Critics' picks 2016 

Best pathetic PokeStop

"Pillars and Archway over Garbage Can"

For a good month or two, the sidewalks in some Rochester neighborhoods were filled with people staring at their phones, trying to catch Jigglypuffs and Evees and Snorlaxes. I admit, without any shame, that I was one of the many who got sucked into Pokémon GO.

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The game encourages a lot of people to discover new things in their communities, and it drew my attention to little things around the city that, normally, I pass by without much thought. But sometimes, the app picks points of interest that are, shall we say, off. None of them tops "Pillars and Archway over Garbage Can."

The PokeStop hardly matches its ultra-dignified backdrop: it is located right in front of the county's Ebenezer Watts building, which houses the District Attorney's Office.

Pokémon GO ultimately demands more attention than I'm willing to give it, so our time together is drawing to an end. But "Pillars and Archway over Garbage Can" is a lasting memory.


Best Beethovenians

Amenda Quartet

Beethoven's sixteen string quartets are among the high points of Western musical culture; many quartets offer the entire cycle in a season's time, and they can be stuffy, if classy, affairs.

During 2015-2016, Rochester's Amenda Quartet offered a very classy series of the Beethoven quartets, but threw any idea of stuffiness out the window by performing each concert in a different venue, which was hardly ever a concert hall, but in less formal places such as parks, churches, and galleries.

The Amenda's involving, intelligent performances had a devoted following who continue to cherish their Beethoven Quartet trading cards, given out at each concert.


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Best place to find peace and tranquility

Hemlock and Canadice lakes

We are fortunate to live among the beauty of the Finger Lakes, and even more privileged to live so close to the region's crown jewels, the twin Hemlock and Canadice lakes - now connected for hikers by the newly developed 4.5-mile Rob's Trail. With their steep, forested shorelines guarding deep, clear water, the lakes give us a glimpse of the past, when all of the Finger Lakes were wild and pristine.

These two lakes, within the 6,849-acre Hemlock-Canadice State Forest, have provided drinking water for the City of Rochester for over 100 years. The shorelines are undeveloped, and the only watercraft permitted are kayaks, canoes, and small boats with less than 10-horsepower motors.

To spend a few hours on either of these placid bodies of water is to enter a private Shangri-La, penetrated only by sunlight (or moonlight), your thoughts, and the sounds of the breezes and resident kingfishers, herons, ospreys, bald eagles, and myriad woodpeckers and songbirds.


Best interminable road project

North Winton Road

Construction on the stretch of North Winton Road from Blossom Road to Atlantic Avenue is coming to an end, and for those of us who use that piece of roadway nearly every day, it can't happen soon enough.

Crews have been working on North Winton for months, leaving it more suitable for all-terrain vehicles ala Mad Max than your basic Buick. But new sidewalks have begun to appear and a portion of Winton, with its cut granite curbs and fresh black pavement, looks like a freshly pressed tuxedo.

There's something special about driving on a new road; it's like opening a new book and feeling the smooth pages between your fingers. Both promise to take you somewhere.


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Best trend in theater

Women leaders

The issue of theater's gender gap has been popping up more and more in national conversation. Men in theater -- particularly theatrical directors, administrators, and playwrights -- often outnumber women by a two to one ratio. Simply put: there are far more males in theater leadership roles, and equality is being demanded. In late September, New York City announced a groundbreaking $5 million dollar municipal program targeted to promote film and theater by, for, and about women. But what about all the theater cities that aren't New York?

Here in Rochester, many local companies (as well as the regional Geva Theatre Center, which often casts and hires out-of-towners) are making deliberate decisions to incorporate more (off-stage) women in each season. Blackfriars, JCC CenterStage, and the many performance groups who call MuCCC home all feature a variety of female playwrights and directors this season. Of course, WallByrd Theatre, Out of Pocket, Screen Plays, and Rochester Latino Theatre Company are all founded and/or run by women. Kudos, local theater scene -- and keep it up. Susan B. Anthony would be proud.


Best under-considered activist

Emma Goldman

Rochester's history is rife with audacious activism and (now) celebrated social movements. While suffragist Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass spent parts of their lives in Rochester, are buried here, and are lovingly commemorated, the sometime Rochester resident, feminist, and anarchist Emma Goldman isn't as widely remembered. In 1885, the Lithuanian-born immigrant fled European antisemitism -- as well as the marriage her father was forcing upon her at age 15 -- to come to the United States. The next year, Goldman landed in Rochester, where she read about national labor movements and riots, and refined her anti-authoritarian principles while she herself toiled long hours as a seamstress and suffered harassment and abuse.

After three years, Goldman's path led her elsewhere. In the following decades she was imprisoned several times for "inciting to riot" and illegally distributing information about birth control. In 1906, she founded the anarchist journal "Mother Earth," which had a monthly, nation-wide distribution despite being targeted by the Espionage Act. Before she was deported for her political activities, she spoke in favor of women's emancipation, and encouraged disobedience of government laws on conscription as the country entered World War I.

Today, Emma Goldman isn't a household name in Rochester, but most radicals aren't. Neither Susan B. nor Freddy D. gained universal popularity during their lifetimes, but Goldman has never achieved the level of regard or fame that they eventually did. This is perhaps due to the fact that anarchist theory still isn't a thing that's well understood, much less encouraged. And, oh yeah...that whole thing about co-conspiring the failed assassination of industrialist, financier, and union-buster Henry Clay Frick probably didn't help, either.


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Best backfire of a political hit job

I-Square-COMIDA controversy

Fans of completely avoidable, totally unnecessary political fights got a treat earlier this year after Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed former Irondequoit supervisor Adam Bello to fill the vacant county clerk seat.

The squabble in question, of course, is the I-Square-COMIDA controversy. And if you can't remember how, exactly, it went down, it's OK; politicians' stories changed, almost by the second.

The whole thing happened because county Republican chair Bill Reilich decided to lump in a popular Irondequoit development, I-Square, with a routine attempt to smear Bello, a Democrat. I-Square's owners and their supporters punched back, a high-ranking county official lost his job, several members of the county industrial development agency's board resigned in protest, County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo body-checked the American flag -- you know, the usual.

The mud Reilich slung ended up on his own face.


Best way for worlds to collide

Rochester's literary translation scene

Rochester has a thriving niche, literary translation scene with a few moving parts that, up until now, operated independently of one another. Since 2007, Open Letter Books has worked with an international network of translators to publish 10 translated works of fiction and poetry per year, affording contemporary writers in foreign markets the opportunity to expand their audience to English readers.

Also based in Rochester (and celebrating its 40th anniversary this year), BOA Editions is committed to publishing translated poetry through its Lannan Translation Series. And recently, Writers & Books has joined the party, not through publishing, but by bringing the three lit organizations together and hosting some of these writers for reading and signing events.

The common denominator is Kyle Semmel, who took the helm at Writers & Books when Joe Flaherty retired earlier this year. Semmel is a literary translator himself, who specializes in Danish (his translation of Thomas Rydahl's "The Hermit" comes out in December through ONEWorld Productions), and has published work through Open Letter Books in the past.

In late September, Writers & Books and Open Letter co-hosted Danish writer Josefine Klougart, author of "One of Us Is Sleeping," which was published in English by Open Letter earlier this year. The event was the debut of W&B's "Read Local" program, which is meant to be the literary answer to the locavore food movement, and also has collaborative elements with Hart's Local Grocers, Three Heads Brewing, and Nox Cocktail & Lounge. The next event will be held December 3 and will feature BOA's publication "the black maria" by California-based poet Aracelis Girmay.


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2016 food trend most deserving to die

Bacon ... on everything

America's love affair with bacon is not going anywhere anytime soon, nor should it. Bacon is delicious, and it deserves its place on our plates, lovingly nestled next to some eggs and toast. What restaurants need to stop doing, however, is putting bacon on every damn thing that comes out of the kitchen. Steak wrapped in bacon; salads topped with bacon with bacon vinaigrette; it's all too much, and it completely overwhelms the other flavors of the dish. We have passed the heyday of bacon being an edgy ingredient -- no one is shocking anyone by adding it to a dessert or wrapping it around a piece of asparagus. Should it still be an option to add to a dish? Sure, but give me the option.


The best underrated guitar players in town

There are a number of guitarists that play way beyond our city's limits, with national and global success. You could compile a list of all the amazing six-string Samurai in town, and you would inevitably miss a few. So I'm here to give you a few underrated players and unsung heroes that you should know and why.

Once a member of the loudest band documented on Earth, Tommy Brunett has reinvented himself as an Americana icon. Despite his six-string dexterity, Brunett takes a backseat to his lead guitarist and just strums and croons. As an added flavor to songstress Teressa Wilcox, Declan Ryan counters and swirls about with patterns and fills -- on a guitar he built -- that that are atypical, unconventional, and lovely. Night Stalker Dave Riccioni wrings the life out of his blonde ES-335 with a blistering reverence to the blues. His singing is something else as well.

When you hear a guitarist play, you're hearing his references as well. Spend a night with Steve Grills on stage and you'll hear everything, executed clean and precise. Whether he's getting funkified with Andre Foxxe or swimming with the world beat brass in The Buddhahood, Nate Coffey is this town's utility player. Just dig him as he rumbles on the bass or pics flamenco. Just dig him. And as part of the next generation of garage and surf rockers, The Televisionaries' Trevor Lake is leading the charge for the frantic fever and fervor of the rock 'n' roll's big beat and tenacious twang.


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