in brass, carved in wood, and hand scrawled on paper. From all sides, visitors are admonished to be nice or leave, don’t sit at dirty tables, share tables (“turn around now if this freaks you out”), wait outside the door “unless balls of fire are raining from the sky,” and don’t “come in here and act like a dick.” On sunny days, added chalk warnings are scrawled on the driveway out front. And still, the lines get longer. Co-owner Zane Vicknair will never change the restaurant’s winning formula. So, about that name? — Lawrence Cosentino


Neatest Stack of Huge Cement Slabs

Saginaw St. Bridgeover Grand River

This summer’s big downtown construction project, the teardown and replacement of the Saginaw Street bridge over the Grand River, must be run by the most anal-retentive contractor in the state. You could almost play bridge with those uniform stacks of, uh, bridge. Your shuffle. — Lawrence Cosentino


Best New Caffeine Fix

The Black Rose

The Irish Coffee at the Black Rose is the closest thing to what you’d get in the old country. Contrary to what many Americans think, an Irish Coffee is not Bailey’s poured into a cuppa joe. This creamy concoction of coffee, brown sugar, Jameson and whipped cream goes down as easy as a frappuccino and will only set you back just a coupla bucks more. The Black Rose 101 S. Washington Square, Lansing. 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday. (517) 374-5555. — Mary C. Cusack 

Best One That Got Away

Sawyer’s Gourmet Pancake House

From the outside, Sawyer’s Gourmet Pancake House was easy to overlook. But customers were pleasantly surprised by the small establishment’s imagination in its pancake creations and its varied menu of dishes made from locally purchased, organic ingredients. Despite a cult following and rave reviews, the cooks have flipped their last flapjack: Just as 2011 came to a close, so did the doors of Sawyer’s Pancake House, after nearly four years of business.  

—Allison M. Berryman


Best Place to Breathe Freeway Fumes

Benches on S. Cedar St.

Five attractive pairs of black benches offer a breath-taking (cough) view of the sprawling intersection of I-496 and South Cedar Street. On this 50-yard stretch of busy street, in theory, up to 20 people can bake in the sun, with no cover whatsoever, and watch hundreds of vehicles roar past. Berms with flowers are provided — behind your back. This urban planning joke only makes sense as a gateway feature. Empty as they are, the benches are there all day to show people exiting the interstate that Lansing, too, is inhabited by humans who sit down, but are smart enough to do it elsewhere. — Lawrence Cosentino


Best Free Buffet

First Sunday Gallery Walk

The First Sunday Gallery Walk venues typically offer an assortment of hors dŽoeuvres, and usually between several galleries all the food groups will be represented.  And while you scarf down the freebies, take some time to talk to the artists, curators and docents and get educated about art. For a listing of participating venues, check the listings in City Pulse each month. — Mary C. Cusack 


Best Slice of New York

Paul RevereŽs Tavern

Paul Revere’s Tavern is perhaps the best pizza parlor hidden in plain sight, O.K., so it’s a bar that moved into food service over the years, but boy, did they get things right with their New York-style pie. Huge slices you have to fold into a “U” to eat, the pizza has a nice, firm dough with a crispy, cornmeal crust and toppings that want to slide off the tip of the triangle as you lift slices on the first bite. Not bad for a little hometown bar — not bad at all. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday;  noon-2 a.m. Sunday. 2703 E. Grand River, East Lansing. (517) 332-6960. www.paulreverestavern.com. — Joe Torok


Best Place to Breathe Freeway Fumes

Benches on S. Cedar St.

Five attractive pairs of black benches offer a breath-taking (cough) view of the sprawling intersection of I-496 and South Cedar Street. On this 50-yard stretch of busy street, in theory, up to 20 people can bake in the sun, with no cover whatsoever, and watch hundreds of vehicles roar past. Berms with flowers are provided — behind your back. This urban planning joke only makes sense as a gateway feature. Empty as they are, the benches are there all day to show people exiting the interstate that Lansing, too, is inhabited by humans who sit down, but are smart enough to do it elsewhere. — Lawrence Cosentino



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