2012 Best of Columbia – Writers' Picks

Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Best of Columbia Readers Poll 2012

Best Radio Station
To quote the late Gore Vidal: There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise. Look, you don’t want to listen to a boring, robot-run radio station that plays pabulum. You want cool, cutting-edge music. You want music your friends haven’t heard. You want disk jockeys who know their stuff. You want WUSC, the most underrated luxury on Columbia’s airwaves and the sound salvation for the truly discerning and truly open-minded listener in Columbia. I know I’m a broken record, but this problem would be solved if you’d just do as I advise. — Patrick Wall

Best Local Radio Personality
Johnny Dark and Professor Hular Scheerhorn
Maybe it’s just me, but I like my radio personalities to have, oh, personalities. And I like them to know their music back and forth. As hosts of ETV Radio’s Guitars, Cadillacs and Hillbilly Music, Johnny Dark and Professor Hular Scheerhorn — aka Robbie Grice and Larry Klein, longtime local country and rockabilly musicians — provide both in spades. Shout out to WUSC-FM’s Uncle Gram, who’s a veritable encyclopedia of Americana and has been blessed with a near-perfect radio voice. — Patrick Wall

Biggest Improvement in Columbia
People on Main Street
Uh, guys? Whole Foods isn’t actually here yet — it’ll be a few months more until you get to pay $16 for a jug of organic Meyer lemonade. But what you can observe right now is the slow but steady pickup in foot traffic on Main Street. People are going to Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse, to The Whig, to Paradise Ice, to the Columbia Museum of Art. They thronged to Main Street to see George Clinton on New Year’s Eve. And that’s not just good for Free Times, which has its offices on Main; it’s good for a city that hopes to revitalize its downtown as an economic and cultural boost to the entire Midlands. — Eva Moore

Biggest Waste of Public Funds
The Hunt for Zombie Voters
These days it’s tea party types who seem to howl the loudest about any perceived waste of public money. But none made so much as a peep when a full-bore, Republican-led witch hunt into alleged “zombie voters” went on for months, hammering away at the time and resources of the understaffed and underfunded State Election Commission — even when that agency has repeatedly said there are no documented cases of someone impersonating another at the polls in the Palmetto State. Nearly half a year later, SLED says it’s still scouring the state for zombie voters on the public dime. — Corey Hutchins

Biggest Disappointment This Year
Ballot Bomb 2012
When one candidate screws up his or her paperwork, that’s an individual mistake. When 250 candidates screw up? That’s a systemic failure. The inability of the S.C. Supreme Court and the General Assembly to come up with a solution that didn’t undermine democracy is a travesty. — Dan Cook

Biggest Disappointment This Year
Sale of Capital City Stadium to Walmart
There’s a lot of disappointment to go around here: the laborious, drawn-out manner in which the sale of the Capital City site to Bright-Meyers took place; that the sale forces the Columbia Blowfish, the closest thing Columbia has to professional baseball, out of their home. Mostly, we’re disappointed in the shortsightedness of it all. I mean, another Walmart within five miles of five Walmarts? Why couldn’t Whole Foods have moved there instead? — Patrick Wall

Biggest Local Hero
Nikki Haley
Nah, just kidding. — Patrick Wall

Biggest “Our Dumb State” moment
Occupy Columbia Eviction
Looking to boost her national profile and knock some proletarian heads, Gov. Nikki Haley called for the state police to arrest any Occupy Columbia protesters who didn’t respond to an eviction order from the State House grounds one rainy evening last fall. The Columbia police chief refused to cooperate in the eviction, and the solicitor dropped all charges, but it was enough to take the wind out of the movement’s sails; their organizing efforts soon puttered to a stop. Dumb all around. — Eva Moore

Best Neighborhood
What Rosewood has: a sustainable farm, a disc golf course, awesome schools, great parks, cute old homes, cute new homes, racial diversity, income diversity, thriving local businesses. What Rosewood doesn’t have: a nude guy who jerks off at joggers. (That would be Shandon.) — Eva Moore

Best Neighborhood
Forest Acres
All the services of the county but none of the ineffectual governance of the city? Yes, please. — Patrick Wall

Best Annual Event or Festival
Music Crawl
I admit it: I’m a little hurt that our venerable Music Crawl wasn’t among your top two choices, readers. Sure, St. Pat’s is a fun reason to party in the streets of Five Points and the State Fair offers all manner of fried food with which you can clog your arteries, but where else can you see 40 of the best local and regional bands for the low, low cost of $8? I mean, on sheer economic terms alone, there’s nothing better. Where’s the love, guys? — Patrick Wall

Best Local or Regional Museum
Columbia Museum of Art
No way, readers. The State Museum is nice, but if you want a paradigm of how to run a contemporary museum in the Southeast, look no further than the Columbia Museum of Art. Where else can you see works by Claude Monet and Frank Lloyd Wright in Columbia? Pro tip: Those are in the museum’s permanent collection, and the touring exhibitions brought in by the museum are top-notch, too. — Patrick Wall

Best Movie Theater
Nickelodeon Theatre
I predict this will be the last year the Nickelodeon Theatre, soon to move north of the State House on Main and later on to open a larger second screening room, will not win the Best Movie Theatre category. If, next year, the Nick doesn’t win, I’ll eat my hat. — Patrick Wall

Best New Restaurant
Spice Junction and more
Yes, Cowboy is great. But the Indian restaurant Spice Junction has the most authentic Hyderabadi food served by the nicest people ever — and the homemade hot sauce is for real. We also love the new French eatery Crepes and Croissants. And the new healthy Asian joint M Fresh. And the new ramen house Menkoi. Damn, this is hard. — Eva Moore

Best Late Night Food
Menkoi Ramen House
It’s been open less than a month, but as the first independent late-night Japanese eatery in the city, The Vista’s Menkoi Ramen House threatens to upend Columbia’s late-night eating scene. We love Waffle House as much as the next person, but the availability of homemade spicy pork broth and fresh slippery noodles after a night of drinking is a gift from the heavens. — Eva Moore

Best Coffee
I once saw a barista from the Five Points Starbucks — in full uniform — sitting at the end of owner Sean McCrossin’s counter, raving about the excellent coffee in front of him. If that doesn’t make the case that Drip’s coffee beats the ‘bucks, I don’t know what does. — Patrick Wall

Best Brunch
@116 State Street
Steak and eggs and eggs and steak, that’s what we have for breakfast. (Delicious!) And nowhere in town is this brunch staple — or, really, brunch at large — done better than this Vista West spot. If you’ve never been turned away early on a Sunday afternoon because all the tables are full, you’re lucky. — Patrick Wall

Best Vegetarian Menu
Good Life Café 
There are some fantastic vegetarian options in Columbia. (Lamb’s Bread and Blue Cactus come immediately to mind.) But the folks at Good Life Café are doing something really special, making raw vegan food taste absolutely delicious. From mock chicken salad to “taco shells” made from ground nuts, the dishes are innovative, filling and fun.  — Eva Moore

Best Barbecue
Little Pigs
Barbecue is more than just pork — it’s the whole experience. At Little Pigs, you not only get top-notch pork in several of its glorious incarnations (I go for the mustard-based), but also a ridiculous array of sides: collards, corn, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, hush puppies, ribs, fried okra and much more. But that’s not all: Toss in kitschy pig knick-knacks and a few whiffs of a non-PC political vibe, and it all adds up to a must-have local barbecue excursion. — Dan Cook

Best Barbecue
Palmetto Pig
Disclaimer: The author of this writer’s pick is a damn Yankee, born in New Hampshire, raised during his formative years in New York, and who spent two years of college in the Empire State. So maybe you shouldn’t care what I think. Where I grew up, “barbecue” was a verb that meant to throw some hotdogs and hamburgers on a grill. Pulled pork? Probably hadn’t seen it before moving to Columbia to attend USC in 2002. But after living here for 10 years, I’m calling a writer’s pick for The Palmetto Pig. Life in Columbia just wouldn’t be the same without it. — Corey Hutchins

Best Barbecue
Big T Bar-B-Que
It doesn’t have the hardcore fame of South Carolina barbecue joints like Sweatman’s and Shealy’s, but Gadsden-based Big T hits the exact right spot with its spicy mustard-based sauce (seriously, ask for the hot stuff), moist pulled pork and rich hash. You could seek out a buffet with a million sides and some OK meat, or you could stick to  the basics and know they’ll be just right. — Eva Moore

Best Barbecue
Big T Bar-B-Que
Resident Free Times foodie Eva Moore did not invite me to participate in our barbecue-themed Fourth of July issue because, as she asserted, they don’t have barbecue in my ancestral home of Massachusetts. (Lies, I say! Lies and slan-dah! I mean, slander.) But were this New England Yankee given room in king barbecue’s court, I’d have nominated Big T’s — the mothership, in Gadsden — as my favorite. That pork. That sauce. My god, that sauce. — Patrick Wall

Best Pizza
Garibaldi Café
I’ve just exposed one of the best-kept secrets about good pizza in Columbia. It’s true: Garibaldi’s in Five Points. Try it. — Corey Hutchins

Best Hot Dog
KC’s Hot Dogs
Whether at Washington and Main during the day or out at Art Bar late at night, KC’s specialty hot dogs — among them the Thai Dye (sriracha and sweet relish), the Trailer Park (melted cheese, shoestring potatoes), the Keyser Soze (brown mustard, German ‘kraut) — are always awesome. Better still: It’s a hot dog cart forward-thinking enough to serve veggie dogs. Joy! — Patrick Wall

Best Hamburger
You Want the Whole List?
Oh, man. Skip the chain restaurants and try one of the many great local burgers in Columbia, whether it’s the $2.75 drive-in-style thin burger with gooey cheese and a fried egg from Edna’s Drive-In, or the $14 two-patty Big-T Burger at Henry’s with “buns” that are actually grilled cheese sandwiches, the eating of which will get your name in Henry’s Facebook Hall of Fame. — Eva Moore

Best French Fries
Sammi’s Deli
French fries can be iffy. Sometimes you go to a place and they’re great, but the next time you go they’re not. Most of time it has to do with how fresh the frying oil is or how long the fries are fried. Or whether the place dumps them out of a paper bag from the freezer or cuts them from a potato in-house. Whatever Sammi’s Deli does has been doing it for me for nearly a decade. I think it’s the seasoning. Or that they stopped charging me for ranch dressing years ago. Whatever it is, I can’t quit them. — Corey Hutchins

Best Salad
M Fresh
Facing the prospect of a salad for lunch can be depressing: What if the lettuce is sad? What if the croutons are bulls#!t? Not at M Fresh, where you’ll find everything from baked flounder to dried cranberries to asparagus tossed in with your salad of choice. — Eva Moore

Best Taco
Tacos Nayarit
The Midlands feature a bunch of tasty taco trucks, but this one’s our reigning favorite, featuring fresh meats, tender tortillas, crisp onions, spicy salsas, grilled jalapeños and sugary sodas. — Eva Moore

Best Mexican Restaurant
Real Mexico and La Estrella
If you’re looking to eschew the goo masquerading as Mexican food around these parts, check out these two fairly authentic Mexican restaurants, where you can get all the chorizo tacos your heart desires. (Our heart desires a lot of chorizo tacos.)— Eva Moore

Best (Cheap) Chinese Restaurant
Main Moon
Best Chinese food? You’re right, readers: It’s Miyo’s. But best cheap Chinese food? Many will argue Egg Roll Chen, or Egg Roll Station, or Jin-Jin. They’re all wrong. It’s this Rosewood restaurant, tucked next to Dano’s in the Publix shopping center. — Patrick Wall

Best Indian Restaurant
Spice Junction
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Spice Junction is a buffet restaurant. This is lovingly made, top-notch Indian fare. Bonus points for the self-serve water and ice station, a highly logical innovation. — Eva Moore

Best Indian Restaurant
Spice Junction
Dear readers: We typically respect your collective wisdom. But you’re wrong. This delicious and well-stocked Indian buffet has foods you won’t find at any other Midlands Indian joint. (Like the goat haleem, a sort of goat-lentil porridge.) Spice Junction does magical things with food. Eat there, and be converted. — Patrick Wall

Best Sushi
I don’t really even like sushi all that much. And I’m really particular, preferring nigirizushi and sashimi to the rolled makizushi and Western rolls. (California roll? Yuck.) And I haven’t had better nigiri in town than at Camon, oh-so-lovingly prepared by Chef Kobayashi. — Patrick Wall

Best Concert
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Famously Hot New Year’s Eve
When I was 14 years old, PCU was one of my favorite movies. (It’s not anymore, but it still holds a special place in my heart.) I thought, when I got to college, that I’d find myself, like in the movie, whisked to a fantastical party where I could see George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic bring the noise. That didn’t happen. At least, not until Dec. 31, 2011. The Chili Peppers are great, but Clinton, one of funk’s all-time greats, is greater. — Patrick Wall

Best Musical Instrument Store
Sims Music
It’s quantity over quality: Sims offers the largest selection of musical instruments and related gear — microphones, digital recording boards, lights, fog machines (no, really) — in town. But, then, it’s quality, too: In addition to your standard Fender, Martin and Peavey names, Sims also stocks pro-grade gear others don’t. To wit, it’s the only place in town to buy an Orange amplifier, or a top-end Gibson guitar. And it’s the only store in town that stocks the kind of pick — the Dunlop Tortex Jazz L1 — that I use. Hey, I’m particular. — Patrick Wall

Best Bar Trivia
The Whig
I love Jeopardy!. Eric Bargeron’s Trivi-YEAH!, held on Wednesdays at The Whig, reminds me more of the prime-time quiz show than any other trivia in town. — Patrick Wall

Best Neighborhood Bar - Downtown/The Vista
The Whig
Because The Whig represents all cross-sections of the center-city “neighborhood.” Hipsters. College kids. Lawyers. Artists. Bankers. Yuppies. Big kids. Little kids. Kids that climb on rocks. Fat kids. Skinny kids. Even kids with chicken pox. — Patrick Wall

Best Neighborhood Bar - Five Points
Goatfeathers was my favorite neighborhood bar even before I moved to Shandon. When you walk in, it feels like you could be in another time or another country. I don’t know what time or country. Vienna in the late 19th century? Prague in the 1920s? An ex-pat Vietnamese opium den now? Owner Jeff Helsley — a raconteur with a famous eye when it comes to hiring — can often be found at the bar or center round table telling wild tales and sharing drinks. The bartenders are rock stars. The music and lighting is always moody and perfect. The food’s great. The décor is trippy in a deep and brooding noir kind of way. Or maybe that’s just the absinthe. — Corey Hutchins

Best Heating and Air
Cassell Brothers

It’s 101 degrees out there. Your AC unit’s pump is on the fritz — again. You don’t know who to call. Call these guys. Seriously. They’re the nicest, most professional team I’ve come across. — Dan Cook

Best Beer and Liquor Store
Green’s is great, but damn it, I’m not in college any more. And one of the perks to living in Forest Acres — aside from getting all of the services of Richland County without all that ineffectual city governance — is my prime proximity to Morganelli’s and its huge selection of beer, wine and spirits. Plus, I rarely have to fight for a parking spot. — Patrick Wall

Best Store for Used Books
Ed’s Editions
You just want a book, something to read to kill time? Fine, go wherever. But if you want a book — a good book, a classic book, a hard-to-find book, a unique book, a capital bee-oh-oh-kay book — there’s no other place to go but Ed’s. — Patrick Wall

Best Sporting Goods Store
Todd & Moore
Given the choice, we here at Free Times prefer to shop at mom-and-pop places over chain stores. And as true as it is for record shops and hardware stores, it’s equally true for the sporting goods racket, hence our firm support for locally owned Todd & Moore. In business since 1944, Todd & Moore is first and foremost a champion of local athletics, with its team sales division servicing schools, colleges, universities, recreation departments and youth leagues in the Midlands and beyond. And its in-store stock is excellent, and what it doesn’t have, its staff can easily get. — Patrick Wall
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