Best of Augusta 2021

It’s comforting to remember that in 2021, there are still plenty of bests to offset all the worsts of 2020.


 

DINING

As a preamble to this category, we continue to urge all of our readers to support dining establishments in the Augusta area. Each of us has the opportunity to help contribute to their survival and success.

 

Breakfast
Remember Forrest Gump’s friend Bubba who listed all the ways you can put shrimp on a plate? Well, Sunrise Grill is kinda like that in the world of breakfast. From pancakes to corn flakes, it’s our readers’ favorite place to start the day. Did you hear that Ruth’s Chris Steak House came in second? Yeah, that rumor has been going around, but it isn’t Ruth’s Chris — it’s Ruth’s Family Restuarant. Which is exactly why everybody loves the place. They’re probably a division of Ruth’s Chris anyway, right? Waffle House, in third, offers something the other two can’t: breakfast anytime, 24 hours a day.

Appetizers
The gourmet small plates at Craft & Vine are like everything else on their menu: handcrafted. Small plate = big deal is the message the ballots delivered. Edgar’s Grille, truly a restaurant like no other, earns first runner-up honors. Go there and you’ll see why. At Solé Augusta, the appetizer offerings include such originals as Fried Martini Olives, and you can also order two Brazilian Street Tacos. That is a lot of tacos!

Barbecue
Take a cue a barbecue (get it?) from your fellow readers and belly up to a platter at Sconyers Bar-B-Que (okay, technically take a “que”), this year celebrating their 65th anniversary serving the good stuff to the citizens of Augusta and the surrounding countryside. It’s a quality of life thing for us all. In second place, the folks at SmokeShow Southern Style BBQ feel like if you have to smoke something, make it chicken, beef or pork. They take their show on the road every day, so look for their truck. Or forget looking and just follow your nose. Shane’s Rib Shack, founded by Shane Thompson (would we lie to you?), wins third place.

Ribs
Diners at Shane’s Rib Shack often take a good ribbing for their choice, but after all, isn’t that the whole point? Sconyers Bar-B-Que has to settle for second place this time, and SmokeShow Southern Style BBQ completes the roster of River Region rib restaurant rankings.

Wings
As judged from the summer of 2020 through election season during the summer of 2021, the champion of the wing was the aptly named Wild Wing Cafe, rebranded these days as Doc’s Porchside in Augusta and Grovetown. In second, Wing Stop says Go. Specifically, go to Wing Stop. Don’t stop until you get there. The third place winner might be a little confusing. It’s Southbound Smokehouse, but you have to go north to get Southbound. Look for a little place called North Augusta. Southbound is so popular they had to build a stadium to accommodate everyone.

Seafood
True, Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar is your #1 source for oysters, but, oysters? Really? No disrespect intended to any oysters, but, Ah, we have just been informed that Rhinehart’s has an extensive non-oyster menu, too. Ok then. This is starting to make sense now.  Big T’s Seafood Restaurant (Jimmy Dyess Parkway at Wrightsboro Rd) scores the silver fish wait, that doesn’t sound right … they score second place, not to be confused with non-big T’s Restaurant, a perennial seafood favorite for decades still struggling to return after a devastating fire in 2020. We wish them a boatload of good tidings. Beck’s of Kings Way (just off Central) wins third.

Sushi
This variation on the seafood theme earns a gold medal for Takosushi. Judging by the votes, readers apparently think the place should be renamed Sushitako. That’s actually not a bad idea. Solé Augusta is the sole occupant of second place. See what we did there? They are two-shi in sushi. Izumi Japanese Buffet completes the elite Top Three.

Steak
Whenever you hear the phrase, “the steaks are high,” they’re talking about the quality of steaks at TBonz Steakhouse. If our memory serves us correctly, they started winning this category shortly after the invention of the cow. And even if our memory doesn’t serve us correctly, TBonz will. That’s reassuring. LongHorn Steakhouse is long on quality too, leading to a first runner-up finish. Augusta’s very own Frog Hollow Tavern makes for a very worthy destination in third.

Catfish
Big T’s Seafood Restaurant once again lives up to its first name. They score big in what some people call C-food, which is code for “catfish.” Try it: just tell them you’d like an order of C-food. They’ll know. Old McDonald Fish Camp also comes highly recommended by readers hooked by their menu, and Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar — didn’t we tell you they have a non-oyster menu? — wins third.

Fried Chicken
We’re going to be honest with you: WifeSaver doesn’t save a lot of chickens. That’s just not their thing. But since 1965 they have saved many a wife-type person from slaving over a hot deep fryer as found in the kitchen of most CSRA homes. We all appreciate that. Maryland Fried Chicken, rumored to be founded by people who fled from Kentucky, scores second place. Frog and the Hen takes home the crispy golden bronze medal.

Bakery
There has been quite the buzz surrounding Sheila’s Baking Company since it opened in downtown North Augusta. As well there should be for things like spiced apple fritters and vanilla glazed donuts. In fact, Sheila has elevated mere donuts to doughnuts. Try Sheila’s and see if you agree. The venerable Lil’ Dutch Bakery may be lil’, but its following is big. Big enough for 2nd place. Publix Bakery ices third place. Literally.

Soup
When you dream about soup, is it soup from California Dreaming? Yeah, same with us. Every time. And there’s nothing worse than waking up before you finish the bowl, right? Hate it when that happens. In second, Panera Bread offers great bread to go with their great soup.  Jason’s Deli also has great soup, say readers.

Pizza
Fans of Mellow Mushroom aren’t exactly mellow. They’re pretty fanatical in their devotion to pizza. In second place, Pizza Joint is definitely a worthy option. The local guys always are, you know. Marco’s Pizza may be a chain, but they are a popular chain.

Hamburger
Hey, remember that old lady in the farmhouse with the hot dog? Turns out she also makes a pretty great burger, too. Farmhaus scores again. Gary’s Hamburgers wins the silver medal. (This time you can pay attention to the word hamburger in their name.) The kitchen portion of Whiskey Bar Kitchen is your next-best burger maker.

Hot dog
Picture a classic farmhouse sitting in the middle of acres of lush farmland, the house shaded by a few stately trees. As you approach the wide front porch, a grandmotherly figure opens the screen door and welcomes you, a weary and hungry traveler, to come in for a hot dog. That’s the backstory of the name Farmhaus, local purveyor of the finest hotdogs in the local landscape, as judged by readers of this magazine. There are other options, say the ballots, including North Augusta’s timeless Sno-Cap Drive In, and Gary’s Hamburgers. Just ignore the word hamburger in their name.

Burrito
A lot of us have gone full burrito for months at a time in a favorite quilt or blankie during the pandemic era, so it’s refreshing to finally be able to get out and have a real, edible, honest-to-goodness prime quality beef-filled burrito, the kind they serve at Nacho Mama’s. Mmm-mm-mm. Diablo’s Southwest Grill and Monterrey Mexican Restaurant are the second and third place options.

Sandwiches
Hildebrandt’s is in its third century of sandwich serving. You usually don’t even get through two centuries in the sandwich business unless you’re pretty good, so going on three tells you everything you need to know about Hildebrandt’s. Still working on their first century but well on their way is Knuckle Sandwiches. We say they’re going to make it. Publix Deli wins third place.

French Fries
Here goes the old lady again! With fries this time! She is amazing! Farmhaus rules! McDonald’s wins 2nd place. We are so fortunate to have McDonald’s in this area. Readers give Chick-fil-A the golden rry signifying third place.

Salad
Some people do their crunches at the gym. Personally, we agree with our readers who do theirs at Southern Salad. No membership required! California Dreaming is another favorite salad server, and readers give Zaxby’s, the Georgia-born chicken chain (which also serves Zalads), third place.

Desserts
If you don’t like The Boll Weevil Cafe, that means you don’t like red velvet cake, chocolate cake, key lime pie, peanut butter pie, cinnamon cheesecake, or even, perish the thought, apple pie à la mode. You really need to see a doctor, if not the ER. Something is clearly wrong. Once you’re cured, we’ll see you at 9th Street on the River. Frog and the Hen comes in second and Boll Weevil’s neighbor Beamie’s at the River wins third in the just desserts category.

Donuts
Krispy Kreme has been forced to change their name to Krispy de la Kreme by the vote of our readers. Sheila’s Baking Company is nipping at their heels in second place, and right behind Sheila is Belair Donuts doing a little nipping of their own.

Ice Cream
Bruster’s Real Ice Cream — none of this fake stuff for them — is the reader favorite. We live in a pretty hot climate, so ice cream is like oxygen and sweet tea and other must-have staples required for continued life. Pink Dipper claims the second place scoopage, and Cold Stone Creamery the third.

Coffee
Speaking of staples of life naturally brings us to coffee, where Buona Caffe, centrally located for the convenience of one and all, saves countless lives every day — at least, the days they’re open (which by law is 7 days per week). Starbucks, maybe you’ve heard of them, takes that all-important second cup. Ubora Coffee, tucked away on Jones Street, deserves to be on the medals stand, and they are. Give them a try, ladies and gents.

Iced Tea
We seem to be stuck on a staples of life rut in this particular stretch, but after all, life is a good thing, especially with a glass of WifeSaver iced tea in one hand and maybe a drumstick in the other.  That’s what is known as living the high life. None other than Chick-fil-A also serves iced tea of distinction, according to voters, and Sconyers Bar-B-Que rounds out the top three.

Wine Menu
There is no better pairing (not counting Sunday of Masters week) than a superb meal with a superb wine. Each enhances the other, and they have both at Craft & Vine, says the voice of the people (also known as you). Cork & Flame rakes in another silver medal in this category, and Frog Hollow Tavern wins the bronze.

Wine Merchant
The winner: Toast. We know what you’re thinking: why would a bakery win best wine merchant? But you see, the full name of Toast is Toast Wine and Beverage. It’s Toast for short, but they don’t even sell bread. Does that help clarify things?  Cork & Flame (in second) is one of those hidden gems — hidden in plain sight no less — but readers say it’s definitely a gem. The final medalist is Surrey Center’s The White Horse Wine & Spirits.

Beer Selection/Take Home
So we’re clear on Toast Wine and Beverage, right? Because they’ve just won again, this time for their selection of beers from all over the planet. They carry more beer brands that you haven’t heard of than those you have, which is probably saying something. Back Paddle Brewing, all the way from Lincolnton, steals second place.  Closer to home, Tip Top Taps (in third) is the kind of laid-back place where you can buy some excellent craft beers, fill your growlers, and (after a quick sobriety test) play a game of darts right there in the store.

Beer Menu
World of Beer carries some 500 beers from near and far, around 40 countries in all. In short, no wonder they won. And they have a great menu, too, so you can use the old, “I need something to wash this down with” excuse to order more beer. Mellow Mushroom is another noteworthy option, say voters, for a plethora of brewski options. And our Lincolnton friends, Back Paddle Brewing, make another appearance with their small batch brews.

Craft Cocktail
Not everyone is familiar with the term “craft cocktail.” One source defines it as: “A cocktail made with fresh, high-quality ingredients, and built with a careful, culinary attention to detail.” By that definition, readers install downtown’s Craft & Vine in the #1 spot. Fifth & Finch (in Surrey Center) is buying the second round, and last call goes to Indian Queen.

Happy Hour
You know what this one means, right? An hour (or more) when a bar offers drink specials. It’s a great way to stretch your alcohol budget, and our panel of economic and libational experts nominated The Indian Queen for top honors. The Ampersand Twins (otherwise no relation) — Craft & Vine and Fifth & Finch — earn second and third, respectively.

Friendly Service
It is our pleasure to announce Chick-fil-A as your winner, and it is their pleasure to offer their signature friendly service. These fil-Aers could probably organize vaccinations for 50,000 people if you gave them an hour or two to get it done. And it would be their pleasure. Whoever is getting the vote out in Lincolnton did a great job, as Back Paddle Brewing scoops up another medal in this category. The friendly folks at Frog Hollow Tavern take another third.

Down Home Cooking
It has been a tough year for the Goolsby’s family losing owner Richard Goolsby, but you would never know it from the quality of their delicious menu and buffet. Come to think of it, there’s a reason their kind of food is called comfort food. We trust it’s working. The other top choices suggested by the ballots: WifeSaver and Ruth’s Family Restaurant.

Outdoor Dining
It’s always great when the thermometer and the breezes combine to make outdoor dining a pleasure. When the planets so align, head for Rhinehart’s Oyster Bar, where “Beyond Casual” is their slogan and their philosophy. For a first alternate, as James Brown might put it, Edgar’s Above Broad is a place where you go up to get down. If you haven’t visited yet, what are you waiting for? And in third, Solé Augusta has a cool and spacious patio that’s also worth a visit.

Brunch
Edgar’s Grille (located at ground level) enjoys a justifiably sterling reputation for its superb Sunday brunch. The tragedy is that it’s only available once a week. On the other hand, Sundays do seem to roll around fairly regularly. Readers’ second choice is Frog and the Hen. Third place goes to Bodega Ultima, a one-of-a-kind kind of award-worthy place, and yet another member of Surrey Center’s collection of outstanding eateries.

Lunch
The farmy name itself conjures up good things, and readers say they deliver on the promise at Farmhaus, even on something as simple as lunch. Nacho Mama’s also will do an excellent job of covering you between breakfast and supper, say the votes. Whiskey Bar Kitchen wins third.

Business Lunch
For a little bit of Wall Street on 10th Street, readers first recommend Augustino’s Italian Eatery and Prime Steaks. It’s inside the Marriott on the river. Somewhat ironically, Augusta’s highest ranked restaurant (as measured by elevation above sea level) places second: The Pinnacle Club, where membership has its privileges. The trophy for third goes to Frog and the Hen.

Asian Restaurant
We’ve all heard of Mexican standoffs, but in this category we have an Asian standoff between Pho Bac and Soy Noodle, deadlocked in first place. That’s another way of saying they’re both superb options, at least in the opinion of the voting majority. Formosa’s II finishes out the top three, which normally means third. Not this time.

Indian Restaurant
Namaste, a Sanskrit word that literally means “bowing to you,” also happens to be the name of the reader pick for best Indian restaurant within the sound of this magazine. In other words, readers are bowing back. Nice touch, y’all. On another matter entirely, have you noticed that many a local Pizza Hut is no more? Never fear! Curry Hut is here! No one curries like the Hut. Taj of India closes it out in third.

Mexican
If you’re up on your Spanish, you are not surprised that Taqueria El Rey rules. After all, el rey means “the king.” Yes, they serve tacos (and a lot more) fit for a king. They do admit the peasantry, however, so all of us can dine like royalty. Poblano’s Mexican Grill is wearing the silver crown, and Monterrey Mexican Restaurant takes the bronze.

Italian Restaurant
Three very different places stand atop the leader board in this category honoring the old green, white and red. Readers give the honorary golden flask of olive oil (extra virgin, of course) to Luigi’s Restaurant. In case you didn’t know, Luigi’s has been around since 1949. They are obviously doing something right. Several somethings, no doubt. Relative newcomers Oliviana (Brava!) and Giuseppe’s Pizza and Italian Specialties (Bravo!) take second and third.

Downtown Restaurant
What makes fine dining downtown so great? No chains! No long waits! Downtown is a splendid place to support the local cuisine scene, starting with, suggest the balloteers, Frog Hollow Tavern. Next up, Craft & Vine, and then Whiskey Bar Kitchen. Keep in mind, we’re not recommending doing all of this on the same day. Spread out the enjoyment.

Neighborhood Restaurant
The sidewalk tables offer the ultimate neighborhood vibe at Manuel’s Bread Cafe, but inside dining rocks there, too. Another hot tip from your fellow readers is Beck’s. As befits a neighborhood eatery, it’s just off a main drag on a quiet little side street. Sheehan’s Irish Pub gets the nod in third.

Caterer
You know how it goes: you’ve got your country’s 500th anniversary to plan, your wedding to arrange, your wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it — you’re swamped. (Apologies to The Princess Bride) Who’s got time to cook? Better call Fat Man’s, say the ballots. If they’re swamped, too, try Roux’s Gourmet Catering. Third outstanding choice: Sconyers Bar-B-Que.

Best Hidden Gem
You won’t just accidentally drive past Rae’s Coastal Cafe. It’s a destination restaurant, which makes its victory here all the more impressive. Rae’s could be out of sight, out of mind. Instead, readers say it’s out of sight, if you catch their drift. Back Paddle Brewery is nestled into the countryside in Lincolnton. Readers say finding it will be worth the drive. Villa Europa isn’t exactly hidden, but maybe we collectively forget about it sometimes. Still there and still great, say the ballots.

New Restaurant
Readers are excited about First Watch, the shiny new local outpost of a tiny restaurant chain (three locations so far). They only serve three things: breakfast, brunch and lunch, which happen to be three of our four favorite meals of the day. That’s batting .750, which is definitely hall of fame worthy. In second, voters did not scrimp in their praise of Skrimp Shack, another newbie of note. And the unusual concept at play for Stay. Social Tap and Table got enough votes for third place. The people say check it out.

Best Restaurant Overall
TBonz wins third place. In second, Frog Hollow Tavern wins the imaginary silver serving tray exquisitely engraved with their name and logo. And now, to the accompaniment of a requisite drum roll and bugle fanfare please … the ultimate dining honor this year, the gold of the gold, goes to Abel Brown Southern Kitchen & Oyster Bar. We offer our most sincere congratulations.

 


 

ARTS/ENTERTAINMENT

Live entertainment is still on the quiet side but, as it returns, look for opportunities to support music and theater. Here are a few people and places to put on your short list.

Local Vocalist Male
Will McCranie has been on this stage before, and when he isn’t putting up pickles (do not adjust your magazine), the audience keeps chanting that they want him back for another encore. Wish granted. Ryan Abel and his big voice fills up second place. Renaissance man Kigg Cherry scores third.

Local Vocalist Female
You may know her better as simply The Lady (see the next category if you need an explanation), but as a solo act Tyreon Williams gets the gold record. If you’re smart you know that Leah Savant, “The Activist Artist,” won second (also as a solo act), while Drea Suarez took third place.

Local R&B
Why all the talk about solo acts in the previous category? Because The Lady & The Gents (in which Tyreon Williams is The Lady) is Augusta’s favorite R&B act. And when she isn’t going solo, Leah Savant and Major Sound win second as a group. United they stand and all that. Funk You adds to their collection of years of “Best” trophies in third.

Local Jazz Band
Because jazz and R&B are kissin’ cousins, The Lady & The Gents plays both genres. In fact, they do it well enough to sweep both categories. That’s called a two-peat, right? The minimalist jazz duo in second has more names than members: Do you call them Vox-n-Bass, Vox ’n Bass, vöxnbāss, or something else? Preston and Weston, members of the Augusta Jazz Hall of Fame (if we had one) score third.

Local Country Band
The Harlem Sons might seem like an unexpected victor in a country band category, especially local. What you have to remember is it’s not that Harlem. It’s our Harlem.  Makes perfect sense now, doesn’t it? Kenny George Band wins second, and it’s Anybody’s Guess in third. No, really. It’s literally Anybody’s Guess.

Local Rock
Because ladies come first She N She take top honors among local rockers. Ed Turner & Number 9 will never be anywhere close to 9th on any voter list around here, and sure enough, they appear on this list in 2nd place. Funk You earns a well-deserved bronze medallion.

Local Bluegrass
Readers could barely keep their lids on for The Mason Jars, your prime purveyors of that peaceful easy bluegrass feeling. Next up is the perennially popular and ever-pickin’ Eryn Eubanks, and The Henrys complete this star-studded bluegrass lineup.

Local Contemporary Christian
Since the Mormon Tabernacle Choir wasn’t hiring, Ryan Abel decided to do his own thing locally, and people seem to appreciate his joyful noises. You want to talk about beautiful harmony? Then you want to talk about Trey McLaughlin and The Sounds of Zamar. They are your second of two top picks.

Performing Arts Group
Now performing in their 77th season, The Augusta Players take the stage as they have been doing annually since 1945, this time to accept the gold medal bestowed upon them by Augusta Magazine readers. Bravo! It’s not exactly easy to sing wearing a mask, but Augusta Chorale could do it and still sound awesome. In third, the Jessye Norman School for the Arts is carrying on the amazing legacy of their namesake, and they are busy! Check out the calendar link at jessyenormanschool.org

Singles Spot
Readers are definitely showing they’re a class act by elevating Craft & Vine to the top of the heap. C&V is definitely a respectable joint. Not that second and third aren’t worthy winners, too. Those two lofty spots are occupied by Solé Augusta and Metro Coffeehouse. Singles, go forth and congregate (six feet apart, of course).

Late Night Spot
Your #1 choice, The Soul Bar, has the late night vibe perfected. They are #1 for a reason. Craft & Vine keeps the life in nightlife almost as well (or, to put it another way, they’re second in the voting), and The Indian Queen scoops up third.

Live music bar
Readers are sending a message: downtown and its immediate environs does not have a monopoly on words like late night and live. Exhibit #1 is the people’s choice for this category: Back Paddle Brewing, located in Lincolnton. You think that’s quite a hop, skip and a jump from Augusta? We checked. Turns out it’s only a hop and a skip, but only a hop if you’re in Columbia County. Two other good live music venues are tied in second: Stillwater Taproom and Southbound Smokehouse. Not to be overlooked (as so many do, to their loss): Oak Restaurant and Lounge on North Leg.

Sports Bar
You could check out the website of downtown Augusta’s Sports Center Restaurant — if they had one. The Sports Center is a throwback kind of place. Think pre-internet, like before Al Gore was even born. You go there for the burgers and the brews and the barstools and the billiards, not for 87 huge hi-def TVs tuned to every game on the planet. At least, that’s what the votes seem to be saying. Our erstwhile favorite, Wild Wing Cafe, lands second, and Ikonz Sportsbar & Grill (neighbors of Oak Restaurant) takes third.

 


 

MEDIA

The following is not fake news. It’s the results of the media categories of our annual reader poll.

Local TV Station
If we had to guess, there are probably people who work at WJBF, your favorite station, who tell people their office is in Biographies, or perhaps Adult Non-Fiction (because, you see, WJBF is located in the old Barnes & Noble building). Speaking of buildings, WRDW has the swankiest quarters of them all in their shiny new studios on Riverwatch Parkway. In third is WFXG (aka Fox 54).

Local TV News Anchor/Female
Award-winning anchor and journalist, and your top pick, WJBF’s Jennie Montgomery, seizes the gold. Laura Warren of WRDW/WAGT goes home with the silver. Montgomery’s colleague, Barclay Bishop, scoops up the bronze.

Local TV News Anchor/Male
The headline news here is that Brad Means (WJBF) is the lead story, and coming up after the break, Richard Rogers of WRDW/WAGT. Keep up the good work, gentlemen.

Local TV Morning Anchor
Bless these poor people who fall out of bed at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning to serve up the day’s weather and report whatever erupted overnight while the rest of us were snoozing. First place, with an extra shot of caffeine, goes to Barclay Bishop. You’ve got to get up pretty early to beat her. Mary Morrison (WJBF) and Dakota Watson (WJBF/WAGT) finish second and third.

Local TV Weather Anchor
There are slow news days, but as you may have noticed, weather happens all day every day. So it’s important to have someone like Jay Jefferies of WFXG offering meteorological prognostications for our benefit. Readers also took quite a shine to Riley Hale and Tim Strong, both of WRDW.

Local TV Reporter
The inimitable George Eskola of WJBF earns another trophy for his case, thanks to his Eskolian style. No, that isn’t a word, but it probably should be. Renetta DuBose (WJBF) and Abby Bradshaw (WFXG) finish second and third.

Local Media Sports Reporter
Your #1 scorekeeper is Colin Cody of WJBF. Taking second is Ashley Brown, columnist for The Augusta Press, and rounding out third is WJBF Sports Director, Brendan Robertson.

Local Talk Radio Personality
This might seem like one of those automatic categories, and indeed, for the past several years Austin Rhodes of WGAC has had a lock on this one. But there are a lot of voices to choose from, including (in second place) Cher Best of 96.3 KissFM, whose last name, after all, is “Best.” John Patrick, a veteran of the Augusta airwaves if ever there was one, wins third place.

Local Radio Station
As befits our Southern location, Country music station Kicks 99 leads the way. Second place goes to the top station in the entire US of A back in the day: WBBQ. And HD98.3 scoops up the bronze medal.

Local Morning Radio Show
Start with a kup of koffee, perhaps a K-cup, then tune in the Kicks 99 Wake Up Krew. All those Ks are important to the process of hatching a new day. Your other big favorite is WGAC’s Mary Liz Nolan & John Patrick. Remember what they say about morning radio: it’s the most important radio of the day.

Local News Story
Like it was just about everywhere else on planet Earth, COVID-19 was Augusta’s story of the year, if not of the century. These are not normal times. At least we sure hope they aren’t. Also, ever notice that people sometimes describe something as “sort of unique”? They are literally saying that something is “sort of one-of-a-kind.” Well, let’s borrow that fractured English to say the 2020 Masters Tournament (your 2nd choice) was “very unique.” Columbia County’s shiny new Performing Arts Center gets the trophy for 3rd.

Local Writer/Columnist
Your most-liked scribe is the venerable Bill Kirby, part historian, part chronicler of the local human condition for The Augusta Chronicle. Charmain Brackett and Sylvia Cooper, online writers for The Augusta Press, are your second- and third-place faves.

Best Part of Augusta Magazine
In an year’s worth of features and special issues, what comes across as the reader favorite? What you’re reading right now, the Best, is the best. That’s logical. Thanks for the feedback. Ditto for letting us know that you also salivate over our food features. Last, but not least, comes the annual epic known as the Masters Issue.


 

SHOPPING/LEISURE

In this era of online retail giants, plus the challenges posed by a global pandemic, supporting local businesses has never been more important. Here are some of the best.

Men’s Clothing Store
Don’t be intimidated by their name. The Boardroom has primo textiles for every level of management, including the kid in the mail room. Election results include second and third: Low Country Clothier and Rivers & Glen Trading Company, where they will trade you good stuff for cash or its equivalent.

Women’s Boutique
As the name suggests, The Swank Company is elite. Rumor has it they may change their name to The Swankiest Company after this. In second: One. Note the period after their name. One. Period. End of story. In third, a girl fight between SOHO and Capsule.

Place to Buy Handbags
Since fanny packs went out of style a couple months back — or was it twenty years ago? — let’s go with handbags from Shoes at Surrey. That way we can match our handbags to our shoes. The Swank Company reappears here in second, and Dillard’s is third.

Women’s Shoes
The vox populi: Shoes at Surrey. That way we can match our shoes to our handbags. If you guessed that second place goes to Belk’s, you are incorrect. There is no store by that name. However, Belk won second. Dillard’s (with an apostrophe S) wins third.

Fitness/Outdoor Store
Making an escape of its own and relocating from Evans to Martinez, the locally owned and run Escape Outdoors grabs first place by voters. Cabela’s comes in second and Academy Sports wins third.

Consignment Shop (Furniture)
You know they say that a new couch loses 20% of its value the minute you drive it off the lot. So it makes sense to be a savvy shopper and, well, go to Savvy Shopper. Savvy?  In second, that one of a kind store called Mema Had One. Key word: had. Now you can upcycle it. Consign Design wins a third place trophy which they will promptly slap a price tag on and sell.

Consignment Shop (Clothing)
While their name is a little bi-polar, you’re going to agree with the rest of the city that Uptown Cheapskate — we know, it seems contradictory — is the place to get silk for the price of denim. Not that you have to buy silk. You can buy denim, too. Encore Consignment and Second Time Around place second and third, respectively.

Supermarket
The thing about your top choice, Publix, is that it’s not easy to follow the Southern tradition of adding that apostrophe S, like we often do with Kroger’s, your second choice. Fresh Market bags up third place. No apostrophe S there either.

Organic Food/Produce
Sprouts Farmers Market, your top choice, will be here forever. We saw some of their employees wearing “Here for Good” T-shirts. Second place isn’t just Fresh Market; it’s The Fresh Market. The good people at Good Earth Produce & Garden Center earn a well-deserved bronze medal.

Produce
Even ordinary garden-variety non-organic produce is crunch-worthy when it comes from Publix, say the votes. Then again, even the worst produce is garden-variety, isn’t it? Well, none of our top three know anything about that. Good Earth and Sprouts are the other finalists.

Nursery/Garden Shop
You say Bedford Greenhouses is a great place to get your hands dirty. Go there and you will be rewarded — with tree purchases, for example — in as little as 10 years. Or within 10 minutes if you buy flowers. Good Earth and Sanderlin Greenhouses are two more places for friends of the earth to shop.

Gifts
They don’t just give away their cool stuff at Cudos2u, but there’s no reason you can’t. In fact, your vote suggests that’s exactly what you intend to do. The Swank Company and Design Images have second and third all wrapped up.

Place to Shop for Husband/Boyfriend
Thanks to you, we have three great ideas to make him happy, beginning with Rivers & Glen Trading Company.  Low Country Clothier also fits him well, while your third option, Augusta Mall, offers all kinds of choices, so go crazy.

Place to Shop for Wife/Girlfriend
Ok, maybe you don’t know her finger size, but what about her earlobes? You can do this, and trust us, the superb staff at Windsor Fine Jewelers will provide all the help you need. Your second suggestion is fresh and original: Art On Broad. Good choice. Augusta Mall gets its second consecutive bronze medal.

Local Online Shopping
The friendly folks at Field Botanicals, your fave, are not only nice, they are cruelty-free. That’s always a plus. Publix is also happy to serve you online. You were ignoring their aisle directional arrows anyway, so… Home Depot wins third.

Home Furnishings
Weinberger’s Furniture Store is pushing 90. That’s right, they’ve been furnishing homes since 1932. Are they doing something right? Yes you can! (Wait…what?) Merry’s Home Furnishings, if you missed the news and if you did, get with the plan, Stan is no longer in the trash business. Only treasures. No wonder they placed second. Ashley HomeStore has conveniently relocated across Wrightsboro Road from the mall, but then, you already knew that.

Antiques
If you have yet to experience Mema Had One, you are in for a treat. Readers give Mema the gold medal. It’s old, of course, but hey, gold is gold. Aunt Tique & Uncle Junk’s Antique Store in Thomson wins second. Trends & Traditions gets third.

Fine Jewelry
When it comes to buying fine jewelry, there is no wrong answer as long as it includes the word “Windsor,” as in Windsor Fine Jewelers. That’s what readers are telling us.  Jared takes (and gives) the silver.  Crown Jewelers wins third. No doubt Her Majesty is very proud.

Costume Jewelry
Let’s say you can’t remember the combination to the wall safe, and the bank is closed so the safe deposit box is out of the question. Wear the “jewels” from The Swank Company, suggest your fellow readers. Vintage Ooollee wins second. (Fun fact: You can’t have costume jewelry without costumes, right? Vintage Ooollee has many of the costumes that used to be at Fat Man’s Forest.) Dillard’s also ranks. Third, in fact.

Best Food Delivery Service
For much of the past year and a half, eating out has meant eating in, so this is an important category. May we have the envelope, please? The winner: Augusta To Go. That pretty much says everything that needs to be said. DoorDash and Uber Eats are our other two pandemic pounds partners. Let’s eat!

Best Takeout Menu
You say you’re practicing for an Augusta To Go job interview? Readers suggest driving to Frog & the Hen for their best-in-town takeout menu. Try not to eat everything at the first red light you hit. Wait until you get home. Nacho Mama’s (no, not Mema’s) also gets high marks, as does fresh face Mirin Fusion Kitchen.

Best Curbside Service
At one time this category might have suggested roller skates and window trays, but that was pre-pandemic. Now even white linen eateries offer curbside service. Of course, even those places have to take a backseat to Chick-fil-A, the Michael Jordan of the curbside world. Farmhaus Burger and Frog & The Hen are the other top vote getters.

Best Social Distancing Spot
On one hand, Home as the winner here speaks well of people’s cooperation with public health recommendations. On the other hand, what does this say about family togetherness? Riverwalk is second-best, although it has one major disadvantage: no Netflix. The Augusta Common is uncommonly good, enough to get the bronze.

 


 

MISCELLANEOUS

Great places to support to keep them great, and to keep them open and serving us all.

Car Wash
Every now and then you hear about some poor guy who crashed his car into some ravine where he is trapped, invisible from the road, and he survives for days on old French fries and stale cookies found under the seats. Obviously these are not customers of Sparkle Express Car Wash. They simply would not tolerate such a thing, and we presume the same is true for the second and third place car cleaners: Lulu’s Car Wash and Tidal Wave Auto Spa.

Local Charity
For its support of SafeHomes and their efforts to help victims of domestic violence, Jingle Jam 10k is the favorite on a short list where every charity is a genuine winner, and that is a fact. Take Golden Harvest Food Bank in second, for instance. Who doesn’t like to eat? It’s a fundamental human need, and they make it possible 365 days a year. Catholic Social Services takes third, but they take it as a win. Which they should.

Special Event Facility
See that first word? Special. There isn’t another place on the planet quite like Sacred Heart Cultural Center. It’s the most specialest of the special. Speaking of which, Lady A Amphitheater at Evans Town Center Park is also a pretty special place. Savannah Rapids Pavilion rounds out the top three unique venue faves.

Tourist Attraction
When it comes to unique, there’s a reason they say the Masters Tournament is like no other. It is quite literally the gold standard for golf tournaments all over the world, and it’s our top hometown attraction. And does any other city have an Augusta Canal? Don’t think so. That’s #2. And our various memorials — statues and murals and more — to the one and only James Brown are #3.

Historical Landmark
The utterly amazing Sacred Heart Cultural Center, closing in on 125 years reigning over Greene Street, stands alone as the historical landmark on your ballots. Paris has its Notre Dame Cathedral; we have our Sacred Heart. Broad Street’s James Brown Statue isn’t exactly ancient, but history is written every day, right? Even yesterday is history. The Augusta Canal, created with a ton of manual labor in 1845, is the oldest continuously operating hydropower canal in the US. That’s your top three.

Place You Wish Was Still Here
Since we’re talking unique in these last couple of categories, Fat Man’s Forest was the definition of unique back in the day, kind of like Augusta’s very own private Archie McPhee (look it up). Alas, it is no more and readers still miss it. Another chapter in the Gone But Not Forgotten book is dedicated to Fort Discovery. If you’re a newbie around here, it was a very cool science museum downtown on the river. And in 3rd, TGI Friday’s still exists, but not in Augusta. Road trip!

Photographer
When you need an important event preserved, you’d better choose the best photographer you can find because life doesn’t usually offer do-overs. Readers recommend Yolanda Rouse Photography to capture those important moments. Second choice: Aurora Adeleigh. And third: High Cotton Photography. Click!

First Date Spot
If you take the top tip from readers and opt for Craft & Vine, there very well may be more dates in your future. It’s a splendid choice. But how many people would think of Savannah River Brewing Company for a first date? Thank you, readers, for this creative second option, and that goes for your 3rd-place suggestion too: Vance’s Bakery Bar. You know any other place where you can order a Bourbon-infused chocolate chip cookie and chase it with a shot glass of milk?

Bridal Shop
That first date long since past, now it’s time to plan the big event. Guys, the best advice we can offer at this point is to just step aside and stay out of the way while the ladies go to House of the Bride at the behest of our poll participants. Their additional suggestions are headed up by Elegant Bridal and David’s Bridal.

Florist
Friends, if you only send flowers for routine events like funerals and hospital stays, you are missing out on one of the best ways known to share some love. Or appreciation. Or apologies. Or for no reason at all. Call Flowers on Broad (suggest most ballots) and send some beauty out into the world today. (Hint: you are allowed to send flowers to yourself. We checked.) Martina’s Flowers and Gifts and Ladybug’s Flowers and Gifts are two additional options (in second and third) provided by readers.

Bank/Financial Institution
If you’re looking for a place to keep up with your money, our readers says Queensborough National Bank and Trust is the area favorite, and keep in mind, Queensborough is all Georgia, all the time, going all the way back to 1902. Second- and third-best bank honors go to Wells Fargo and South State Bank.

Realtor
The votes have been tabulated and audited multiple times, and the results are in: your top realtor is none other than Venus Morris Griffin of Meybohm Real Estate. Sallie Shuford of EXP Realty is right next door, and Ross Trulock of Blanchard and Calhoun takes third.

Fitness Center/Gym
Unfortunately, many of us are not on a first-name basis with out fitness centers. It’s James for us right now, not gym. But that can be fixed. In fact, your fit fellow citizens endorse Evans Fitness Center as the place to hit the comeback trail. Your spousal unit and your doctor will probably lead the cheers. Second and third place participation trophies go to Family YMCA (then shouldn’t it be YFCA?) and Planet Fitness.

Barber
Durden’s Barber Shop is the best, say voters, although it’s not the kind of place anyone wants to go to every day. But definitely as often as necessary, right?  Old Tyme Tattoo & Barber Shop, where they can probably ink in some of those thin spots for you, wins 2nd.  Dapper & Company Men’s Grooming Lounge, in 3rd, furnishes the Augusta area with dapper gentlemen as a public service.

Hair Salon
At 4.9 out of 5 in Google reviews and a perfect 5.0 in Augusta Magazine the message is clear: Bliss Salon is accurately named. Speaking of well-named salons, you could also take your halo in for an overhaul at Halo Salon & Spa. Readers included Durden’s Barber Shop in this category, too. Who knew?

Day Spa
When your day starts out by stepping barefoot on a Lego and then the coffeemaker won’t work, it’s time to make two phone calls: first, to work. Tell them you’re not coming in. Second, to Retreat Salon and Spa. Tell them you are. Readers offer two splendid alternate destinations in second and third: Tuscany Italian Spa and Halo Salon and Spa.

Place to Swim
One spot stands above the rest: The Wilson Family Y, home of the Kathryn M. York Aquatics Center, a most fitting memorial to an exceptional human being. You can also play pool at the Kroc Center, suggest the votes, or take a walk on the non-chlorinated side and take that dip in Clarks Hill Lake.

Golf Course
Yes, you, too, can play the course where Bobby Jones began his legendary 1930 Grand Slam Forest Hills Golf Club and in fact, readers urge you to do just that. Who knows where it could lead you? Other links of note: The River Golf Club, and Forest Hills’ next-door neighbor, The Patch.

Tennis Courts
All tennis courts are not created equal. Some are clay. Some are grass. Some are at Newman Tennis Center, which voters say qualifies them as the best locally. If you don’t believe us, ask Novak Djokovic next time you see him. Readers also showed a lot more than love to the courts at Augusta Country Club.

Yoga Studio
If you haven’t tried yoga because you’re lactose intolerant, you’ve got it mixed up with yogurt. Yoga is a sequence of postures and controlled breathing that is usually lactose-free. Usually. Try it at Space Yoga Studio, suggests our panel of experts. Alas, North Augusta’s The Yoga Center, your second choice, was a casualty of the pandemic. But take heart: Oxygen Fitness Studio is still breathing; they are alive and well so you can be, too.

Place to Walk Your Dog
There is not a single dog reading this who will disagree with the following: the Greeneway is the primo place to put one foot in front of three others, then hit repeat. Another good spot is the Augusta Canal, and your dog doesn’t even have to know how to swim. Pendleton King Park wins third.

Best Local Festival
2020 was not the best year for large gatherings of any kind, even ones celebrating good stuff like art, music, dance, film, and great food from all over the world, all the things that are synonymous with Arts in the Heart of Augusta. But the votes poured in anyway, and after sanitizing and counting them, sure enough, Arts in the Heart is still our collective fave. Long may it live. The Greek Festival and the Augusta Pride Festival round out your favorite fairs, festivals, fêtes, feasts and festivities.

Fundraising Event
Since voters’ charity of choice is Jingle Jam 10k and its support of SafeHomes’ mission, it stands to reason that it’s also your choice for best fundraising event. Although the 2021 CSRA Heart Ball (in second) was an at-home digital experience, did you go ahead and put on your tux and evening gown? Hope so. And readers proudly nominated the Augusta Pride Festival for third.

Appears in the October 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.

Have feedback or a story idea? Our publisher would love to hear from you!

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RSS Augusta Magazine’s Front Porch

  • Episode 11: Jay Jefferies
    Jay Jefferies stops by to deliver the weather and much more!
  • Episode 10 - Nesia Wright
    We had the pleasure of sitting down with Nesia Wright, owner and CEO of the Georgia Soul Basketball Team. Ashlee and Nesia discuss life as the owner of a basketball team, retirement and more.
  • Episode 9: Venus Morris Griffin
    Venus Morris Griffin, one of the top real estate agents in the Augusta area, stops by our front porch to talk about her success and her upcoming book. This episode is sure to set a fire in you to go for your dreams!
  • Episode 8: Michael Romano
    Michael Romano, self-proclaimed carbohydrate king and executive pastry chef for Edgar's Hospitality Group stopped by our front porch to chat with Ashlee.

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