OK, so maybe it’s not perfect. It can’t be all Angry Mayor IPA and Crack Fries, which those future Lansing-ites will hopefully still be enjoying along with their De- Luca’s seafood pizza and MSU Dairy Store lemon custard. But right now, it’s an incredible time here in the capital city to revel in world-class barbecue cuisine, stadium-sized produce stores and free weekly standup comedy and beer-by-the-bucket specials. In 2016, Lansing is so Lansing it hurts.
This year, the top 10 vote-getters in the annual City Pulse Top of the Town Awards represent a perfect snapshot of everything that makes it so good to be a local culture consumer. Of the 122 categories there were to vote in, it’s notable that the top non-governor-specific entries had something to do with eating or drinking. Which just proves that, yeah, when it really comes down to it, we’re a sustenance-craving kinda people. No revelation there, but there were a couple of surprises in this year’s tally.
The first surprise comes from the two entries to crack the top 10 on the strength of only one category, with the rest collecting votes from between two and 10. With the Flint water crisis still fueling recall petitions and giving the state an international black eye, Rick Snyder was a verifiable shoo-in in the category of Worst/Local State Politician. The Tough Nerd received 3,479 votes. For comparison, the only other single-category appearance was by Meat Southern BBQ & Carnivore Cuisine, which garnered 3,761 in Best Barbecue. Our voters love two things, apparently: throwing down on hickory-smoked barbecue ribs and hating Snyder.
The second surprise comes from the only business on the list that wasn’t even a business this time last year. Lansing Brewing Co., which only opened seven months ago, had the second-most total votes at 5,864. It took first in Best Lansing-area Brewery and Best New Restaurant, and second in Best Lansing-area Distillery, Best Craft Beer Selection and Best Local Outing With Friends. Expect this newcomer to stick around in the Top of the Town for awhile.
Leaping past Lansing Brewing Co. to take top honors of Best Craft Beer Selection is HopCat, which rounded up 3,750 votes. The 3-year-old craft beer bar’s signature Crack Fries (they’re as addictive as crack!) won for Best Fries, and it took second for Best Hangout for Students. With 4,578 votes, the MSU Dairy Store placed first in both Best Dessert and Best Ice Cream Shop. With record scorching temps expected this summer, many of those voters will probably be bumping into each other in line over the next few months. And speaking of lines, perennial favorite Golden Harvest reaped 5,106 votes, taking first for Best Diner as well as for Best Breakfast.
Another returning champ is Soup Spoon Café, which spread its 4,558 votes among Best Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten- Free, and second in Best Breakfast, Best Sandwich/Deli and Best First Date Place. It also came in third for Upscale Dining — the downtown bistro’s Shrimp “Voodoo” Pasta is still working its black magic after a full decade. Happy 10th anniversary, guys!
Deluca’s Restaurant has been kicking it for a bit longer than that, 56 years, proving that local taste buds have a sense of history, too. There were 5,432 of you who helped propel the north Lansing eatery, now on its third generation of owners, into first place as Best Italian and Best Pizza. It also took third for Best First Date Place. After more than half a century, it would be interesting to know how many of those voters are the product of their parents’ first dates there. Eh, maybe we don’t want to know.
Riding the success of its eponymous hamburger and its weekly live entertainment showcases, Crunchy’s gobbled up 5,438 votes, taking first for Best Burger, Best Karaoke and Best Hangout for Students. It also came in third for Best Craft Beer Selection, Best Pub/Tavern, Best Spartan Sports Hangout and Best Happy Hour. The secret of its popularity could be the 27 taps, the Sunday half-off pizza deals, or the beer buckets, which — and I can’t stress this enough — seriously come in mop buckets.
With 15,365 votes, Horrocks Farm Market drew nearly three times as many votes as second-place finisher, Lansing Brewing Co. Horrocks won for — deep breath — Best Beer Selection, Best Florist, Best Gardening Center, Best Local Grocery Store, Best Michigan Products, Best Organic/Natural Market, Best Produce/Farmers Market, Best Wine Shop and Best Convenience/Liquor Store. (phew). The overachiever didn’t sweep all its categories, however. It came in second for Best Candy Shop.
The Top of the Town Awards is, of course, a popularity contest, and not a true measure of subjective greatness — that would require a far more refined tool and decidedly less campaigning. But for posterity’s sake, they do a cracker job of capturing the zeitgeist of what it means to be out there doing stuff in Metro Lansing. So yeah, future generations, it’s pretty great to be around right now. Here’s your proof.
— Allan I. Ross