Now, I did a somewhat ridiculous amount of traveling this year. I just looked back at this year’s posts, and was shocked at how few upstate NY restaurants I reviewed, and what a plethora of yummies I blogged about from points south, east and west. This makes my awards tough, because I had some mighty fine grub outside the confines of our great state, and while I implore you to get out there and sample the wares of DC, Austin, Amsterdam, and New Hampshire, they are technically beyond the scope of what I’ve set out to do here, and should be frozen out from these honors. I may be forced to make an exception, but here goes:
Appetizers have totally been my jam this year. I’ve eaten in two tapas restaurants, ordered small plates as my dinner countless times, and generally been more enthusiastic by the creations lurking on starter menus than their big plate counterparts. Pino Bianco’s bean dip at Turning Stone Resort & Casino was fabulous, the caramel shrimp at Carol’s Café was a wonder, and Bandwagon Brew Pub, in Ithaca, served up fried potato and cheese wontons that sang like sirens perched along rocky cliffs. Even the new Thai Time, in Binghamton, has those wicked curry puffs that were surprisingly, addictively, tasty. But the Best Appetizer of 2012 is actually found just a few blocks away, at Loft at 99 in Binghamton. The baked polenta shone where so many of its cornmeal comrades haven’t: it was soulful and crusty, hearty and healthy. The braised chard it’s served with is earthy and warming, and the dusting of parmigiano on top crowns the works with its nutty, salty depth.
|2012 Best Appetizer: Loft at 99 Baked Polenta|
Let’s not kid each other, you and me. We’ve been friends too long. I love bacon, and I know you do, too. Bacon is the answer to many serious afflictions affecting our planet, and probably even the fiscal cliff. Who could forget the pile of salty, fatty slices placed atop the potato pancakes at Creekview Restaurant in Buffalo? Nor the sneakily terrific bacon pizza at Beso in Staten Island? Both graced my palate and made me grin, but neither could compare to 2012 Best Bacon winner Bistro Elephant in Syracuse, with its steaky bacon appetizer. Niman Ranch organic bacon, stewed, served with tamarind, garlic, and chile sauce and delightful, tiny, slightyly-sweet, fried Asian buns. This appetizer was the perfect way to enjoy bacon in a perfectly classy way: bao-style. C’est manifique.
|2012 Best Bacon: Bistro Elephant’s Steaky Bacon|
Ambiance is such a tricky factor for a restaurant. There are lots of good eats to be found where ambiance is a word unpronounceable to most of the clientele! I include it in my reviews because there are absolutely nights when my friends and I will choose atmosphere over food. When you want a quiet night out or a good place to party, environment can make all the difference. At Creekview Restaurant in Buffalo, I loved the sight of the rushing creek we had from our table, and Loft at 99 is currently sitting as my favorite locale in Binghamton. But 2012’s Best Ambiance award is a no-brainer: Mirbeau Inn and Spa in Skaneateles. I mean, the gardens were designed to look like Monet paintings, for crying out loud. This place is not really establishing a level playing field with joints in Watertown or Buffalo. We took my Mom to Mirbeau for Mother’s Day brunch, and while the food was a bit less than spectacular, the setting hit the mark.
|2012 Best Ambiance: Mirbeau Inn and Spa|
|2012 Best Entrée: Beef Stroganoff at Carol’s Café|
|2012 Best Surprise: Bandwagon’s Beer Mustard|
Last year, I didn’t have a Best Brunch. It must not have been a brunchy year? This year, we enjoyed brunch at Mirbeau, we skipped one at SI’s South Fin Grill, and adored one at Betty’s, in Buffalo. But now that the Hops Spot, in Sackets, is serving up Sunday brunch, it’s the clear winner of 2012 Best Brunch. We loved the beer donuts, citrusy sausage, bacon cheddar bread, and snickerdoodle mini muffins. With both the Hops Spot and Tug Hill Vineyards serving up such proper brunches in the Northcountry, I’m surprised Tin Pan still has those long lines snaking down S. Main St.
|2012 Best Brunch: The Hops Spot|
|2012 Best Dessert: Chocolate Chip Pie at ChannelSide|
|2012 Best Restaurant: Beso Spanish Cuisine|
This post has grown long, the year has grown late, and the hem of my dress is unraveling (What? Your clothes don't quit working when you've blogged too long?). Such is life. Tidings of comfort and joy to you, my Hungries. I’ll be back in the new year with many more treats to share. Congratulations to all the recipients of Big Hungry Awards for 2012. No, I don’t have actual awards to give you. I’m a blogger, not a sultan. But I hope Santa brings you your heart’s desire on Christmas Eve, be it bacon, a Lexus with a big, red bow on top, or a partridge in a pear tree. Happy Holidays! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!