Some favorite places right now

I haven't done one of these in a while. In fact, my circumstances were different last time I did. Right now, my circumstances are such that the only place I really have to go is the grocery store. Since I work from home, I only leave the house if I want to go somewhere or see someone.

So these are the places I'm going.

Freedom of Espresso, Fayetteville. This is the closest locally owned coffee shop to me, and I consider myself lucky, because it's comfortable, usually not busy the times I'm there (1pm or so weekdays), and has some gorgeous ornamental windows. It's also next door to a walking path, so if it's nice out and I'm not sitting there writing (oh yeah! free wifi!) or reading, I can take my coffee for a stroll.

Tavern at the Ridge. This is the venue we'll be married at in July. Previously a nondescript clubhouse at the Skyridge golf course, my fiance Jenny's cousins bought it, placed it adjacent to a great non-profit for veterans, stripped the clubhouse and rebuilt it as a cozy cabin-style restaurant with amazing food, a nice beer selection, craft bourbons and a very pretty nine-hole golf course. They're open somewhat limited hours until it warms up (Wednesday through Saturday from 4pm until dinner's over), but you should definitely give it a try.

World of Beer. I know, this is surprising. It's a chain, and it's in a mall. But they have an extensive beer list of about 50 taps and 500 bottles — including some of our local microbreweries, both on tap and in bottles — and the staff are really knowledgeable about the products, which is amazing considering the amount of product (and the fact that they can only try so much at a time). Last time we were there, we even let a staffer in on a bottle she'd been hearing a lot about. The food is pretty good, but be prepared to order a lot of it, because portion sizes are, shall we say, a little inadequate if you're someone like me (that is, someone who eats a ton).

What places do you love that I need to try?

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The future of human-susatainable design

If you've spent 35 minutes driving three-quarters of a mile along Bridge Street in Syracuse the past 18 months, you've probably found yourself just putting your car in park on a 4-lane road to save yourself the over $4-a-gallon gas. From what I understand, it really has been a bad scene over there. I say "from what I understand," because, despite its convenience to work, I just won't take that route unless I'm certain there's no traffic.

One of the things I have noticed going in as part of that larger project is sidewalks. And I just can't be mad at any project that adds sidewalks to a commercial area, especially a commercial area near residential areas, and especially a commercial area with lots of parking lots.

Sidewalks mean that if you live nearby, you can walk safely, rather than on the shoulder of a 45-mph road. They also mean that if you want to drop your car off at the tire shop and then walk to the jewelry store, you don't risk your life walking on the street or across parking lots.

But sidewalks are just one small step in the race for sustainability and human-centric design. If you hate sprawl and the headache of traffic and the inability to get good sunlight in your apartment and can't believe we're going to fit the population of the U.S. into one small city in China, watch this:

There are some really cool things in there. Foldable cars? Holy hotness. There are also some things that start to feel a little dystopic to me. Those moving-wall, re-configurable apartments? Where do the people who live in those places keep their guitar? Or the title to their car? Or a few extra rolls of toilet paper?

The bigger thing to me, though, is the concept of the walkable village. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know it's a big thing for me. It hit home when Joel Kidder was killed leaving a bookstore in December 2009. Seriously? We can't find a way to let people cross busy streets safely so they can have a sandwich and then go to the bookstore?

Unless gas hits $5 a gallon and it's a gorgeous day, I probably won't ever walk to work – it's only about 3.5 miles, but there are almost no sidewalks. Good morning, sir, would you like an impact with an SUV going 40 miles per hour with your coffee and morning walk?

I have a grocery store about a mile away. It's in a commercial area called Towne Center, named, I'm guessing, because it was meant to mimic a town center, where you could go and get anything you want. There's the grocery store, a department store, a variety of restaurants, a jewelry store, a coffee shop, a bank, a drug store, a liquor store, a video game store, a furniture store, a crafts store, and a YMCA, and that's just off the top of my head.

What it's missing from the town center feel is a feeling of park-and-walk safety.

First, like I said, this place is less than a mile from my house; the safest walk has me going through some woods, which surround some wetlands, which means that after times of heavy rain or most of the winter, it's not a passable route. The other walk is along the narrow shoulder of a 4-lane, 45-mph road with turn lanes. It's primarily terrifying.

Once you're there, though, the shops are clustered. So you can safely get from the grocery store to a couple of the restaurants, the department store and a few other shops, but be careful trying to get to the drug store or bank, because you're pretty much on your own running across the parking lot. Yep, been there, done that, too.

I just don't get why we don't take non-vehicle traffic into consideration. When are we going to stop designing for businesses, and start designing for the humans who might patronize them?

The new Natur-Tyme

There's a grand opening celebration at the newly relocated Natur-Tyme this weekend.

The food and supplement store moved from their location on a dead-end stretch off Bridge Street (technically, I think it was on Bridge Street, but not really) to a much bigger space on Erie Boulevard East, in the former Goldberg's Furniture space.

The new space has a community meeting room, a salon, and a cafe that serves coffee, espresso drinks and smoothies.

I like the new location – it's very spacious (customers can actually walk up and down the aisle without numerous apologies), and they have a great commitment to New York State foods; there are featured spaces on shelves and in refrigerators for New York-produced foods.

The coffee is, as is usual for anything with an organic label, way overpriced – I paid $2 and some change for a small cup – but better than other cafes in the area (cafes really is a misnomer, since those area "cafes" are Denny's, Friendlys, Dunkin Donuts, IHOP, Barnes & Noble and Panera). Prices throughout the rest of the store are, like in the prior location, a mixed bag (some fancy New York cheeses for under $5, but some natural peanut butter for near $9).

It's definitely worth a look, but if you're in it for things like the supplements, do some comparison shopping because I'm betting a lot of the stuff can be found elsewhere for comparable or cheaper prices.

Some Central New York food businesses you’re missing

I sat down with Tracy recently and she reminded me that I needed to do another post about places I like. So, here are some of my current favorites.

Cafe at 407

I've written about 407 before. I'm actually sitting in the cafe writing this blog post, staring at the real whipped cream on top of a hot chocolate a child is drinking while waiting for the singer-songwriter to start playing. In fact, I'm sitting in an overstuffed chair on the wifi with a cup of coffee on the side table, remembering that this place raises money for a non-profit called Ophelia's Place, which deals with eating disordered youth and adults. There's a conference room in back, next to the employees' cubicles and an outpatient clinic. It's in the village of Liverpool. Go there.

Recess

Recess Coffee is celebrating their fifth anniversary this week. The cafe was packed the other night (that's where I had the aforementioned get-together with Tracy), and they are not going anywhere any time soon. Best hot chocolate in town (York, Almond Joy, peanut butter, and more), and a few really good whole-bean roasts.

Farmshed CNY

Farmshed CNY is a web-based app (that is, you go to the website, you don't download it) that will find you farms, farmers markets, restaurants, breweries, dessert, bakeries and more in Central New York. The idea is to have you buying local foods, drinking local beer, and considering where you're sourcing your stuff. And also it helps you find it, by determining your location by GPS. It's awesome.

Small Potatoes Marketing

Maybe it's weird to recognize a marketing firm, but Marty at Small Potatoes works hard to get Central New York food producers distributed into bigger venues. He started as strictly a shoe leather business, and eventually let himself be talked into a blog and Twitter account, both of which he's done really well with. Look for Better Brittle, Recess Coffee and Brooklyn Salsa at the CNY Regional Market thanks to Small Potatoes, and he's worked with a bunch of other locals you're starting to see more and more places, too!

Laci's Tapas Bar

You've probably heard of Laci's by now; they've been around a couple of years. Tapas is a food presentation that features appetizer-size portions of really beautiful, frequently creative food. The menu is excellent, the service is wonderful, and they're over in a part of town you never go to. Try them out!

What are your favorite hot spots this winter?

Old Newsboys? No, it’s not a sales gimmick

Every year someone has something stupid to say about the Old Newsboys campaign.

In case you're unfamiliar with this, a bunch of people go around "selling" The Post-Standard and asking for extra donations on a two-day campaign.

It looks very much like the newspaper is just trying to expand its reach, but actually, all those newspapers sold are donated. Even if you only give them the cost of the paper (75 cents), it all goes to a fund called the Christmas Bureau, which is a joint operation of the Salvation Army and United Way of Central New York.

Read: It helps people.

So even if you don't want the paper, give something. You don't have to take the newspaper.

The Old Newsboys volunteers will be out and about on Friday and Saturday this week (Dec. 9 and 10). Thank them for volunteering in our community, and give them something to bring back to those in need this holiday season.

Great Customer Service: Home Depot, DeWitt, NY

"Who can tell me about chainsaws?" I asked the guy in the tools aisle.

"Actually, chainsaws are in garden."

Crap, that's all the way back where I came in the store. I guess that sort of makes sense, but I was on my feet for 7 hours at work. Eh, I have to walk that in the parking lot to get back to my car anyway. Sigh.

"Who can tell me about chainsaws?" I asked the guy in the garden aisle.

"Let me get you Tom. I don't have a walkie, but we can find someone who does. He's the second smartest guy in the store."

"Why aren't you getting me the smartest?"

"He doesn't know anything about chainsaws."

"OK, second smartest it is."

Tom came over, brought me to the chainsaws, and asked about my project.

Having figured out what I needed, he asked about my price range, and didn't even try to get me to spend an extra $20. He then scanned the chainsaw and discovered it listed zero in stock.

Then he opened a dusty case on the bottom shelf and discovered that zero wasn't quite true. But there appeared to be a lubricant leak in the case.

Tom then obtained a roll of rags, and as he cleaned out the case, he explained about the two-cycle engine, the sort of gas-oil mix I'd need, where to put the lubricant, and he replaced the crushed, leaking lubricant can.

And then he gave me a display-item discount on the saw, which has been cutting perfectly.

Rock on, Home Depot.

Dey Centennial Plaza

I got a tour recently of the Dey Centennial Plaza. It's a group of buildings at the corner of Salina and Jefferson streets in downtown Syracuse.

While the residential units are nice – hardwood floors, marble counters, lots of space, and nice appliances (stainless faucets, electric stoves and refrigerators; some of the units have wine refrigerators and all of them have washer/dryers) – residents pay a little extra for the building security and good parking (the single bedroom units run between $950 and $1200, while the two-bedroom units are in the $1600 range).

The thing I'm excited about, though, is a local market coming to downtown.

It's going to be a 12,500-square foot grocery (much bigger than C.L. Evers, its downtown competition), and all the food is going to come from within 70 miles of Syracuse. There will be garage parking with the first hour free, and the store will be open until 8 p.m., so people shopping after work will have a place to go.

The plaza is a series of five formerly vacant buildings that are quite old. The developers have a great vision for it, and seem to be excited to be helping to shape downtown (the tour was given by Paramount Realty, which closed on the building near the end of 2009).

Syracuse Peace Council Birthday Dinner

This comes to me by way of the Alchemical Nursery and the Syracuse Peace Council. The Peace Council's dinner is this coming Saturday, the 25th.

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The Syracuse Peace Council will be holding their 74th birthday dinner this coming Saturday Sept 25th, 6pm at St Lucy's on the Near Westside in Syracuse.

SPC is a great organization here in Syracuse, and a group with much affinity to Alchemical.

The dinner will feature retired Col. Ann Wright, the highest ranking officer to resign in protest of the US invasion of Iraq. Ann Wright also helped to reopen the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2001. For the past 7 years, she has been a tireless activist for peace - showing up everywhere a person of conscience might be needed. She traveled to Iran on a citizen diplomacy delegation, returned to Afghanistan in 2009 with a study group, joined the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza in 2010, and in September she will be an expert witness for the "Creech 14" trial of nonviolent activists protesting the Drones.

Sliding scale donation: $15-74

Make reservations ASAP to guarantee your place at the dinner! Walk-ins are welcome on a first-come, first-served basis.

6:00 PM - doors open, appetizers
6:30 PM - Dinner is served (featuring Middle Eastern cuisine, all dishes are vegetarian or vegan)
7:30 PM - Program

Ann Wright is is the co-author of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience" and one of the featured portraits in artist Roberty Shetterly's "Americans Who Tell the Truth" series (on exhibit at the ArtRage Gallery while Ann is in town, check their website for details on the September 26th book signing!).

Contact Jessica (315-472-5478, jessica@peacecouncil.net) to make your reservations, or make online reservations at www.peacecouncil.net/bday.

Fond farewells, and the trouble of leasing for business

Clark's Ale House, which has been a local favorite since the mid-1990s, is closing on Saturday.

Let's first talk about Clark's. It's a small, two-level pub with primarily ales on tap. They're locally famous for their roast beef sandwiches, and for a while, that's all that was it for the menu. Just shaved beef, and if you wanted, onions and cheddar. Always on a roll, always with a shot of jus.

The only noise at Clark's is talking – no loud music, no TVs, just people getting together and doing what people do best: talking about whatever they talk about.

All About Beer named it one of the 125 places to have a beer before you die. In the world. Yeah. It's that kind of place.

In it's history, Clark's typically has done steady business, but you could pretty much count on not fighting a crowd to get a drink or a sandwich. This week, it's crazy; all that steady business is coming back for a final round.

Clark's has almost two years left on its lease, but announced to its employees last Friday it would be closing. It's not for lack of money (though that's one explanation for them not moving right away), and certainly not for lack of customers.

It's that the Landmark Theatre – a Syracuse institution since the 1920s (it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the '70s) – owns the building and is expanding so that it can bring in deep-stage shows (as in shows that require a large set, like "The Lion King").

And you can't blame the Landmark for that, can you? It's really hard to hold a grudge against a live performance venue with a rich history. And kudos to Clark's for not spending two years fighting them, for recognizing that another Syracuse institution needs the space to survive.

I'm a little miffed that there's been nothing to this point on the Landmark's Twitter account, since that seems the logical place to host a discussion. [Maybe that's one reason they need the expansion.]

If anybody's looking for a good real estate investment downtown, try buying the former Stoop building in Armory Square and inviting Clark's to re-open there. Good things would come of that.

Syracuse Wiki Survey Results

Last week, we asked you to take a survey about a Syracuse-area wiki. In all, 54 people answered the questionnaire. Just about everybody said they would use a local wiki, though only some would contribute to it. What it really came down to, though, was do we create a new wiki from scratch? The answer was no, we should work to really build out the existing one.

Admittedly, because this survey was promoted primarily on Twitter, the people who took it are pre-disposed to using online tools and aren't representative of the larger potential audience of a local wiki -- but those who took it are also among those most likely to help build out the wiki, and no wiki really survives if the community doesn't build it.

Next step: Let's get to work on SyracuseWiki.org!