A dress made of condoms? Swine flu masks as pieces of art? Since when did cheap, disposable products meant to protect us from disease become trendy? And what do these items have in common with a robot that plays ping-pong? Behold, the Best of Columbus 2009, your guide to the best this city has to offer. And if the above examples haven't already gotten you itching in anticipation, we highlight the city's top shops, restaurants, TV anchors-heck, there's even a singing councilwoman.

AROUNDTOWN

Trifecta

Three major Central Ohio institutions were judged the best in the country. In 2008, Parents declared COSI the top science center for families while the Columbus Metropolitan Library was No. 1 in Hennen's American Public Library Rating. Then early this year, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium took top honors in a list of best zoos compiled by the tourism website USA Travel Guide.

Political showdown

The smooth-running Ohio Democratic Party got a jolt this winter when both Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner announced their candidacies for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by George Voinovich. To say the least, the primary battle is not ideal for the state party, which wants to hold on to the secretary of state slot for redistricting purposes and would prefer to avoid an expensive (and potentially damaging) race before the general election. The showdown, however, holds promise for political junkies, who've had little intra-party intrigue to chew on since Gov. Ted Strickland's quietly efficient ascension in 2006.

Disappearing act

Long cited as an eyesore, the walkway connecting City Center mall and the old Lazarus building over High Street was finally demolished. The wrecking ball took it down earlier this year, removing the heavy cloud of doom over an important stretch of downtown.

Presidential portrait

C.F. Payne, the chairman of the Columbus College of Art & Design's illustration department, is an accomplished artist. His work has been showcased in museums and on the covers of some of the nation's most familiar publications, including the New York Times Sunday Magazine, U.S. News & World Report and Sports Illustrated. But it might be his Time magazine illustration that makes him uber-famous. Payne created a stoic profile of Barack Obama that graced the cover just ahead of the inauguration, when Obamamania was in full swing.

Singing councilwoman

Gahanna City Council member Beryl Anderson does more than just vote on city ordinances. She's a classically trained vocalist and flautist. Oh yeah, she also has a law degree. This is one multitalented politician, who, during a show at Gahanna Lincoln High School in January to commemorate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, sang the National Anthem and Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me."

Way to beat swine flu

Tigertree, the funky Short North boutique that sells designer and handmade clothing and accessories, held a swine flu art show just as the virus began to invade Ohio in the spring. More than 30 artists designed surgical masks that were then sold for $25 a pop. Socially responsible and trendy.

LEGO tribute

Since his amazing crash landing on the Hudson River in January, US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger has received more than his share of acclaim, from the key to New York City to a standing ovation at the Super Bowl. But for our money, the best honor occurred right here in Columbus when the Central Ohio LEGO Train Club re-created Sullenberger's accomplishment in tiny plastic bricks. The club's version of the Miracle on the Hudson (part of the Great Train Expo at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in February) included news vans, ferry boats, a submerged jet, a helicopter, passengers in life preservers, even a LEGO version of Sullenberger with gray hair, a mustache and a pilot uniform (see inset photo).

Politically correct cocktails

Rejecting the boozer's first rule of thumb-don't talk politics while drinking-Morton's The Steakhouse (280 N. High St.) embraced the fervor of the presidential election season. The downtown restaurant sold three $11 cocktails on Nov. 4 that represented three factions of the electorate: a Democratini, with vodka and blue Curaçao liqueur; a Republicantini, with vodka and red PAMA liqueur, and an Undecidedtini, with vodka and equal parts Curaçao and PAMA. "They were a definite conversation starter," says Sara Goldberg, Morton's sales and marketing manager.

One person's opinion: Kassie Rose, WOSU book critic

Bookstore

Kassie Rose heads to the Acorn Bookshop, 1464 W. Fifth Ave., when looking for inexpensive secondhand novels and rare first editions of treasured classics. The Grandview-area shop might not have the latest blockbusters, but the knowledgeable staff knows her tastes and the unpretentious, friendly environment keeps her coming back. Rose calls Acorn "the literary equivalent of 'Cheers.' "

Outfit for a one-night stand

To promote National STD Awareness Month, Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio commissioned students from the Columbus College of Art & Design to make 11 Condom Couture Dresses. The outfits-made from Planned Parenthood's new Proper Attire line of prophylactics-were displayed during the Short North's Gallery Hop in April.

Droid

Dressing and acting like a robot, Anna Sullivan-along with the other members of her experimental dance group, Anna and the Annadroids-is gaining notice for her piercing and clever cultural criticism. Check out a story about Sullivan on page 94.

Arts fusion

In a reprise of a joint effort in 2006, the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and BalletMet collaborated this winter on Jazz Moves Take 2. The masterful blending of the two disciplines soared with energy and artistry, beauty and bounce.

Office

When Ohio State University gutted century-old Page Hall in preparation for the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, the architects had a clean slate and an unusual vision. Could they create an office that hung suspended in the center of the building for the former astronaut and senator? They decided they could. Glenn's office, which is located on the third floor but can be seen from below, is supposed to feel like sitting in the Friendship 7 (the capsule he used to orbit the earth in 1962). Or, at least, "That's what they tell me," Glenn says with a chuckle.

G-force or no G-force, Glenn, who turns 89 on July 18, has a stellar office with memorabilia worthy of an American hero. Here are some highlights.

SPORTS

Stat sheet stuffer

Ohio State's Evan Turner emerged as a legitimate star as a sophomore, leading the young basketball Buckeyes to an NCAA bid. The best part of his game is, well, nearly all of it: He led the team in points, field goals, free throws, field goal and free throw attempts, three-point shooting percentage, rebounds and assists. Now, if he can just cut down on the number of turnovers (tops in that, too).

Football moment

Yes, it involved freshman hotshot Terrelle Pryor. But it had nothing to do with any of his electrifying plays as a quarterback. Instead, it was the five-yard touchdown pass he caught as a wide receiver from Todd Boeckman, the senior he'd displaced as the starter, in the Fiesta Bowl against Texas. The fourth-quarter play had all the elements of a Hollywood finish. Let's not talk about how the game really ended, however.

Thing of beauty (soccer division)

The pass from Guillermo Barros Schelotto to Frankie Hejduk to assure the Columbus Crew of its first MLS championship. Late in the MLS Cup, Schelotto adroitly arched the ball over a row of New York Red Bull defenders to a sprinting Hejduk, who headed the perfectly placed pass into the goal for an insurmountable 3-1 lead. It was the last (and prettiest) of Schelotto's MLS Cup record three assists.

Way to kill your fan base

The Arena Football League canceled the 2009 season after the economic doldrums crushed its business model. The league has promised to return in 2010 after a reorganization led by Columbus Destroyers co-owner Jim Renacci. Whether the fans will return, too, is anybody's guess.

Streak

Within a one-week span in March, the Columbus Blue Jackets left lasting impressions on three of the NHL's top teams and sparked a run to their first playoff berth in franchise history. It started with a visit to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, where the Jackets engineered a crowd-silencing 8-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champions. Next it was on to Nationwide, where Rick Nash, Steve Mason and company shut out the then-NHL-leading Boston Bruins 2-0. Two nights later, the Pittsburgh Penguins came to town and the Jackets put an end to their seven-game win streak with a thrilling shootout victory.

Wipeout

Ohio State assistant men's basketball coach Alan Major became an Internet sensation this season when he botched a congratulatory slap on the butt during a game against Penn State. He was attempting to pat player Kyle Madsen for banking in a jump shot, but missed and lost his balance. Splat. The video was played with excruciating frequency by YouTube visitors and ESPN, whose announcers later lamented, "That's not how you want to make SportsCenter."

Guest speaker

Denison University basketball coach Bob Ghiloni teaches a history and philosophy of sports and physical education class. One session was particularly special late last year when, with the help of a student's father, he put together a conference call with the legendary John Wooden, who led UCLA to 10 national championships before he retired in 1975. The 98-year-old Hall of Famer fielded questions for more than 30 minutes.

Hurdler

Twice this past season Ohio State running back Beanie Wells stunned opponents and fans with acrobatic leaps over a defender. In the Big Ten opener against Minnesota, Wells took a handoff and sprinted upfield. As a Golden Gopher safety came in to attempt a tackle, Wells went airborne, cleared the opponent, landed three yards downfield and, without breaking stride, continued to gain ground before finishing a 21-yard run. He performed a similar feat six games later against Illinois. Simply astonishing.

Imitation of a brick wall

Rookie goalie Steve Mason had countless highlight-reel-worthy saves in his sensational inaugural season for the Blue Jackets. But perhaps the most impressive display of his shot-blocking ability took place in an early December game against the visiting Vancouver Canucks when he thwarted three attempts in one eye-popping sequence. First, the then-20-year-old knocked aside a wrist shot and immediately followed with a leg save on the rebound-and then, while sprawled on his back, spun to the other side of the goal crease to use his glove to swat away a tap-in. And his timing was perfect, protecting the Blue Jackets' one goal lead in the final two minutes of the game, with the Canucks on a power play.

One person's opinion: Walter Distelzweig, Columbus police chief

Place to run

Walter Distelzweig takes physical fitness seriously. "It's a way of life," he says. "It's a quality-of-life issue. And for us here in the division, I hope to set the example." Though finding time for exercise hasn't been easy since he started his new job overseeing the 1,900-officer department in March, the 58-year-old Distelzweig, who's run four marathons over the years, still manages to jog 20 to 25 miles a week. And when he's looking for a great place to stretch his legs, his favorite spot is Blacklick Woods Metro Park in Reynoldsburg. The 643-acre park is near his home, and he likes the wide four-mile loop trail and peaceful, car-free environment. "It's just a really neat place to run," he says.

Steelers bar

Gresso's, the old house-turned-bar on High Street in the Brewery District, is a prime place for Pittsburgh transplants to escape Buckeye fever. Terrible Towels hang on the walls, the bartenders serve shots named after Santonio Holmes and Big Ben Roethlisberger and, for the Super Bowl, the staff hired a deejay to play Steelers fight songs during the commercial breaks ("Cuz Picksburgh's gonna bring the Steel Curtain down!"). Plus, there's the obligatory drunken Browns fan at the bar, waiting for a chance to trade disparaging barbs with the gang in black and gold. As every good NFL fan knows, it's not a game until Pittsburgh and Cleveland have thrown down.

High schooler doing double duty

DeSales football player Josh Kusan not only was named Division II defensive player of the year in the state, averaging nearly 10 tackles a game as a linebacker, he also rushed for more than 1,500 yards and scored 24 touchdowns as a running back.

Big city transplant

New York City basketball phenom Samantha Prahalis wandered west for college and helped propel the Buckeye women to a 29-6 record, Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The fast and fiery point guard led the team in assists and ranked second in steals and minutes played. Not bad for a freshman.

Rejection

The NBA demanded in April that Ohio State basketball junior benchwarmer and popular blogger Mark Titus remove himself from the upcoming draft. Officials apparently were worried he was making a mockery of the process and only declaring as a publicity stunt, which, Titus admitted on his blog, is pretty much exactly what he was doing. After some hesitation, Titus finally obliged the NBA and exited the draft, but he wasn't too broken up about it. "In fact, I'm somewhat excited," he wrote on clubtrillion.blogspot.com. "I could very well be the first person in the history of the NBA to basically be told to go away."

Giant Eagle shopper

Loyalty to the Pittsburgh-based grocery store chain is paying off for Pickerington resident Cheryl Keller. The stay-at-home mom of two has enjoyed free gas from Giant Eagle for more than a year thanks to savvy shopping and the store's fuelperks! discount program, which awards 10 cents off per gallon of gasoline for every $50 spent on groceries, photo services, beauty products and gift cards.

Keller started to frequent Giant Eagle about two years ago after it opened its Pickerington location. Soon, she was not only buying all her groceries there, but also filling her family's prescriptions at its pharmacy and even filtering purchases from other retailers such as Kohl's, Macy's and Barnes & Noble through Giant Eagle via gift cards. "Really, the key is using gift cards," says Keller, who estimates she's saved $2,700 in gasoline since January 2007.

And now she's scoring cheap chow, too. During a recent "stock-up" trip to Giant Eagle, she says she received $206 off her grocery bill thanks to coupons and the store's new foodperks! discount plan (1 percent off groceries for every 10 gallons of gasoline pumped, including free fuel).

Pedal-powered deliveries

Community Carts (ohiocommunitycarts.com), a small business run out of a former sheet-metal shop in Franklinton, offers a way for Luddites or committed environmentalists to haul stuff around town without burning any fossil fuel. The company's bicycle trailers, made from American steel and handcrafted on the west side of Columbus, can haul up to 200 pounds (as long as you've got relatively strong legs). Prices range from $239 to $289.

Place to find an obscure alcoholic drink

What the heck is mead, you ask? It's an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey and water. It's typically known as honey wine, it's rare and Columbus has it. Brothers Drake Fine Mead, which opened at 206 Oak St. in Columbus in June 2008, not only ferments and flavors sweet, semisweet and dry versions of the unusual beverage, the co-owners also teach customers how to whip up a batch in their 10-week mead-making class. More of a drinker than a doer? Brothers Drake offers group wine tastings for up to 20 people.

Store with a (re)purpose

There's something for just about everyone at reTAGit, 1123 Goodale Blvd., whether you're in the market for a new TV, desk chair or a three-foot-tall golden Buddha statue. The repurposing store accepts new and used items, as well as broken items from which useable parts can be extracted. "If you're looking for a doorknob, you can go to Lowe's and spend $30 on a doorknob. If you don't have $30, you can come here and buy one for $5," says owner Paul Childress.

Unemployment benefit (dry cleaning division)

Dublin Cleaners, with five locations throughout Central Ohio, announced a deal in mid April at its I-270 and Sawmill Road shop: a free suit cleaning for unemployed folks preparing for job interviews. "It's been great; we get to meet people and hear their stories," says Brian Butler, vice president of operations.

Live exhibit

It started as a joke. Dina Sherman's friend told her, after several attempts to create odd and wonderful spaces to display art, that she should simply wear a gallery on her head. Brilliant. Sherman (shown, at right) quickly, and quite literally, incorporated herself as a business and the cleverly named IMA Gallery was born. During hours of operation, Sherman dons an artist's work, considers her body a gallery and allows people to, well, view her. So far, 10 artists have let her display their work. Her favorite exhibit was Calling Occupants, when artist Jamie Boyle, inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac, called Sherman on her cellphone and interacted with an audience through her. The reactions to Sherman's human gallery have been mostly pleasant. Artists love her. Kids adore her. Some people are afraid she's going to ask them for money. But she believes more people are getting used to the idea that she can function as a legitimate art space, even in the middle of nowhere. She plans to take her gallery (aka herself) on a West Coast tour this summer.

Place to hear "Dude, where's my yarn?"

It's not just sisters who sew at WonderKnit. The Clintonville yarn store at 3165 N. High St. hosts a men's knitting night every third Thursday from 6 to 8 pm. Knowing that many guys feel uncomfortable buying yarn, owner Libby Bruce says the shop decided to unravel the stereotype "simply by offering a space where it's cool for men to knit." The bros, usually in their 20s and 30s, mostly make leg and arm warmers for winter bike rides. And there is one obvious gender difference, Bruce says: "Men tend to drop more

F-bombs when they're first learning."

Discount duds

Kelli Martin is a pro at wallet-friendly fashion. Since the "Project Runway" alumna popped onto the national fashion scene, she's been stumping for affordable duds. Her favorite shopping destination in Columbus is Rag-O-Rama. The Clintonville consignment store at 3301 N. High St. features vintage and designer stock. Martin's favorite finds include classic polyester dresses and cheap, size 6 and a half Chuck Taylor's. "Unique and well-priced clothing, with a generally cool staff?" Martin says. "You can't beat that with a stick." Or with a $3,000 Gucci bag.

Ping-pong partner

At the Columbus Table Tennis Club, 7694 Sawmill Rd., members can take advantage of a robotic gun that fires ping-pong balls across the table to help them with their game. "It's similar to what you'd find in a batting cage," says club president Greg Brendon. "You can adjust the speed, the placement and the type of spin. In addition to that, you can set it to go from right to left or left to right."

Two-wheeled commuting accessories (pooch division)

When their hip "parents" aren't occupied with Paradise Garage's trendy offerings (multicolored bike chains and glow-in-the-dark pedals and handles), well-traveled doggies enjoy the pet products at this Short North bike store at 941 N. High St. The shop, which opened in April 2008, wants to make biking a Columbus mainstay. Man's best friend is not exempt. A $98 wicker dog basket with a cage is sold for smaller pups, and Burley dog trailers are available for larger tagalongs.

Business school for tweens

There's a place in town where you can learn how to manage your money, develop a business strategy and expand teamwork skills. Sounds like a seminar for small businesses, right? The difference is this deal is aimed at fifth-graders. Junior Achievement's BizTown summer program-an offshoot of the companion course implemented in many Central Ohio elementary schools-teaches kids financial literacy. At summer camp ($195), the young workers fill out résumés and go on interviews to compete for a job before learning the ins and outs of running a business. After working various jobs, which include attorney, bank teller, reporter, beverage manager, web designer and nonprofit director, they get to take part of their "earnings"-the other part goes into a "savings account"-to purchase items from the other campers' shops.

Place to take aim

Safety is key at the youth summer camps at Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware. Training manager Robin Salvo, who is NRA certified, says the camps for kids age 10 to 17 began three years ago when more and more parents started to bring their kids in to learn how to shoot. "A lot of children show an interest in firearms," Salvo says. "It doesn't matter if they're using them for Airsoft wars, somebody could get hurt." Two- to four-day summer camps range from $150 to $250. In addition to classroom instruction, the campers (both boys and girls) take target practice with rifles, handguns, shotguns and bows and arrows.

Comfort food

For parents looking for a quick lunch option sure to please even the pickiest eaters, Krema Nut Company, 1000 W. Goodale Blvd., offers classic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to go. Made to order with your choice of creamy or crunchy and a variety of jellies and preserves on generous slices of white bread, the PB&Js sell for $3.50. (Gourmet varieties, including one that would make Elvis swoon, are available for slightly more.) The Krema Special drew rave reviews from a hungry 12-year-old boy who proclaimed it "the second-best I've ever had. My mom's is the best." High praise.

Candy store (northwest suburb division)

Talk about happy hour! Just after school lets out in Dublin, MJ's Candy Bar, 72 N. High St., is jammin' with kids looking for a sugar fix, whether it's an ice cream cone, color-sorted M&Ms or a squirt of spray candy. (Is it any wonder Dublin is crawling with dentists?) Grandparents and moms and dads may want to check out some confections from their youth, such as Nut Goodies, Mallo Cups and Clark bars. The somewhat-of-a-throwback store even has comic books that come with a user-friendly trade-in policy.

Way to go wild

It seems as if most children have entertained the notion at some point of becoming a veterinarian when they grow up. If that vocational choice hasn't been replaced by becoming an NFL player or a rock star by the time they enter middle school, parents might want to give them a Dr. Dolittle experience. The Wilds, the wildlife conservation center near Zanesville, offers a Working Wild camp ($675) for teens ages 14 to 19. With oryxes, cheetahs, giraffes and zebras on-site, campers not only learn about taking care of sick animals, but also get an education in husbandry and animal management, among other things. Not a bad résumé filler for vet school.

SHOPPING/SERVICES

Bookstore: Barnes & Noble over German Village's Book Loft.

Shopping complex: Not even close: Easton Town Center.

Garden center: The prize goes to Oakland Nurseries.

Spa: Charles Penzone makes it look easy.

Consignment shop: Discount divas prefer One More Time.

Pet store: PetSmart is the champ.

Grocery store: Once again, Kroger.

Department store: Macy's over Nordstrom.

PEOPLE

Public official: Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman sprints away from Gov. Ted Strickland.

OSU male athlete: Freshman football phenom Terrelle Pryor holds off senior football phenom (and last year's winner) James Laurinaitis.

OSU female athlete: Sophomore basketball star Jantel Lavendar for the second straight year.

Former OSU athlete: Archie Griffin once more over Eddie George. One reader took a different take on the category: "Can I just vote against Santonio Holmes? Great catch [in the Super Bowl]! But how about some Tressel-like humility!"

Blue Jackets player: Captain Rick Nash over new goalie sensation Steve Mason.

Coach: OSU football coach Jim Tressel in a rout. Blue Jackets head man Ken Hitchcock took second over OSU b-ball leader Thad Matta.

TV anchor (male): Channel 4's Cabot Rea ahead of Channel 10's Jerry Revish.

TV anchor (female): No contest: Channel 10's Andrea Cambern.

Weatherperson: Make it 20 straight years for Channel 4's Jym Ganahl.

Radio personality: WTVN morning drive legend Bob Conners over the station's afternoon deejay, John Corby.

Sportscaster: Veteran Dom Tiberi of Channel 10 wins.

Sportswriter: The Dispatch's Bob Hunter.

RESTAURANTS

Romantic restaurant: The charm of The Refectory over M and Hyde Park.

Outdoor dining: Barcelona for the seventh year in row.

Breakfast: First Watch wins again.

Fast casual: Chipotle over Northstar Café.

Cheap lunch: Chipotle, again.

Steakhouse: By a big margin, it's Hyde Park.

Chinese: For the second straight year, this category belongs to China Dynasty.

Asian: Molly Woo's knocks off frequent past winner P.F. Chang's.

Sushi: Haiku, without a doubt.

Mexican: Still the same year after year: El Vaquero.

Seafood: This goes to another perennial winner, Columbus Fish Market.

Vegetarian: Northstar Café over Dragonfly Neo-V Cuisine.

Italian: Moretti's over Bravo!

French: The Refectory repeats, holding off Bon Vie.

Greek: For the fifth year in a row . . . Happy Greek.

Indian: For the sixth year in a row . . . Indian Oven.

Middle Eastern: Aladdin's Eatery over newcomer Lavash Café.

Diner: A two-diner race, with Cap City handily besting Starliner.

Hamburger: Nothing comes close to Thurman Cafe.

Wings: It's Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, or BW3 or B-Dubs or whatever you want to call it.

Ice cream store: Graeter's wins big over Jeni's.

MEDIA

Local news website: For the second straight year, NBC4i.com reigns.

Morning TV newscast: Readers prefer WCMH with breakfast.

Evening TV newscast: But they go with WBNS-10TV before bed.

Talk radio station: 610 WTVN by a healthy margin.

Music radio station: Surprise. CD101.1 wins for the 15th year in a row.

Public radio station: WCBE 90.5 is the winner.

Morning radio show: WNCI's Morning Zoo is still a favorite.

Local blog: Columbus Underground takes first.

ENTERTAINMENT

Movie theater: Arena Grand, but not without stiff competition from Lennox and the Rave at Polaris.

Performing arts organization: CAPA over BalletMet and CATCO.

Wine bar: In an upset, relative newcomer House Wine over powerhouse Burgundy Room.

Concert venue: Lifestyle Communities Pavilion leaves Nationwide Arena and the Newport far behind.

Festival: ComFest repeats, although the Dublin Irish Festival made a strong move. One reader, though, favored a Plain City event called Steam Threshers: "Where else can you stand and watch old tractors roll by for hours and hours."

Cover band: Readers dig the '80s: Reaganomics.

Martini menu: Martini Modern Italian edges out Martini Park.

Bowling alley: More readers get their game on at Sawmill Lanes.

Coffee shop: Starbucks barely bests Cup O' Joe.

Arena District bar: Frog Bear & Wild Boar comes back this year to win.

Short North bar: Surly Girl Saloon slips past last year's winner, the Short North Tavern.

MISCELLANEOUS

Columbus neighborhood: Clintonville takes the crown from German Village, and the Short North turned in a strong showing.

Corporation: No challengers for Nationwide. One reader noted, though: "Anyone not laying off people."

Suburb: Despite a surge by Worthington, Dublin wins again.

Place to take out-of-towners: Easton over the Short North.

Park: The Short North's Goodale topples last year's winner, Schiller Park in German Village, and Whetstone in Clintonville.

High school marching band: Make it two years in a row for Grove City, which was pressured by Upper Arlington.

Public artwork: Readers love their concrete corn: Malcolm Cochran's Field of Corn in Dublin.

Crew player

Goes to fan fave Frankie Hejduk instead of superstar Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

Pizza

Massey's dominates runner-up Donatos.

Bike shop

In a close battle between a couple of four-letter stores, Roll edges Trek.

Haunted house

The most popular place to get a good scare is the Haunted Hoochie. One alternative offered by a reader: "Ex-wife's house."

Winners

We had a record number of ballots submitted this year for the readers' choice section of "Best of Columbus." Thanks for the opinions. As promised, we randomly chose three participants to receive a $100 gift certificate to any one of the restaurants voted "Best" in the readers' poll. The winners are Lisa Cini, Dale Brown and Jen Whiteleather.

FOODANDDINING

Dream meal

We asked our restaurant reviewers a mouthwatering question: If you could put together a dream meal from Central Ohio eating establishments, what would it be? Here are their choices.

John Champlin

Before-dinner drink: The martini at Rigsby's Kitchen.

Appetizer: Eddie's Smokin' Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail at Eddie Merlot's.

Soup: Cream of tomato at the Clarmont.

Entree: Grilled beef tenderloin (with a bottle of whatever sommelier Kevin Bertschi recommends) at Alana's.

Dessert: The biscotti from Pistacia Vera.

John Marshall

Antipasto: Charcuterie plate at Details.

Pasta: Fresh Pasta, Mixed Seafood Sauce, Mint Breadcrumbs at Rigsby's Kitchen.

First course: Matsutake mushroom soup at Kihachi.

Second course: Rack of lamb, rubbed with zaatar, in a garlic yogurt sauce at Alana's.

Dessert: Jeni's Strawberry Buttermilk ice cream and cookies from Pistacia Vera.

Sunday brunch in an unlikely spot

You wouldn't normally associate a fine-dining restaurant with the area just north of campus on High Street near Hudson Street. But the former chef at the OSU Faculty Club, Bill Glover, opened Sage American Bistro there last year. A highlight of the fine establishment is the Sunday brunch.

Odd menu reference

At Bamboo Café, the menu states that if you order wings, you will get "four deep fried chickens." What you really get are, well, wings.

Return

Nasir Latif, the veteran restaurateur best known as the founder of the popular Firdous, opened a new Mediterranean restaurant, Lavash Café, in Clintonville to wide praise.

Ice cream not named Jeni's (restaurant division)

DeepWood, which Columbus Monthly named as the Best New Restaurant of 2008, has a surprise at the end of its menu: house-made ice cream (and also sorbet). The flavors change seasonally; if dense peanut butter and chocolate is available, don't hesitate.

Trend

Several upscale restaurants have responded to the slumping economy by dishing up high-end food at more affordable prices by opening companion restaurants (or reworking existing space) and offering small plates or tapas-Rosendales with Details and Rosendales Modern Bistro, for instance, and Hyde Park with Eleven. In addition, other establishments have begun introducing various menu specials. n

One person's opinion: Priscilla Tyson, Columbus City Council

Restaurant

Priscilla Tyson loves the Bob Evans in Whitehall at 3988 E. Broad St. "When I go there, I find friendly people, good food and I like being around people," Tyson says. Because she eats there so often, customers recognize her and walk up to her table. "People will stop by and say, 'Can I call you about a concern?' And I'm OK with that," she says. Her favorite meals include eggs for breakfast and bean soup or a salad for dinner.

Dish named after a cheesy TV show

The Love Boat at Sapporo Sushi Factory. You get sushi, sashimi, tempura, tonkatsu, yakitori, crab legs, shrimp and fruit all served in an actual small wooden boat. The best part: Everything in it is really good.

Cake for a neighborhood event

Amanda Ellis, owner/chef at Bakery Gingham in German Village, was presented with quite a task. The German Village Society asked her to create a unique cake for the 50th anniversary of the Haus und Garten Tour in late June. "We wanted to focus on what is special to German Village," she says, referring to the bricks and red geraniums made of fondant that appear on the cake. Ellis says it took about eight hours to create the four tiers. The bricks were "painted" with the help of food coloring and vodka, which thins the icing. How much can you expect to pay for a cake like this? Ellis says between $500 and $700.

Buckeyes

The group that gathered to determine the city's best buckeye didn't think it would be that hard to mess up this popular dessert. After all, it's just chocolate and peanut butter, right? They weren't so sure after tasting a few.

Most comments were about the buckeyes having too much or too little of one ingredient. But one buckeye in particular caused quite the commotion. One taster compared it to Play-Doh and someone else said, "I'm not sure what's in there, but it's not peanut butter." Another tester ran to the trash can covering her mouth and later said, "It's just something that shouldn't go past your tongue."

The winner ran away with the testing. Mozart's Bakery & Piano Cafe's golf-ball-sized buckeyes were loved by all. One person noted they "look like meatballs but taste like heaven."

Hot dogs

The testing of plain hot dogs was going along fine until people reached their fifth or sixth station. "I feel sick" was a common complaint throughout this particular May afternoon.

But the testers bravely kept tasting. The group offered a variety of comments on the characteristics of the different dogs, such as the texture of the meat and the quality of the bread. At one point, one person seemed offended by the foul taste of a particular entry, and another tester replied, "Well, at least you have nice buns."

At the end, though, there was a clear winner. Best of the Wurst in the North Market lived up to its name. Praises included the hot dog's size, "yummy" taste and the quality of the bun. One reviewer summed it up nicely: "If size matters to you, this dog's for you."

Taco-truck tour

A report by Columbus Monthly restaurant reviewer John Champlin:

A kind person tipped me recently to the existence of a fine website about the phenomenon of taco trucks in Columbus. Following the online recommendations, I went on a taco-truck tour and found some of the best tacos in town, as well as other south-of-the-border delights. I heartily recommend all four places I tried.

At Little Mexico, 3900 Sullivant Ave. (in front of Ohio Thrift), I was impressed with the quality of the operation. The tacos were built in a pair of soft tortillas filled with the piping hot main ingredient-I sampled both barbacoa and asada (each was excellent)-and topped with freshly chopped onion and cilantro. On the plate, as sides, were nice lime slices, cucumber pieces and radishes. You also had a choice of great red or green homemade salsas.

Next stop was Super Torta II, 421 Georgesville Rd. (near the railroad tracks). Their tacos were built according to the same plan as Little Mexico's, but, for the first time, I sampled the filling known as chicharrón. These are smallish squares of pork skin with fat-slightly spongy, succulent from braising and utterly delicious. I also got a bite of adobada torta, a sandwich of pork in adobo sauce. Just sensational.

Third stop: Las Delicias, 333 Georgesville Rd. (in front of the Candy Store, which is not a candy store, if you know what I mean). Again, the tacos were superb; this time I sampled al pastor. Las Delicias also offered Mexican "ice cream," a concoction of finely shaved ice and flavorful syrup. It was a perfect palate cleanser for another taco!

My tour ended at Los Potosinos, near 4915 Lincoln Park Ct., in the Nasir Auto lot. Yet another wonderful pair of tacos. Also I tried a genuine treasure: pollo al carbon (grilled marinated chicken). It was just outstanding and easily the best I've had in Columbus. They grilled it over charcoal on a grill that held maybe two dozen half-chickens right beside the truck.

For more info on these locations and others, check out the website I mentioned earlier, tacotruckscolumbus.com.

This story appeared in the July 2009 issue of Columbus Monthly.