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Edited by Ann Christenson With Dawn Behr, Mindy Benham,  Kurt Chandler, Natalie Dorman, John Fennell, Charlene Mills, Kevin Miyazaki, Judith Ann Moriarty, Mary Van de Kamp Nohl, Jennifer Shernell and Mario Quadracci The few, the proud, the Best Ofs. It takes a lot of moxie to make our annual list of city wonders. Would a four-pound hamburger do? Sure. An odor-eating […]

Edited by Ann Christenson With Dawn Behr, Mindy Benham,  Kurt Chandler, Natalie Dorman, John Fennell, Charlene Mills, Kevin Miyazaki, Judith Ann Moriarty, Mary Van de Kamp Nohl, Jennifer Shernell and Mario Quadracci

The few, the proud, the Best Ofs. It takes a lot of moxie to make our annual list of city wonders. Would a four-pound hamburger do? Sure. An odor-eating toilet seat? We’ll take two. You’ll notice that with Best Of, we might be droll, we might be dry, we might be cheeky, but we’re always in earnest. Learn something new about the city you may think you already know everything about. The best part, though? When  you realize there’s always plenty more to learn.

Public Service Ambassador 

If you’ve spent any time at all Downtown, you’ve seen them: the friendly, fanny-packed uniforms chatting up the tourists – Milwaukee’s squad of Public Service Ambassadors. Every day, all year long, two dozen of these roving visitors bureaus scour the streets, on foot or on Treks. One of the best among this helpful lot is Tammy Johnson, a trim 41-year-old North Sider. In a prior life, Johnson talked to plants; today, she talks to an average of 30 strangers a day who need advice on restaurants, hotels, bus routes, museums. She’s donned a velvet cape and played a city-smart Mrs. Cratchit on the Jingle Bus, rescued baby geese stuck in a sewer drain and erased countless graffiti marks. Her can-do attitude rated Johnson the title of the city’s PSA of the Year. Says Johnson: “I’m really comfortable with this job.” Says supervisor Stephanie Vadnais: “Tammy’s our star PSA… she gives 110 percent.”

Biggest Burger

Four pounds of ground beef could make you salivate – or make you sick. Kelly’s Bleachers (5218 W. Blue Mound Rd.) serves a mammoth of a hamburger – a creation so disarmingly plump that upon seeing the leftovers in our office kitchen, one of our co-workers yowled, “It looks grotesque!” The cook will spend close to an hour on your size-more burger, which bakes in the oven for most of that time (picture a round meatloaf). Once it’s ready for (whole bottles of?) Heinz and French’s, your waitress will muscle your burger to you on a foil-wrapped pizza pan sprinkled with French fries. Clean your plate (ha!) and don’t pay a dime for your food. Otherwise, fork over $18.95 (plus 50 cents if you’d like to make this gut-buster a cheeseburger).

Hot Cocoa

We searched high and low (well, eight shops anyway) for the perfect hot cocoa. We finally found our little cup of heaven at The Chocolate Swan (13320 Watertown Plank Rd, Elm Grove). Hot milk is stirred into the Swan’s own blend of cocoa, sugar, vanilla and touch of cinnamon. Floating on top is a decadent dollop of fresh whipped cream. A 12-ounce cup is $1.50 if you dine in, $1.25 to go; $8 for a pound of dry mix.

Weirdest Ice Cream

The Chocolate Factory’s Blommer’s ice cream is ­vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. It’s also, on occasion, Jamaican jerk, wasabi, saffron, jalapeño and (swallow this!) garlic. These uncommon parlor flavors are the work of GM/Vice President Mike Toffler, who makes them more to get people figuring that the Factory is thinking outside the ice cream carton. Last August, he was tinkering with honey mustard. “I sold more jala-peño and garlic in Cedarburg than at any other location!” says Toffler, still a little mystified that it wasn’t the edgy East Side (seven locations).

Milkman

Will the jokes follow, too? The milk man is back, delivering half-gallon glass bottles of moo juice before the crack of dawn. If you live in Ozaukee, Washington or Waukesha counties and want to relive the nostalgia of fresh milk in the mornin’, LW Dairy will sign you on for before-you-rise home delivery. No, they won’t ring your doorbell. The delivery guy leaves your order in a ­cooler placed outside your house. Besides the fact that this product (bottled by Appleton’s Lamers Dairy) is pasteurized and BGH free, you’ll get it within 24 and 48 hours of milking. Add cream, butter, cheese, meats, pizzas and even tortillas to your order – they’ll haul those and more grocery items, most of them made by Wisconsin producers. Half-gallon milk jugs, from skim to whole to chocolate, run $1.85-$2.45 (www.lwdairy.com; 877-593-2479).

Irish Chocolate

Our favorite way to eat a square of solid dark chocolate whispering in Irish brogue – formally, an Irish cream meltaway – is to slip it on our tongue and just let it rest there. The warmth inside your mouth softens it slowly and evenly, so your teeth never have to work. This Calgon moment is brought to you by Kehr’s Kandy Kitchen (3533 W. Lisbon Ave.) and the County Clare gift shop (1234 N. Astor St.).

Margarita Deal

Forget the $6 show-offs in the fancy glasses. For cheapskates and purists, Taqueria Azteca (119 E. Oklahoma Ave.) offers the best Margarita in town. For $2 – heck, you can hardly find a beer for $2 – Taqueria serves the real thing: an 8-ounce ­Margarita (with fresh, hand-squeezed lime – no bottled stuff here). With or without salt, straight up or on the rocks, these lip-lickers are without peer.

Free Wine Tasting

…or Saturday afternoon ­leveler. At 1 p.m. sharp, a little crowd forms around the bar in the Grapes & Grain wine store tasting room (11301 N. Port Washington Rd. 13W, Mequon). Every week, five or six wines – reds and whites representing wildly different vineyards – are lined up on the bar for sampling (“Try Before You Buy” is what they call it). Nothing formal here – you can drift in and out. Here’s how your first taste works: A G&G employee grabs a full-size wine glass from behind the bar, pours about a quarter cup of, let’s say, bottle Number One and hands it over to you. You suck it dry and move on to Number Two. Then Three, Four, Five.… Now, what was Number One like again? Go back for another drop.

Decadent Mixed Drink

Enjoying that Manhattan in your hand? Good – a tumbler of hard liquor (bourbon with a splash of sweet vermouth and a couple of speared maraschino cherries over ice) can cost as much as a large pizza or three quarts of Rocky Road from Kopp’s. The smoothest Manhattan you’ll swallow is made with Jim Beam’s Basil Hayden bourbon. At Elsa’s (833 N. Jefferson St.), we’ve sucked down a velvety BH Manhattan for $15. At Metro Bar and Cafe (411 E. Mason St.), they’re a flavorful but still wallet-insulting $11.50.

Flea Market

Though a trek through the 500-vendor Elkhorn flea market may be exhausting, it’s worth it, say local experts, since it has all the attributes savvy searchers look for in a flea market, beyond great merchandise at fair prices (“Not a lot of junk here,” says a scout who hits most of the southeastern Wisconsin markets, plus some in Illinois). You’ll find ample free parking; a “laid-back” atmosphere; clean, stocked restrooms; good food; choice plants and veggies; and a fairgrounds that doesn’t turn into a mud pit when it rains. May, August and September 29, Walworth County Fairgrounds, 7 a.m.-3 p.m., $3.

Remedy for “Plumber’s Butt”

“Cracked” too many smiles as you’re bending over to fix the sink? The cure is a Wisconsin-made Longtail T. Three inches longer than most Ts, this preshrunk cotton shirt stays well-tucked, ensuring that your lower cleavage remains well out of sight ($8.99; 800-505-8888; www.duluthtrading.com).

Renovation

What had been a run-down building on a dingy Downtown corner is now the spectacularly renovated Johnson Bank (333 E. Wisconsin Ave.). Eppstein Uhen Architects transformed the 133-year-old structure, built in the Second Empire style, into a graceful blend of old and new. Signature features of the building, once home to Reckmeyer Furs, include a five-story stairwell with original handrails and a skylight illuminating the top four floors. A conference room with an innovative glass ceiling and a facade that recreates the “spirit” of the original echo the past while speaking the language of today.

Reason for Hat Head

Even the most hard-headed kid needs a bike helmet. Children’s Hospital (9000 W. Wisconsin Ave.) sells top-brand helmets at a discount. Through its Trauma Injury Prevention Program, funded partly by the Safe Kids Coalition, the hospital sells Bell helmets for just $10 apiece (free to low-income families) at the emergency room desk. In sizes for toddlers to teens, the head gear comes in cool designs and colors that just might encourage kids to keep the lid on.

$129.95 Toilet Seat

Made in Milwaukee, the Whisper Fresh Odor Control Unit is equipped with an electronic sensor that triggers a near silent fan two seconds after “engagement.” A key element to this one-of-a-kind invention is the “100% pure carbon cloth filter” that “absorbs odors at the source.” Though our testers complained that the seat wasn’t very comfortable, the odoriferous scents once emanating from our on-site testing lab have indeed been minimized. Oh, the sweet smell of success. (Filter replacements, $19.95; batteries extra.) 866-513-7374.

Windows

It’s the can-do attitude at Lisbon Storm, Screen & Door (5006 W. Lisbon Ave.) that wins customers. Whether you’re searching for an impossibly rare deadbolt, replacing an odd-size window screen or shopping for a new set of Marvins, the staff at this hardware specialty shop is seldom stumped. Twin brothers Dave and Dan Wilhelm took over the family business four years ago, and business is good. So good, in fact, that the brothers are putting up a new warehouse and Home Depot is sending over customers hunting for those hard-to-find parts.

Car Wash

For those of you who coddle your cars, Full Service Car Wash (5410 S. 108th St., Hales Corners) is the deal of the day. At $10 (tax included) for the basic wash, white-coated attendants will vacuum the carpets and wipe down the dash before sending your dusty wheels through a soft-cloth wash and then hand-drying the exterior. And yes, they do windows, outside and in. The best thing, though, is the three-day rain check: If it dares to drizzle on your ride within three days of your wash, you can go back for a freebie.

Budget Halloween Costumes

What’s a ghoul to do when she wants to rent a fashionable costume and still have money left to buy candy for the kiddies? She (he or Cousin It) heads over to Marge’s Costume Shop (6300 W. Greenfield Ave.). Prices start at $25 for a convict costume to $100 for a sumo wrestler. Check out our favorite – “Strawberry Shortcake” (with dress and floppy hat, it’s just like the doll; $35). A large variety of costumes are in the $30 to $50 range, wig included for some (usually an extra charge in other shops we visited). The lenient rental policy (about three days) and affordable deposit fee ($25) make this costume shop the best boo for your buck.

Mountain Biking

The undisputed choice is the John Muir Trail in Southern Kettle Moraine, just north of LaGrange on Highway H (open daily 6 a.m.-11 p.m.; 262-594-6200). With five loops, ­including the 10-mile outer loop and the less difficult and shorter inner loops, there is off-road excitement for beginners and advanced alike. Hop on the two-way Connector Trail to the nearby Emma Carlin Trails and you can cover 24 miles.

Turkey Hunting

It’s big bird vs. Bambi. The number of turkey hunting permits has risen from 1,200 in 1983 to more than 230,000 this year. The best nearby public hunting land is in Southern Kettle Moraine, in areas with mature oak forests bordered by open fields. The closest and best fields, says DNR wildlife biologist Jim Jackley, include: 1. an area near LaGrange bounded by Highway 12 on the south, Highway H on the east, Duffin ­Drive on the west and Bluff Road on the north; 2. further west, with Highway 12 on the south, Duffin Drive on the east, Sweno Road on the west and Big Spring Road on the north.

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Hiking Trails

Close: Loew Lake Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Feel like you’re three hours instead of 30 minutes from the city. At one moment, you’re following the Oconomowoc River or in dense forest, the next in a field of wildflowers. Midway, look for a wonderful spring. Park where Highways Q and K meet.

Far: Parnell Tower Trail. Follow the 3.5-mile Tower Trail, climb the tower and see one of the most striking groups of Moulin kames (ridges formed by glaciers) in the world. For the adventurous, the nearby Parnell segment of the Ice Age Trail is a 13-mile hike over some of Wisconsin’s most spectacular landscape. For maps, call 278-8518.

Muskie Fishing

In a sport where seeing a muskie follow your bait to the boat is “a good day” – and it can take 10,000 casts to actually catch a fish – it pays to know where the state’s best fishing holes are. “You’ll have the best chance, by far, of catching a muskie on Pewaukee Lake,” says 35-year fishing veteran “Muskie” Mike Kitchen (of Mike’s Sport Shop in Okauchee). But if you’re after one of the handful of 45-inch-plus trophy muskies pulled out of state lakes each year, spend a few days fishing Okauchee and Oconomowoc lakes, too, he says. You’ll have a better chance of reeling in a big one “than if you drive all the way up to Hayward,” says Kitchen. “We’re lucky to have great muskie fishing 30 minutes from our front door,” agrees New Berlin’s Greg Rubin, president of the Muskellunge Club of Wisconsin.

Place to Watch Ahman

If you can find them, Packers tickets can cost in excess of $200 a pop. Factor in the ­drive, the cold, the hard seats and limited beer selection and a game at Lambeau Field is, well, still the ultimate football experience. But the Tosa art-house movie theater, Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse (6823 W. North Ave.), offers a ticket that’s a distant second. Up on the big screen, you can see every tick of satisfaction on Favre’s face when we whup the Bears. Complete with cushy velvet couches, a nice selection of craft beers and wine, gourmet pizzas and heat, The Rosebud smashes the taboo of Packers fanfare laced with luxury.

Treat for a Sketch Pad

Drawing the nude model is a life-long habit for many artists, amateurs and hopefuls. While there are many options in town – from local colleges to private studios – ­Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (273 E. Erie St., third floor) is tops. For $6, draw from two different models (long and short poses) every Tuesday from 7-10 p.m. Commit for the semester, 14 weeks, and pay only $60.

Room with a View (women’s)

Hey, ladies, between sips of your martini at Blu (top floor of the Pfister, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave.), sneak off to the little girls’ room. Inside, a wall of windows will reward you with a sparkling look at Downtown and the river. Sorry, guys, you were left out of this architectural decision.

Room with a View (men’s)

The men’s room at The Garage (1701 N. Arlington Pl.) may be the only graffiti-free bar bathroom in town. Even if you had a Sharpie handy, your time is better spent keeping cocktail surveillance through the one-way glass window mounted, well, at viewing height. Patrons on the outside see a mirror; patrons on the inside stand, take it all in and, ahem, let it all out.

 Incentive to Go Away

Retired 55-year-old Cobalt CEO Thomas Hefty may have laughed all the way to the bank when he left recently with nearly $15 million in stock and parting payoffs [according to the Journal Sentinel’s Spivak and Bice], but shareholders didn’t – the company lost $82 million in the two years preceding the second quarter. Locally, only recently retired WE Energies Vice Chairman George E. Wardeberg got that much to go (he netted $5.3 million when he sold slightly more than a third of his 549,930 WE shares). Now, if someone would like us to shut up and go away.…

Bull Pen Pitcher

Former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske proved she’s the go-to gal when there’s a dustup on the mound. Not only did she bring back confidence in county government when former County Executive Tom Ament left under duress, she stepped in as acting dean of Marquette University Law School after Howard Eisenberg died suddenly. As any Major League coach will attest, a solid reliever in the bull pen is a valuable asset.

Way to Spice Up a Mass

Advocate the unexpected. That’s what Fr. Thomas Suriano, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, did when he called for an end of celibacy as a requirement for the priesthood to help root out pedophilia by the clergy. Expand the pool of possible priests, Suriano said, explaining that eliminating women cuts the number of candidates in half, requiring the church to be less choosy when filling posts. Suriano received two standing ovations. As one churchgoer said, “He’s named the larger issue.”

Cake

One day late last summer, we sat rubbing our bellies after a grueling attempt to name the best cake in Milwaukee. The ravaged battlefield, with its remains of five yellow cakes covered in buttercream frosting (or its nearest approximate), lay nearby. The winner by a tight margin – Bay Bakery (423 E. Silver Spring Dr.). This war of the cakes was far from easily won. A few judges are still reeling from the second-place finish of their first-place choice, Cake & Bake (W164 N11271 Squire Dr., Germantown). They might be planning a rematch.

Revived Ballroom

Maybe ghosts still lurk in the cracks of the creaky wood floor, but we don’t mind. The splendor of the second-floor Turner Hall ballroom (1034 N. Fourth St.) is peaking out from the ravages of a fire in 1933 as the hall is restored – a piece at a time. But maybe it’s the roughness that’s the appeal, like the bare light bulbs hanging over the middle of the hall, where you can almost hear the Big Band music playing on the slanted stage in the hall’s heyday. But new life has been creeping in since it reopened two years ago. There’ve been art shows and benefits and dances here, in spite of the damage – or perhaps because of it. Restorers ask only a modest $500 contribution toward the restoration for use of the hall (though they favor civic and artsy events), and the bare-bones space offers unlimited opportunities for the creative-minded event planner.

Masochistic Food

VERY SPICY (BEWARE!) Sakura’s menu is not coy about its warnings (6904 N. Santa Monica Blvd.). The Screaming Tuna Roll means danger, Will Robinson. This six-cut roll of seaweed wrapped around sushi rice, raw fish and chopped asparagus looks like it wouldn’t hurt a poor, defenseless tongue ($6.95). But between those innocent layers is a two-sided sword of sharp wasabi and hair-frying mustard. Open up, then hold on for dear life.

Quickest Pick-Up

No time, no patience. That’s when you need to eliminate rubbish suitors with a three-minute date. Fast Dater (www.fast dater.com) started in Chicago close to two years ago, has locations throughout the country and moved into our town last May. The process is simple: Fast Dater organizes parties at popular local bars – the Velvet Room, Joey Buona’s and Eve – for people 27 to 50. This is not a dating service, the company cautions. To get into a party at Eve, you sign up on the Web, supplying your home address, phone number and e-mail address, and then pay a $35 entrance fee when you get there. At the end of each 180-second date (you have a total of three dates), both participants mark a scorecard with a “yes” or “no.” Fast Dater then tabulates the score cords, matching the “yeses” and providing each with contact info. Once you have the names and phone numbers of people who showed interest in you, Fast Dater bows out and lets you follow your gut.

Open-air Art

Public art. The blaze-orange di Suvero, those monumental bronzes. Beasties galore. Love ’em, ­ignore ’em. Our vote’s for the excellent craftsmanship and brainy content in Joan Dobkin’s digitally produced installations – for example, her “Live for Less” on the face of Woodland Pattern Book Center. The UW-Milwaukee assistant graphic design ­professor continues her social concerns in five 8-by-12 panels – “Allocations (No More Tears)” – installed on the east wall of Prospect Avenue’s Kenilworth Building. We hesitate to call them murals because the computer-slick text and forceful images are more akin to informative billboards. Slow down, look left as you motor north on Milwaukee’s Gold Coast. Better yet, park and ponder. Funded by UWM’s Peck School of the Arts Faculty Development Grant, Dobkin’s provocative work is what the public actually deserves – and seldom gets.

Brewery Guide 

There are brewery guides, and then there’s Bob. A three-year veteran conducting Lakefront Brewery’s Friday fish fry tours and a brew buddy of the owners, Bob Freimuth puts his own sudsy spin on the history of beer (1872 N. Commerce St.). He talks about German peasants and British Colonial troops “getting pissed off” about bad beer. He demonstrates the purpose of BAFs (for the uninitiated: “big-ass filters”). And, unlike the slick-kid guides at the megabrewery down the street, he definitely knows sweetwort from sparg. The questions fly before, during and after the obligatory tasting (which, depending on his mood, can occur at any time during the hour-long tour). Answers, and little stories behind the answers, flow. For instance, there was the time when a “tree hugger” asked Bob what kind of wood was used in making the bungs (plugs) for the kegs. Stumped for once, Bob shrugged and came out with “bungwood.” Since most of us had had at least one foamy by then, it seemed entirely logical. Fridays, 6 and 7 p.m.

 

Footloose

Our favorite ways to feel 18 again – or 10, as the case may be.

  1. Entertainment Weekly recently called Pilates “so 5 minutes ago,” saying that the new way to fitness is adult gymnastics. The newly renovated Swiss Turners in West Allis is the only club in the area to offer classes for grown-ups – and you’re even likely to be taught by a former Olympian. Take an hour and a half out of your Saturday afternoon and you might find yourself cartwheeling with a 30-year-old and flipping with a 50-year-old whose skills range from novice to impressive. $185 for a 12-class session (321-4340; 2214 S. 116th St.; www.swissturners.com).
  1. You can stake out your place at the curb for Harley-Davidson’s 100-year anniversary on a rented hog. Better yet, get out of town for a few days. But be warned: It’ll cost ya. The best deal on rented bikes is at Hal’s Harley Davidson (1925 S. Moorland Rd.). A Sportster starts at $99 per day and $343 per week. The Big Twins (Electra Glide, Road King, Fatboy, Ultra Classic, Road Glide, Heritage Softail and Dyna Low Rider) are $139 a day and $623 a week. Wannabe bikers get 500 free miles each day, plus helmets and rain gear. Next stop, the tattoo parlor.
  1. Amateur drag racing at Great Lakes Dragaway is the best way to find out how fast your car goes – legally, anyway. For a $25 to $45 entry fee (most days it’s $25), you can burn rubber down the quarter-mile strip, then bring it around and do it again and again. Your car doesn’t have to be juiced up – you’ll see everything from GTOs to Jettas and Cadillacs. If your car is fast enough, you may need a helmet (or rent one there), though accidents are rare. What they call “fun racing” (and so do we) continues well into November every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and some Saturdays and Sundays. Four miles west of I-94 on KR (Kenosha/Racine border) in Union Grove (www.greatlakesdragaway.com).
  1. Ahh, kickball… that grade-school playground game where you prayed you wouldn’t be the last one picked. The opposing team would pitch the bouncy red ball across the pavement to you. “Slow and smooth,” you’d plead, hoping your foot could meet the ball and rocket it past the defenders. Adult Kickball was born when founder Joe Szatmary wanted to create a social opportunity with a touch of nostalgia that wouldn’t be as cutthroat as some softball or volleyball leagues out there. What started two years ago with six teams has grown to 124 teams and more than 2,100 members. Co-ed teams of 15 or more players (mostly in their 20s and 30s) play one night a week, and you must be at least 21 because there’s an important new element you didn’t get at recess – beer (www.musakickball.com).
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– Mindy Benham and Kurt Chandler

Place to Imitate Catherine Deneuve

On Wednesday afternoons from 12-2 p.m., it’s Casse-Croûte Français at Alliance Française de Milwaukee (1800 E. Capitol Dr.). Literally, the title means “French snack time.” For people who want to practice their French, it’s a great way to keep the tongue limber – plus it’s free. Bring a bite to eat or not. Stay half an hour or the full two. Clutch your dictionary or speak freely, and maybe brokenly, from the heart. All levels of aptitude welcome.

Classic Hardware

A great hardware store is a problem-solving place – you walk in, state your case and walk out with a little more knowledge than you had before (plus a tool or three). Crown Hardware & Plumbing Supply (2016 N. Martin Luther King Dr.), independently owned since 1957, is old-school problem-solving at its best. You’ll know because you can’t open the front door without hitting the backside of a plumber or contractor. It gets a little crowded in there, granted, what with the tiny aisles stacked high with hardware. If you want potted plants and home design magazines, go to the other place. If you want a hardware store’s hardware store, then you’re home.

Meister Brat

The search for the finest wurst.

Here a brat, there a brat, everywhere a brat, brat. The wurst that sends locals running for their buns is our sacred icon. Supermarkets have their Klem-ent’s and Johnsonvilles, and a ­butcher better watch his backside if he doesn’t make a sausage beginning with “b.” Okay, so we’ve identified the brat scope as massive – how do we go about singling out the best? By polling legions of brat eaters for suggestions, which were then assiduously scrutinized and whittled down to six finalists. For tasters, we went straight to the top, nabbing chefs Sandy D’Amato (Sanford), Mark ­Weber (Lake Park Bistro) and Tony Mandella (Mandella’s Cafe Siciliano). One afternoon back in July, the trio settled down to a blind brat feast right here in our office digs. For cooks, a crack team from Milwaukee Ale House manned the Webers outside. Judges also tasted the competing brats using the popular pre-grill beer soak, a flavor-masking method they universally voted down except when the sausage was too spicy. “If you’ve got a bad brat,” says D’Amato, “put it in beer.” Here are the results.

  1. (tie) Johnsonville and Klem-ent’s (purchased fresh at the plant, 2650 S. Chase Ave.): “I’m shocked. I thought I’d pick one of the smaller guys,” said Mandella after choosing Klement’s for the “texture of the grind and good snap.… It looks hand-crafted.” D’Amato’s top pick, Johnsonville, was “the most brat-like in my mind – great pork flavor.”
  2. Bavarian Meat & Sausage Shop (8310 W. Appleton Ave.): “The juiciest!” said Weber, who voted this baby number one, though the final number of votes pushed it into second. Mandella argued that his wurst needed salt, while D’Amato found his “slightly tough.”
  3. Usinger’s (1030 N. Old World Third St.): “A bit rubbery,” said Mandella. “Not much flavor” (though the other judges rated it higher on flavor and texture).
  4. (tie) Schwai’s (locations in Fredonia and near West Bend) and Burbach’s Market (5308 W. Hampton Ave.): “A brat ­isn’t a brat unless it’s a Schwai’s brat,” the Schwai’s counter guy boasted. Sorry, guy. All of the judges gave this one low marks, mostly for its heavy clove flavor. “Too strong for my taste,” said Weber. Dryness was one problem for Burbach’s brat; the other, D’Amato pointed out, was its sourness.

– Ann Christenson

Indian Summer Drink

In today’s Frappuccino and Macchiato world, the folks at Stone Creek Coffee (five locations) have found local talent in their cool drink, Cream City Ice ($2.45-$3.35). Company owner Eric Resch (not a boardroom of Seattle whiz kids) conceived of this delightful blend of ice, chocolate-covered espresso beans, ­honey and milk. The best part? The name isn’t just fluffed ice – it’s as refreshing and gritty as the city for which it’s named.

 Flexibility Test

It’s hard to pin down what Capoeira (Capo-WEAR-a) Angola is – and it was designed that way. In the 1600s, African slaves in Brazil disguised this martial art and dance as a playful game to hide from their captors its true strength. Today, people like Steve Antonson, of the Associacao de Capoeira Corpo e Movimento, work to preserve the tradition by teaching their students to sing the slave songs in Portuguese as they play one of five instruments. Music is an integral part of the art and provides the backdrop for the slow, fluid, rhythmic, low-to-the-ground movements that belie the capoeiristas’ strength. But keep watching. Their mix of handstands, backsprings and unusual splits and push-ups is a true display of agility, strength and strategy. And if you join Antonson’s classes at UWM or at the martial arts studio Alive & Kickin’ in Bay View, you’ll be tested, too.

Most Thorough Metal Detector

When it comes to tight security screening, nowhere in the city compares to the Federal Courthouse (517 E. Wisconsin Ave.). The teeth-clenching alarm of its metal detector is followed closely by a sound that causes clenching elsewhere – the snapping of a latex glove: “Please remove your belt, eyeglasses, wallet.…” After stripping you of everything metallic, the U.S. Marshals Service scrutinizes identification cards and digs through already x-rayed bags. You may be more likely to get through airport security with a lead dumbbell down your pants than into the Federal Courthouse with a watch on your wrist.

Sunday Diversion

It’s an unlikely location, but Borders Books, Music and Cafe (8705 N. Port Washington Rd.) is “bluegrass central” each month for pickers and toe-tappers alike. Organized by the Milwaukee Area Bluegrass Music Association (www.folklib.net/wi/mabma), the jams kick off every second Sunday at 2 p.m. Bring your banjo, fiddle, guitar or mandolin. Or just drop in to listen.

MAM Guide

People, not objects, make a tour. Barbara Brown Lee of the Milwaukee Art Museum is a classic example (700 N. Art Museum Dr.). At first glance, the tour guide hardly looks arty, with her no-nonsense cotton dresses and Birkenstocks. But like any piece of good art, there’s more under the surface. A 40-year veteran at the museum, Lee trains new docents (50 this fall) and holds the title of chief educator. Former director Russell Bowman calls her the “unofficial oral historian” of the museum. Her favorite tour people? “Teens – they’re full of banana juice,” says the 62-year-old widow.

Best Reasons to Flash Your Card

Think it’s just book rentals? That was in the dark ages of ­public libraries. Our MPL system has some doozy services you might not know about.

www.mpl.org: Make this your starting point to find out which library has what, check your late fees, even renew materials online. The site includes an “Ask the Librarian” link, where you send a question via e-mail and have it answered within a day or two. Have your card number handy for access to reference Web sites the library subscribes to that aren’t available to the general public.

Movie rentals: Find new releases as well as classics in DVD and VHS, which you can keep for three or seven days, depending on how “new” the release is. Put your name on a waiting list for the most popular titles.

Classes: Get instruction on how to best use the Internet, e-mail, word processing, PowerPoint and other programs. The two-hour sessions are held at various locations, days and times. Classes fill quickly; call 286-3070 to sign up.

Historical photos: What a great way to decorate your Milwaukee bungalow – black-and-white glossies ordered from the Humanities Department collection of the Central Library (814 W. Wisconsin Ave.). An 8-by-10 is $27, or you can make a high-quality copy for just a buck.

Drive-through: It’s not just for returning books. You can pull right up to the Central Library and collect the books (or tapes or DVDs) you’ve called ahead for (286-3017) or request items via the library Web site and designate the drive-through as your pick-up point.

– Mindy Benham

Cobb Salad

Salad isn’t all about greens. Ask a cobb. Ask a cobb that ­isn’t the carbon-copy turkey/bacon/hard-boiled egg toss up. North Shore Bistro’s funky cobb ($11.95) has Gorgonzola cheese (instead of cheddar), red and green pepper and fried tortilla strips along with romaine, grilled chicken, crumbled bacon and cooked egg under a shower of zippy citrus vinaigrette (8649 N. Port Washington Rd.).

Tea Selection

For most Americans, the very mention of tea inspires one of two thoughts: ice or stuffy English people nibbling crumpets. But tea offers a vast universe of type and flavor that  goes far beyond the scope of Lipton and Britton. Rochambo (1317 E. Brady St.), an anti-trendy coffee shop, cool in its lack of pretension, serves and sells nearly 100 of the world’s most unique black, green, white, herbal, oolong and jasmine teas. By the cup, prices range from $1.50-$12.

Cure for the Sun-Starved

Trocadero’s patio (1758 N. Water St.) is not an improvised assemblage of chairs on a sidewalk out front. This is a fountain-calmly-bubbling-over-quiet-chatter kind of patio with several levels of seating tucked out of the glare of the streetlight behind the building. This is the kind of place for hand-holding and conversation (that you can hear). Never fear winter or rain since the concrete floor heats up and an overhead covering keeps precipitation out. Ahh, a toast to that.

Hot Spot

Nightclubs with big aspirations and little names have been popping up in droves. Eve, O, Three and Swank, to name a few, have been competing to offer clubbers trendy, urban-chic sanctuary from Milwaukee’s taverns. To gauge this monosyllabic onslaught, we gathered a group of friends on a Saturday night, armed them with judgment criteria (atmosphere, crowd, music, drinks) and hit Milwaukee’s hot new clubs. We unanimously chose Pure as the place to be (162 W. Wisconsin Ave.). With pristine artless white walls decorated only by plasma-screen TVs, the club looks like an institution for the tragically hip. VIP sections, complete with champagne and strawberries ($100 per table), line the dance floor like grandstands. The club also boasts the best sound system in town.

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