Best of Sacramento 2006

From media folks and musicians to shops, salons and eateries,

Sacramento magazine unveils the best of this region. Subscribers had the exclusive opportunity to vote for “bests” in a variety of categories, and the editors handpicked more people, places and products deserving of kudos.

Editors’ Picks

• Best Cupcake: Strawberry Cupcake From Philipp’s Bakery

These pretty little things could win a cupcake beauty contest any day. But are they all pink fluff, no substance? Au contraire! Both the vanilla cake and butter-cream icing are infused with strawberries, making for a sweet treat that doesn’t overdo it. These cupcakes bring back special memories for bakery owner Cindy Philipp: The recipe was handed down from her mother. “It was my birthday cake every single year,” she says. Cupcakes are $2.50 apiece. (3300 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; 916-455-5535; philipps-bakery.net)

• Best Place To Go Deep Before Dawn: deep art yoga and design
Getting up before 4 a.m. is challenging even for early birds. But deep art yoga and design’s Sadhana Morning Sunrise Meditation, held daily at 4 a.m., readies the body and spirit for the day’s offerings through breath work, stretching, chanting and meditation. Area rugs cover deep’s hardwood floor; pillows and blankets are provided. Candlelight enhances the experience. After day breaks, return to deep to check out what’s hanging on the walls as well as to attend adults’ and kids’ yoga classes, kids’ art classes, Bradley birthing classes and a monthly Fashion Flea Market, offering items from local clothing designers, artists and jewelers. (2030 H St., Sacramento; 916-448-3337; deepartyoga.com)

• Best Idol Who Is Any-thing but Idle: Stevie Scott

Stevie Scott is just a “normal girl.” Or so she says. The Fair Oaks native and Sacramento State music major was one of 24 finalists on Season 5 of the hit reality TV show “American Idol.” Although the 19-year-old has moved to Los Angeles to work on two new albums and try her luck at acting, Scott says, “Sacramento will always be home for me. It has a real sense of community.” So what does the triple threat (She sings! She acts! She dances!) do in town when she’s not training with local vocal instructor Elaine Berman or working on her pirouettes? “Downtown is super-fun,” she says. “My friends and I always hang out there.” Hey, maybe she is a normal girl.

• Best Direction for Young Singers and Dancers: Galena Street East
If you want to catch a great performance, look to the east—Galena Street East. The 33-year-old company, headed by husband-and-wife team Richard and Jeri Clinger, comprises six children’s performance troupes. Choreographed by local legend Ron Cisneros, the groups perform widely: The Galena Touring Company has even gone to such far-flung locations as Taiwan, Scotland, Austria and Honduras with its “uplifting programs that educate and inspire.” Locally, you can see and hear Galena Street East members at community functions throughout the year.

• Best Drive-By Entertainment: Dancing Dan
Next time you’re speeding down Howe Avenue or scarfing your lunch at La Bou, take a moment to watch Dancing Dan, the one-man entertainment empire at the corner of Enterprise and Howe. The 52-year-old owner of eponymous ad service Dancing Dan’s—his real name is Daniel Sloan—can be found, rain or shine, atop his parking lot pylon, getting his groove on while holding man-sized ads for local businesses. A dancer since the age of 10, Sloan says he’s used his “God-given” grace as both a Disneyland character and a fitness instructor, not to mention a jumping, jiving adman. The fitness has clearly done him good—after four life-threatening accidents and eight-hour workdays in all sorts of weather, St. Louis-born Sloan still hardly looks his age. But then, no one does when viewed at 50 miles per hour.

• Best Idol for Inspiration: Mandisa
As she has said, ninth-place “American Idol” finalist Mandisa Hundley “did not set out, necessarily, to be a role model.” But that’s what happened. On Season 5, the angel-voiced Citrus Heights native took her share of lumps from acerbic “Idol” judge Simon Cowell and responded in the way you’d expect from a disciple of Christian author and speaker Beth Moore: She turned the other cheek. A former worship leader for the LifeWay Christian Women’s Convention, Hundley (who went by “just Mandisa” on the show) is now in Tennessee, hard at work doing what she does best: singing inspirational gospel. 

• Best Natural Wonder in Elk Grove: Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op in Elk Grove
The store is immaculate, the service staff friendly and knowledgeable, the food samples abundant. The huge selection of groceries and prepared entrées—all organic—is enough to get you salivating. The natural theme carries beyond food; the building—open since July 2005—is constructed of recycled and earth-friendly materials. So where are the shoppers? This sister store to the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op appears to remain a well-kept secret. Give this place a look, and do your body some good. (Elk Grove Marketplace, 8517 Bond Road, Elk Grove; 916-714-7100)

• Best Community Service: Tony Asaro

Tony Asaro is passionate about baseball. As the senior director of community relations for the Sacramento River Cats, Asaro is responsible for overseeing the educational outreach programs that, by the end of this year, will have affected more than 160,000 area students in grades one through 12. Through field trip programs at Raley Field like Home Run Tours, which uses baseball facts and figures to supplement classroom lessons about history and math, and Triple-A Assemblies, which teaches the three As (attitude, attendance and academics), Asaro gives kids the tools to succeed—tools that he still uses himself. “You live on this rock for only so long,” Asaro says, “so you can never give up your passion.”

• Best Auto-motif Repair: Stephens Service Center
The orchids are just the beginning. There are the Murano glass vases. The arty vegetable photographs. Not to mention the Miele espresso maker. No, you haven’t stumbled into a home show; you’re probably waiting for your car inside Stephens Service Center on Elvas Avenue. Independently owned for 14 years, Tom Stephens’ Mercedes-Benz repair shop is a welcome sight to those of us who prefer pretty to gritty. There’s no grease to be found, only hardwood floors and leaded-glass windows flanked by flowers. With 25 years of Mercedes service under his belt, Stephens modeled his shop after the dealerships he saw while training in Germany. And because “70 percent of service decisions are made by women” (according to Stephens), he decided to revamp his shop this past winter in favor of something more esthetically pleasing. (5600 Elvas Ave., Sacramento; 916-452-5067)

• Best One-Mouth Band: Leejay Abucayan
When you close your eyes and listen to Leejay Abucayan perform, you’ll think he’s backed by a whole posse of musicians. Engaging his vocal chords, lips, tongue, teeth and the roof of his mouth in an art known as beatboxing, Abucayan—winner of the 2003 Austrian Beatbox Championship—can produce R&B, hip-hop, rock and swing sounds. The Sacramento native, a 2004 graduate of Natomas Charter School’s Performing and Fine Arts Academy and current UC Davis student in  technocultural studies, performs at clubs and fundraising events. Will he make beatboxing a career? “School is always the No. 1 priority, but this is something I enjoy doing on the side,” he says.

• Best Child-ish Hair Salon: Tangles for Kids
If every hair salon had video games, bubble machines and princess crowns, bad hair days would be a thing of the past. But then, not every hair salon is Tangles for Kids on Auburn Boulevard, the children’s hairstyling mecca with lime-green walls, neon-bright chairs and a video game set-up at every station. Owner Karen Huff’s salon is a veritable haven for youngsters 16 and younger, offering kid-centric cuts and fun styling that runs the gamut from French braids and curls for girls to colored gel for the more adventurous boys. Between the Nintendo and the fantastical décor, who worries about tangles when there’s Tangles? (7969 Auburn Blvd., Citrus Heights; 916-725-8645)

• Best Jazz Man: Roger Smith
Oddly enough, the least interesting thing about Roger Smith is that he survived cancer. The world-renowned jazz keyboardist wants you to know him for much more than that. Throughout his 30-year and seven-album career, Smith has been at the top of his game—producing and performing with such music legends as The Temptations, Willy Nelson and Gladys Knight—and at the top of the charts: His single “Off the Hook” hit No. 1 on Billboard Magazine’s Contemporary Jazz singles chart in 1999. Prostate cancer surgery in early 2005 didn’t stop Smith: He’s back on tour with funk and R&B band Tower of Power and is working on a new CD.

• Best Celebrity Perk: Beantrees Fine Organic Coffees
Oprah’s chef, Art Smith, named this coffee one of the 12 things he can’t live without. Chef to the stars Jaime Laurita serves the brew to Aerosmith, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sarah McLachlan. The coffee company’s founders, Barrie Gromala and Joyce Lemley, brewed up the idea for their 100 percent organic and fair trade coffee in 1993 in a River Park home and started serving it at espresso bars inside companies such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard. The company has since gone wholesale. (One Beantrees store remains at 925 L St. in Sacramento.) Today, Beantrees is the official coffee at the corporate headquarters of Yahoo. It’s served at restaurants, resorts and entertainment venues throughout the country. You can find the artisan-roasted beans in Raley’s and Bel Air markets or purchase them at beantrees.com.

• Most Tile-ish Eatery: Sal’s Tacos
There’s another Kings hangout in town. Only you won’t find Peja and Vlade sitting in a booth—you’ll find them hanging on the walls. The former Kings players are part of a collection of vibrant mosaic portraits that line the walls and ceiling of Sal’s Tacos in West Sacramento, a 26-year-old local haunt favored not only for its tasty taquitos but now for its bright décor. Owner Salvador Galvan crafts each tile mosaic by hand (which can take more than a month) in the wee hours each morning in his garage before heading to his eponymous restaurant off the I Street Bridge. Prompted by a how-to book his daughter gave him 10 years back, Galvan discovered a talent with tile that has transformed his eatery into a jewel box of figures, faces and scenes. (400 C St., West Sacramento; 916-372-3892)

• Best Reasons To Cheer: Stellar Student Athletes
Winning isn’t everything for Tony Kays, Cristina Hibbert and Lindsay Haupt. These three student athletes not only led their teams to victory, but also broke a few records while they were at it.
Tony Kays is a senior at UC Davis and the football team’s wide receiver. He’s made a record 93 catches in his career, breaking the school record of 76. He was named All-America by three different media organizations and All-Great West Football Conference first team for the 2005 season.
Cristina Hibbert, an American River College student, took the women’s track and field team to the top of the scoreboard at the Big 7 League and the Northern California Championships. She also broke five school records and is listed in ARC’s All-Time Top 10 in 13 events.
Lindsay Haupt, a junior on the women’s intercollegiate volleyball team at Sacramento State, conducted her team to their ninth straight conference championship and was the first underclassman (at the time) in 43 years to win the Big Sky Conference MVP award in volleyball—all while maintaining a GPA above 3.5.

• Best Rebounder: Franz Wisner
In the span of two months, former Sacramentan Franz Wisner was dumped by his fiancée and demoted at work. He could have kicked it at Starbucks, help wanted ads in one hand, personal ads in another, to find replacements for what Wisner refers to as the two “loves” of his life. Instead, he quit his job and took his brother, Kurt, on his prepaid honeymoon to Costa Rica. The brothers then embarked on a two-year, 53-country trek through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. In the process, Wisner got to heal his heart and evaluate what success really means to him. Oh, and he wrote a best-selling memoir, Honeymoon With My Brother; appeared on “Oprah”; and is now best friend and business partner with Kurt. Talk about making the best of a situation. “Only in America can you get dumped and make it into a career,” says Wisner, who is busy writing his second book.
 
• Best Place To Give Tanks: Capitol Aquarium
Moby Dick is alive and well and living in Sacramento. Only this time, he’s not a man-eating menace. For one, he’s not a whale, but an osphronemus gourami from Southeast Asia—and he probably can’t open his mouth all that wide. Moby Dick II (the first Moby died at the age of 30, six years ago) is one of hundreds of fish for show and sale at Capitol Aquarium, the sanctum sanctorum for fish fanatics of all ages. Although this Moby may not be quite as famous as his fictional namesake, he and his fellow fishes are certainly treated like royalty: The aquarium employs a full-time onsite biologist to make sure everything goes swimmingly. Let’s just hope his name isn’t Ahab. (1920 29th St., Sacramento; 916-452-5556)

• Best Place To Catch a Rising Star: Head Hunters Video Lounge and Grille
Budding singers and appreciative audiences know Head Hunters Video Lounge and Grille is the place to be on Sunday nights. A big draw for Sacramento State theater students, the place is packed when school’s in session. Regular performers and piano player Mark Ferreira are friendly, encouraging any and all to try their hand at the mike. Bring your own music (Ferreira can play just about anything) or choose from his book of show tunes. You’ll be amazed at the number of performers who might have you saying, “I saw them when . . . ” (1930 K St., Sacramento; 916-492-2922)

• Best Spot for Post-Shopping Sustenance: David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods
Let’s face it: Shopping takes it outta ya. After you’ve given your credit card a workout at Pavilions Shopping Center, stop off at David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods. Whether in need of lighter fair such as a pumpkin-raisin cookie or something more substantial such as a bowl of Tuscan bean soup, you’re in the right spot. Too tired to cook dinner? Pick up some creamy chicken enchiladas. Don’t forget to check out the fresh meat and fish on the way to the wine department. (515 Pavilions Lane, Sacramento; 916-929-4422)

• Best Piano Man With Panache: Phil Putnam
Phil Putnam started singing in high school and took up piano while attending Simpson University in Redding, where he got his bachelor’s in music. He’s come a long way in a short time: At 27, this Fair Oaks native and Bella Vista High School graduate has four CDs under his belt; his latest, Best of Intentions, was released last month. Putnam—whose genres include everything from classical to rock—also is a music producer and founder of his own recording company, Box of Wood Music. Did we mention he’s a thoughtful songwriter, too? “I always write from experience,” Putnam says.
 
• Best Hip-Hoppers: The Sacramento Street Team
If Tamaira Sandifer has her way, Sacramento is about to increase its street cred as an urban metropolis. A Bay Area transplant and avid dancer, Sandifer decided to put the “hip” into the capital’s hip-hop scene. What began three years ago as a youth dance troupe under the auspices of the Sac All-Star Cheerleading Organization, Sandifer’s Sacramento Street Team soon outgrew its confines and craved a space to call its own. Now permanently housed at Sandifer’s new Studio T in West Sacramento, the coed Street Team boasts 15 to 35 dancers, ages 3 to 18, who perform regionally and internationally. The studio itself, which opened in April, offers nearly 90 classes each week, in styles that range from team belly dancing, martial arts-inspired capoeira and Afro-Caribbean dance to old- and new-school hip-hop. (Old school? New school? We feel hipper already.)

• Best Business Name You Won’t Soon Forget: Wild Chicken Coffee, Tea & Specialty Drinks
So dubbed by owner Charlotte Reynolds because it “reflects my sense of humor,” Wild Chicken Coffee, Tea & Specialty Drinks, new to Loomis since mid-January, is a neighborly joint for a neighborly town. A giant chicken sculpture greets you at the door, kitschy chicken art adorns the store, “chicken cards” allow regulars to earn free drinks, and an honor system coffee bar lets customers pour and pay for their own cup o’ joe without waiting in line. Twenty varieties of hand-rolled loose-leaf teas, roasted-on-the-premises coffee and baked goods feed the stomach. Live music, Thursday-evening barbecues and coffee roasting and tasting sessions the third Saturday of the month feed the community spirit. (3640 Taylor Road, Loomis;
916-652-3332)

• Best Model TV Star: Sara Albert
She made it to No. 4 on the highly competitive—and unabashedly entertaining—“America’s Next Top Model.” Now, this Davis native is pursing modeling as a career, recently signing with Elite Model Management and L. A. Models. What? You heard that she “lacked passion”? That, and the fact that she was discovered Lana Turner fashion while shopping at a mall (a tidbit fans of the show heard ad nauseam), are comments Albert, 22, has been responding to since she appeared on Season 6 of the popular reality show. But the 6-foot-1-inch Georgetown University graduate, former Division 1 volleyball player (and reputed season favorite of show host Tyra Banks’ mom) takes it all in stride—as if she were already striding down the catwalk.

• Best Place To Keep Current: Newsbeat

Carrying some 2,000 titles from all around the world, this downtown shop is Utopia for magazine and newspaper aficionados. Where else can you find the Al-Ahram Weekly, The Sacramento Bee and the National Inquirer under one roof? Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Newsbeat staff will see if they can. (1005 L St., Sacramento; 916-448-2874. Also in Davis at 514 Third St.; 530-756-6247)

• Best Club for Air Apparents: Valley Broadcast Legends
Chances are you’ve never seen most of these celebrities’ faces—but you know their voices. Every other month, the Valley Broadcast Legends, a group of more than 40 local past and present radio stars—and some who made the transition to TV—converge on the Buggy Whip Restaurant to swap stories and mingle. “[Legends] is mostly a social group,” says president Walt Shaw, the public affairs director for Sacramento’s CBS radio stations. Founded in 2001 by radio personalities Maxine Carlin, Joyce Krieg, Harry Warren and Charlie Duncan, the group is keeping the glory days of the airwaves alive. At any given meeting, member Mike Boyd (KCRA 3) might tell war stories from his days as a TV crime reporter or Krieg may recount her experience as the first female radio announcer on KFBK. Age isn’t a requirement for membership: The group is open to budding broadcasters who may not have 20-plus years of experience in the field but want to. That’s how Legends live on.

• Best Creative Convergence: Artisan Building
Housing an art gallery, cafe, concert hall and theater, the Artisan Building on Del Paso Boulevard serves a multitude of needs. The space comes alive during concerts, plays and Second Saturday receptions. When there’s a performance in the theater or the concert hall, the gallery and cafe are open. Likewise, on Second Saturday, patrons can look forward to shows in the concert hall and theater and seek refreshments at the cafe. Since 2004, the building has been owned by Capital City Church International, a nondenominational Christian church. (The concert hall doubles as a meeting place on Sunday for worshippers.) “Our philosophy is ‘the more, the better,’” says curator Terry Flowers, who plans to introduce after-school music, art and storytelling programs for children and life-skills classes for adults. Look for local musical entertainment Saturday nights at the cafe, and check out caferefugio.com for a list of events and movie nights. (1901 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento; 916-929-9900)

• Best Example of Embracing Change: Mike Farrell and Tatiana LaTour of Daisy Spot

At one time they were a twosome in music—he on guitar, she on vocals, both sharing songwriting duties—and in life. Mike Farrell and Tatiana LaTour’s romance cooled but a beautiful friendship remained. As their relationship changed, so did their band. Daisy Spot, whose music has been described as psychedelic pop with a bossa nova twist, started as a duo and went through various rhythm sections in the ‘90s. In 2000, Tatiana’s husband, Brian, joined the group as its bass player, and in 2003, Alex Jenkins joined them on drums. In 2005, Farrell was inducted into the SAMMIES (Sacramento Area Music Awards) Hall of Fame. At this year’s SAMMIES, LaTour nabbed Best Female Vocalist—her second; she also won the accolade in 1997—and Daisy Spot’s self-titled CD won Best Local CD. Spot the band around town playing at Old Ironsides, Harlow’s, Fox & Goose and Marilyn’s.

• Best Food Dude on the Tube: Guy Fieri
Winning Food Network’s “The Next Food Network Star” this past season netted Guy Fieri a six-week stint with his own show: “Guy’s Big Bite.” Next came “Gotta Get It,” also on the Food Network, and more episodes of “Guy’s Big Bite” are coming soon. Fieri’s also hosting “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” a special airing Nov. 4. This spiky-haired, bowling shirt-attired, armband-wearing chef, whose creations include Bloody Mary Steak, may look like all fun and games, but the “guy” is serious about what he’s dishing out. Fieri co-owns four restaurants in Northern California, including Tex Wasabi’s Rock-N-Roll Sushi-BBQ at the corner of Arden Way and Howe Avenue in Sacramento. “All my food styles are pretty eccentric, pretty wild, pretty out of bounds,” Fieri says. “It’s big, bold, in-your-face flavor.” You could say he’s “on like Donkey Kong,” a “Guyism” meaning “ready to get it going, grab the hammer, jump over barrels, save the girl. It’s go time.”

• Best Campus Crooners: Sacramento State Jazz Singers and C-Sus
Sacramento State is seeing double. Both its Sac State Jazz Singers and songbirds C-Sus (pronounced “SEE-suss,” after a familiar jazz chord—and, not coincidentally, the initials of the school) were named Best Collegiate Vocal Jazz Ensembles in the United States and Canada in the June 2006 issue of DownBeat magazine, considered the premier jazz rag for devotees. The coed groups of eight singers each are part of Sac State music department’s Jazz Studies program and are students of Professor Kerry Marsh, a musician and contemporary-jazz enthusiast. The groups’ sounds, according to music department chair Dr. Ernie Hills, are “unique and more like instrumental jazz than pop”—a style that clearly stood out to the judges of DownBeat’s annual collegiate jazz competition. “[Marsh] is a fantastic arranger,” Hills says, and, after only three years on the job, “he’s created quite a stir.”

• Best Beatkeepers: Fenix
The name says it all. This African drumming and dance group— pronounced “phoenix”—has certainly been reborn. In fact, it has birth to thank for many of its second- and third-generation members. “My daughter and I used to get together with other pairs of mothers and daughters to practice [drumming] and socialize,” says Angela James, a founding member and mother of Olivia, a Fenix drummer, and grandmother of dancers Jordan and Jenice. “We’re a very versatile group of people—multigenerational and multiethnic.” What began as an informal play group called the Umoja Sisters became the Fenix of today when it merged with the junior dance company Kucheza Kids. Now nearly 20 members strong, Fenix has performed African drumming, dance and storytelling at the Sacramento Public Library, school assemblies, private parties and the World Peace Conference. “This is the new Fenix,” James says. “We finally said, ‘Let’s get on with it’ and moved into the 21st century.”

• Best Doggone Digs: Wag Hotels
The circular driveway in front of the Wag Hotels’ entrance—reminiscent of a luxury hotel—sets the stage. Upon arrival at Wag Hotels in West Sacramento, you soon realize Fido and Miss Kitty ain’t going to no boring old kennel. Oh, no. There’s not a bad room at this inn. The cat wing comes complete with a huge aquarium in the center for feline entertainment; two-story cat condos have a separate area for food and litter box. No one will have a bone to pick with the dogs’ accommodations, either. Upgrade your dog to a suite and he gets a window, raised bed, doggy-inspired artwork on colorfully painted walls and a television. Mom and Dad can watch their beloved bowwow via a “wagcam.” Play-group sessions for dogs and kitty cuddle time happen daily. What more could you ask for? A spa? Wag offers it. Choose from facials, massages and aromatherapy, paw pad rubs and more. We have only one question: Can humans check in, too?  Prices range from $17 to $65 per day for boarding. Spa, day care and other services are extra. (1759 Enterprise Blvd., West Sacramento; 916-373-0300; waghotels.com)

• Best Comeback Kid: Harry Luong

This past December, Harry Luong, owner of Harry’s Cafe in downtown Sacramento, scalded himself when he dropped a pot of boiling chicken broth. Suffering from second- and third-degree burns, he was forced to close the doors to his eatery, which serves Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine (his vegetarian spring rolls are sublime) along with burgers, smoothies and “American-style” breakfasts, for two months. With massive bills and a lien against his house, Luong reopened the restaurant in late February, before he had fully recovered. Luong needs the money, so he works hard, often putting in 16-hour days, seven days a week. (2026 16th St., Sacramento; 916-448-0088)

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