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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007 06:36 am

Best of Food & Drink

The best of the city

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Untitled Document EATING & DRINKING
BEST ORGANIC BESTORGANICFOOD SELECTION
Food Fantasies 1512 W. Wabash Ave., 217-793-8009
Anybody can peddle organic alfalfa sprouts, or organic apples, or organic tea. But Food Fantasies has organic kiwifruit, organic pink-guava juice, organic Sicilian lemon
nectar, and organic coconut pudding. Not looking for anything exotic? Food Fantasies also has organic versions of staples: coffee, tea, sugar, shortening, ketchup, mustard, pickle relish, black beans, spaghetti sauce, even organic chocolate sauce and toaster pastries for the kids. Furthermore, it’s been our experience that every employee of Food Fantasies is a 100 percent pure organic human bean, as opposed to those processed hydrogenated humanoid products you find at some supermarkets.
Runner-up: Old State Capitol Farmers’ Market

BEST CHEF
Michael Higgins, Maldaner’s 222 S. Sixth St., 217-522-4313
Michael Higgins came out of the San Francisco Bay area and straight into Springfieldians’ hearts in 1982, the year he became one of Maldaner’s head chefs. He took over ownership of the restaurant in 1995, and since then, he’s achieved fantastic satisfaction of our appetites with his signature meals and seasonal organic dishes. We thought that a chef would surely have his own specialty, but not Higgins: “Someone asked me what my favorite food was, and I said, ‘Whatever is in front of me.’ I just like to cook.” He says although the cuisine’s quality is definitely important, a chef’s recipe for success must include leadership skills. “Cheffing is another word for ‘chief,’ ” Higgins says. “A lot of cooks could never be good chefs, and a lot of chefs aren’t very good cooks. It’s all about leadership.”
Runner-up: Augie Mrozowski, Augie’s Front Burner

BEST WAITER OR WAITRESS
Diane Balestri, Trout Lily CafО
In baseball parlance, Diane Balestri meets the textbook definition of a utility player. According to cafО owner Kate Hawkes, the versatile Balestri is not only Hawkes’ right-hand woman as assistant manager but also sweet and personable, and she calls everyone “hon.” Should, to a single customer’s dismay, the shop run out of something, Balestri, who’s also in charge of making the baked goods, will make an extra one the next day just for that person, Hawkes says. “She’s just an all-around good person,” Hawkes says. “In the three years she’s worked here, I’ve never known her to be rude to a customer. I don’t think she’s been rude to anyone in her life.”
Runner-up: Dawn Ward, Charlie Parker’s
BEST HOT DOGS
Wienerdog 113 1/2 N. Sixth St., 217-744-3644
The last time we stopped in for lunch, we noticed three years’ worth of IT readers’ poll awards displayed proudly, side by side, on the wall above Wienerdog’s counter. With the addition of 2007’s prize, however, they’ll have to either disrupt the plaques’ continuity or move a framed cartoon drawn by SJ-R editorial cartoonist Chris Britt. Decisions, decisions. You’ll empathize with the plight of owners Mark Anderson and Rob Deaton when trying to choose one of Wienerdog’s savory all-beef menu items. If you’re stumped, go with the signature Chicago Dog, which is covered with enough veggies — neon-green relish, chopped onions, sport peppers, a tomato wedge, and a pickle spear — to qualify as a healthy snack, in our opinion. For an extra two bucks you get a bag of chips and bottle of pop, which, for those not well versed in Chicago-speak, is another way of saying “soda.”
Runner-up: Cozy Dog
BEST OUTDOOR DINING
Maldaner’s 222 S. Sixth St., 217-522-4313
The competition was stiff in this category, with several downtown restaurants providing tables and chairs for those who would warm their shoulders or feel the breeze, but Maldaner’s, located two blocks south of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, came away with the most votes, perhaps because the quality of dining is just as superior on the outside as it is on the inside. Where else can you snack on a smoked-trout plate or partake of Maldaner’s special beef Wellington while relaxing outdoors, people-watching or chatting with friends? Let your hair down and step outside Maldaner’s for your next meal. You won’t regret it. Runner-up: Augie’s Front Burner

BEST BARTENDER
Jon Rice, Curve Inn 3219 S. Sixth St., 217-529-5806
Twenty-six-year-old Jon Rice started slinging beers and mixing Jack-and-Cokes two years ago at the Curve Inn for his sister, bar owner Amy Merchant. He’d been a regular patron for three years before that, so, he says, getting to know the clientele was a piece of cake. He also calls it the best part of his job: “People who go in there are kind of crazy, so I get to see some nutty stuff. It breaks up the monotony of my day job when I get to go in there to have some fun.” For those who want to see Rice in action, he’s behind the bar on Wednesday and Friday nights. Ask him to make you a Cosmopolitan or a Manhattan — they’re his favorites. Runner-up: Mike Parkes, Brewhaus
BEST SOUL FOOD
Boyd’s New Generation 1831 E. South Grand Ave., 217-544-9866
Nothing else can make you feel as if you’re sitting in your grandma’s kitchen again like a big plate of fried chicken, greens, mac-and-cheese, and cornbread at Boyd’s. Famous for its soulful Southern cooking, the restaurant resurfaced in 2006 under new owners, Tammy Calloway — the Boyds’ niece — and her husband, Lewis, of East St. Louis. They’re carrying on the family tradition of serving up such Cajun-inspired dishes as jambalaya, red beans and rice, and gumbo in addition to the staple ribs, catfish, and meatloaf. Stop in at lunchtime to eat in or carry out or come by on Friday, when Boyd’s stays open for dinner. Don’t forget to save room for delicious old-fashioned desserts such as sweet-potato pie, peach cobbler, and banana pudding.
Runner-up: Clay’s Popeye’s
BEST SPORTS BAR
Sammy’s Sports Bar & Grill 217 S. Fifth St., 217-789-9803
It doesn’t matter whether you’re rooting for the Cards, the Cubs, the Fighting Illini or the Tigers of Mizzou, Sammy’s Sports Bar & Grill is the place to be. The only sports bar in the heart of downtown, Sammy’s features 22 televisions, including a 70-square-foot projector screen, three 61-inch big screens, and 14 flat screens. Football fans can watch the big games on the NFL Sunday Ticket, ESPN Gameplan, and Big Ten Network. Sammy’s also is carrying SalukiVision so that Southern Illinois sports fans can get a piece of the action, too. Check out www.sammyssportsbar.com for game schedules.
Runner-up: Clubhouse Sports Bar & Grill
BEST STEAK
Alexander’s Steakhouse 620 Bruns Lane, 217-793-0440
If you want something done right, usually you have to do it yourself, particularly when it comes to your food. The people at Alexander’s, owned by Peoria-based Mercedes Restaurants Inc., seem to understand this, offering two huge grills on which patrons cook their own hand-selected cuts of beef. If you don’t mind strangers handling your meat, for an extra $2.59 one of their chefs will cook it for you. Alexander’s invites customers to compare the size of their steaks, which range in price from $17.99 for a small filet to $32.99 for a 20-ounce New York strip, with those at other steak joints around town. Perhaps the best bargain is the $19.95 “Full Meal Deal,” which includes a 14-ounce steak, salad, and domestic draft beer. Come and get it! Runner-up: Longhorn Steakhouse
BEST MARGARITAS BEST MEXICAN
Xochimilco 3210 Northfield Dr., 217-544-9206; 2941 W. Iles Ave.,         217-546-3116; 6901 Preston Dr., 217-483-1006
After a few visits diners will get the hang of pronouncing Xochimilco (so-she-MIL-co), and by that time they’ll be hooked. The hotspot garners kudos from Illinois Times readers in two categories: Best Margaritas and Best Mexican. Whether the kitchen is serving up carne asada or a simple burrito, the cuisine is tasty and authentic. The friendly and efficient waitstaff — known for balancing multiple hot plates on one arm — adds a quickstep to the lively atmosphere. The vibrant mood may have something to do with the mouthwatering margaritas Xochimilco doles out, frozen or on the rocks, in multiple flavors. Count on the bartenders to mix up the perfect concoction. Runner-up, margaritas: CafО Brio Runner-up, Mexican: Los Agaves
BEST CHINESE
Hunan Chinese Restaurant
1101 W. Wabash Ave., 217-793-0999
When a tornado barreled down Wabash Avenue in March 2006 and wrecked Hunan Restaurant, passersby had questions about when — or if — the 2005 readers’ choice for Best Chinese would regroup and serve up those delicious sauces for which it’s known. But Hunan hoisted a new sign and, in July, opened the doors for business. The remodeled Hunan Restaurant is equipped with the same great Chinese staples of the old space, but now with a sushi bar, liquor license, and updated dОcor to boot. Welcome back, Hunan — we missed you!
Runner-up: China Star
BEST BUFFET
International Buffet 520 N. Dirksen Parkway, 217-788-8833
Springfield has more than its fair share of buffets, but our readers’ vote clearly shows that International Buffet is the place where your $6.19 lunch tab goes the furthest. There’s certainly something for everybody here — eight long bars, plus separate stations for sushi, steak, and hot wok. On a recent visit one of the two salad bars had three different kinds of cucumber salad, all of which were yummy. We couldn’t even count the various incarnations of chicken, but the five we tried were delicious. With so many buffets, the competition is pretty fierce, but International has a secret weapon: In addition to the soft-serve ice cream every buffet has, IB has a freezer stocked with serve-yourself real ice cream in such exotic flavors as peppermint, cookies-and-cream, and orange sherbet. Next time we’ll just start there and skip the three cuke salads.
Runner-up: Ryan’s

BEST DESSERTS BEST BAKERY
Incredibly Delicious
925 S. Seventh St., 217-528-8548
Who can resist Incredibly Delicious’ flaky croissants and tangy mixed-berry tart? Not many — the French-style bakery captured our readers’ hearts (and stomachs) again this year, cinching two titles: Best Bakery and Best Desserts. Owner Patrick Groth pulls magic from his ovens, whether he’s removing his fresh-baked Kalamata olive or pepper-Parmesan bread or the wickedly sweet flourless chocolate cake. Leave your diet at the door when you enter the historic Weber House, where Incredibly Delicious occupies the first floor. Groth developed his chops at the French Culinary Institute before returning to his hometown and setting up shop. The boulangerie serves up a light lunch — featuring sandwiches, soups, salads, and quiches — daily, but we all know why capital-city residents flock to the downtown shop. Whether it’s citrus cheesecake, vibrant marzipan, or moist coffeecake, a sweet indulgence at Incredibly Delicious is worth an extra mile on the treadmill. Runner-up, desserts: Bakers Square
Runner-up, bakery: Panera
BEST LATE- NIGHT DINING
Steak ’n Shake 2465 N. Dirksen Parkway, 217-492-5926; 3186 S. Dirksen Parkway,  
217-529-5823; 1580 Wabash Ave., 217-787-0392; 4211 Conestoga Dr., 217-698-9439
There’s nothing we can tell you here that you probably don’t already know about the readers’ choice for late-night dining. Steak ’n Shake is really the only choice for postmidnight munchies. The diner-style restaurant’s franchise had its beginnings a stone’s throw away in Normal and operates four locations in the capital city. Fulfilling sweet-tooth cravings and dishing up extra-early-morning fare for night owls, the institution is open 24/7. A wide range of comfort foods, cooked right under your nose, making the perfect nightcap for a long evening of, er, nightcaps. Now that’s worth losing sleep over.
Runner-up: Denny’s
BEST ICE- CREAM PLACE
Cold Stone Creamery 124 S. Sixth St., 217-523-6666
Illinois Times readers proclaimed that they love Cold Stone Creamery, and it shows. The line at the new ice-cream shop downtown snakes out the door. The shop makes ice cream fresh everyday, scoops it onto the titular cold stone, and mixes the cool indulgence with dozens of tasty treats, among them pie crust, fruit, Oreos, candy, and roasted almonds. If you’re not feeling creative, let the Cold Stone crew serve you one of the chain’s signature mash-ups, which bear such silly monikers as “All Lovin’ No Oven” (Cake Batter ice cream, cookie dough, fudge, and whipped cream). Runner-up: Baskin-Robbins
BEST PLACE TO GET BREAKFAST  
ON SUNDAY
D & J CafО
915 W. Laurel, 217-753-1708
If Springfield looks like a ghost town on Sunday mornings, it’s probably because everyone’s at the D & J CafО. It’s highly unusual to slide right into a table or even a parking spot, but the cafО’s veteran diners say that the cuisine is well worth the wait. Hungry customers can choose breakfast staples ranging from biscuits and gravy to French toast to omelettes. For the starving, D & J suggests the breakfast horseshoe, with a choice of ham, sausage or bacon and topped with cheese or homemade sausage gravy. And did we mention the service? Despite the crowd, coffee cups never run dry, and piping-hot plates arrive in no time. Even the price is great: three people can eat for around $15.
Runner-up: Charlie Parker’s
BEST FRIED FAIR FOOD
Bob Vose’s Korn Dogs
Despite the record temperatures, voters still couldn’t get enough of Bob Vose’s Korn Dogs at this year’s Illinois State Fair. Vose, a 78-year-old Springfieldian and former alderman, has sold the fair staple for 39 years and says his secret is consistency: “We stick with our regular mix, because it’s a good mix, and use a good wiener.” The process hasn’t changed, either. Wieners are dipped in the mix, fried in vegetable oil, and placed upright in a basket for two-and-a-half minutes to allow them to acquire a crispy coating. Another important part of the business is family: At one time Vose’s six children helped cook and sell the corn dogs, and now his children’s children can be found staffing the stand. Runner-up: Culler’s French Fries
BEST ITALIAN
Saputo’s 801 E. Monroe Ave., 217-544-2523
A few years ago, a former restaurant writer for this paper compared our best Italian restaurant to a favorite old pair of boots or a holiday movie, something comforting and familiar. That describes family-owned Saputo’s, a downtown fixture for about six decades, to a tee. The place serves up lots of southern-Italian food, heavy on the red sauces — this is the place for traditional dishes, including mostaccioli, ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti, and rigatoni — as well as lighter fare. Popular with politicians and government workers, Saputo’s also pulls in plenty of tourists and out-of-towners, lured, we’re sure, by the too-cool-for-school vintage neon sign. Don’t forget Saputo’s has a takeout menu, too, and they’re quite accommodating — one night we swung by for a baked potato. Runner-up: Olive Garden
BEST THAI OR VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT
Little Saigon 1531 W. Wabash Ave., 217-726-9633
Last year, when Little Saigon won our readers’ votes for Best New Restaurant, we wrote that this restaurant had become a Springfield institution so fast that we couldn’t remember where we went for lunch before. This year, Little Saigon proves its staying power by knocking out the perennial favorite, Magic Kitchen, which had been winning our Best Asian Restaurant category since the Roosevelt administration — Teddy, not Franklin. This year’s race was close: With 365 votes cast in this category, Saigon beat Magic by fewer than 10. (Last year, Magic had three times as many votes as Little Saigon). Maybe that’s why the last time we ate Asian, our fortune cookie said, “Good luck means having many wonderful choices in life.”
Runner-up: Magic Kitchen

BEST SUBS
Head West 1124 W. Jefferson St., 217-793-9101; 530 E. Capitol Ave., 217-789-9101; 3311 Robbins Rd.,
217-726-9202

Head West Subs added a whole new region of admirers for their signature sweet bread this year when they opened new digs on the west side of town. Owners Matt and Grace Bluhm must be doing something right, because they’re bringing home the gold for the fourth time. Even if you don’t appreciate the dОcor and music choices — rock-concert posters and music by jam bands such as Phish pulsing through the speakers — the sub sandwiches can’t be beat. The menu doesn’t boast anything too fancy, just mile-high meats and cheeses on the best sub bread in town; choices include turkey and Provolone, roast beef and Cheddar, and tuna salad and Provolone, as well as a few specialty sammies. Top off your meal with a Ben and Jerry’s pint or a Jones soda. Head West will bring it to your door for nothing.
Runner-up: Monty’s
BEST VEGETARIAN CUISINE
Holy Land Diner 107 W. Cook St., 217-544-5786
The wings at Holy Land Diner taste awesome, as do the meatballs and the gyros, but let’s face it: We’re in Springfield, where a restaurant that serves chicken, beef, and lamb can still win our vegetarian prize. Neither Holy Land nor runner-up Gateway to India is vegetarian (Gateway serves chicken and lamb on a regular basis), but both offer such a reliable and wonderful selection of vegetarian dishes that vegetarians claim these two eateries as their own. At Holy Land, there’s always lentil soup, several salads, a variety of olives and feta cheese, and often falafel, tabbouleh, and hummus. The restaurant was forced to close for a few months this year, thanks to a landlord that wanted a higher-dollar tenant, but loyal customers followed owners Afaf and Jamal Rashmawy to their new, brighter location in Vinegar Hill Mall.
Runner-up: Gateway to India
BEST CHILLI
Joe Rogers’ Original Recipe Chili Parlor/ The Den 820 S. Ninth St., 217-522-3722
During lunch hour at Joe Rogers’ Original Recipe Chili Parlor, it’s hard enough to snatch a parking space, let alone a spot at a table or the bar. Such orders as “Medium with a touch of hot,” “The J.R. Special,” and “A chili cheese dog with relish and mustard” fly across the counter as red-apron-clad waitresses dish out the secret-recipe chilli with the ease of veterans. Marianne Rogers, who has run the family business since her father’s death, in 1973, attributes the restaurant’s success to its keeping with tradition. “There’s nothing new — I haven’t added anything,” Rogers says. “That’s the charm of the business. We’ve kept the menu the same, and we’ve kept the products the same.” Apparently her tactic has worked: Rogers says that she has customers who have eaten at the chilli parlor since it first opened, in 1945. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she says with a laugh. Runner-up: Steak ’n Shake

BEST BURGERS
Steak ’n Shake 2465 N. Dirksen Parkway, 217-492-5925; 3186 S. Dirksen Parkway, 217-529-5823; 1580 Wabash Ave., 217-787-0392; 4211 Conestoga Dr., 217-698-9439
Steak ’n Shake describes its Steakburger as the “finest burger served anywhere in the world” — and most Springfieldians agree, again giving the restaurant chain top billing in this category. The trademarked burger hasn’t changed in the past year, but the restaurant chain, founded in Normal in 1934 and a presence in the capital city for nearly 70 years, continues to grow, numbering nearly 500 locations in 21 states, mostly in the Midwest and the South. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Steak ’n Shake still focuses on cooked-to-order food, served to guests on real china and accompanied by real glasses and silverware. The newest Springfield store, on Wabash Avenue, opened in December, replacing a nearby Steak ’n Shake that was damaged by one of the March 2006 tornadoes. Runner-up: Krekel’s Custard
BEST CATFISH OR WALLEYE SANDWICHES
Carter’s Fish Market 1900 E. South Grand Ave., 217-525-2571
The first clue that Carter’s Fish Market has great food is the line. People cluster in front of the fish shack — where the shade is scant, there’s nowhere to sit, and cars are whizzing past — just to wait their turns to order fish sandwiches from employees who, though never rude, will never be accused of being overly friendly. But that’s OK. Carter’s isn’t the kind of place you go for convenience, conversation, or charm; you go to Carter’s for the fish. In fact, when they ask what type of bread we want (white, wheat, or rye), we usually say “none.” We like our fish “sandwiches” naked — just fish, maybe a little ketchup. Bread would just get in the way. Carter’s fish is that good. It’s lightly breaded and artfully fried, and it has just the perfect amount of fishy tastiness. Best of all, a single catfish or walleye plate can — in most households — feed two people and often three, making Carter’s a delicious bargain.
Runner-up: Walleye Stop
BEST COFFEEHOUSE
Starbucks 3412 Freedom Dr., 217-787-0764; 2003 W. Monroe St., 217-793-2193; 700 E. Adams St. (inside the Hilton Springfield), 217-789-7098; 3200 E. Clear Lake Ave., 217-525-7759; 3445 Freedom Dr., 217-546-5003; 3111 S. Veterans Pkwy., 217-546-9440 (inside Barnes & Noble) 
Over the years the Seattle-based java giant has taken more hits than the coffee mug of a journalist up against a deadline. Questions about Starbucks international corporate citizenship have much to do with the criticism. The other big source of criticism is the priceyness of the product. But the place isn’t so bad: Soon Starbucks will begin rolling out its special holiday blends, such as pumpkin-spice and gingerbread lattes, and, regardless of what you think about the joe, it’s also a superb place to read a good book, surf the Web, or meet up with friends. Runner-up: Trout Lily CafО

BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Chadito’s Mexican- American Grill 3030 S. Sixth St., 217-529-8226
“If you like the food, tell your friends about us. Word of mouth is the only advertising we have,” a Chadito’s employee tells a new patron at lunchtime. Well, word appears to be getting around. Patrons of four-month-old bistro complain that they’re going broke — and not because the food is expensive. The lunch special, which features ample portions and a medium beverage, costs just $3.50. Also, if your posse is torn between south-of-the-border cuisine and an old-fashioned hamburger joint, Chadito’s offers a solution, serving tacos, burgers, and the taco burger (a cousin to the sloppy Joe). The restaurant is also one of the few Mexican eateries around that serves French fries, so delicious that they were dubbed “Jesus fries” by one enthusiastic young man because “Christ has to make them.”
Runner-up: CafО Moxo
BEST DOWNTOWN BAR
Sammy’s Sports Bar & Grill 217 S. Fifth St., 217-789-9803
Sammy’s dominated the competition in this year’s Best Bar Food and Best Sports categories but beat out runner-up Marly’s by just two votes in Best Downtown Bar contest. Both bars boast excellent locations, but Springfieldians favor Sammy’s for its selection of 35 bottled beers, its gargantuan list of television stations (mostly catering to sports fans), its halftime entertainment (including shuffleboard and Foosball), and its yummy bar fare, which includes Buffalo-chicken sandwiches and jalapeЦo poppers. Another plus for tired, thirsty city and state workers: After a long day on the job you can hop over to Sammy’s for happy hour and score half-price appetizers and drinks.
Runner-up: Marly’s Pub
BEST PIZZA
Gabatoni’s Restaurant 300 E. Laurel, 217-522-0371
A frequent runner-up, Gabatoni’s Restaurant has finally snagged the No. 1 slot for the capital city’s best pizza — with good reason. Fast, cheery service and tasty variations on the classic Italian pie such as taco, chicken Alfredo, and barbecue chicken go hand in hand at this cozy neighborhood restaurant, owned and operated for 56 years by the Beck family — first by John and Rosemary Lynn Beck and now by daughter Rosalie. The Gabatoni’s serving team sure knows how to please, plunking down regulars’ drinks before they’ve been ordered and distributing napkins to the messiest of eaters before they’re demanded. The work in the kitchen is just as exemplary, with thin-crust wonders, complete with Italian-herb-sprinkled sauce, gooey cheese, and the customary grease, flying out to pizza lovers. Even if pizza isn’t your thing, Gabatoni’s also offers a full selection of other Springfield favorites: po’boys, horseshoes, and walleye sandwiches.
Runner-up: The Pizza Machine
BEST BARBECUE
Hickory River Smokehouse 2343 N. Dirksen Pkwy., 217-528-2271
Now that we’ve licked our fingers clean and loosened our belts, we’re ready to give our thorough report on Urbana-based Hickory River: It’s delicious! So tender are the slices of beef brisket — available in small and large sizes — that you have to fold the meat several times to keep it from falling off your fork. And Hickory River’s generous helpings of sweet cornbread resemble hunks of moist yellow birthday cake. We also enjoyed the ranch beans, a spin on traditional baked beans that tastes a lot like chili. Perhaps the best part is that our meal, the 2 Meat Combo (including two side dishes and cornbread), cost just over $10.
Runner-up: Smokey Bones BBQ & Grill
BEST DINER Charlie Parker’s 700 North St., 217-241-2104
Stepping into Charlie Parker’s is like stepping into a past where beboppin’ jazz rules and neon lighting bounces off shiny countertops and tables. Diners are surrounded by posters of the establishment’s namesake and by vinyl records, gas-station signs, and other cool memorabilia from the good ’ol days. The joint almost makes you feel like a kid again — grown-up customers seem to have no problem ordering root-beer floats with extra root-beer along with their toasted-bun burgers and crinkle-cut fries. Other Charlie Parker’s fare includes sandwiches such as the Janitor’s Special (otherwise known as a bacon-and-cheese sandwich) and chicken fried steak with all of the fixins. If you’re a late riser or just can’t get eggs and bacon off your mind, you’re in luck — Charlie Parker’s serves breakfast until 2 p.m. Runner-up: Sunrise CafО

BEST HORSESHOES D’Arcy’s Pint 661 W. Stanford, 217-492-8800
Well, D’Arcy’s has done it again. This year they’ve received more than 400 votes — beating the second-place finisher by more than 300 — for the Best Horseshoes in Springfield. Not for the weak of stomach, or of heart, D’Arcy’s concoctions comprising meat, French fries, and cheese appeal to the capital city’s hungriest and, in some cases, the bravest. The popular Irish-style tavern has a wide selection of horseshoes, from a chili-cheeseburger ’shoe to a special Southern-fried catfish ’shoe, and even offers ponyshoes for those seeking somewhat smaller portions. If piles of food just aren’t your thing, D’Arcy’s boasts an impressive menu of Irish fare, salads, pizza, and seafood. Runner-up: Dublin Pub
BEST BEER SELECTION ON TAP The Barrel Head 1577 W. Wabash Ave., 217-787-2102
Budweiser. Bud Light. Bud Select. Busch. Michelob. Michelob Ultra. Michelob AmberBock. Miller Lite. Coors Light. Stag. Killian’s Irish Red. Guinness. Murphy’s. Bare Knuckle Stout. Beamish Stout. Newcastle Brown Ale. Spaten Optimator. Boulevard Bully! Porter. Boulevard Lunar Ale. Boulevard Dry Stout. KЪstritzer. Smithwick’s. Leinenkugel’s Creamy Dark. Blue Moon. Boulevard Wheat. KЪnig Ludwig Weiss. Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat. Hoegaarden. Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat. Goose Island Honker’s Ale. Samuel Adams Oktoberfest. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Bass. Harp. Warsteiner Oktoberfest. Spaten. Pilsner Urquell. Heineken. Stella Artois. Becks. Amstel Light. Foster’s. Moosehead. Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss. Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss. Woodchuck Draft Cider. Cheers! Runner-up: Brewhaus
BEST MARTINI Jazz Central Station 30th floor, Hilton Springfield, 700 E. Adams St., 217-789-1530 
The martini is a throwback, at least the version that James Bond imbibed: gin, a touch of dry vermouth, and olives — shaken, not stirred. And did we say potent? Of course, tradition went by the
wayside years ago, and the old-fashioned martini has given way to flavored festive concoctions that are more candy than cleaning fluid. The best place, readers say, to enjoy a “martini” in Springfield also is the best spot to see the city. Early one weekday evening we stopped by Jazz Central Station, on the 30th floor of the Hilton Springfield, then grabbed a window seat and went to work. We started with the Ruby (Skyy citrus, triple sec, and ruby-red grapefruit, served with a sugar rim), then moved on to the Espresso (Starbucks coffee liqueur, Baileys, Godiva, and vanilla vodka), the Lemon Drop (Absolut Citron, squeeze of lemon, sugared rim), the Old School (gin, vermouth, and two olives). Then we sort of lost track: Journalism is such hard work! When we arrived at the bar, we were disappointed that the top of the Hilton doesn’t rotate. When we completed our reporting, the entire hotel was spinning.
Runner-up: Floyd’s Thirst Parlor
BEST BAR FOOD
Sammy’s Sports Bar & Grill 217 S. Fifth St., 217-789-9803
Having friends over to your place to watch the big game can be more trouble than it’s worth: After getting permission, feeding your hungry guests, and irritating your neighbors, you get stuck cleaning up the mess. Who needs the hassle? Not only are Sammy’s TVs better than yours, but their grub is also far superior to your charred burgers and potato chips. Sammy’s deep-fried Beer Battered Brat Bites have redefined the bratwurst, and the Bleu Balls — Swiss cheese, chicken chunks, and ham, rolled into a ball and fried and accompanied with honey-mustard sauce for dipping — are surprisingly tasty. Sammy’s also scores with delicious burgers, sandwiches, salads, and soups.
Runner-up: D’Arcy’s Pint
BEST CANDY
Pease’s Fine Candies & Salted Nuts 1701 South State St., 217-523-3721; 4753 Jeffory St., 217-529-2912; 3417 Freedom Dr., 217-793-9868; 1871 Sangamon Ave., 217-528-2810; 531 E. Washington St., 217-241-3091; White Oaks Mall, 217-726-5473
Here’s a testament to the paradisiacal nature of Pease’s Candy Shop: You can take a boy there. In fact, a boy will beg, plead, wheedle, whine, cajole, and bribe you into a trip to Pease’s, despite the fact that Pease’s stores are pink — and not just any pink, mind you, not an earthy shade of rose or a pale petal pink. No, Pease’s pink is just a blush away from full-on Barbie pink. Do boys care? Not at all. They’re there for the chocolate, for the nuts, for the wall of little candies they can buy with piggybank proceeds. Does Mom complain? Not at all. There are plenty of gourmet choices for grown-up tastes, too. Runner-up: Del’s Popcorn Shop

BEST SALAD BAR Ruby Tuesday 2501 W. Wabash Ave.,
217-698-4030

There are more than 950 company-owned and franchised Ruby Tuesdays and at least 34 Springfields in the United States. The one and only Ruby Tuesday in the one and only Springfield, Ill., again grabs top honors for having the best salad bar in the capital city. Our Ruby Tuesday is located inside White Oaks Mall, next door to Macy’s. It’s easy to see why the chain’s Fresh Garden Bar is so popular. It can be enjoyed by itself or ordered with another entrОe, and the meat-inclined will find delectable bacon, ham, and more among the array of leaves, veggies, and fruits. Serious carnivores will savor the signature burgers and loins, tender- and sir-. In addition to wine, beer and soft drinks, diners may enjoy pomegranate lemonade and “Ruby T.” If fresh is your bag, the place to get it on is Ruby Tuesday.
Runner-up: Ryan’s
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