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We’ve been preparing for this for 12 months, scouring the city, following whispers, chasing leads, filling notebooks.

Edited by Evan Solochek with Anne Baesemann, Marni Chan, Kurt Chandler, Ann Christenson, Cristina Daglas, jackie Dreyer, Alysse Gear, Jenna Kashou, Tea Krulos, Kathryn Lavey, Todd Lazarski, Howie Magner, Bruce Murphy, Dan Murphy, Mary Van De Kamp Nohl, Colleen Heather Rogan & Kahara Schabach

We’ve been preparing for this for 12 months, scouring the city, following whispers, chasing leads, filling notebooks. Our Best of Milwaukee guide, which we’ve done every year since 1982, serves as an annual touchstone, a never-fading snapshot of where we are as a city and a reminder of how far we’ve come.

Milwaukee has witnessed many changes, both good and bad, in the past year. At long last, we can count ourselves among the smoke-free cities of the world, but that meant a beloved Brady Street bar special would never really be the same. After nearly two dusty years, the Humboldt Avenue bridge was finally finished, but not before taking out a few stranded restaurants nearby. And thanks to an exciting young point guard and a shrewd GM, the Milwaukee Bucks suddenly became relevant, though the Brewers again were left waiting for that proverbial next year that somehow feels further away than ever.

New music, new deals, new stars, new ideas – as well as old favorites that have been hiding in plain sight for too long – every year we try to uncover who and what is shaping our fair city. Although it’s not always easy finding the newest trends, we inevitably end up with more entries than we can fit into print – a testament to Milwaukee’s lasting vibrancy and vitality.

Like adding to an open, ever-growing time-capsule, we’ve filled the pages of this issue with people, places and things that are whimsical, wonderful, wild and sometimes flat-out weird. With more than 80 new picks, you should have plenty to keep you busy till next year.

Desserts Like  Grandma Made

The pig-shaped sign may be your last warning as you enter Honeypie (2643 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.), an eclectically decorated restaurant and bar best known for its array of sweets. A team of six bakers produces as many as 14 pies, 150 cupcakes, and a variety of brownies, seven-layer bars and cakes every day, according to lead baker Rebecca Dietmeyer. She also notes they produce several trays of vegan bakery, much of which is exported to Honeypie’s sister restaurant, Comet Café. The baker’s most popular pie is the banana cream. Other pie-selling power is based on what’s in season. The “jumboberry” and mango pies are summertime hits, while apple and pumpkin orders pick up in the fall.

Most Eagerly Anticipated Thoroughfare in Milwaukee History

Do you realize that President George W. Bush was in office when construction on the Humboldt Avenue Bridge began? Yeah, it’s been awhile. But after nearly two years of frustration and anger, the bridge finally re-opened at the end of June – a mere nine months late. And though it’s little consolation for those among us who mourn the loss of Bayou and The Good Life, we have to say, it really is a nice-looking bridge. Punctuated with concrete arches and stretching 44 feet wide, almost twice that of its predecessor, the new bridge boasts two observation perches overlooking the Milwaukee River and a pedestrian stairway down to Riverboat Road. Not bad for $8.5 million.

Muffaletta

“Sandwich” doesn’t really do justice to the muffaletta, another in a long line of delicious delicacies from the mother of all American food cities: New Orleans. The Milwaukee Muffaletta, as it’s called at Glorioso’s (1018 E. Brady St.), stays true to the sandwich’s 100-year-plus history. Upon a thick and chewy loaf of Italian bread, Genoa salami, mortadella and ham are layered with slices of provolone cheese, which is then all bathed in an oily and vinegary olive salad (either hot or mild). The end result is delicious, messy, delectable.

Party on Wheels

The wind sends your hair flying. Sweat leaves its imprint on your shirt collar. The lyrics of Lady Gaga saturate your brain. Pedal, pedal – faster, faster! Milwaukee Pedal Tavern, a Dutch-made wooden carriage-on-wheels powered by up to 16 pairs of legs, is finishing up its first season transporting locals – to the hoots, honks and waves of passing motorists – to bars in the Third Ward. (A Walker’s Point route is scheduled to open soon). Ironically, no drinks are allowed on this eye-catching conveyance, because the owners are still attempting to procure a liquor license. But there are plenty of party tunes, thanks to an on-board CD player. Although the focus is on the pub stops along the route, it’s the heart-thumping communal journey, not the destination, that’s most thrilling. The “tavern” is weather-dependent, but the plans are to keep pedaling through October. And note: You have to be at least 5-foot-3 to turn the pedals. Those who miss the mark can just sit back and enjoy the ride. Prices vary; go to pedaltavern.com for booking.

Dinner and a Show

People love to watch chefs cook – Food Network ratings are proof positive. But instead of plopping down in front of the TV – watching Guy Fieri make hot dog sushi or whatever – why not get up, get out and take in the real thing at centro cafe (808 E. Center St.)? This intimate Italian bistro’s marble bar, large enough for five or six diners, offers a perfect perch from which to watch the chef do his thing. Chat him up as he sautes and sears, boils and broils, and learn a thing or two from a real-life, local professional.

Local iPhone App

Milwaukee traffic can be unpredictable – especially in the summer, with what feels like dozens of construction projects taking place simultaneously throughout the city. But if you have an iPhone (and know the proper way to hold it), you can download the MultiCam Milwaukee app and save yourself a lot of stress. With real-time access to more than 70 area traffic cameras, you can plan your trip accordingly and never find yourself silently seething in gridlock again.

Nachos

A snack routinely given second-class treatment (think artificial orange goo and canned jalapeños), the humble nacho reaches new heights at COA (5750 N. Port Washington Rd.). Upon a bed of flaky, homemade tortilla chips, pulled pork is piled high, along with a delicious medley of avocado, black beans, pico de gallo, chihuahua cheese, jalapeños and crema. The chefs at this modern Mexican taqueria give an authentic twist to this very gringo-fied treat.

Bargain Adventure

The Urban Ecology Center (1500 E. Park Pl.; 1859 N. 40th St.) offers more than just grass and bugs. A yearly membership ($12 for students, $25 for individuals, $35 for families) gives you access to a soaring 45-foot climbing wall and a huge stable of adventure-sport equipment. From camping to biking, boating, skiing or sledding, they’ve got you covered, and the experienced staff can teach you to kayak over rapids or belay like a pro. There’s also gardening equipment, bocce and tennis gear, if backyard adventuring is more your style.

Local Contribution  to Comedy TV

The NBC sitcom “Community” can thank Dan Harmon and Danny Pudi as a big reason it was renewed for a second season last spring. Harmon  (a Milwaukee native, and  ComedySportz and Dead Alewives vet) created the show about life in junior college and serves as the executive producer. Scene-stealer Danny Pudi, a Marquette University grad, plays Abed, the staccato-speaking student obsessed with movies and television. Harmon and Pudi should both be granted tenure for adding a glimmer of humor to the bleak network sitcom class list.

View of the Skyline

Any huffing and puffing is worth the view of Downtown Milwaukee when you climb to the top of the 40-foot hill in Kilbourn Park. Originally built to house a water reservoir tank, the Riverwest park received a major remodeling in 2008, adding a new playground and a loop of paths leading bicyclists and pedestrians upward. At the top of the hill, you’ll find a panorama that sweeps from the North Point Water Tower to St. Hedwig’s on Brady Street to the US Bank building and City Hall. It’s a postcard view.

Underground  Music and Art

Underground venues tend to appear and disappear rapidly due to limited funds and resources. Echo Base Collective, for example, was only around for two months before it was fined out of existence for code violations. The Borg Ward (823 W. National Ave.), on the other hand, has welcomed underground music forms like punk and “noise” as well as local artwork for three years and is still going strong. The key to its success – other than filing the proper paperwork – has been a strong core of collective members who all pitch in to make it work. Some of the offerings may hurt your ears (or your eyes), but it provides a valuable creative incubator for dozens of artists.

Midnight Movies

Midnight movies first became trendy in the early ’70s, appealing to insomniacs and stoned-out film buffs looking for afterhours fun. Since then, millions have flocked to cult films such as Night of the Living Dead and, the granddaddy of them all, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rosebud Cinema (6823 W. North Ave.) and Times Cinema (5906 W. Vliet St.) – both owned by Larry Widen – have pushed the envelope with a lineup more motley than most. Recent showings: The Shining, The Wizard of Oz, The Big Lebowski, a family-friendly Mary Poppins sing-along, and the campy tribute to mirth and murder, Ed Gein: The Musical. Box of Butterfingers, anyone?

Flashback to Haight-Ashbury, circa 1967

Intentionally or not, a two-block strip of Kinnickinnic Avenue does a groovy imitation of ’60s-era Haight-Ashbury. Between Potter and Russell avenues, there’s Sven’s Café, with fair-trade coffee and a mural of the Mona Lisa cradling a cup of joe in her famously poised hands; Pipe Dreams Smoke Shop, with a display window filled with enough hookahs to turn on Bay View; Luv UnLimited, with more ’60s-vintage clothes than Cher’s closet; Solid State Tattoo, the Hi-Fi Café, Rush-Mor record shop and, parked at a curb, a rusted VW van bearing an ad for José’s Barber Extraordinaire: “Hairapy is better than therapy.”

Karaoke Night

It’s hard to find a hip karaoke place in Milwaukee – the few options tend to be old-fashioned and kitschy. Unless, of course, you happen to be out on a Monday night and find yourself at Bootleggers Bar & Grill (1025 N. Old World Third St.). There, you’ll find emcees John The Revelator and Sven as well as a catalogue of more than 8,500 songs. The crowd is young, the songs are hip, the sound system is booming. And if you’re really good, you’ll get an inflatable guitar as a parting gift.

Bravo Reality Star  (with Great Hair)

Yes, technically “Project Runway” is Lifetime’s baby now, but to loyal fans, it will always be an extended member of the Bravo family. Within that ever-growing group of off-the-cuff designers is Ra’mon-Lawrence Coleman, Milwaukee’s own season six contestant. Hailing from Chicago with a stint in the Twin Cities, Coleman is giving Milwaukee a go, designing for Kohl’s and even assisting another former reality star, Lauren Conrad of “The Hills,” with her Kohl’s-exclusive line. Frankly, we’re just happy to see some fashion sense walking around the Third Ward with a stellar mohawk and adorable Yorkie puppies. Carry on.

Cuddle Buddy

Kate and John McLaughlin are changing the stuffed-animal world – one adorable monster at a time. The New Berlin couple own and run Monsters & Things, an eco-friendly business that sells handmade stuffed animal monsters out of reclaimed and repurposed textiles (some dating as far back as the 1940s). Their snuggly, lovable wares are available all around Milwaukee, from Chartreuse and Beans & Barley on the East Side to Discovery World on the lakefront. The duo can even help you rework that old T-shirt into a custom-made monster. Prices range from $14-$38.

Outdoor Concert Series

Looking for an outdoor music fix aside from Summerfest? Well, on Tuesday nights from June through August, pull out your picnic blanket, pack some snacks, and head to Humboldt Park for Chill on the Hill. Unlike Jazz in the Park, this family-friendly concert offers ample grassy seating and easy-to-find parking (not to mention the ability to bring in your own alcohol), and features local Milwaukee bands from a diverse mix of genres. Come for the music, but hang around to visit with friends and neighbors.

French Pastries

The chefs at Le Rêve Patisserie & Café (7610 Harwood Ave.) are well-practiced at the art of laminate dough. They create French pastry out of dozens of layers of buttery, paper-thin batter, baked to golden perfection so that even a plain croissant is exceptional – flaky, moist and sweet. And then there’s the fancy stuff. Like can-can girls at the Moulin Rouge, each piece of bakery in Le Rêve’s display case cries out for attention: Feuilletine cookies shaped from crepe flakes and hazelnut, and Gateau aux Framboise, a gorgeous raspberry mousse on almond sponge cake, dolled up with vanilla cream and pistachios. The star of the show is The Opera Torte – chocolate ganache and coffee butter cream, dancing on an almond biscuit soaked in espresso. Ooo la la!

Studio for Red-Hot Photo Sessions

Finding more and more women comfortable with revealing their sexy, sensual sides, Joy Vertz created Corset, a new division of her Shoot the Moon Photography Studio (10532 N. Port Washington Rd., Mequon; 719 Genesee St., Delafield). Modern boudoir photo sessions begin with a $495 base package that captures two different looks and presents them in a nightstand album of 10 professionally shot and finished photographs. Handling every detail with taste and flair, Corset pairs up with Miss Groove as a source for delectable lingerie, as well as talented hair and makeup stylists, to offer women of all ages and sizes a lovely way to feel beautiful in their own skin.

Markdowns on Major Designer Fashions

Gigi’s Rack (1550 W. Mequon Rd., Mequon) stands as the mother lode of high-end clearance. Due to the constant turnover of outstanding seasonal designer fashions at Gigi’s of Mequon, a second satellite store, located just steps away, is always filled with drastically reduced treasures. How drastic? How about a $3,450 Angel Sanchez cocktail dress going for $850, a $1,990 Carolina Herrera day dress down to $500 or a stunning wedding dress for only $500, a mere tenth of its original price.

Worst Thing About  The Smoking Ban

What started out as a joke more than six years ago quickly turned into one of the most popular bar specials in town. Known as the Recession Prix Fixe at The Nomad World Pub (1401 E. Brady St.), for an easy $5 you got a shot of Jameson, a can of PBR and a cigarette. But then the smoking ban took effect, and we all wondered what would come of it. Well, you can technically still order the special, but now you’re obligated to smoke your cigarette outside. Although not really as fun, some traditions are meant to smolder on.

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Great Lake Beach  in Under an Hour

From Downtown Milwaukee, it takes about 50 minutes to arrive at an idyllic and glistening shoreline. John Michael Kohler and Terry Andrae state parks – two parks combined to form Kohler-Andrae State Park – boast a clean blue shore and golden sand dunes for your beach bathing and frolicking pleasure. The relatively secluded beach and park stretches for nearly 1,000 acres and includes a 137-unit family campground open year-round. It’s the perfect excuse to get out of town, even if only for the afternoon.

New Nail Salon

Offering contemporary amenities at strip-mall-salon prices, Gloss Nail Spa (1545 N. Water St.) is a welcome addition to The North End development. Think bright, modern décor, personal attention (wine or water and chocolate offered upon your arrival) and the highest standard in hygiene. Appointments and walk-ins are both accepted. The mani-pedi special is $40 and a regular manicure runs $15. With prices like that, the hardest decision is which of the newest OPI polish colors to choose.

Place to Buy  Duds for Dancing

If you’re an aficionado of ballet, pointe, modern folk, ethnic, swing, tap, jazz or hip-hop at any level, you’ll definitely find everything you need to follow your passion’s fashion at Trep Art (13865 W. North Ave., Brookfield). For more than 50 years, when it comes to tutus to toe pads, this family-run store has been stocked to the rafters. And of course, with feet playing such a pivotal role in the study and art of movement, it goes without saying that there’s a staff expert in fitting quality footwear to keep you comfortably on your toes.

Place to Buy a  Cradle for Your Pet

Whether your dog or kitty likes to lounge, curl, sprawl or tunnel when it snoozes, Caesar’s Pet (5686 Broad St., Greendale) aims to make it an ultra-comfy experience. From orthopedic memory-foam beds for older pets to canopy beds perfect for little divas, the choices are dreamy.

Free Yoga

Relative area newcomer lululemon athletica (322 N. Water St.) sells fab yoga products at not-so-fab Third Ward prices. But embracing the ultimate peaceful juxtaposition, this bright and airy highbrow Water Street showroom provides an excellent public service: free yoga. With different local instructors on a weekly (sometimes semiweekly) basis, lululemon switches up classes, styles and methods with changing collectives of expert yogis and novices alike. Bring a mat or borrow one, and be sure to grab a tasty (and free) rejuvenating treat on the way out. There are few better ways to start a Saturday.

New Local Brew

You don’t have to be a bike courier to appreciate the new Fixed Gear American Red Ale from Lakefront Brewery. Released in March, Fixed Gear pours to a gorgeous light coppery brown and is accompanied by a pungent floral aroma. It’s an aggressive beer, with a full bite of bitter hops, but balanced by a fruity tone. Fixed Gear can be found at area liquor stores in 22-ounce “sharing format” bottles (but you’ll want it all for yourself), and if you look hard enough, you can find it on tap at select area bars.

Bread Trend

Trade your Kaiser roll for a pretzel bun made by venerable local wholesaler Miller Bakery. Your frank, brat, burger, sausage link, tofu dog or applicable sandwich filling will thank you. And thank you, again. The tender, pillowy middle is encased in a shiny brown, glazed crust; the split top reveals the telltale pretzel twist. Come to think of it, served warm with a sprinkle of salt, they don’t really need a filling at all. Available at local outlets like Wisconsin Cheese Mart, Usinger’s and Sendik’s in Whitefish Bay.

Way to Add that  Elusive Color – blue –  to Your Garden

True blue flowers are extremely rare, making blue the most coveted color in gardening. But with the 7-, 9- and 11-inch art glass globes made by artists Doug and Renee Sigwarth, adding a blue accent to the garden is easy. Elevated on copper pipes, a grouping of the globes (available in a range of colors) provides an attractive artistic focus that can be arranged to enhance any landscape and create your own sculpture garden. Dubbed “tomorrow’s ‘it’ artisans” by the Chicago Tribune, the River Falls artists show their wares locally in August at the Morning Glory Fine Craft Fair at the Marcus Center and at the Oconomowoc Festival of the Arts. But the glass globes are available year-round via sigwarthglass.com.

Reason to Look  Forward to Mondays

Job got you down but you can’t afford to quit? Maxie’s Southern Comfort (6732 W. Fairview Ave.) has the perfect after-work antidote – Mojito Mondays, from 4 p.m. to close. All year ’round, for an easy four bucks, patrons can expect a pint glass filled generously with fresh mint, sliced limes and a dash of sugar muddled with the ideal balance of white rum and club soda – mixed flawlessly every time. Maybe Mondays aren’t so bad after all.

Local Release

It’d be easy for Kings Go Forth, Milwaukee’s formidable entry into the soul revival movement, to fall prey to its own success: rabid word-of-mouth praise, lofty critical acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork, and the big-name legitimacy that comes from residence on David Byrne’s record label. But upon any listen, The Outsiders Are Back lives up to the hype. Primal, guttural, unrelenting, this is booty-shaking soul-funk offered with a side of bacon grease. Sure, there’s Curtis Mayfield and James Brown landmarks all over it, but there’s also something fiercely raw and urgent, making this a consistently powerful collection of songs. A royal flush.

Rollie Fingers Redux

Hard to say what Brewers fans loved more – John Axford’s pitching or his handlebar mustache. The new Milwaukee closer became one of just eight major leaguers in history to convert his first 15 save chances. But it’s the ’stache that was the star. Grown on a spring-training whim and waxed at the urging of teammates, it became an homage to Brewers legend Rollie Fingers. But alas, Axford grew tired of the maintenance, and the bars became a standard goatee. “Rollie’s got it down pat. It’s always waxed up,” Axford muses. “I didn’t have that effort, I guess.” But take heart, handlebar lovers. Teases Axford: “It could make a reappearance.”

Creative Coupons

Who wants to lug around a book of coupons? Tara Laatsch and Christin Cilento Ladky’s easy-to-tote City Tins, a spin on the ever-popular Entertainment Book, features $10 coaster gift cards for 22 area restaurants (Maxie’s Southern Comfort to Mason Street Grill) inside a cute reusable tin. The cards cover food and beverage and require a minimum purchase of $25. The tin retails for $25, so it pays for itself after three uses. The 2011 tin will debut around the time you’re finishing up your Thanksgiving leftovers. Buy it at citytins.com.

Beef Jerky

This title was hotly contested here at the magazine (Howie Magner is still bitter about it, in fact), but Bunzel’s Old-Fashioned Meat Market (8415 W. Burleigh St.) took the crown with its savory old-fashioned jerky. As you experience the jerky, the passion of the professional staff of butchers is revealed in the complex pairing of flavor and texture. But this isn’t just your average jerky. The giant pieces packed with robust flavors could be a tasty lunch all by themselves. A family-run business, Bunzel’s knows how to keep a good recipe going for generations.

Two-For-One Snack

For those jerky lovers who crave a little something more from their beefy snack, say cheese. Snack Patrol’s Cheese Jerky, a mini log o’ cheese, yields pleasantly surprising specks of high-quality beef jerky with every bite. Throw in a stick of the peppered flavor for good measure and, voilà, trucker string cheese. Naturally, you should trust the highly refined Mil Mag taste buds, but if you’re still suspect, this Glendale-based treat even received national recognition from the hard-hitting “Today Show.”

Gas Station Chocolates

You wouldn’t expect delicious gourmet chocolates to come from a gas station plaza, but that’s half the fun. Atomic Chocolate Co. (605 S. First St.), located inside of Times Square Bistro and Pizzeria, is the passion of chocolatier Sean Henninger. Although it seems like an out-of-the-way place for great chocolate, the flavors are constantly changing with new inspirations. Check out the creative combinations, such as habañero dark, peanut butter and jelly, Tahitian vanilla or whiskey macadamia. Eat your heart out, M&Ms.

Trail Run

Escape the overcrowded, paved trails of Milwaukee and head 30 minutes west to Lapham Peak (W329 N846 County Road C, Delafield). A state park admission sticker is required for entry, but it will give you access to more than 21 miles of secluded trails. You can pick your terrain, from wooded hills to rolling prairies, both ranging in distance and difficulty. For an added adventure, run to the top of the 45-foot observation tower for a view of Kettle Moraine. On a clear day, you can even make out the Milwaukee skyline.

Live M’waukee Band

Since the late ’70s, there hasn’t been a more ubiquitous face on the Milwaukee music scene than that of Paul Cebar. So much so that it’s easy to take the bearded baritone for granted. But the fact remains that Cebar and Tomorrow Sound’s ragged amalgam of Cuba-via-New Orleans roots, funk and R&B is among the most innovative musical brands ever assembled in Brew City. Not to mention the most danceable. His is at once the sound of a beer and brat at a summertime church festival and that of a frigid January night, where all the best heat is emanating from the dance floor.

Gym with a View

Venice, Calif., has Muscle Beach. And now, so does Milwaukee. Well, sort of. The new workout stations along the lakefront, a few hundred feet south of Bradford Beach, give Brew City bodybuilders a place to soak up the sun while they blast their abs, quads and delts. Billed as an “adult playground,” the green and gold equipment was the result of a $40,000 gift from Northwestern Mutual Foundation and offers more than a dozen different exercise options. Kiss that beer belly goodbye!

Skate Park

Owner Neil Levin is a former amateur skateboarder and instructor who opened 4 Seasons Skate Park in 1999. Unlike some skate parks, this one is drug-free (a big emphasis for Levin). It’s a joyous, rocking place that’s heaven for teenagers, yet also attracts older skateboarders to use what’s considered the best indoor wooden bowl in the Midwest. Its location (200 N. 25th St.) along the Menomonee River is unique, and the high-ceilinged, converted industrial building is a cool space indeed that lends itself to an ever-changing array of ramps and rails and jumps for skateboard enthusiasts.

Weekly Gig

Tuesdays never used to sound like this. Yet each and every week, for an astonishing nine years, The Jazz Estate (2423 N. Murray Ave.) has hosted Erotic Adventures of the Static Chicken, a rotating lineup of jazz/rock fusion that packs the bar with wicked bouts of heady, hip improvisation. As they’re sometimes torn between being musical badasses and wisecracking jackasses, what happens on stage can approach the likes of John Scofield and Frank Zappa in a back-alley brawl. But regardless of the level of weirdness, once the boys find their groove, this never errs as a spot to forge a party mindset.

E-Mail Wine List

The e-mail wine list from Ray’s Wine & Spirits (8930 W. North Ave.) is what every wine list should be: informative, engaging and offering wines ranging from patio pounders to the ultra rare. Whether a customer is perusing the list for a bottle to buy for tonight’s dinner or some vino to store for decades to come, the list has ’em all. And the conversational tone that makes any wine lover feel like a connoisseur makes the recommendations even harder to pass up. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to purchase “summer in a bottle” or a “beast of a blend”? Milwaukee may be far outside Italy, France or even Napa Valley, but Ray’s list brings the best together.

Liquor Store

Don’t let the simple exterior of Discount Liquor (5031 W. Oklahoma Ave.; 919 N. Barstow St., Waukesha) fool you. It houses an impressively dizzying selection of beer, wine and liquor. With two family-owned locations, Discount Liquor has been a Milwaukee icon for more than 50 years. It’s worth the drive across town to get the best selection and service. Feeling overwhelmed? Just find a friendly and knowledgeable staff member; they are happy to assist. And be sure to check out discountliquorinc.com for the latest arrivals and weekly specials.

Rhythm Section

Most everything you need to know is right there in the name: Loosely meaning “the good stuff” in Spanish, de la buena offers Afro-Cuban and Latin Jazz syncopation in all its sweaty, sultry dancehall bliss. Salsa- inflected and punctuated by horns, the mélange of congas, bongos, timbales, traps, etc., is that rare kind of sophisticated beat-dom, one equally digestible while merenguing a hole in your shoes or kicking back with a mojito.

Restaurant Waterfall

The water starts maybe 10 or 12 feet up, flows over rough-hewn rocks, past the flowers that flank its course, then collects in a 25-foot-wide lagoon. Which happens to be right next to your table. Which happens to be on a Mexican patio, complete with colored lights strung overhead, two large fireplaces and a nearby bar. Only you’re not in Mexico. You’re at a Mexican restaurant called El Fuego (909 W. Layton Ave.). Sure, you pity the birthday-sombrero guy who’s being serenaded by maracas. But for dinner in this otherwise relaxing atmosphere, momentary maracas are a small price to pay.

Cooking Class

Demo cooking classes are too often a reminder that the student is stuck in the chair – watching, not cooking. But Coquette Café (316 N. Milwaukee St.) keeps the enjoyment level high. Up to 40 students pack a small dining area where owners/chefs Nick Burki and Chris Hatleli and sous chef James Barnes prepare the four-course menu for every two-hour class (theme could be French favorites or sauces). After each course is demoed in a makeshift “kitchen,” the waitstaff divvies up generous portions, wine pairings by L’eft Bank Wine Co. included. Besides the easy chef/audience rapport that’s established, students split with a packet of recipes and a sated belly.

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Healthy Indulgence

Many say a truly guilt-free pleasure does not exist – and they may be right. But the frozen yogurt at Froyo Bella (5756 N. Bayshore Dr.) gets awfully close, with most flavors weighing in at around 100 calories per half-cup (4-ounce) serving – not to mention all those health-promoting cultures. Of course, no frozen treat is really complete without toppings, and Froyo has a fully stocked topping bar, including everything from fresh fruit to hot fudge to crumbled candy. That’s where the guilt comes in.

Rallying Cry

The Milwaukee Bucks have been around since 1968. So how in the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did nobody think of this sooner? Fear The Deer, folks. The rallying cry became a national phenomenon, one synonymous with Milwaukee’s 2009-10 playoff run. Wherever you looked, there it was. On SportsCenter. On Twitter. On posters in the stands and T-shirts in the streets. It even spawned a Brewers spinoff – Fear The Beer – but subpar seasons don’t make for nationwide trends. Deer phobia, meanwhile, is forecast to reach epidemic proportions.

Sports Exec

If Bucks general manager John Hammond had captained the Titanic, the great ocean liner might still be afloat. When  Hammond came to Milwaukee in April 2008, the Bucks were sinking fast under the weight of poor performance and bad contracts. No playoffs since 2006. One winning season since 2001. But the hiring of coach Scott Skiles combined with a flurry of astute draft picks (Brandon Jennings, Luc Mbah a Moute) and trades (John Salmons, Carlos Delfino) got the Bucks to the playoffs in 2010. Now, after another promising offseason and with a healthy Andrew Bogut, the team’s hoping for more. Maybe with Capt. Hammond, Milwaukee’s ship has come in.

Addition to the Bucks (Besides Brandon Jennings)

For years, the Bradley Center was a midweek mausoleum when the Bucks played mediocre opponents. Squad 6 changed that last season. The jersey-wearing, drum-banging, mainly 20-something rowdies occupy section 212 courtesy of Andrew Bogut. The Aussie center paid for 100 lower-level season tickets, and auditions were held for worthy superfans. The raucous bunch chants, heckles and stays on its feet from opening tip to final buzzer, injecting infectious liveliness into a lower bowl often filled with a far-too-reserved suit-wearing crowd.

Packers Blog

Could it really be possible that the best nontraditional source for Packers news on the Internet is run by … gasp … New Yorkers? Sadly, it’s true. Aaron Nagler and Corey Behnke, who started CheeseheadTV.com in 2007, currently call the Big Apple home. But rest assured, their hearts are firmly entrenched in Packerland – after all, they were born and raised in Appleton and Green Bay, respectively. With a no-BS attitude, the CheeseheadTV crew offers sharp commentary and astute analysis on all things Packers-related. They also cover those other 31 teams. Not that we care much about them.

Place to See Celebs

Don’t act like you’re above it. Everyone loves a good celebrity-sighting now and again. There’s one local place in particular where you can make it happen. Part of the stylish Milwaukee Street strip, Carnevor (724 N. Milwaukee St.) routinely wines and dines local hot shots as well as those just visiting. From Ryan Braun and enemy Chicago Cub Alfonso Soriano to Natalie Cole and members of The Flaming Lips, this top-of-the-line, über-trendy steakhouse serves ’em all.

Free Bar Popcorn

Hot, fresh, buttery and endless, the popcorn at Von Trier (2235 N. Farwell Ave.) meets and exceeds expectations. The popper sits in the corner at the end of the bar, brimming with crunchy yellow morsels waiting to be transported to your table, basket after basket after basket. Since 1990 when it was installed, the popcorn from this popper has become almost as much of a hit as the beer selection.

New Indie Fashion Shop

In a quaint, adorable setup in rustic Riverwest, Project M (801 E. Center St.) features a slew of wares from fabulously talented Midwest designers. Contributing to Milwaukee’s collective, do-it-yourself fashion movement, designers Bree Rose Bower and Kelly Strosser opened the shop in March to rave reviews with fantastic merch. Take your pick from loads of handmade jewelry, accessories (including oh-so-hip headbands), dresses and tops. Every shopping trip’s an unexpected adventure, as stock consistently changes. And chances are you’ll never accidentally (and embarrassingly) match your coworker.

Music Blog

What does it mean? Should we know? Does it matter? Not sure. What’s established is that local music blog Seizure Chicken (seizurechicken.com) not only captivates the musically inclined with its out-of-the-ordinary name and quirk factor, but also its spot-on reviews, ear toward what’s emerging and indie rock sensibilities. Appreciating local and national acts alike, the men behind the MKE site post interviews, review albums, showcase videos, compile mixtapes, update daily and exude some kind of independent style. Damn the man. Save the empire. Rock on, SC.

Shrimp-lover’s Fix

Guadalupe Mexican Restaurant (11320 Bluemound Rd., Wauwatosa) owner Gloria Andersen calls it “coctel de camaron.” You’ll call it the biggest shrimp cocktail you’ve ever seen. Served Mexican style in a giant stemmed margarita glass with a little spicy tomato sauce, fresh avocado, lime and cilantro, this $14.95 appetizer is really a full meal, and then some. Even the shrimp soups at other Mexican restaurants don’t come close to this shrimp lover’s delight.

Meal on Wheels

Milwaukee’s no New York or L.A., but food trucks are creeping their way into urban consciousness. And they’re more than late-night hot dog stands. But none have achieved such quick acclaim as Streetza Pizza, the nationwide phenom we’d be foolish to overlook. With coverage in national and local publications alike (including this one), this vibrant pizza truck is impossible to miss as it makes its rounds of the city, tweeting along the way with hours, locations and slices of the day. Easy to locate, yummy to taste, Streetza has created a successful model for other mobile Milwaukee eateries to follow.

Free Restaurant Snacks

Thinking beyond the basket of bread isn’t common in these parts, so a big pat on the back to Roots Restaurant and Cellar (1818 N. Hubbard St.) for rewriting the definition of “pro-bono snacks.” What a delight to peruse the menu while munching on complimentary fried, spiced chickpeas; house-pickled vegetables; and homemade popcorn seasoned with sassafras or bacon powder. Still want bread? All you need to do is ask.

All-ages Art Party

Anyone tired of talking in hushed tones at the Milwaukee Art Museum will be glad to know that once a month, the hallowed halls of the Quadracci Pavilion are filled with the steady buzz of conversation, clanking dishes and music. The MAM After Dark events feature an assortment of all-ages DIY craft tables, free food, a cash bar, access to the main collections and feature exhibits, and the photo booth (so patrons can relive the night on Flickr). Main events range from hip-hop dancers to drag queens to wearable sculpture fashion shows and everything in-between.

School of Rock

Ever wonder how vernacular music denotes spectacular American historical tradition? Or why Dylan demands discourse? Well, find out at UW-Milwaukee. After rocking along with just a series of popular elective classes for a decade, this fall, UWM is unleashing the official Certification Program in Rock ’n’ Roll Studies for 15 credits – and probably a fist pump or two.

Stylish Leg Apparel  for Little Ones

There’s nothing fun about putting tights on a baby. Whitefish Bay’s Meaghan Resenhoeft came to the same conclusion shortly after having her own child and started Pork Chop Kids, which makes whimsical thigh-high socks for babies (girls and boys) up to age 8. The socks are long enough to keep little sprouts’ thighs warm. Sold in smashing patterns like argyle, hearts, polka dots and sparkles (solid colors, too), the stretchy cotton-Lycra-Spandex thigh-highs retail for $15 on porkchopkids.com.

Treat For Your Skin

Natural ingredients – herbs, beeswax, extracts and essential oils – define the organic body-care products made by Milwaukee’s Brew City Botanicals. A minty salve, which contains the arnica herb, is terrific for treating bruises. BCB’s aromatherapy body spritzers can also be used to freshen up bed linens. (Try lavender or orange blossom.) For a party in your tub, try a bath bomb. Just toss one of these cute soap-like shapes into the tub and watch it fizz. Then breathe in the soothing essential oils. From aftershave to skin lotion, BCB products are available at Whole Foods Market or at bcbotanicals.com.

Blessed Brisket

Corned beef on rye. It’s one of the universe’s most perfect combinations. But who has the best in town? A panel of some of the city’s Jewish leaders sat down for a nosh and, hopefully, to put the debate to rest. There was some heated discussion (“I respect your opinion, even though you’re totally wrong,” said Rabbi Joseph Prass at one point), but ultimately they took to their task with the same consideration and thoughtfulness as they would their religious studies. And now, as Prass said, “Let’s find out where we’re not welcome in the future.”

✰ WINNER ✰

Benji’s Deli

4156 N. Oakland Ave.

“Super flavor…very tender…perfect thickness…”

Runner’s Up

2  Jake’s Deli (1634 W. North Ave.)  – “Lean with a layer of fat…tender…good flavor…”

3  Finch’s Corned Beef  (222 W. Wells St.)  – “Tender and hand-cut…very lean…a nutmeg/allspice taste…”

4  McBob’s Pub and Grill (4919 W. North Ave.) – “Excellent fat content…too thick…more like brisket…”

5  Kosher Meat Klub Supermarket (4731 W. Burleigh St.) – “Machine-cut and bland…what kind of corned beef is served cold?…”

The Judges

Joseph Prass,  rabbi,  Congregation Shalom

Arlene Spanier,  cantor,  Temple Emanu-El of Waukesha

Matt Ellin,  treasurer,  Temple Emanu-El  of Waukesha

Rebecca Robbins, cantor,  Congregation  Sinai

Josh Herman, rabbinical intern, Congregation  Sinai

 

Hall of Fame

Mike Gousha

In 2006, after spending more than half his life as an anchorman for WTMJ-TV, Mike Gousha retired. The 50-year-old newsman couldn’t stay away from his broadcast roots for long, though, and in 2008 signed on for another hitch in front of the camera as host of “Upfront,” a one-on-one interview show on WISN-TV. A reporter with smarts, credibility and nerve, Gousha has set the gold standard among local TV journalists. It’s rare to see him stoop to sensationalism or silliness. With his no-nonsense style, he’s proved that he’s more than a nice guy with a good haircut and expensive suit.

Pabst Theater

Can you believe that in 1974, the Pabst Theater almost met the wrecking ball? Apparently City Hall needed more parking. Thankfully, sanity prevailed, and instead the theater was restored to its original 1895 glory. Today, the Pabst is the crown jewel of the Milwaukee music and theater scene, staging everything from Yo-Yo Ma to Slash to Jim Gaffigan. With sprawling gold-leaf arches, a 2-ton Austrian crystal chandelier and a white Italian marble staircase, the Pabst is garish in all the right ways. And with Cudahy’s Irish Pub in the lobby slinging $3 tall boys, there is plenty for the everyman, too.

Summerfest

Eleven days, 11 stages, the Big Gig. It’s not the hippest of music festivals these days, but Summerfest is a legend. Revered by out-of-towners and host to a love-hate relationship with locals, the world’s largest music fest is a way to see bands both new (Passion Pit) and requiring walkers (Tom Petty) at reasonable prices. Conceived in the late ’60s, many of the original elements remain as sweltering hot days run into energy-filled nights. Beer flows, the masses eat, and the Third Ward transforms into the best people-watching in town. It’s enough to flash that goofy, big-eyed grin.

The Spice House

Coming to this aromatic shop (established in 1957 and now run by second-generation owners) to replenish a spice rack is never a chore. On the contrary, it’s a treat for the olfactories. In this house of lingering smells, you’ll find spices, seasonings, seeds, zests, blends, extracts, gift boxes and graters. It’s a candy store for people who love to cook. The empire may have expanded – and may be bookmarked in the bibliographies of countless national cookbooks – but it’s nevertheless a precious relic, fittingly situated near Mader’s and Usinger’s.

Joe Bartolotta

The man who would be king … of Milwaukee restaurants. The Tosa native and Milwaukee Area Technical College alum cut his teeth overseeing restaurants on the East Coast before returning home to begin an impressive career dominating the Milwaukee fine-dining market. It started with Ristorante Bartolotta in 1993. Over time, the empire has grown to include three more fine-dining restaurants, a pizzeria, a catering arm, an airport restaurant and now a seafood heavy-hitter on the lakefront that enjoyed the biggest restaurant opening in years.

Best Of Media

Loss … and Gain

Sean Ryan, a hard-working, pound-the-pavement kind of reporter who regularly scooped the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for The Daily Reporter, left to take a job with the Business Journal.

Loss … and Gain II

After years of being the foundation for WUWM’s evening and weekend popular music programming, World Café got the hook – but thankfully was rescued by 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, which added the entertaining, syndicated music-and-interview show hosted by Philly’s David Dye to its eclectic, hip lineup. Nice save.

Moonlighting Editors

Yes, they can write. Staff reductions at the Journal Sentinel have turned some editors into reporters, and our favorites are Tom Tolan, who brings a humanist’s touch to gritty city stories, and Jim Higgins, whose arts reporting is versatile and enthusiastic without getting gushy.

Biggest Yawn

WTMJ-AM 620 radio veteran Jonathan Green called it quits after decades of hosting a talk show whose impact on the community had been waning for years.

Veteran’s Departure

Mike Miller – whose resume includes stops at three of the city’s four TV newsrooms – called it quits from Channel 12 in a classy, self-deprecating style. No one quite matched Miller’s unique mix of thoughtful gravitas wrapped in a regular guy.

Veteran’s Return

Eric Von is back at WMCS-AM 1290 – after leaving in a salary dispute last year. Long one of the smartest, smoothest hosts in town, Von renews the station’s franchise as the only broadcast source of serious news and talk tailored to the city’s black community.

New Column

Duane Dudek’s assignment to the TV/radio beat at the Journal Sentinel returned him to a job he held earlier in his career at the old Sentinel – and instantly gave the paper deeper and more substantive coverage than Tim Cuprisin (who fled last year with a buyout to OnMilwaukee.com) ever offered. n

 

 

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