The Best of the Triad awards
Welcome to our first Best of the Triad issue, whereby we attempt to “read the level of the room,” so to speak and honor those businesses and individuals that have achieved “most favored” status among our readers.
Polls were conducted by internet questionnaire and paper ballots, an imperfect system if ever there were one. We tried to weed out ballot stuffing whenever we could in the name of accuracy (sorry, killwhitneydead) and offered our own picks when our tastes differed from the majority.
And while the results are decidedly Greensboro-centric – we do focus our coverage on the Gate City, after all – the entire Triad is honored here.
In reading it, you’ll discover homages to places and people you’ve known all your lives, learn about lesser-known highlights in the Triad scene and rediscover that the region is absolutely brimming with talent and action.
That’s what this is all about.
First place: Simple Kneads
Runner up: Ganache/Spring Garden Bakery
First place: Tex & Shirley’s
Runner up: Jan’s House
Staff pick: Jake’s Diner gets the nod for their performance in breakfast staples: bacon and eggs. They’re amazing. And for the truly ambitious eaters there is Jake’s infamous “Fat Cat Special,” made up of three eggs, three strips of bacon, three pieces of sausage, hash browns, a short stack, choice of toast or biscuit and free wheelchair ride to your car.
First place: Buffalo Wild Wings (High Point)
Runner up: Buffalo’s Bar & Grill
First place: Green Bean
Runner up: Starbuck’s
Staff pick: While we love us some Green Bean and we wouldn’t turn down a free cup of the ‘buck, the official supplier of coffee to the YES! Weekly staff is Coffee & Roses, located just around the corner from our Adams Farm office. Each cup is made fresh with espresso beans, and proprietors Toshi and Mayuko Yoshida are two of the nicest people in town.
First place: Ganache
Runner up: Cheesecakes by Alex
Alex’s crème brulee cheesecake is one of the greatest things on this earth.
First place: Cookout/Fincastle’s/McDonald’s
Staff pick: These are not actually French fries, but the homemade potato chips with bleu cheese at Marisol are frickin’ awesome.
First place: Joel Burger (Fincastle’s)
Runner up: Beef Burger
The Joel Burger is a piece of genius: a double beef patty served on sliced sourdough bread with a generous dollop of pimiento cheese, lettuce, tomato and a few squirts of Castle Sauce, invented by maintenance guru Joel Leonard. The sandwich has garnered dozens of fans and for a time even had its own blog.
First place: Yum Yum
Runner up: Dog House (High Point)
Staff pick: A footlong chili dog from Cookout put my wife into labor with my first son and she and I have loved them ever since.
– Charles Womack
First place: Elizabeth’s Pizza
Runner up: Bianca’s Italian Eatery
First place: Mexico Restaurant
Runner up: El Carreton
Staff pick: The YES! Weekly house margarita is made with silver Patron tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime juice with a bit of simple syrup.
First place: Mexico Restaurant
Runner up: La Bamba
Meal under $5
First place: Fincastle’s
Runner up: Wendy’s
Staff picks: We are big fans of the low-budget lunch over here, and when we’re looking to eat on the cheap we’ll hit the sandwich station at Harris Teeter, Sheetz (which has the best gas station food we’ve ever had) and our old stand-by Costco, where a couple laps around the free sample counters will whet your appetite for a giant hot dog with a drink for just $1.50.
First place: Saigon/Phoenix Asian Cuisine/Taste of Thai
Hooray for the local independents! Asian cuisine is one of the gems in the Triad’s culinary bonnet – Do bonnets have gems? – and it’s good to see the homegrown spots get some recognition.
First place: Bianca’s Italian Eatery
Staff pick: The cozy, quiet atmosphere at the Melting Pot makes it the most romantic Triad restaurant in our eyes. It’s not the food as much as the ritual – sharing plates of ingredients and cooking them together in a tabletop fondue pot. There’s something sensual about hot, bubbling cheese.
First place: Bert’s Seafood Grille
Runner up: Bonefish Grill
Pizza by the slice
First place: Elizabeth’s Pizza
Runner up: New York Pizza
Staff pick: We have been known to run over to Mario’s for a big slice at lunchtime. Also, Pizzaria L’Italiano is up there with the best location in the heart of downtown, their slices are about as legit as they come south of the Mason-Dixon Line. These guys also give the hot dog vendors a run for their money – they’re open until 3 a.m. on Friday nights.
First place: Earth Fare
Runner up: Deep Roots Market
First place: Sushi Republic
Runner up: Harris Teeter
Staff picks: Excuse me? Harris Teeter? Harris Teeter? Look, nothing against the sushi chefs at the Triad’s largest grocer – they are actual sushi chefs with years of experience and training – and their refrigerated sushi case is a great quick lunch option. But c’mon, people. This can’t compare with the experience of sitting down at a sushi bar and watching a master build a layered bento box or hand-roll soft shell crab with rice, thinly-sliced veggies and fresh wasabi while you’re sipping plum wine or sake. You should try it some time.
First place: Boba House
First place: 223 South Elm
Runner up: Café Europa
Staff picks: Good wine flows through the Triad like… well, wine. The Press Wine Café, Fleming’s Steak House and Wine Bar, 223 South Elm, Bert’s Seafood Grille, Undercurrent, Liberty Oak, the Grappa Grill, the Chop House family and Rioja all have great wine lists, and there are at least three dozen more on the same oenophilial plane.
First place: Get Down!Town
Runner up: Lexington BBQ Festival
It couldn’t get more different than these two picks: the homespun family barbecue festival held on the streets of downtown Lexington and the raucous gathering of college students (and collegians at heart) in Greensboro. Also notable are the Eastern Music Festival, Winston-Salem’s Heavy Rebel Weekender, the PGA golf event and the semi-annual ACC men’s basketball tournament.
First place: North Carolina Zoo
Runner up: Downtown/Center City Park
First place: Elm Street/Downtown
Runner up: Four Seasons Mall
Staff pick: Nothing makes for better people watching than an airport, and PTI never disappoints.
First place: Battleground Park
Runner up: UNCG
Staff picks: I wouldn’t recommend riding on High Point Road, but you can’t beat the new bike lanes on Florida and Spring Garden streets for getting from point A to point B.
First place: Much
Runner up: Greene Street
TV news personality, female
First place: Julie Luck
Her non-regional dialect is flawless, as is her hair. Ron Burgundy would be proud.
TV news personality, male
First place: Neil McNeill.
With a name like that, he’s got an edge over just about every other local newscaster.
First place: Percywalker.com
Staff pick: Launched in October of last year, Percywalker.com is allegedly the outlet for local billionaire hedge fund manager Percy Walker. You won’t find his company, Percy Walker Management, inking the financial pages anytime soon, nor will Walker, with an estimated personal worth topping $6 billion (he keeps a running meter on his site), be gracing the world’s wealthiest lists.
Percy is something of an enigma, even though his blog is required reading at YES! Weekly headquarters. We do know that he is a former ultimate fighter, owns a hovering, $1.5 million bed and is partial to Mitt Romney. Last weekend, according to his blog, he jetted out to the Coachella Music Festival in Indigo, Calif. to “talk some sense into (or spit on) Rage Against the Machine.”
Our only complaint is that Percy does not post often enough. Surely a multi-billionaire can take enough time off managing his hedge fund to school us lumpen media types on the finer points of conspicuous consumption. We need the help.
Runner Up: The Troublemaker
At the risk of inflating Ben Holder’s already outsized ego, we have to concede that his blog, the troublemaker.blogspot.com, is getting better and better every week. Not too long ago, Holder started posting “Troublevision” video segments on his blog. City Manager Mitchell Johnson makes regular appearances, usually photoshopped or edited into hilarity.
The Troub has a nice timeline of recent financial crimes allegedly committed by Beverly Hinson, ex-wife of Lt. James Hinson, aided by attorney Pella Stokes. The city government has gone on the defensive in response to his reporting about Willow Oaks construction (although the editorial consensus on that scandal around these parts is that it might – might – be a tempest in a teapot. We’ll see). We wish he didn’t edit his comments for sycophancy. There’s a lot of anonymous praise on his site; we wonder how many might have been written by the old Troubleman himself.
– Amy Kingsley
First place: Natty Greene’s
Runner up: M’Coul’s
With apologies to publicans everywhere, it is the official policy of YES! Weekly never to drink draft beer unless it absolutely can’t be helped. Ask us some time what a yeast snake is.
First place: Blind Tiger
Runner up: College Hill
Staff pick: The Blind Tiger, a dive bar? Yeah, we can see it. And let’s not forget the Flatiron.
Hottest bartender, male
First place: Jason Paul (College Hill)/ Kyle Price (Natty Greene’s)/ Mike Tourek (Green Burro)
Hottest bartender, female
First place: Sarah McPherson (Natty Greene’s)
Late night dining
First place: Jan’s House
Runner up: Huddle House
First place: Natty Greene’s
Runner up: Solaris Tapas Restaurant
Staff picks: There are so many great drinking patios in this region it’s difficult to list them all, but props go to Café Europa, Ganache, Greene Street (for their rooftop bar), M’Coul’s, Fishbone’s, Winston-Salem’s Dudley’s on the Green and the rooftop at Heaven, which is technically outdoors.
First place: Inferno
Inferno looks a lot like hell – that is, if hell were a flamboyant underworld where the condemned were punished by having to pursue their earthly pleasures in perpetuity.
Overheard among a trio of young men in line on South Elm Street on a recent Wednesday evening is the following comment: “I’m not saying it was King Kong, but it was decent sized.” Would-be celebrants are momentarily stalled around midnight as two doormen stem the flow until the capacity crowd thins. It’s college night, which draws a younger and more frenetic dance nation than turns out on Fridays and Saturdays for the disco-era mix.
Downstairs, booths colored in a garish shade of orange encircle the raised dance floor where tracks like Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” and Naughty By Nature’s “OPP” induce a certain kind of heat. A scary looking biker dude with a shaved head and goatee keeps sentry near the bar while his fellow security personnel patrol the perimeters of the dance floor pointing small flashlights at offenders who manage to breach some imperceptible demarcation of raunch that separates dancing from sex.
At this infernal venue the lines between hetero- and homo-eroticism are also deliciously blurred. Inferno may be the best place in the Triad to spot muscled young men in form fitting shirts sporting the latest design of the gel-sculpted faux-hawk.
– Jordan Green
Runner up: Club Fifth Season
Does that dude in the white suit still dance solo on the platform at Club Fifth Season? We hope so. Guy’s got moves.
First place: Jake’s Billiards
Runner up: Longshanks
Good picks. Jake’s Billiards provides a more legitimate pool hall ambience with its slightly shady “don’t look at the regulars the wrong way or you’re likely to get clobbered” type of ambience. Longshanks on the other side of the spectrum has excellent tables and is perfect if you’re looking to “class it up.”
Live Music venue
First place: Ziggy’s (Winston-Salem)
Runner up: Greene Street
First place: Ham’s
Runner up: JP Looney’s
Staff picks: Rather than beg the question as to why karaoke is so popular in these parts, we’ll give a list of our favorite songs to sing karaoke to: “Shoop,” “Locomotive Breath,” “My Humps,” “La Vida Loca” and anything by Elton John.
First place: JP Looney’s
Runner up: First Horizon Park
Longtime readers and friends know that my brother-in-law built a bar in his garage. And we’re not talking a temporary little setup – this is a bar, with big-screen TVs, great music and even one of those bartop trivia machines.
He built it when they moved into the house as a refuge from a house full of women, but over the years it has become more sophisticated, gaining a footrail, a set of French doors instead of the rolltop garage door, drink shakers, coasters, glassware, beaucoup artwork (mostly of the cheesecake variety) and a steady crowd of regulars.
Come football season the place is jumping all day every Sunday, with a little afterglow on Monday nights until the playoffs begin. And foot traffic increases as the neighborhood dads saunter by, wondering what the hell is going on in there, and if maybe they can come in, too.
Unfortunately Striano’s Tavern, as it’s known, is accessible by invitation only. It’s also BYOB, though bottles are always welcome.
– Brian Clarey
First place: Carolina Thrift
Runner up: Target
First place: Four Seasons Mall
Runner up: Target
Sure, both the mall and target have some great T-shirts. But there is something to be said for the thrift shops. The truly memorable finds are there – you just gotta work a little harder at tracking them down.
First place: Mike Helsabeck
Runner up: Charlotte and Eric Ström
It all started with a duck. Mike Helsabeck, formerly a musician and broadcaster, was talking to a friend who had decided his state license plate was lacking in waterfowl. Helsabeck, who had never picked up a paintbrush, volunteered to render the bird.
“The rest is history,” he says.
Helsabeck is a native of High Point and currently resides in Lexington. His paintings (you can see them on his website) still prominently feature ducks. Ducks in front of lighthouses, near palm trees and slung over the shoulders of hunters.
“It kind of happened by accident,” Helsabeck says of his career. “I never intended to be an artist and I still don’t know if I am one.”
As a student at Appalachian State University, Helsabeck gravitated toward studying music before abandoning that dream for a safer career in radio. He kept on as a drummer part-time throughout the 1990s when he played with some of the biggest names in country music. He didn’t pick up a paintbrush until that fateful day three years ago.
Since then he’s been selected NC Ducks Unlimited’s Artist of the Year two years running and chosen to paint the Greensboro Merchants Association’s 100th anniversary painting. His work graces a handful of Childress Vineyard’s wine labels, and he recently finalized a deal to design the labels for Weathervane Vineyards in Davidson County.
These days Helsabeck keeps a studio at the Shoppes at Childress Vineyards – owned by Richard Childress of NASCAR fame – and paints full-time. He’s left the radio world where he worked for more than two decades.
The artist is updating his website to simplify the ordering process. Curious duck-lovers can browse his work at mikehelsabeck.com or at Childress Vineyards.
– Amy Kingsley
First place: Walrus
Runner up: Holy Ghost Tent Revival
Walrus is the name of the singer and his band. The man Ray Loughran comfortably inhabits the being of Walrus the singer, and his spirit is so broad and encompassing that he also effortlessly carries the identity of the band.
Sure, you can point to Daughtry. But when that guy put his band together he was already famous by virtue of “American Idol.” And when a surname serves as a band’s moniker, it doesn’t take much imagination to identify the band with the singer. Daughtry was Daughtry before he sang a note. Ray Loughran grew into the role of Walrus.
No one in Greensboro holds a crowd in the palm of his hand like Walrus. He teases them with the glissando of his voice, cracks them up with a sudden, counterintuitive interjection, and summons libations when the time is right. He channels Robert Plant, not as a lithe golden god of rock and roll but as a Falstaffian master of ceremonies.
And he never forgets that these powers are vested in him by the people.
The current lineup of Walrus consists of Loughran, Evan Olson, Eddie Walker and Steve Graham. Walrus alumni include Chuck Folds and Snüzz, both of whom played with Bus Stop; Robert Sledge from Ben Folds Five; Bobby Patterson, who also played with Dag and Mr. Potato Head; and Frank Pyrtle from the Dickens.
He also shares the stage with some local luminaries in his other band, the Hall Monitors.
“Please add Sam Frazier [to the list],” Loughran says, “who I’m lucky enough to play with, and also Marcus Horth. Put ‘Dave McCracken from Donna the Buffalo.'”
Loughran picked up the nickname Walrus when he played baseball for the UNCG Trojans. The golfer Craig Stadler, who was known as “the Walrus,” was at the height of his fame back then. Loughran bears an uncanny resemblance to Stadler, so fellow Trojan Kevin Cody dubbed his teammate “Walrus.”
Loughran mentioned the nickname when he was forming his first band, and it stuck.
“They said, ‘Hey coo coo ka choo, you’re the Walrus,'” he recalls. “Unfortunately I have become the walrus. I wasn’t always this big. I can’t complain. If it works, it works.”
For the unitiated, Walrus is a covers band.
“I’ve always been able to do AC/DC; that’s a staple,” he says. “I was one of the original guys who would do a mix of four or five different songs within one song. We used to do Steve Miller Band and we’d do six or seven songs. I’d throw in some rap, and then some three-part harmony. I think some other bands have picked up on that. I think that really has caught on.
Genre-bending irreverence probably accounts for the fact that Walrus is Greensboro’s most popular band, 12 years after the original incarnation first took the stage at the erstwhile Fat Dog’s.
“I had a band called the Walrus Rock and Roll Revue,” Loughran says. “We would do everything from Otis Redding to Jane’s Addiction, then end with Prince’s ‘Purple Rain.’ People ask me what kind of music we play, and I tell them, ‘Gay death gospel.’ I say something really sarcastic, and then they come up to me after the show and say, ‘Wow, that was really great.’
“I say, ‘Thanks, man.'”
– Jordan Green
Local DJ, performance
First place: Dave Aiken
Local DJ, broadcast
First place: 2 Guys Named Chris (Chris Demm and Chris Kelly)
Staff picks: Honorable mentions go to Chris Roulhac, Chuck Carroll and Mark “Buddy Ro” Harrison. JORDAN
First place: Two Art Chicks
Runner up: Weatherspoon Art Gallery
Staff picks: Let’s not forget Lyndon Street Artworks, Artmongerz, and the Upstairs Gallery.
First place: Comedy Zone
Runner up: Idiot Box
A reader gives an honorable mention to Greensboro City Council meetings.
Cell phone provider
First place: Verizon
Runner up: Alltel
First place: Chakras
Runner up: Gene’s Barbershop
First place: Chakras