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It doesn't get any better than this 

Readers pick the Best of Arkansas. 

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Arkansas Times readers (and a few ringers, more about which in a minute) have spoken.

This week, we announce the winners of our annual Best of Arkansas contest.

It's a simple business. We publish ballots in two issues of the Times. The ballots cover dozens of categories, from goods and services to personalities to food.

Then a battle-tested group counts the thousands of votes that are submitted. In the process, many ballots are tossed. We discourage multiple entries and ballot box-stuffing schemes, and when they are detected, our judges can be ruthless. No doubt, a few still slip by. Try as we might to discourage the practice, we're sure some ballots have been distributed to people who are not normally readers. We ruthlessly pitch out ballots when we sniff foul play and employ other means to beat ballot riggers.

To those who might have evaded our net, we invoke the immortal words of our fourth-grade teacher: "Cheaters just cheat themselves. What's a good grade worth if you get it by cheating?"

Many of the winners are familiar. But, as you'll see, the old order changed dramatically in some categories. On with the results, with the annual reminder that even an honorable mention is very honorable indeed:

 

- GOODS AND SERVICES -

SHOPPING CENTER

PARK PLAZA. The handy, still shiny and easy-to-use upscale mall remains an easy winner over a much larger competitor in North Little Rock, even as it tries to scuttle a potential new challenger in the planned Summit Mall.

RUNNERS-UP: McCain Mall, the Heights, the Wal-Mart/Sam's combo on Bowman Road.

GROCERY

KROGER (chain) and BRANNON'S MARKET (independent). The market leader, with its numerous stores, was a runaway winner overall, but a new face emerged on top in the independent category, Chenal Valley's fancy foods stop, with its vast selection of freshly baked goods, fancy cheeses, gourmet-to-go, specialty meat and seafood and packaged luxuries.

RUNNERS-UP: Hestand's in the Heights, Beans, Terry's.

ANTIQUES

FABULOUS FINDS. Fans of the collection of individual antique dealers weren't deterred by the old favorite's move to a new location on Cantrell Road. It still finished well in front of the pack.

RUNNERS-UP: Morris Antiques of Keo, Lady I's Specialty Shoppe, I-40 Antique Center.

FURNITURE

HAVERTY'S. Always a bridesmaid in previous years, the Little Rock outlet of an old-line national chain edged out Little Rock's big independent this year for the first time.

RUNNERS-UP: Brandon House, Hank's, Nichols Furniture.

RECORDS

BEST BUY. Yeah, yeah. What are records? The voters knew what we meant. And most of them still favor the big selection at the big box.

RUNNERS-UP: Barnes and Noble, Been Around Records, Hastings Books, Music and Video of Conway.

SHOES

DILLARD'S. The department store chain with its vast inventory (sometimes even on sale these days) is a comfortable winner again, but our second-place finisher showed a strong and loyal following.

RUNNERS-UP: Shoe Connection, Payless Shoesource, Shoe Carnival of North Little Rock.

VIDEO STORE

BLOCKBUSTER. Yawn. The megachain posts another easy victory, with a locally owned chain of friendly neighborhood stores coming next.

RUNNERS-UP: Family Video, Hollywood Video, Hastings Books, Music and Video of Conway.

BOOKS

BARNES AND NOBLE. Bigger is better again in books, or so the voters say. But we dare say the huge following of a small independent would argue to the last volume of Trollope on that.

RUNNERS-UP: Wordsworth, Books-a-Million, Waldenbooks.

WOMEN'S CLOTHING

DILLARD'S. There's a reason major department store chains won't venture into Little Rock to compete with this home-grown chain. It would take a huge investment to match the inventory of this deeply entrenched and hugely popular retailer.

RUNNERS-UP: Elle, New Traditions, B. Barnett.

MEN'S CLOTHING

DILLARD'S. Another year and another trifecta for the department store in our clothing and shoes categories. Again, however, some niche retailers enjoyed strong followings. But they couldn't beat the mass market appeal of Dillard's value-priced labels.

RUNNERS-UP: Bauman's, Mr. Wicks, Greenhaw's.

VINTAGE/RESALE

PRIVATE COLLECTIONS. A repeat win for this west Little Rock store, but we were interested by the growing number of competitors in this category. Smart shoppers? Or tougher times? Good news either way for the hand-me-along retailers.

RUNNERS-UP: Poor Little Rich Girl, Pass It On, Savers.

CHILDREN'S CLOTHING

GAP. Another familiar winner in our annual contest, with its line of serviceable, yet chic, line of affordable, trendy kidswear.

RUNNERS-UP: Toggery, Dillard's, Target.

ELECTRONICS

BEST BUY. If it's not one big box, it's another, or maybe a smaller old-line purveyor of electronic goods. But the winner's margin was huge.

RUNNERS-UP: Circuit City, Radio Shack, Custom Audio.

LINGERIE

VICTORIA'S SECRET. A hometown favorite always makes a strong showing in this category, but the winner's clout, built on high-profile mall locations and ubiquitous catalogues, seems to be growing.

RUNNERS-UP: Barbara Graves, Understatement, Romantic Nights Lingerie.

SPORTING GOODS

SPORTS AUTHORITY. Having something for everybody, from duck hunter to basketball player, makes this big store a wonderland for the sports-crazed.

RUNNERS-UP: Gene Lockwood's, Sportstop, Take a Hike.

TOYS

TOYS R US. The national retailer outpoints the field by a huge margin, but if you want a choice smaller selection with personal service, a number of readers point the way to an alternative.

RUNNERS-UP: Heights Toy Center, Zany Brainy, K B Toy.

FLORIST

TIPTON AND HURST. We apparently aren't the only people enamored of the huge cooler of lush cut flowers, the gift accessories and the ease of remembering that anniversary at the last minute and calling in a charge-account order to save the day.

RUNNERS-UP: Mille Fleur, Cabot Florist, Floral Express.

OFFICE SUPPLIES

OFFICE DEPOT. The market is full of national retailers aimed at this niche, along with some venerable independents, but the big Depot is the runaway winner, in part thanks to more locations.

RUNNERS-UP: Staples, Office Max, Shepherd's.

VETERINARIAN

HILLCREST ANIMAL HOSPITAL. Another perennial winner finishes on top again. It so happens it has many vets, a huge clientele and sits in the midst of serious pet country.

RUNNERS-UP: Bellevue Animal Clinic, Earl Smith, Hartford Hamilton.

DRY CLEANER

COMET. A well-established brand name with multiple locations and a reputation for specials help Comet to another win.

RUNNERS-UP: Cuffs, Schickel's, Max Cleaners.

BANK

METROPOLITAN NATIONAL BANK. A repeat win for a bank that has, from the beginning, made local roots its leading selling point. But it was a tight race with another local independent and strong showings were posted across the board by the crop of new operators that have opened as the biggest banks have merged farther and farther upstream.

RUNNERS-UP: Pulaski Bank, Regions Bank, Superior Federal Bank.

DAY CARE

LA PETITE ACADEMY. A new champion this year. It provides services for kids 6 weeks to 12 years at four locations.

RUNNERS-UP: Kidco, First United Methodist Church Child Development Center.

BARBER

JERRY'S For a while there, as the votes trickled in, we thought our repeat winner (and, yes, our personal barber) might be dethroned. But like the military ballots in Florida, the last-minute vote gave Jerry's another narrow victory. In a changing world, an old-fashioned barber shop with a lollipop for the tykes and a stack of manly magazines is no small luxury.

RUNNERS-UP: Morrison's, Supercuts, US Male Female Hairstyling Center.

BEAUTY SALON

GRADY SMITH SALON. Somebody's always opening another salon in the Heights or Hillcrest, but Grady Smith snips on, still popular after all these decades.

RUNNERS-UP: Shampoo, A Cut Above, Joel's.

JEWELER

MARY HEALEY. At the sign of the Rolex in the Heights, you'll find Mary and sparklers to suit almost every taste and pocketbook.

RUNNERS-UP: Sissy's Log Cabin of Pine Bluff, Stanley Jewelers Gemologist, Roberson's Fine Jewelry and Watches.

PHARMACY

WALGREEN. We love Walgreen for lots of reasons. But it also has a busy pharmacy, some open 24 hours and on holidays, which is worth something to our readers. Among the honorable mentions, we note strong showings by some independent druggists.

RUNNERS-UP: Kroger, USA Drug, Wal-Mart, Market Place Pharmacy, Smith's Country Club Drug Store.

CAR WASH

BEST CAR WASH. Now that the west Little Rock megawash has acquired the Broadway Car Wash downtown, its popularity quotient has reached even greater heights. But some others have their fans, too, including ones where you do the washing.

RUNNERS-UP: Auto Magic, Razorback Car Wash, Splash Time Car Wash.

MATTRESS

BEDDING OUTLET. A category once dominated by major furniture retailers is coming to be dominated by specialty retailers with one product to sell, but major furniture stores are still big players.

RUNNERS-UP: Denver Mattress Co., Brandon House, Haverty's.

AUTO DEALER

LANDERS. The superstore-style dealership groups dominate the industry nationally and the Little Rock area is no exception, where Leslie Basham's bosses and their acres of autos were back on top.

RUNNERS-UP: Bale Chevrolet and Honda, Russell Chevrolet and Honda, North Point Automotive.

AUTO STEREO

BEST BUY. The voting was close, but the big box won yet another category in the end.

RUNNERS-UP: Auto Audio, Circuit City, AltaMere.

TRAVEL

WORLD WIDE. A trio of veteran travel experts again fought it out for the top spot and the biggest again finished on top in an exact repeat of last year's results.

RUNNERS-UP: Poe Travel, Goodwin Travel, Sue Smith Vacations.

HOTEL

CAPITAL HOTEL. The Stephens family's period jewel box is the winner again, but the judges note a surge of popularity for a western Little Rock hotel known for its free breakfast, not to mention beingtout suite.

RUNNERS-UP: Embassy Suites, Excelsior, Doubletree.

PRIVATE SCHOOL

CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL FOR BOYS. A fitting tribute is another win for the school identified so long with its unique rector, Msgr. George Tribou, who died this year. Coming up strong is a school with a striking new campus on Cantrell Road.

RUNNERS-UP: Cathedral School, Pulaski Academy, Mount St. Mary Academy.

PUBLIC SCHOOL

CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL. Little Rock's historic landmark is also a state landmark for the number and quality of college-bound scholars it produces. Thus, another big win, despite the recent black eye over strained eligibility rules for athletes.

RUNNERS-UP: Parkview Arts and Science Magnet, Baker Elementary, Forest Park Primary.

HAVE A BABY

BAPTIST HEALTH. The state's largest hospital group scores another win. Given insurance requirements and other realities, it is not actually a decision for which many choices are possible. Though several voters touted Birth Works, a midwife-assisted home birth option.

RUNNER-UP: St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center.

APARTMENTS

RIVER PARK. A couple of pools, plenty of up-and-comers and a view of the riverside bluffs are lures for this Riverdale-area winner.

RUNNERS-UP: The Links at Sherwood, Chenal Lakes Apartments, Sturbridge Apartments.

MASSAGE

REJUVENATION CLINIC AND DAY SPA. With more to offer than the soothing hands of massage therapists, Rejuvenation is a repeat winner.

RUNNERS-UP: Mary Alexander, Caracalla Body Spa and Hair Salon, Touching America.

PET SUPPLIES

PETSMART. Grab your pooch and jog on by. Just about everybody else does.

RUNNERS-UP: Premium Pet Products, Petz Pets.

GARDEN STORE/NURSERY

HOME DEPOT. Well, it happened. After five years of steady gains, a big national chain store beat out the previously victorious local independents. Inventory and discounting are two formidable competitive advantages.

RUNNERS-UP: Cantrell Gardens, Hocott's, Lakewood Gardens.

HARDWARE

HOME DEPOT. See commentary immediately preceding. A sentimental favorite of ours, an old-fashioned family-owned hardware store with help never too busy to provide counsel, was finally beaten by the big box.

RUNNERS-UP: Kraftco, Fuller and Son, Besser Hardware.

COMPUTER

BEST BUY. Edged out of the top spot last year by a specialist, the town's volume electronics dealer regained its status as the market leader.

RUNNERS-UP: CompUSA, Gateway Country, Circuit City.

EYEWEAR

WAL-MART. Always low prices. Always. Need we say more?

RUNNERS-UP: Lenscrafters, Burrow-Mr. Frank's Optical, Witherspoon Optical Gallery.

FRESH VEGETABLES

RIVER MARKET. The summer version of the farmers market is a feast, from boutique Asian vegetables to artisan cheese to tomatoes in all their splotched, juicy homegrown glory. When it's rolling, can't nothing top it.

RUNNERS-UP: Beans, Terry's, Brannon's Market.

OUTDOOR GEAR

TAKE A HIKE. It has a rock-climber's grip on first in this category, with some strong local competitors.

RUNNERS-UP: Ozark Outdoor Supply, Gene Lockwood's, Sports Authority.

MUSIC EQUIPMENT

SIGLER MUSIC CENTER. The statewide group of stores moves into the spot vacated by the retirement of the picker's friend, Bob Boyd (who now works at Sigler).

RUNNERS-UP: Musicmakers, Bean Music, Dickson Music.

BIKES

CHAINWHEEL. The market's long-standing champ still wears the yellow jersey.

RUNNERS-UP: Bikeseller DotCom, Paul's Bicycle Shop, Arkansas Cycling and Fitness.

GUNS

MIDSOUTH GUNS AND AMMO. Alas, gun lovers, our winner is retiring from the business. Not to worry, though. Other armorers will take its place.

RUNNERS-UP: Fort Thompson Sporting Goods, Gunhill Gunsmithing, Southern Trading and Loan.

COMMERCIAL ART GALLERIES

RIVER MARKET ARTSPACE. It's a repeat win, by a hair, for the colorful anchor of the President Clinton Ave.-Cumberland intersection.

RUNNERS-UP: Heights Gallery, Cantrell Gallery, Blue Moon Gallery of Hot Springs.

CIGARS/TOBACCO

COSTELLO'S CIGARS. You can buy them, smoke them and even get a little fresh air with them out on the deck of this Riverdale club.

RUNNERS-UP: The Pipe and Tobacco Shop, Tobacco Superstores.

INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER

AOL. It was a close call, but the national giant edged out a popular local provider of Internet services.

RUNNERS-UP: Aristotle, Earthlink, Alltel.

REALTOR

JANET JONES. The familiar rainbow on a field of powder blue zooms in again at the head of the parade of local real estate agents.

RUNNERS-UP: McKay and Company, Real Estate Central, Rector-Phillips-Morse.

- RECREATION -

STATE PARK

PETIT JEAN. The views, the trails, the legend, the campgrounds. They combine to lure thousands of weekenders.

RUNNERS-UP: Pinnacle, Devil's Den, Mount Nebo.

SWIMMING POOL

WAR MEMORIAL. The city's fitness center is good for a dip indoor or out and has a swell spot for kiddies, too. All at a low cost.

RUNNERS-UP: Wild River Country, Little Rock Athletic Club, Little Rock Racquet Club.

SKINNY DIP

LAKE OUACHITA. It's big enough to offer remote spots for private moments; the same for our runner-up.

RUNNERS-UP: Greers Ferry Lake, Lake Maumelle (swimming of any sort is prohibited, but ...), Buffalo River.

WEEKEND GETAWAY

EUREKA SPRINGS. You can shop, you can eat, you can gawk at Victorian wonders, all in a very compact amount of Ozark space. It's the one special spot, despite a huge vote for a much more visited destination.

RUNNERS-UP: Hot Springs, Petit Jean, Greers Ferry Lake.

RESORT

RED APPLE INN. The Aromatique folks have brought this fabled spot back from the near dead. It's a first-class hotel, restaurant and base for golf, boating or just lying around.

RUNNERS-UP: Gaston's, Fairfield Bay, Mountain Harbor.

CAMPGROUND

PETIT JEAN. Not for nothing is this the state's favorite state park.

RUNNERS-UP: Devil's Den, Maumelle, KOA.

MARINA

MOUNTAIN HARBOR. Remember that lake with the good skinny-dipping? Here's the place to get the boat.

RUNNERS-UP: Jolly Roger's Marina, Heber Springs Marina, Lacey's Narrows Marina.

GOLF

CHENAL VALLEY COUNTRY CLUB (private) and REBSAMEN PARK (public). The former requires an expensive membership; the latter a reasonable greens fee, albeit higher since the riverside course was rebuilt in stunning fashion.

RUNNERS-UP: Diamante in Hot Springs Village, Greystone in Cabot, Pleasant Valley Country Club (private).

HEALTH CLUB

LITTLE ROCK ATHLETIC CLUB. Another year with a big win for LRAC and its fitness, swimming, tennis and related facilities.

RUNNERS-UP: War Memorial Fitness Center, Powerhouse Gym, Conway Regional Medical Center Fitness Center.

TENNIS

LITTLE ROCK ATHLETIC CLUB. As we said, an array of attractions for all kinds of jocks.

RUNNERS-UP: Little Rock Racquet Club, Walker Tennis Center, Burns Park.

BAND

THE ROCKETS. They win every year, in part because of determined, organized vote efforts. Are they paying street money to the preachers? Whatever, sharp retro rock has its fans.

RUNNERS-UP: Tragikly White, Boswells, 7-Toed Pete.

PLACE TO DANCE

DISCOVERY. They start late and rock until the wee hours at this club, which is gay-friendly but welcoming to night owls of all persuasions.

RUNNERS-UP: Electric Cowboy, Bobbisox, Cajun's.

LIVE MUSIC

JUANITA'S. There's lots of music in the river city, but nobody's brought bigger names or devoted more to developing a club scene worth the name than this South Main standby.

RUNNERS-UP: Cajun's Wharf, Vino's, Sticky Fingerz.

SINGLES BAR

CAJUN'S. The thrill is back at the Wharf and the bar is hopping, often to competent cover music, sometimes to bluesier roots tunes.

RUNNERS-UP: Flying Saucer, Bobbisox, Underground Pub.

GAY BAR

DISCOVERY. It is the beginning and end of the gay scene in Little Rock, so dominating is its history and scope.

RUNNERS-UP: Back Street, the Factory, the Aquarium.

AFTER MIDNIGHT

MIDTOWN BILLIARDS. Where do club workers go after they knock off? Try this South Main pool hall/tavern/greasyburgerjoint/raucous rockin' music club.

RUNNERS-UP: Discovery, Smitty's, Waffle House.

SHOOT POOL

SMITTY'S. An easy win for the Shackleford Road veteran.

RUNNERS-UP: Zack's, Cuzins, the Fox and Hound.

MOVIE

UA BRECKENRIDGE 12. Lots of screens, stadium seating and a still-new feel propel this one to the top again.

RUNNERS-UP: Cinema 150, Market Street Cinema, Riverdale.

MUSEUM

ARKANSAS ARTS CENTER. The temple that Townsend Wolfe built is a runaway, with its new galleries building a new generation of fans.

RUNNERS-UP: Museum of Discovery, Children's Museum, Central High School Museum Visitors Center.

SPORTS BAR

CUZINS SPORTS CAFE. Plenty of beer and plenty of televisions. Is there anything else you need?

RUNNERS-UP: Embassy Suites' Athletic Club, Smitty's, Zack's.

SPORTS TEAM

ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS. Somehow, the Hogs didn't win last year. Everything is back in order, even if the football Hogs are forsaking War Memorial Stadium.

RUNNERS-UP: Twisters, Arkansas Travelers, RiverBlades.

CONCERT VENUE

ALLTEL ARENA. The biggest hit so far has been the annual sellout for the Gaithers' gospel fest, but lots of other big names have hit town thanks to the Northside's big band box.

RUNNERS-UP: Riverfront Amphitheatre, Barton Coliseum, Robinson Center.

PERFORMING ARTS GROUP

ARKANSAS REPERTORY THEATRE. The Rep, under Robert Hupp's new leadership, is again the talk of the active arts.

RUNNERS-UP: Weekend Theater, Murry's Dinner Playhouse, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

PLACE TO GAMBLE

TUNICA and OAKLAWN PARK. The Mississippi casino scene, referred to generically as Tunica, got the most votes overall, but Hot Springs' race track narrowly won out over various individual casino competitors as the favorite gambling spot of our readers.

RUNNERS-UP: Grand, Lady Luck, Isle of Capri.

GAMBLING ESTABLISHMENT/FOOD

OAKLAWN PARK. Is it the corned beef? Or the big shrimp? Or the fat oysters? Or the fresh popcorn and peanuts in the shell?. Oh, whattheheck. Give us some of everything.

RUNNERS-UP: Grand, Isle of Capri, Gold Strike.

GAMBLING ESTABLISHMENT/ENTERTAINMENT

SAM'S TOWN. All the casinos get some big names, but this casino near Memphis seems to get more than its share.

RUNNERS-UP: Grand, Gold Strike, Isle of Capri.

- PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS -

PEOPLE WATCH

LITTLE ROCK NATIONAL AIRPORT. Sooner or later, everybody but the folks with private jets have to come through here.

RUNNERS-UP: Capital Bar, Doe's Eat Place, Riverfest.

ARTIST

JANE HANKINS. Whimsy wins out this year, where a lush impressionist once held sway. (But he's not far behind.)

RUNNERS-UP: Barry Thomas, Todd Crockett, Kevin Kresse.

PHOTOGRAPHER

DIXIE KNIGHT. A familiar face is back at the head of the shutterbug crowd.

RUNNERS-UP: Tim Schultz, Bob Ocken, LeMay Photography.

CITIZEN

WILLIE OATES. A citizen for all seasons, the Hat Lady and Razorback cheerleader of 50 years ago shows more energy than many people a third her age.

RUNNERS-UP: Jennings Osborne, Joe Ford, Charles Whiteside.

POLITICIAN

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE. Like it or lump it. He's the dominant player on Arkansas's stage, bar none.

RUNNERS-UP: U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder, Mark Pryor, Citizen Clinton.

ATHLETE

CEDRIC COBBS. If we know our Hog fans, Cedric will be a goat if he has a poor year. But for now ...

RUNNERS-UP: Joe Johnson, Derek Fisher, Jermaine Taylor.

NEIGHBORHOOD

THE HEIGHTS. In the Country Club area, they tear down houses that cost more than a good-sized tract home elsewhere to make way for McMansions. But small cottages still abound amid leafy, quiet streets near convenient, classy shopping.

RUNNERS-UP: Hillcrest, Chenal Valley, Lakewood.

EYESORE

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as are eyesores. We had no consensus winner, but lots of suggestions:

o Dillard's new computer building, a cinderblock pillbox hard up against Cantrell Road.

o The orange-barreled interstate highways.

o The governor's mobile mansion.

o The Clinton Library site.

o Asher Avenue.

o Alltel Arena.

o The Summit.

o The empty HQ.

LIBERAL

VIC SNYDER. It's a category most politicians would just as soon not win, but the picking was easy, as usual.

RUNNERS-UP: Rita Sklar, Rep. Jim Lendall, Brownie Ledbetter.

CONSERVATIVE

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE. He'll sometimes fool you with some downright populist governing, but, yep, this one's hard to quarrel with. We did have a lot of votes saying there was no such a thing as a good conservative, except, well, you know ...

RUNNERS-UP: Asa Hutchinson, Rex Nelson.

MALE SEX SYMBOL

DAVID BAZZEL. The bronzed fitness god, with his blinding smile, never seems to age. At least not to our voters.

RUNNERS-UP: Craig O'Neill (we swear), Cary Martin, Steve Powell.

FEMALE SEX SYMBOL

DAWN SCOTT. Her resurgence in this category is, undoubtedly, not a coincidence given developments in the TV competition.

RUNNERS-UP: Joan Early, Karen Fuller, Leslie Basham.

CHARITY

RACE FOR THE CURE. There's a religious fervor to support this fight against breast cancer, as evidenced in the huge crowds that participate each year. Our voting is similarly enthusiastic.

RUNNERS-UP: Pulaski County Humane Society, Arkansas Children's Hospital, United Way.

MEDIA

RADIO STATION

MAGIC 105. Classic rock and a dominant morning talk show make this the king of our hill once again.

RUNNERS-UP: Lick (KLEC), KUAR, KARN, KSSN.

TV STATION

CHANNEL 7. KATV has been hearing footsteps from the revived Channel 11 in newscast ratings, but there are 24 hours in a day and the longtime market leader retains an overwhelming margin in the overall popularity category with our readers.

RUNNERS-UP: KTHV-11, KARK-4, KLRT-16.

RADIO PERSONALITY

TOMMY SMITH. It would be easy to say "all titties all the time" is the story here, but The Outlaw's appeal is explained by more than his female-friendly sex ed chat. There's sports and grub and even an acute, if judiciously exercised, ear for politics.

RUNNERS-UP: Pat Lynch, Randy Rainwater, Bob Robbins.

TV WEATHER

ED BUCKNER. We hasten to note that our polls are not scientific, but Buckner's victory over the man long viewed as the franchise at Channel 7 probably tells you a little something about Channel 11's rise in the ratings. It is worth noting, however, that 7's potent combo of Perme and Brandt together constitute the largest vote bloc for one station.

RUNNERS-UP: Ned Perme, Barry Brandt, Mike Nicco.

TV NEWS/MALE

ANDY PEARSON. His familiar face remains a strong favorite, though 7's anchor has now been in the market long enough to show a significant gain over last year.

RUNNERS-UP: Cary Martin, Steve Barnes, B.J. Sams.

TV NEWS/FEMALE

DAWN SCOTT. Little Rock-reared Scott of Channel 11 rises to the top in a neck-and-neck vote after a steady climb against another Arkansas native with continuing high numbers.

RUNNERS-UP: Karen Fuller, Anne Jansen, Robyn Richardson.

TV SPORTS

CRAIG O'NEILL. Sneer if you want at the sometimes slapstick presentation of rubber-faced O'Neill, Channel 11's sports man. But he's bringing new viewers, the numbers indicate. And what, after all, is sports but entertainment? Much like the weather category, Channel 7's sports stars are a winning duo in combination, but not singularly this year.

RUNNERS-UP: Paul Eells, Steve Sullivan.

COLUMNIST

JOHN BRUMMETT. Arkansas's wandering newsman now calls Donrey Media's Capitol Bureau home. From there he contributes columns to several papers. If his visibility has been diminished by his departure from the Democrat-Gazette, it doesn't show in our poll, where he continues to enjoy a clear edge.

RUNNERS-UP: Paul Greenberg, Bob Lancaster, Max Brantley.

REPORTER

SCOTT CAIN. Light voting indicates that no reporters in Arkansas are in danger of spawning personality cults anytime soon. But the D-G's Razorback beat man is well known by many, as is the Times' Jill-of-all-trades.

RUNNERS-UP: Leslie Newell Peacock, Cynthia Howell, Max Brantley.

- CUISINE -

FRIES

MCDONALD'S. We wish they'd bring back the beef tallow, but these slender, crispy babies are still hard to beat.

RUNNERS-UP: Buffalo Grill, Faded Rose, Wendy's.

ONION RINGS

SONIC. The big drive-in chain works hard at doing these right and it shows in the voting. Not to mention in the pile of crisp onions the size of piston rings.

RUNNERS-UP: Clark's, Cotham's, Shorty Small's.

CHEESE DIP

MEXICO CHIQUITO. The second-oldest continuously operating Mexican restaurant in Little Rock scores a big win with its old-fashioned dip, the kind half of Arkansas grew up on.

RUNNERS-UP: Chili's, El Porton, Senor Tequila.

RIBS

CORKY'S. Consistent fall-off-the-bone tenderness counts for something, even if it's in a setting designed for national replication. Some of us like our 'cue funkier, but plenty like Corky's, thank you.

RUNNERS-UP: Sims, Whole Hog Cafe, Shorty Small's.

BEER/RESTAURANT

FLYING SAUCER. A thicket of beer taps, a multi-page brew menu, regular specials. They add up to heaven for hopheads.

RUNNERS-UP: Vino's, Shorty Small's, Cuzins.

WINE LIST

SPAULE. The Heights temple to haute American food has always been careful about its wine list, mostly a study in choice red, white and blue. Readers know it.

RUNNERS-UP: Ashley's, 1620, Olive Garden.

LIQUOR STORE

POPATOP. If you like narrow aisles, jumbled up cases of just about every conceivable wine or spirit and a refrigerated room with choice labels, this is your place.

RUNNERS-UP: Heights Fine Wine and Spirits, Grapevine, Colonial Bottle Shop.

MARGARITA

TIA'S. This category wasn't decided until the last ballot was counted, and it resolved a dead heat between a couple of chain eateries that pride themselves on a wide assortment of tangy, and potent, margaritas.

RUNNERS-UP: Cozymel's, Juanita's, El Porton.

BUSINESS LUNCH

CAPITAL HOTEL. You can do it simply, but nicely, in the Capital Bar, or with a great deal more starch and ceremony in Ashley's. Bring your credit card.

RUNNERS-UP: Dixie Cafe, Regas Grill, Trio's.

MILK SHAKE

PURPLE COW. This is another one of those categories where they might as well retire the trophy. We'd like one of those frosty metal canisters full of frozen ambrosia RIGHT NOW.

RUNNERS-UP: Sonic, Shakey's Frozen Custard, Baskin-Robbins.

VEGETARIAN

BEANS. You can buy raw ingredients, of course, at the popular health food grocery. But why bother, with a deli case crammed with healthful hot and ready-to-eat meals made mostly from stuff grown in the ground (or maybe milked).

RUNNERS-UP: Dixie Cafe, Star of India, Jason's Deli.

BREAD

BOULEVARD BREAD CO. Not yet a year old, this Heights-area bakery and gourmet food shop has risen faster than a batch of Martha White biscuits. There are many reasons: crusty artisanal breads in many varieties, gorgeous cheeses, and a nightly special that brings restaurant-quality food straight to your table with a minimum of fuss.

RUNNERS-UP: Old Mill, Community Bakery, Macaroni Grill.

CATERER

CATERING TO YOU. Focused now on catering and takeout, the Cantrell Road enterprise was a winner again, by the length of a celery stick.

RUNNERS-UP: Trio's, Simply the Best, RSVP.

OUTDOOR DINING

CAPERS. A busy highway isn't far away, but the terrace here still seems a tranquil sanctuary, the food as good as it is inside.

RUNNERS-UP: Trio's, Scallions, Pizza Cafe.

GOURMET TO GO

DIANE'S. The expanded premises now offer an assortment of breads from a famous California bakery, lots more space for rich casseroles and other heat-and-serve goodies, plus all the staple fancy stuff.

RUNNERS-UP: Catering to You, Phil's, Brannon's Market.

WEEKEND BRUNCH

ARLINGTON HOTEL. It is the setting, we'd guess, and the notion that you've really gotten away from it all, that helps propel this Hot Springs tradition to the top of a hotly contested list of brunchables.

RUNNERS-UP: Andre's, Ashley's, Loca Luna.

SALAD

U.S. PIZZA. Iceberg mounded with olives, mushrooms, cheese and a volcanic tide of ranch dressing. You could do it in your own home, but our voters flock to their handiest U.S. Pizza to do it. Often.

RUNNERS-UP: Trio's, Colton's, Faded Rose.

Winner

Sarah Mazander of Little Rock won $100 when her entry was chosen at random from all ballots submitted in the contest.

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