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Break The Chains of Love: A Look At "Best Of" Lists (Part 3: Columbus's Counterparts)

The Tech Museum Of Innovation in San Jose, CA, our first of ten cities
we compare with Columbus in regard to "Best Of" lists
In Part 1 of this "Chains on "Best Of" Lists" series of blog posts, we looked at how Columbus locals voted on various media-based polls, and in Part 2, we compared and contrasted Columbus's "Best Of" lists to those produced in the four largest cities in the Buckeye State.

Well, it only seemed right to continue the progression to its logical conclusion. How do cities that are Columbus's counterparts in terms of population size chime in on their local "Best Of" polls?  The selecting was pretty easy: I took 2015 population statistics and took the five cities ranked just above and just below Columbus (I used the list found on Politifact for my numbers, which at the time of this post dated to 2015) and found a the best "Best Of" list that I could find.

In many ways, the look at these ten cities kind of cemented my initial thoughts I posted on the first blog post looking at Columbus's reader poll list.  While Columbus wasn't alone in the questionable nods to chains as "Best Of" category, the fact that it did and has happened in the past shows that improvement is there to be had.

With that said, the right kind of outsider chain love can be a good thing: the arrival of Chicago's Giordano's and its stuffed deep dish pizzas was eagerly anticipated, and there is growing anticipation related to the arrival of Akron-based Swenson's Drive-In. And if you look at Seattle's polls, three of their "outsider" chains would be great additions to any scene, including here in Columbus.

10) San Jose, CA (2015 Population: 1,026,908) 
San Jose Mercury News (Best in Silicon Valley)
Most Unique Categories: Latino Grocery Store
Total Categories: 29
Total Chain Quotient: 27.6%
Outsider Chains: 2
State-based Chains: 3
Homegrown Chains: 1
Regional Mini-Chains: 2

Summary: this is one of the lighter polls in terms of category numbers, especially for a city of San Jose's stature. With that said, the chain quotient isn't too bad, but there are two choices in particular rank up there P.F. Chang's/Chipotle combo in Columbus's (614) readers poll.

First off, there must be better ice cream than the ubiquitous Baskin Robbins in the South Bay, right?  Right?

The second head-shaker might be a function of the survey itself - yes, Huntington Beach's BJ's Brewhouse is a decent enough place, and yes, it does fit under the "Best Brewpub" category. However, I think this needs to be amended either to "Best Brewpub/Brewery" (most area microbreweries in the area like Hermitage, Strike, and Clandestine wouldn't strictly qualify as a brewpub) or a separate "Best Brewery" category should be created (the survey already has a "Best Winery" category."

Austin's Jester King, a brewery whose reputation actually may be
greater on the national level than it is with the locals

11) Austin, TX (2015 Population: 931,830)
Austin Chronicle (Best of Austin 2017)
Most Unique Categories: Drive-Through, Established
Total Categories: 23
Total Chain Quotient: 39.1%
Outsider Chains: 0
State-based Chains: 0
Homegrown Chains: 4
Regional Mini-Chains: 5

Austin Monthly (Best of ATX Readers Picks 2017)
Most Unique Categories: Breakfast Taco, Queso
Total Categories: 38
Total Chain Quotient: 28.9%
Outsider Chains: 0
State-based Chains: 0
Homegrown Chains: 9
Regional Mini-Chains: 2

Summary: What else is there to say? Austin loves and supports their locals, with not a single outsider or intrastate chain interloper in the bunch. Moreover, their chains voted as "Best Of" by the locals (Chuy's, Amy's Ice Cream, and Torchy's Tacos) have made their presence felt in cities around the country. In fact, in a weird factoid, I have eaten at outlets of all three of the above in three different cities, and none of them named Austin.

It does make me wonder if they are just as protective against interlopers when it comes to certain professional sports teams, but that's a whole different subject.

12) Jacksonville (2015 Population: 868,031)
Jacksonville Magazine (Best in JAX 2018)
Most Unique Categories: Bubble Tea, Filipino, Instagrammable Decor, Instagrammable Food
Total Categories: 47
Total Chain Quotient: 19.1%
Outsider Chains: 1
State-based Chains: 1
Homegrown Chains: 1
Regional Mini-Chains: 6

Summary: Despite some early childhood experience with the city, I admit I was thinking this would be the most boring exploration of the group of cities I pulled up. I am happy to also report that I was wrong. The one outsider chain is one that I know serves a quality product in Central Ohio-based Whit's Frozen Custard, which opened its first shop in Granville in 2003. Another interesting Ohio connection lies in "Best Bakery" nominee Cinotti's, whose family has roots in the Cleveland area.

In addition, along with neighborhood-oriented voting, the Jacksonville Magazine poll was the only one examined that had "Filipino" in a "Best Of" category (it also had the "Best Instagrammable Decor" and "Best Instagrammable Food" categories, which is either a nod to the future or a bit dubious, depending on your point of view.) Overall, the poll put a city I would've never considered for a visit on the radar scope for one in the future, which I'm sure would please the folks working for Jacksonville's tourism bureaus.

Cowgirl Creamery, which won "Best Cheese Shop" in the 48hills.com poll,
dominates this corner of San Francisco's famed Ferry Building
13) San Francisco (Population 2015: 864,816)
SFWeekly.com (Best of SF 2018)
Most Unique Categories: Crab House, Dog-Friendly
Total Categories: 40
Total Chain Quotient: 17.5%
Outsider Chains: 0
State-based Chains: 0
Homegrown Chains: 7
Regional Mini-Chains: 0

48hills.org (The former SF Bay Guardian) (Best of the Bay 2017)
Most Unique Categories: Chocolatier, Pot Edibles
Total Categories: 40
Total Chain Quotient: 25.0%
Outsider Chains: 0
State-based Chains: 2
Homegrown Chains: 4
Regional Mini-Chains: 4

Summary: I wasn't expecting these two polls to disprove San Francisco's status as one of the best food towns in the country and sure enough they didn't. The two seeming ticks on the 48hills.org (the former SF Bay Guardian) under "State-based" are more of a matter of geography, with East Bay-based/worker cooperative bakery Arizmendi and Zachary's Pizza (a mere Bay Bridge's length away, but a unique set of food neighborhoods on their own nonetheless) earning nods in the poll.  I also decided that the "Best Of" food trucks warranted classification as hybrid Homegrown Chains, with Curry Up Now (Indian) and SeƱor Sisig (Filipino) operating multiple vehicles with stops throughout the greater Bay Area.

14) Indianapolis (2015 Population: 853,173)
Nuvo: Indy's Alternative Voice (Best of Indy 2017)
Most Unique Categories: Beer (Cheap Pitchers), Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
Total Categories: 58
Total Chain Quotient: 17.2%
Outsider Chains: 1
State-based Chains: 0
Homegrown Chains: 5
Regional Mini-Chains: 4

Summary: In many ways, the rise of Indianapolis as a surprising food destination parallels the rise of Columbus. Nuvo's poll hints at that, with a low chain quotient overall and just one lone outsider chain nod that is completely understandable (Houston-based Oceanaire, which took the nod for "Best Seafood".)  

Two homegrown chain winners here have expanded out to Columbus in the form of Bru Burger ("Best Craft Burger") and Yats ("Best Cajun/Creole Restaurant".)  Meanwhile runner-up spots were the best that some fairly formidable Cincy-based chains could manage (Graeter's and The Eagle ended up in 3rd place in "Best Ice Cream" and "Best Soul Food", respectively.)

A bonus feature for this list was its entertainment value: out of the lists I examined, it took runner-up spot as the "Most Creative Staff-Created "Best Of" Categories" (e.g. "Best Place to Throw Anything Between Two Bagels and Call It A Sandwich", or "Best Almost-Full-Bearded Bartender from Whom To Get a Drink Before a Show.")

15) Columbus, OH (2015 Population: 850,106)
Please see Part 1 of this blog series for more details

The Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in its original space at the Land Title
Block Building. Voted "Best Beer Selection" by Fort Worth Magazine readers
in 2018, it moved to its current 3rd Street location in 2012.
16) Fort Worth, TX (2015 Population: 833,319)
Fort Worth Magazine (2018 Best of Fort Worth)
Most Unique Categories: Atmosphere, Kolache, Queso
Total Categories: 52
Total Chain Quotient: 13.4%
Outsider Chains: 1
State-based Chains: 4
Homegrown Chains: 1
Regional Mini-Chains: 1

Similar to Indy, Fort Worth Magazine's "Best Of" outsider chain (Orlando-based Eddie V's) provides something that's not readily available due to geography in the form of Seafood. What is different is the size of the two states: it's not too surprising that most of the chains that would setup in Fort Worth would be from Texas itself, from Austin (Torchy's Tacos for "Best Queso") to Houston (B&B Butchers & Restaurant as "Best Steakhouse" to the two Dallas-based winners in Bread Winners Cafe and Great Outdoors Sub Shop (for the purposes of my analysis, I treated Ft. Worth and Dallas similar to San Francisco and Oakland as separate entities.)  Overall, it's a nice lack of chain presence for this particular "Best Of" Fort Worth poll.

17) Charlotte, NC (2015 Population: 827,097)
Creative Loafing Charlotte (Food and Drink: Best Of 2017)
Most Unique Categories: two different Food Truck categories (regular and specialty); Hangover-Friendly
Total Categories: 60
Total Chain Quotient: 10.0%
Outsider Chains: 1
State-based Chains: 1
Homegrown Chains: 3
Regional Mini-Chains: 1

For what its worth, Charlotte qualifies as the lowest Total Chain Quotient of all the polls we examined during this little curiosity excursion. The outside interloper is a touch different than most: "Best Frozen Treat" went to the ice pops of King of Pops, based out of Atlanta, GA. Also, the lone State-based Chain earning a nod from area voters is familiar to Columbus natives as well: Duck Donuts based out Duck, NC. 

None of the Homegrown or Regional Mini-Chains would ring bells with readers of this blog, but I did want to note some unique poll happenings: the Best Fries category, the realm of Five Guys in many other polls, was given to a Charlotte food truck in What The Fries. Meanwhile, Zada Jane's Corner Cafe earned the unique "Best Of" trifecta of Breakfast, Lunch, and Brunch.

The world-renowned Pike Place Market, found along the waterfront of Seattle, WA
18) Seattle, WA (2015 Population: 684,451)
Seattle Magazine (Best of 2017: Reader's Choice)
Most Unique Categories: Salad Bar
Total Categories: 33
Total Chain Quotient: 30.3%
Outsider Chains: 2
State-based Chains: 0
Homegrown Chains: 1
Regional Mini-Chains: 7

Seattle Weekly (Best of Seattle 2017)
Most Unique Categories: 24-Hour, Dim Sum
Total Categories: 24
Total Chain Quotient: 41.7%
Outsider Chains: 2
State-based Chains: 0
Homegrown Chains: 2
Regional Mini-Chains: 6

The raw Total Chain Quotient percentages for these Seattle polls, a city with some pretty serious food cred, might surprise you (it did for me at first.) However, the percentages are inflated in both polls by the relatively low number of categories (I actually had to add to the category numbers to the Seattle Magazine due to some voting ties).

Even here, the Outsider Chains, with one exception (Seattle Magazine's "Best Salad Bar" went to Austin, TX-based Whole Foods, a store which is already present in all but a handful of states) fall into that select category of outsider chains people really, really want. From the Far East, Taiwanese-based Dim Sum king Din Tai Fung and the Japanese-based Kukai Ramen (under the name of Kizuki in the States) have outlets in Seattle and earned "Best Of" nods from Seattle Weekly readers in the Dim Sum and Ramen categories. And from the East Coast, The Halal Guys from Astoria, NY copped a "Best Takeout" from Seattle Magazine readers.

Another sign of Seattle's vigorous food scene lies in the Seattle Weekly magazine's "Best Food Truck" winner: Off The Rez advertises itself as Seattle's first and only Native American-inspired cuisine food truck.

 Denver's Falling Rock Tap House has earned numerous "Best Of" nods
for its beer selection in the past from readers of Westword Newspaper
19) Denver, CO (2015 Population: 682,545)
Westword Newspaper (2018 Best of Denver)
Most Unique Categories: See Summary Below
Total Categories: 70
Total Chain Quotient: 31.4%
Outsider Chains: 7
State-based Chains: 0
Homegrown Chains: 10
Regional Mini-Chains: 5

Westword Newspaper's staff and reader poll was by far the most fun and creative one I examined for this project. Not only do the staff members proffer their own unique categories (such as "Best Ice Cream Sandwich (with Name You Can't Pronounce)", "Best Fried Potatoes that aren't Fries" and "Best Dish Named After Your Mother-in-Law"), the readers get some more unique categories to vote on as well, such as three different Best Pizza categories (Overall, Thin-crust, and Thick-crust), "Best Eggs Benedict", and two separate Best Breakfast Burrito categories. Plus, the neighborhood-based selections are always a bonus in my book

With that said, it appeared that readers were more likely to name chains as their "Best Of" recipients than newspaper staff members. This included a wide-ranging group of outsiders, from the controversial (10 Barrel Brewpub, which earned "Best Brewpub" honors and created bit of a kerfluffle when it was acquired by AB InBev in 2014) to those with a Midwest connection (Indianapolis's ClusterTruck ("Best Kid's Menu")) and donuts with a reputation (Portland-based Voodoo Doughnuts.)

In another Midwest connection, regional mini-chain Blue Pan Pizza took their Detroit-style pies to "Best Thick Crust" and "Best Overall Pizza" wins, while Lauderdale-by-the-Sea-based BurgerFi broke the Five Guys' hold in terms of chains to win the "Best Fries" category (they also took in the "Best Veggie Burger" to boot.)

20) El Paso, TX (2015 Population: 681,124)
What's Up Community Calendar (2017 Best of the Best)
Most Unique Categories: See Summary Below
Total Categories: 33
Total Chain Quotient: 18.2%
Outsider Chains: 1
State-based Chains: 0
Homegrown Chains: 0
Regional Mini-Chains: 5

Similar to our look at Cincinnati, the so-called "Most Unique Categories" for this border town to the out-of-towner would be simply part of the daily routine for an El Paso resident, from "Best Menudo" to "Best Pan Dulce" to "Best Chile Relleno."  Interestingly, you would think barbecue category would belong to some Texas purveyor, but readers here chose the lone out-of-the-area chain, Famous Dave's out of Minnetonka, MN for their "Best Of" nod.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this reader poll is the overwhelming presence of and love for one eatery. Starting business in 1927, El Paso institution L&J Cafe dominated a readers poll unlike any other I reviewed for these blog posts, including "Best Service In Town", "Best Salsa", "Best Menudo", "Best Chile Relleno", "Best Mexican Breakfast", "Best Mexican Restaurant", and, not surprisingly, "Best Restaurant All Around."

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