Best of Ithaca 2021

The comedian Steven Wright has the line that it’s a small world, but he wouldn’t want to paint it.

And Ithaca may be a small town, but how well do you know it?

The Ithaca Times helps you know the town better every week, and every autumn presents an extravaganza of information in its “Best of Ithaca” readers poll. This year's poll appeared last week.

The poll is among the paper’s most anticipated and popular features. Everybody loves a contest, and it’s like having Election Day every year.

In the old days fame might have been fairly fleeting. The poll was on newsstands one week and gone the next. Now it's always available online.

To the actual results we would like to add some post-election scrutiny here, which seems warranted by the fullness of the information, and the fun.

This year’s poll comprised 47 listings in five strata of local life: Entertainment, Essentials, Food and Drink, People, and Places.

Two Entertainment winners this year reflected history. “Best Book by a Local Author” was “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, who graduated from Cornell in 1921. Memory lingers long among Ithacans, it seems: concerning music, too, as “Reggae Explosions” was voted “Best Local Radio Show,” indicating an abiding love for the venerable genre here. The program began on WICB at Ithaca College in 1979.

Length of service was honored in the Essentials category, where the Greater Ithaca Activities Center was named “Best Non-Profit.” Centered in a building on W. Court Street, with its Alex Haley Pool across the street, for over four decades GIAC has provided local youth with recreation and instruction in a wide range of areas: sports, arts, business and entrepreneurship, classroom tutoring, computer skills, and more. There are also programs for seniors.

Longevity triumphed yet again in Food and Drink, where Shortstop Deli was cited for “Best Sandwich.” The deli/grocery has been downtown since 1978. It has the sleek look of a franchise, but is independently owned: perhaps another factor, besides location and duration, in the loyalty from locals.

One relative newcomer was a repeat Food and Drink winner: Franco’s Pizzeria, voted “Best Pizza” for the fourth year in a row. A half-dozen slice joints have been downtown longer, so they all must be doing something right, and as a Brooklyn native I feel Ithaca is blessed to have them all (I have been to two this week), but Franco’s is the most Brooklyn-like in style and quality, so what are you gonna do, forget about it. (Pardon the city vernacular, but we’re talking pizza over here.)

A significant citing, in the time of pandemic, was “Best Closed Business We’ll Miss”: Just A Taste restaurant, a past (and multiple, if memory serves) winner for “Best Downtown Dining.” It is a sad loss of what was perhaps the best “date” restaurant in town, with an innovative but unfussy menu and snug, urbane vibrancy.

The category of People cited Dr. Nia Nunn as “Best Social Justice Activist.” In a town blessed with more than most, perhaps, Dr. Nunn is perhaps the ultimate: born and raised in Ithaca, a learned and energetic presence both academically, as an associate professor at Ithaca College, and civically, as Board of Directors President of the Southside Community Center. Dr. Nunn’s notice in the poll results describes her as “an educator-performer-scholar-artist-mother” whose “research, teaching, and service focus on a Black feminist approach to anti-racist curricula.”

The fifth and final category of Places has maybe the most contentious (or worthy of contention) subject: “Best Hike.” This year’s winner was Treman State Park, noted for its centerpiece, the Enfield Glen gorge, and “winding trails that follow the gorge past 12 waterfalls, including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls.”

The contention might arise in consideration of Taughannock Falls State Park, which has a higher waterfall: the highest east of the Rockies, in fact, including Niagara (for sheer height, not breadth or volume).

Taughannock won in a separate category, “Best Gorge/Waterfall,” so maybe all is well, but it has a hiking path that is long enough to provide exertion yet is flat, so probably more accessible to more people.

Adding to the possible contention is the Cascadilla Gorge trail, right downtown, thus most reachable of all, while also adding steepness that true hikers might desire.

My own opinion is that the “Best Hike” is one you actually take. But that’s my opinion, i.e. one opinion. The beauty of the Ithaca Times poll is that it’s your, my, and everyone’s opinion, across the board, on the record, every year.

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