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Critics' Choice Awards

[whitespace] wineshop
Scott Lechner

Wine Time: Kyle Plumb (left) and Chris Dennebaum of Gabriella Wine Shop.

Best Live Lunch-time Entertainment:
Gabriella Wine Shop

Most folks envision a wine shop as a bastion of civilization. What, after all, could be more mature than sipping fine wine while snacking on duck confit? Plenty of things, thank heavens. As Chris, Kyle and the young crew at Gabriella in downtown Santa Cruz work their culinary magic, they joke, tease and torment each other. In between wisecracks, they manage to whip up some of the best Italian-inspired goodies around. Whether there for the food or just to check out the shops infamous photo wall, which offers up-close and personal shots of the charming crew, wine shoppers can leave all pretensions at the door.
Mary Spicuzza

Best Scone:
Black China Bakery; Beckmann's

First of all, let me say that there are no bad scones produced in Santa Cruz County. From the chewy, fruit-filled versions made by Heart in the Highlands to the delicate currant-filled triangles from Kelly's, we have a scone for every palate. But--but--if I were on my deathbed and had only one breakfast food to choose for my very last meal, it would be a tossup between the sublimely creamy cranberry scone from Black China Bakery (available at better coffeehouses) and the rich, tender, lemon-zesty beauties from Beckmann's (on Mission Street). These are scones for the ages, the Platonic forms of scones. The smooth texture of the Black China version, punctuated here and there with the tartness of cranberry, lasts the length of an entire double latte. The crumbly, lemony scones of Beckmann's, inflected with moist currants and a perfect golden crust, make an inspired match with a mug of black tea.
Christina Waters

Best Place to Sole Search:
Bunny's Shoes

Long ago, Sigmund Freud decided he could be a one-man savior of women. If only there were a Bunny's Shoes back in the day, more gals could've left Siggy to deal with his own neuroses and soothed their troubled souls with shoe shopping instead. Bunny's cozy boutique immediately enshrouds shoe lovers in ethereal comfort, surrounding seekers with a perfect blend of the practical and purely decadent. It's impossible to succumb to the blues while tip-toeing around Bunny's in sleek, strappy party shoes and a velvet scarf. Who knows, perhaps a little sole-searching in the Pacific Avenue shoe mecca is what poor Mr. Freud needed all along.
Mary Spicuzza

Best Civic Improvement:
Public Bathrooms on the Hook

The portable toilets that used to grace the cliff edge at Pleasure Point won Best Reason to Hold It Till You Burst just a couple of years ago. So it is only fitting that the shiny new public heads that replaced them on the shiny new parking lot where 41st Avenue meets East Cliff Drive would get Two Bladders Up from us. The terror that lurked within those grimy green Porta-Sans has faded to a bad dream. We are now blessed with a new structure that blends the nature of river rock with the science of sanitation. Not only do the toilets flush, there's also a shower so the noble surfers can rinse off the hepatitis-contaminated sea foam. Kelly Luker

Best New Public Servant:
Ron Ruiz

It's easy to say--and manifestly true--that the appointment of defense attorney Ron Ruiz as district attorney for Santa Cruz County has been a shot in the arm to the Latino community, not to mention the cause of a minor revolution inside the DA's office. But there is much more to Ruiz. He is a straight shooter and a man of the highest integrity, and we are confident he will strike the right balance between aggressive prosecution and tempered justice. He still faces election in a year, and while we want to stop short of endorsing him now, his early performance in office gives us enormous hope. Unlike his predecessor, Ruiz is a man who will take responsibility for his mistakes. So far, he hasn't made any.
John Yewell

Best Public Humiliation:
Karaoke at the Surf Bowl

Innocently lurking in the bowling alley bar lies the wallflower's worst nightmare--or the off-key exhibitionist's best fantasy. At the Surf Bowl, anyone can be Madonna or Donna Summers or Barbra Streisand or--you get the idea--if only for a night. Here, neighborhood regulars, college types and barflies sidle on up to the bar, knock back a couple and pretend that they, too, can warble like an angel, with the aid of a telepromptor. Embarrassing, yes; entertaining, definitely; a character builder, guaranteed.
Karen Reardanz

Best Reason to Expose the Sheriff's Department:
Deputy Kim Allyn

Although he won "Best Bod on a Talking Head" last year, we're still looking for an excuse, any excuse, to run this picture of the fabulously endowed Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department spokesperson. Allyn offers the best argument for cops brushing those doughnut crumbs off their laps and getting on over to the gym. Deputy Kim? You can serve and protect us any ol' time.
The Staff

Best Spot for a Guardian Angel:
Highway 9 to Felton

Never mind a torrential downpour or blanket of fog, the long and winding road to Felton is stressful enough on even the starriest night. With more dangerous curves than a Victoria's Secret catalog, the six-mile stretch of Highway 9 from Santa Cruz to Felton possesses all the scare tactics of the Giant Dipper with none of the innocent thrills. And those speed demons who insist on taking those turns at hyperspeed? There's a reason the signs read 35 miles an hour. How's that for motherly? Now eat your vegetables.
Karen Reardanz

Best Do-Gooder:
Tony Stromecki

He was like every other entrepreneur--big dreams, big hopes. But Tony Stromecki also had big heart--his ISP company, BnB Computing, provided free accounts, tech support and web space to the clients of Give-a-byte, a nonprofit project that provides computers and Internet connections to people with AIDS/HIV. Unfortunately, Stromecki's company folded. But before the end, Stromecki negotiated a deal for ISP Tycho to take over his accounts, with a proviso that they continue free service for the AIDS/HIV patients. Second place to Tycho for agreeing, then stepping up to the plate and providing top-notch service to Give-a-byte.
Kelly Luker

Best Names for Baked Goods:
The Ugly Mug

Everybody says it's the little things that matter most--which may explain why Soquel Village's the Ugly Mug has a near-cult following. Rich brownies coated in a thick chocolate ganache frosting boast the foreboding title "Kevorkian Death Brownies--As seen on 60 Minutes." Healthy oat cakes sit with a telling "Hockey Pucks" sign, and the delicious coffeecake promises "All the goodness of coffee, in a cake."
Mary Spicuzza

Best Excuse for Caving In:
Tom Campbell on Impeachment

Congressman Tom Campbell explaining his vote to impeach President Clinton: "I used my very best judgment." Are we to assume that his other votes used his B-level or C-level judgment? Considering the subsequent acquittal votes in the Senate, his partisanship on this matter is hard to overlook; his training in the law is the barest of fig leafs. Campbell caved to party discipline, it's that simple. But as a moderate, he figured he could get away with hiding behind principle in siding with the Savonarolas of the House. "Best judgment" never had anything to do with this case, as Kenneth Starr entrapped innocent people in the service of partisan political objectives. Campbell's reasoning was a stretch, and we applaud him for his first-rate rationalization.
John Yewell

Best Matriarch:
Grandma Sue Wilson

Most grandmothers would do anything for their families. But local superhero Grandma Sue has extended her definition of family to include just about everybody in the Beach Flats neighborhood. And from early morning to late at night, the legendary matriarch can be found helping neighborhood kids track down much needed shoes, delivering food to the sick and elderly or advising teens to stay in school. The longtime Santa Cruzan hasn't just watched generations of Beach Flats families grow up; she's taken an active role in every step of the process.
Mary Spicuzza

Best Patron's Saint:
Flor Miller at Economy Drugs

Now here's what we call service with a smile. Flor Miller, the newest addition to Cedar Street's Economy Drugs family, has become a seemingly permanent fixture behind the cash register, ringing up and assisting patrons with the cheeriest of dispositions. She'll find that prescription or reach those Tums while acting like there's nothing she'd rather be doing. Best of all, she'll take the time to inquire about your sister who had gall bladder surgery or that trip you took to Guam. Makes getting sick just a little better.
Karen Reardanz

Best Theme Park That Should Never Have Disappeared:
Santa's Village

The road sign is still there--"Santa's Village Drive"--pointing the way off Highway 17 a bit north of Scotts Valley. But don't look for reindeers, Santa's workshop or the Fat Man himself at the end of the road. The once-popular North Pole attraction full of rinky-dink rides, puppet shows and plywood chalets covered with fake snow went south in the early '70s. Santa's Village was tacky, schmaltzy and silly--everything we loved and now miss in this era of multimillion-dollar computer-animated megaparks. Many a stalwart Santa Cruz citizen once wore ridiculous green felt shoes and a pointy cap, earning after-school bucks as Santa's Elf. Hmmm, makes you think of our politicians in a whole new light.
Kelly Luker

Best Full-Moon Rising:
Full-Moon Beach Parties

So why are there scores of cars parked along the deserted stretch of Highway 1 by Bonny Doon in the dead of night? Well, if you're young and hip and full of nervous energy, the obvious answer is all-night dance parties. When the moon is full, kids from Santa Cruz to San Francisco make the arduous trek from the highway to the sandy shores of Four-Mile and Panther beaches to dance their little raver hearts out till the wee hours. Water bottles in hand and belly rings in place, these energetic young party machines may pretend they're honoring the changing cycles of nature, but it's actually just an excuse to shake it all night long.
Karen Reardanz

Scott Lechner

Best Use of Graffiti:
Wall Behind Soquel Avenue Parking Lot

More of an artistic playground than a spot for the troublesome taggers that graffiti is commonly associated with, the long wall that seals in the parking lot between the fire station and Hair Talk Salon on Soquel Avenue is a revolving artistic scene. Every few months, a crew of graffiti artists swoops down with paint cans in hand and brings to life a host of creative ideas. Last time a grouping of individual cartoonlike characters, the wall is currently an exercise in education. An illustrated alphabet, the piece--a "production" in graffiti speak--showcases the artists working together. Who knew graffiti could be so socially conscious?
Karen Reardanz

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From the March 24-31, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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