Local residents once again have cast their votes in The Herald-Palladium’s annual Readers’ Choice survey, chosing the best of the best in Southwest Michigan.
This year’s survey asked people to name their favorite places for everything from food to furniture as well as their favorites in a variety of other categories.
For the third year in a row, voters submitted their choices online via computer, tablets and smartphones.
More people than ever participated in this year’s survey – 5,269 voters (up from 3,952 last year) cast 137,553 votes (up from 92,042 last year).
Silver Beach Pizza topped not only the Best Pizza category, but also the Best Local Bartender category, with Brent Prillwitz getting the most votes of this year’s finalists.
Prillwitz said he became a bartender almost by chance when he was looking for a job in 2005.
“I applied even though I had no experience,” he said. “I learned together with the customers. I didn’t realize I was going to love it. I knew how to pour a beer and that was about it. I asked others for advice and taught myself.”
He sees the job of being a bartender as similar to the old “Cheers” TV show.
“People want to feel like it’s their home away from home, and that’s our goal,” he said. “People need someone to vent to, someone who will listen. That’s one of the things I love about the job. We have phenomenal customers, and with a lot of the regulars, I know their names and their drinks and hand them their drinks when they come in.”
Silver Beach co-owner Jay Costas credited the restaurant’s perennial wins to good customer service and creating a place where people want to go.
“Our biggest desire when we opened was that we became a place locals liked to go to,” he said. “We get customers from all over, really; some are vacationing here and we have people drive from South Bend, Kalamazoo and Illinois.”
La Perla Produce on Pipestone Road in Benton Harbor was voted Best Mexican Restaurant. The restaurant has been in its current location since 2006, and was recognized by readers at least once before.
Owners Octaviano and Raquel Blanco opened the store on East Napier in 1999, and have plans to open another market and deli in Sister Lakes.
Their son, Israel Blanco, credited their success to using high-quality ingredients and good customer service.
“We believe in good authentic food with authentic and quality ingredients,” he said. “We offer everything from tacos and burritos to Mexican sandwiches and other traditional Mexican dishes.”
He said they have people from all over coming to eat at the restaurant.
“We have people from everywhere, including migrant workers from Mexico and Florida and people from Chicago to Detroit,” Israel Blanco said. “We have some who come all the way from Detroit for our tacos and menudo ‘Mexican tripe’ soup. We had one customer bring a visitor from England twice a day.”
Coach’s Bar & Grill in Stevensville was selected as the best place for Family-Style Dining. They also were recognized as best Local Sports Bar.
Kitchen manager Chris Brinkman said the restaurant is known for its seating and its sports bar.
“We primarily get locals from the Lakeshore school district but also get tourists and people from other parts of the area,” he said. “We do emphasize customer service and high-quality products and the family atmosphere. We know a lot of customers by name.”
The restaurant’s specialties include smoked meats, sausages, and chicken and beef dishes, as well as promotions like the “12 Beers of Christmas.” One of their signature dishes is the “Thunder Six,” which is an eggroll-style dish with chicken, jalapenos and four types of cheese wrapped in a tortilla and deep fried.
In other categories, Honor Credit Union once again was chosen by voters as the best Local Bank/Credit Union. Honor has nine locations in Southwest Michigan and has been part of the community since 1934, originally formed to serve the financial needs of teachers. They have been, and continue to be, active in support of educational and other programs in the community.
President Scott McFarland called it “truly the greatest honor” to be chosen.
“The Honor team shows up everyday for our members,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. When our members succeed, we succeed. The Readers’ Choice embodies the voice of our members’ community, and we are proud and humbled to have been nominated as the best local credit union in Michigan’s Great Southwest.”
Schroeder Furniture in St. Joseph was recognized as the best Local Furniture Store by readers. Owner Dawn Schroeder said the store will be celebrating its 45th anniversary next year, and also was recognized by HP readers in the past. Customers come from all over the area, and as far away as Chicago, South Bend, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.
“We have a good selection of brands, and it’s also about our quality and our customer service, we try to stay up with trends,” she said. “We offer something for the whole home, including brands like Serta, Bassett, FlexSteel, La-Z-Boy and Daniel’s Amish bedroom and dining.”
Hudak Chiropractic in St. Joseph topped the Best Chiropractor category this year. Drs. Eric and Heather Hudak took over the practice in 2003 from his father, who had served the area since the early 1970s. Heather Hudak said their patients come from throughout Berrien County, although most are from the Twin Cities.
“It’s fun to know we’ve won, it’s nice to be recognized,” she said. “We have another part-time doctor and three massage therapists. We’ve started to do things outside the chiropractic box, including sports rehabilitation physical therapy, massage, sound machine and cold laser healing.
“Our goal is to help people of all ages, from infants to the elderly, with whatever care they need,” she added. “It’s definitely more than back problems, it’s about effectively treating and managing pain and maintaining optimal health and promoting a healthy nervous system.”
She credits their success to having established patients and word of mouth advertising.
“We have amazing patients, and good relationships with them. They are like an extension of our family,” she said. “They recognize we’re there to help them and to give them the tools they need.”
Sarett Nature Center was once again chosen as the best place for Local Hiking Trails. Naturalist Carolyn Sundquist said the center offers people the choice of 8 miles of trails in a variety of terrains and levels of difficulty – ranging from easy to moderate to slight elevations. Trails are open throughout the year, including for cross country skiing in the winter.
“We have a big variety, from upland and forest areas to wetlands and the flood plain with the boardwalk leading to the Paw Paw River,” she said. “People can walk through prairies, forests, rolling meadows and wetlands. We have a walk through the fen where people can see endangered and threatened species, as well as a handicapped accessible treetop walkway overlooking the river valley.
“It’s great to be recognized; there are so many great hiking areas in the county,” she said. “We serve mostly Berrien County, but also people from the South Haven area and second home residents from Chicago. We host school groups from throughout Southwest Michigan.”