Best of the Bay 2003

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| Best of the Bay Bay Life | Arts & Entertainment | Edibles |
| Goods & Services | Outdoors & Recreation | Politics |

And the Winners Are…
Goods & Services

Best Antique Store ~ tied
Readers’ Choice: Featherstone Square Antique Mall
Size sets Featherstone apart from other antique stores, with more than 30,000 square feet and more than 100 dealers. “Most people come in and they don’t realize how big our store is. You definitely need to give yourself time. An afternoon is barely enough,” says Eleanor MacGregor. There are so many nooks and crannies tucked away, you can’t be rushed.

Readers’ Choice: Nice & Fleazy
Antique stores come and go. North Beach’s Nice & Fleazy endures. The reasons?

“We are open more hours than other antique stores. It’s a real antique store. We don’t have reproductions or crafts,” said owner Dale Thomas.

You’ll find Roseville pottery, crockery, furniture, textiles, collectibles and Maxfield Parrish prints. What’s more, if you’ve failed at shark’s tooth hunting, you can buy the big one at Nice & Fleazy.

Editors’ Choice: Southern Maryland Antiques
The variety of dealers with an eclectic array ranging from decoys to quilts is what we like about Southern Maryland Antiques. Owners Jackie and Ron Smith pride themselves on offering unique quality antiques at their Huntingtown store. “We have a good group of people here who complement each other and take pride in their work,” says Jackie Smith.

For example, she says, “we have a school teacher-antiquer who finds really nice kitchen items like hand-painted mixing bowls or unique salt and pepper shakers. Then she’ll paint a sideboard and put it all together for one presentation.”

Now and again, Jackie and her dealers set up entertaining themes. “One year, we had a men’s hunting dinner table with hand-carved decoys and feathers,” says Smith. “Another year we used oyster shells as place card holders. We try and experiment to show customers that they can be creative.”

This weekend, you’ll find bargains galore at the annual three-day Labor Day Sale.

Best Bookstore
Readers’ Choice: Borders
If reading is fundamental, then Bay Weekly readers’ choice for best bookstore must be fundamentally good.

But what makes Borders more popular than all the others in Chesapeake Country?

“Our customer service [covering phone “I’m on the phone, shut up, I’ll be with you in a minute”] standards are what we pride ourselves on. We try to make contact with every customer and meet their needs whether it’s asking where the bathroom is or looking for a copy of Hamlet,” said a staffer.

Editors’ Choice: Hard Bean Cafe
You’ve stepped back in time to a place where bookstores are independent and quaint. Bookshelves line the walls from floor to ceiling. As you wander through the stacks browsing for that certain book, you can feel the uneven wood floor beneath your feet.

Hard Bean Cafe has books for everyone. For kids, it’ll have the latest Harry Potter. The store itself might even make kids believe they are preparing for a trip to Hogwart’s. Hard bean also shows the work of local artists and brings in local authors to read and sign their books.

Best Coffee House
Readers’ Choice: City Dock Cafe
What sets the City Dock Cafe apart from the other coffee houses? “It’s the customers,” according to owner Steve Duffy.

It’s also friendly service, so that you hear a joke or congratulations on the arrival of a new baby. City Dock Cafe also practices the 70/70 rule, which means that the staff knows 70 percent of all the customers and 70 percent of their drinks. Duffy wants every new customer who walks in the door to be treated as a regular. “Everyone is welcome.”

Editors’ Choice: Common Grounds
We were coffee drinkers who thought Starbucks has done most of America a service — until the chain moved into the front yard of the independent coffee house that’s made Prince Frederick an oasis in a desert of weak coffee.

We spend our Calvert coffee dollar in Chapline Place at Common Grounds. Not only do the four local owners give us good things to eat and drink in a range from strong to sweet to frothy. There’s cushy seating indoors and patio seating outdoors and a friendly ambiance that encourages us to slow down — at least until the buzz hits.

Owners Kim and Pat Bresnahan and Kathy and Rob Link have made Common Grounds all that its name implies: a gathering spot for people, pleasures and ideas. We’ve listened in on the Friday night blues jam under the lighthouse model in the commons while sipping Common Grounds’ treats along with all the other babies, kids, parents and grandparents. Thank you, Common Grounds.

Best Gift Shop ~ tied
Readers’ Choice: Sentimental Fools
It’s personal service to each customer that sets Sentimental Fools and its unique gifts apart, says manager Patty Lewis. “It smells so good in here,” customers say, as soon as they walk in the door. Or, “I’m so stressed I have to come in and hug one of your bears.” You’ll experience pure enjoyment at Sentimental Fools. It’s fun and relaxing, the way shopping should be.

Readers’ Choice: Fairy Tales
“It’s like walking into a fairy tale. There are fairies on trees. It makes you feel like you’re in a fantasy world,” said Fairy Tales owner Michelle Micklos. Customers say that there is no other store in Chesapeake Country like it, according to Micklos.

“Come in and buy gifts for any age or something for home,” invites Micklos. Don’t take our word for it. Explore fairyland for yourself.

Editors’ Choice: Bayhill Market
There’s more than owner Chuck Ruttkay’s good tastes that draws us to his pair of Chesapeake Beach stores, Bayhill Accents and Bayhill Market, which are now being consolidated in the larger Market. We’re always glad to step inside to taste tempting treats and to browse the artful objects he’s collected. Gourmet nibblers abound, but we’re most tempted by his whimsical accouterments to southern living, from Bay-themed goodies to palmy island furniture. And each Christmas is time to add a new ornament from his collection to ours. But what we like best is how Rutkay, an architect, has invested in the Chesapeake Beach community, bringing old buildings into new use and enriching our shared experience with places good to look at and be in.

Best Produce
Readers’ Choice: Whole Foods Market
As the only certified organic market in the country, it’s no wonder Whole Foods has the best produce in town.

“We also offer the largest selection in the area, including hard to-find items such as Lemongrass and Kafir limes, a product of Thailand,” says Diana Evans-Love, marketing director at the Annapolis location.

These pesticide-free edibles are blemish-free, plump and juicy, ripe and robust, in any season. For the conscientious consumer, Whole Foods supports small, local farmers, avoiding middlemen and bringing fresher produce to the store.

Fresh mangoes, papayas and juicy peaches, a rainbow assortment of berries, tomatoes in every size and shape and greens of nearly every variety — that’s what makes Whole Foods Market Bay Weekly’s readers’ choice for produce for three years running.

Editors’ Choice: Any Farmers’ Market
Summer fruits and vegetables taste as good as your memories tell you they should. Tomatoes burst with sweetly acidic flavor, corn is sweet, cantaloupes perfume an entire room. As surely as it brings those delights, summer brings out farmers to sell you their bounty.

Even as southern Maryland’s farmland decreases, the number of farmers who grow — and sell — to you is up. They’re tobacco farmers and row-crop farmers who’ve turned to table crops because a bushel of sweet corn brings better money than a bushel of field corn. They’re retirees living a dream that nourished their working years. They’re former farm-family folk or claustrophobic urbanites wanting to return to the land.

With farms so small — usually less than 10 acres under cultivation — table farmers are hard pressed to vie with the big commercial growers and shippers who sell wholesale at Jessup. Farmers’ markets give them a way to compete, and at most farmers’ markets only local growers are allowed.

For you and me, that means what we eat tonight was picked today, as it ripened from a neighbor’s farm. By buying local, we eat, each in its own season, the freshest, sweetest, most nourishing fruits, vegetables, eggs and sometimes meat that money can buy. By supporting our local farmers, we help our rural economy thrive and our world stay green.

Best Record Store
Readers’ and Editors’ Choice: Tower Records
Winning all the hardware this year for best record store is Tower Records. This tower of power in Chesapeake Country must have a secret for its success.

“Our selection, coupled with our customer service, make for a pleasant shopping experience. Besides being a record store, we have video and a full newsstand,” said Tower’s Brad Ripplinger.

So, if you’re looking for that rare B-side track by Flock of Seagulls or that Elvis tune going through your head, according to Bay Weekly readers and editors, this is the place.

Best Salon
Readers’ Choice: Alexander’s of Annapolis Salon & Day Spa
“Our customers come first, and they regularly tell us that they love our services and that we have a very friendly staff,” says Alexander of Alexander’s of Annapolis, the spa readers say makes them feel that they’ve come someplace special — and may indeed come out looking something special.

The vote of confidence comes in part from Alexander’s pleasant atmosphere during services and while waiting. Another part comes from attention. “We listen carefully so that we can provide a style or haircut that they’ll really love,” says Alexander.

Another part is skill. To that end, Alexander says, “We are constantly educating our staff whether it be with the latest styles and trends in hair or makeup or with the latest in wellness treatments such as therapeutic massage or our latest, ear candleling.”

New clients are promised a warm and friendly greeting, followed by a full tour. Next comes a thorough consultation on your wants and needs, plus whether there are any health issues or personal preferences.

“Ultimately,” Alexander says, “new customers — as well as our current clients — should expect to leave our salon very pleased with the final result. That’s why most of our clients book their next appointment before leaving.”

Alexander’s is also active in its community, especially in such charity events as the SPCA Walk for the Animals.

Editors’ Choice: Feeling good and feeling good about yourself, that’s what it’s all about. Some of us like a small boutique salon where the owner personally handles every customer. Others prefer a large, full-service salon that offers body treatments in addition to hair, skin and nails. In the end, it’s not so important where you go or who your stylist is but that you take the time for yourself. The best salon is the one that takes you as you are and makes the best of you.

Best Bar ~ tied
Readers’ Choice: Happy Harbor
At Happy Harbor’s friendly bar, you can always count on the bartenders having your beer up when you walk in. “It’s just that type of place. If we see you coming from the parking lot, your drink will be waiting for you,” says owner Barbara Sturgell. Happy Harbor is a place where the neighborhood meets and people know you by your first name. You never know if you will be sitting next to some big cheese from Washington or Annapolis or a fisherman who’s just brought in his catch. With Happy Harbor’s eclectic array of customers, there’s no reason why anybody wouldn’t feel welcome. Readers thought that combination was worth voting for.

Readers’ Choice: Middleton Tavern
Bay Weekly readers chose Middleton Tavern Best Bar on the Bay for the friendliness of both the people who work there and the people who go there.

“It’s all the comforts of home,” says Middleton’s Linda Shellem. “Sitting at the bar you meet all sorts of nice, interesting people. And in the winter, we’ve got a nice fireplace going. Bartenders are old hands and, says Shellem, “great fun people.”

Other popular features are the Tavern’s own Samuel Middleton ale; regular bar specials, including new recipes for martinis and margaritas; and nightly entertainment. “We’re open 365 days a year,” Shellem says. “If there’s a blizzard, the bar’s still open and we’re rockin’.”

Editors’ Choice: King of France Tavern
One of the best-kept secrets among the tourist traps, Irish pubs and crab houses is a piece of traditional ambiance mixed with historical charm — the King of France Tavern, named after the host of the party where the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, making the United States of America an independent and sovereign nation from England.

At the top of Main Street in Annapolis, at Church Circle, is the Maryland Inn and Treaty of Paris restaurant. However, if you look closely you’ll find an English-style tavern nestled below ground that puts you at ease. If you’re lucky, squeeze your friends and family into the back alcove for a semi-private party. With windows to the street, you can people watch while imbibing. Cheers.

Best Bartender
Readers’ Choice: Karen Sturgell, Happy Harbor
When Karen Sturgell’s behind the bar at Happy Harbor, she has her eyes on both the bar and the dining room at all times. “She’s the backbone behind this place. She’s been working here since she was 12 and honestly, I could not run the place without her,” says owner and mother Barbara Sturgell. Karen’s never met a stranger, and she’ll soon remember your name and your drink of choice. Readers believe that’s what it takes to be the best bartender on the Bay.

Editors’ Choice: Joe Williams, Pirates Cove
You won’t find a friendlier face or smile than what awaits you at the bar at Pirates Cove. Joe Williams makes everyone feel at home.

“I love my job and the people. You take care of them, and they take care of you,” said Joe Williams, who has been bartender at Pirates Cove for 39 years. “Everything I own is from what I’ve received from people,”

Find Joe behind the bar on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays.

Best Restroom
Readers’ Choice: Nordstrom
New shoppers should know that Nordstrom stresses service — all the way to its restrooms. “We have an in-store crew that cleans about every hour,” says Nordstrom acting manager Cheryl Behringer.

Bay Weekly readers say that’s why they like Nordstrom’s bathrooms best. They also praise the family restroom and the ladies’ sitting room.

Editors’ Choice: Annmarie Garden
How did Annmarie Garden’s restrooms become works of art?

Hundreds of tile scraps adorn the Calvert County sculpture garden’s restrooms. The story goes that a local tiler was going to show volunteers and staff how to grout but got so interested that he stayed for the whole project. The walls are all abstract in blues, greens and grays of different patterns and shapes. Each stall is different and colorful.

People say it’s the most beautiful restroom they’ve ever seen.

Worst Restroom
Readers’ Choice: City Dock
For the third year in a row, Annapolis City Dock has the dubious distinction of having — never a pleasant subject to discuss — the worst restrooms in Chesapeake Country. It’s not funny. If it were, it would give new meaning to the phrase bathroom humor.

“We really took the Bay Weekly readers’ evaluation to heart,” said Annapolis’ Mayor, Ellen O. Moyer. “I asked our central services director, Emory Harrison, to make it his personal priority to see that our public restrooms are always as clean and well maintained as any you would find at home.”

Moyer added, “Obviously, that is a tall order for a facility that receives so much use so many hours a day, but I believe we have improved tremendously and will continue to do so.”

Editors’ Choice: Toys R Us
For a company making its fortune off the backs of children, we were horrified at the state of the restrooms during a recent visit to Toys R Us. Yes, both the men’s and women’s restrooms offer a fold-down changing table — but the plastic apparatus was so unstable it could have collapsed under the weight of a newborn, let alone a toddler suffering from an accident.

And, mercy, the floors! We’ve heard of people laying tissue paper across a toilet seat, but here we would have felt better with enough tissue to cover the entire floor! Sadly, though, that was impossible given the overall lack of T.P.

Evidently, given the missing tissue, the overflowing trash can, the black-stained sinks — the general filth — Toys R Us is concerned with more than our creature comforts.

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© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated August 28, 2003 @ 3:01am