Best of 2005

For more than two decades, we have dared to find the very best of this fair city, and are we tired of it? Heck no. If anything, Milwaukee gets richer and more varied each year in its splendiferous assortment of superlatives. Our only problem is narrowing down the list to the sweetest of the sweet, the greatest of the gewgaws, the neatest of the novelties. Looking for a Moscow Mule, a hookah hangout, a world-class sandwich or the perfect lampshade? As it happens, that’s just what we found, along with lots, lots more. Edited by Mario Quadracci With Tom Bamberger,…

For more than two decades, we have dared to find the very best of this fair city, and are we tired of it? Heck no. If anything, Milwaukee gets richer and more varied each year in its splendiferous assortment of superlatives. Our only problem is narrowing down the list to the sweetest of the sweet, the greatest of the gewgaws, the neatest of the novelties. Looking for a Moscow Mule, a hookah hangout, a world-class sandwich or the perfect lampshade? As it happens, that’s just what we found, along with lots, lots more.

Edited by Mario Quadracci With Tom Bamberger, Mindy Benham, Kurt Chandler, Ann Christenson, Natalie Dorman, John Fennell, Vinnie Holly, Shana Lynch, Charlene Mills, Bruce Murphy, Mary Van de Kamp Nohl, Colleen Heather Rogan and Jennifer Shernell.

Best Green Eggs
There’s only one way to ingest Restaurant Hama’s Wasabi Tobiko with honor: all at once (333 W. Brown Deer Rd.). Going bonsai with this mouthful-sized combo of rice, nori (seaweed) and tiny green, wasabi-infused flying fish eggs ups the ante on an already challenging experience. Each chew (many are required before swallowing) releases a potent dose of -wasabi, and, with your mouth filled to capacity, breathing through the nose is required, which routes the horseradishy burn straight to the sinuses. It’s what we call “green eggs and slam.”

Classical Cliff Notes
Whether you’re too short on time, ­money or patience for a two-hour Milwaukee Symphony concert, the solution is Thursday night’s Classical Connections ( This series of six 75-minute concerts not only gives you a sampling of the symphony’s regular fare but holds your attention with engaging video and photo montages and, from the symphony’s engaging artistic adviser, ­Evans ­Mirageas, intriguing insights about the music. Join fellow patrons for a pre-show drink during a cocktail hour that includes complimentary appetizers. Subscriptions start at just $75.

Winestein’s Café & Wine Market at Highways P & 16 in Oconomowoc doesn’t know much about naming sandwiches, but they sure know how to build them! We vote they change the name of their “Upper Oconomowoc” toasted panini (honey-glazed ham, melted havarti, sliced pear, candied walnuts and sweet apricot mayo) to something more appropriate, like best sandwich in the solar system ($7.85 with chips, pickle and seasonal salad).

Rock Concert Seating for Grown-ups
Come on, have you grown tired of going to The Rave/Eagles Ballroom (2401 W. Wisconsin Ave.)? Don’t want to park in a sketchy lot, then stand in a smoke-billowing, sweaty huddle? But you still want the music, right? Conundrum solved: Pay an extra fee ($5-$10 per ticket; select shows only) and you’re on the list to park in the front lot, then get whisked past the long lines to a private area with your very own seat. They call it VIP Seating. Not exactly what we’d call it since it’s still The Rave, but it sure beats the alternative.

Unique Home Shopping
Step inside Motif Home Décor and you might forget you’re in Pewaukee (690 Westfield Way). With an ever-changing display of well-merchandised product, much of it not seen elsewhere around town, Sonia Mott offers customers new and interesting ideas on how to pull a home together. You’ll find furniture, lamps, tableware, rugs and linens that blend contemporary trends with vintage and one-of-a-kind accessories. This welcoming retail store offers custom upholstery, designers who make house calls and an on-site drapery expert – great resources usually found only at custom design centers.

Italian for Bambinos
For the budding bilingual bambino, the Italian Community Center (631 E. Chicago St.) offers free Italian lessons for kids 6 to 12. The current session runs Saturdays 3-5 p.m. from September to December. If you miss this session, the ICC offers a winter-spring course. Adults can learn the language of pasta and Pavarotti, too, for a fee of $80 for a 10-week course. It’s as close as you can get to Italy without a passport.

Pet Grooming Tech
Madra Pet Styling owner/stylist ­Helena Buettner knows the secret to restoring peace to a household besieged by shedding pets (2427 N. Murray Ave.). It’s the FURminator™, a patented deshedding tool that, combined with deshedding shampoo and rinse, removes the underlying problem: the dander and dead undercoat hairs that end up on the couch, in your nose and on your favorite dark clothes. Complete grooming for Lab or retriever, including “furmination:” $35-$40. “It should be standard grooming procedure” for breeds like those, says Buettner. We agree. A lot of groomers just wash the dog. Madra does it all.

Hangover Prophylactic
Think of it as “the night before morning after” pill. The hangover-preventing powers of the two-fisted cheeseburgers dripping with butter and fried onions from Bella’s Fat Cat can’t be underestimated (1233 E. Brady St. and 2737 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.). Why does it work? Heck if we know, but it does. So the next time you’ve over-enjoyed Happy Hour and the two-for-one martini special down the block, saunter over. Bella’s is open until 11 p.m. (Bay View till 10:00).

Custom Lampshades
Lighting Accessories can take the cast-off  lamps your mother-in-law gave you and transform them into the perfect accents for your decor with a custom shade (13855 W. North Ave.). The selection runs the gamut from ultra-modern to funky and classic. The well-trained staff is expert at finding happy unions of lamp and shade. Sometimes the secret is a mere $1.50 brass extension to lift a shade a bit higher. Who’d have known? Also available: repair service and a great assortment of lamps.

’Shroomy Quesadilla
What’s that mushroom doing with that tortilla? Making an alluring union, of course. Quesadillas are getting to be a dime a dozen. What makes Seester’s -Cantina’s quesadilla special is the meaty chopped Portobello mushroom together with white cheese, onion and smoky chipotle chile piled inside a spinach tortilla. Topped with lettuce, tomato and crema, this marriage makes a marvelous meal ($8, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., Pewaukee).

Virgin Cocktails
The words “virgin” and “fun” may seem an odd coupling, but they come ­together brilliantly in the nonalcoholic cocktails at Wauwatosa’s Bjonda (7754 Harwood Ave.). Use your imagination or just ask for something festive sans the sauce, and the bartender will creatively shake, pour, blend, purée and garnish a concoction that will have you slurring with delight and feeling great in the morn.

Sweet Potato Fries
Move over waffle fries, shoestrings, steak fries, skinny frites (basically any russet- or Idaho-derived fry). The day for softer, delicate fried strips has arrived. Indigo’s sweet potato fries are sliced thin, dusted lightly with peppery Cajun seasoning (giving them a shadow of a crust) and served hot and shiny from the fryer ($5 appetizer or $2 with a sandwich; 5921 W. Vliet St.)

Data Security
Red Anvil LLC, a local Internet-based technology provider (, offers customers state-of-the-art disaster recovery, private network centers, remote data backup and all sorts of other secure high-tech services beyond the understanding of our reptilian editorial brains. But while its data security technology is currently unmatched in the area, something even more mysterious than “server colocation” ensures they’ll always have an edge on competitors. Company founders Neil Biondich Jr. (CEO) and ­Randy Berdan (technology officer) hold high ranks in the ancient Japanese martial arts of Ninpo (the art of the historical Ninja) and Jujutsu. Both study and teach these arts at Futen Dojo (1338 E. Brady St.). Biondich is a fourth-degree black belt in both Ninpo and Jujutsu, and Berdan is a third-degree black belt in Ninpo and a first-degree black belt in Jujutsu. Clients can rest assured – no one is coming near the information they have stored at Red Anvil.

Spring Rolls
It’s not something you do in April when the grass is starting to get green. No, these made-to-be-devoured Asian fresh rolls are rice paper wrappers wound around a filling of bean sprouts, cooked noodles, shrimp and cilantro. Dunk them in the vinegar-based, peanut-studded dipping sauce and you’re in for a sweet-sour crunch. $2 at Southeast Asia (2611 W. State St.).

Fruit Smoothie
A partially defrosted iceberg with a few token chunks of fruit does not a good smoothie make. But Barclay Gallery’s fruit smoothies are smooth, a quality achieved by puréeing the chosen fruit (raspberry, strawberry, peach or mixed berries) with pineapple juice and smoothie powder. Ask for a squirt of whipped cream on top and folk’ll wonder if the straw is a permanent part of your anatomy ($3.95; 158 S. Barclay St.).

Bike Shop
Taking the lead in the fight against rising gas prices and thickening waistlines, Crank Daddy’s solution is as easy as, well, riding a bike (2108 N. Farwell Ave.). This 12,000-square-foot store stocks hundreds of cycles, including children’s trainers, trendy new cruisers and competitive carbon fiber racing models, along with every conceivable accessory for the pedaling aficionado. Besides a knowledgeable staff and a professional repair department, the store offers plenty of perks, like a full year of free adjustments on any purchased bike and weekly, competitively paced 40-mile rides open to the public. Plus, bicycling buffs can always shift gears and just hang out in the store’s comfortable lounge, watching a constant stream of international bike races. But best of all, whether intended for fun or shaving off lap time, is the store’s indoor interactive CompuTrainer for its “feel of the road” resistance and big screen-projected courses.

Alternative Pharmacy
Ye Olde Pharmacy’s John Waclawski is one of the few independents who hasn’t been swallowed up by the sea of super-sized drug chains (5320 N. Port Washington Rd.). Dedicated to the traditions of the profession, Waclawski – with his ­pharmacist daughter and son-in-law – makes personalized healthcare service a family affair. The pharmacy is unique in offering a full prescription compounding service, working with both physicians and vets to create custom medications. It also provides wellness consultations; a firm focus on women’s health issues; ­naturally based, bio-identical hormone balancing therapy; custom-fit compression garments and the state’s largest selection of diabetes-related products. A welcome, old-fashioned approach to new age medicine.

Cuban Sandwich
Eight inches of unadulterated yumminess. That’s a Cubanitas Cuban, which will seduce you with its flavor, not its face. Cuban sandwiches look as if a semi ran over them – and that’s a good thing. The grill-pressed flattening makes the Swiss cheese and mustard melt into the roast pork and Virginia ham. It draws out the tangy flavor of the dill pickle. It also slightly toasts the chewy Cuban bread, flown in daily from the East Coast. Have a cigar with it – or not ($6.95, 728 N. Milwaukee St.).

Dream Audio Outfitters
If you are very serious about sound and ­extremely sound in your finances, Lev’s Audio & Video is the place go (130 N. Jefferson St.). Owner and operator Lev Talyansky knows his products inside and out but rarely needs a sales pitch because his superlative products sell themselves. “You can’t even imagine,” says Talyansky when asked what a $100,000 stereo system he designed for a client sounds like. While the sky’s the limit when designing your dream system, most of Lev’s customers dish out only $7,000-$12,000 for their rigs. Spend some time in a leather chair at Lev’s Third Ward showroom listening to music, and suddenly cost doesn’t bear its usual importance.

Asian Vegetation
According to Alene Krieger, owner of City Gardener, “Milwaukee’s got a very active Bonsai Society” (1814 N. Farwell Ave.). Luckily, society members or those new to the artful hobby of tweaking mother nature on a miniscule scale can count on Krieger as their best source for all of the trees, pots, soils and tools they’ll ever need. Whether on the hunt for healthy young Japanese junipers, Chinese elms, flowering serissa, ficus or a more mature bonsai tree already showing signs of the training that will develop it into a “specimen” tree, Krieger’s shop has clearly earned its reputation as the first place to shop. “I’ve had the store for 11 years,” she says. “I care for bonsai, I understand them and I understand their traits.”

Maternity With Sass
Taking inspiration from the proudly flaunted distended bellies of Hollywood beauties like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson, expectant women want no part of putting fashion on hold for months at a time. Luckily for them, scheduled for a mid-November delivery, Mimi Maternity (2500 N. Mayfair Rd.), upscale new arrival A Pea in the Pod and the budget-conscious Motherhood Maternity join forces to give birth to Destination Maternity (16040 W. Blue Mound Rd), a superstore catering to every need of the pregnant woman. Look for it in Brookfield’s new Shoppes at Fountain Square, where, along with up-to-date fashion, customers will find skin care, prenatal vitamins, relaxation tapes, educational classes, a children’s play area and, yes, even a husband’s snack bar.

Intelligent Intoxication
When you’re tired of the inane chatter that passes as conversation in many bars, you might want to try Von Trier (2235 N. Farwell Ave.). This authentic German lounge has patrons who are more mature, a bit more traveled and book-friendly. Where else besides some smokey college coffeehouse will the topics range from Kurt Vonnegut to David Sedaris, then Carl Sagan and, of course, the Badgers? On a warm night sitting in the beer garden, there is nothing more refreshing than a Moscow Mule – ginger beer, vodka and slices of lemon and lime served in a copper cup. The popular Mule packs a kick, so consider yourself warned.

World Premiere
Marie Kohler has done it again. With her latest play, Boswell’s Dreams, she confirms that she is one of the most talented and original voices in American theater. In Dreams, which had its world premiere last spring in sellout performances at Renaissance Theaterworks, she took the ultimate chance, setting her play in the literary world of the 18th century, pairing an aging Dr. Samuel Johnson and the lusty James Boswell, who became his biographer. In 2000, her Midnight and Moll Flanders, an adaptation of  Daniel Defoe’s novel written in 1722, was the surprise hit of the season. More, we say, more!

Smoking Community
Don’t let the strip mall exterior fool you – Jack’s Tobacco is your one-stop smoke shop (13640 W. Capitol Dr.). The store, home to the Milwaukee Cigar Society and regular stomping grounds of the Milwaukee Area Pipe Society, carries its own brands of cigars and tobacco, more than 100 pipes and countless tobacco brands and has a cigar lounge complete with ­cable TV and wireless Internet. Both clientele and employees are quite a farrago of humanity. Mary Martin, operations manager, says everyone from senators to retirees and factory workers stop by, and the six people on staff include an MPS ­teacher, an artist and a retired pathologist. Are you a social smoker? Grab friends and rent one of  Jack’s hookahs. Prefer an imported cigarette over the morning paper? Show up at 9 a.m. to meet the Breakfast Club. Either way, you’re welcome to “come in, hang out and solve the world’s problems,” says Martin.

Glob of Pizza Dough
Sure, you can make your own dough, but for $1.50, wouldn’t you rather just buy it? Sciortino’s Bakery sells its gooey creation in one-pound portions (1101 E. Brady St.). One bag o’ dough makes a chewy pizza that serves three hungry teenagers or five polite adults. Available frozen (sometimes in the dairy case) at area Sendik’s, frozen at Glorioso’s on Brady or always fresh at Sciortino’s.

Disc Golf Course
Are you a frolfer interested in throwing some plastic at a hole pole on a sunny afternoon? If that didn’t read like Greek, then you’ve probably already discovered Dretzka Park, home to Milwaukee’s largest disc golf course. Frisbee golfers (frolfers) can enjoy Dretzka’s 18 baskets (hole poles) year round. Each hole on the 10-acre course offers two or three tees for different handicaps and at least two different basket locations. And so the regulars don’t get bored, basket locations are changed every few weeks for variety. For the competitive in spirit, the Great Lakes Disc Golf Club hosts a few disc golf tournaments each year. Top payouts have gotten as ritzy as $6,000 to $7,000. The course is popular, though, and on a nice weekend, about 200 to 300 people will be vying for a round.

“Tobacco” Paraphernalia
Many of the hundreds of hand-blown glass smoking apparatuses sold at Soundwaves would seem more ­appropriately housed in a modern art museum than stashed down the pants of a nappy jam-band concertgoer (275 W. Main St., Waukesha). The selection includes everything from strange bug-like concept pieces to pipes that blur the stylistic line between Sherlock Holmes and Wavy Gravy. Remember, when browsing the merchandise, watch your lingo. If you accidentally let the “B” word (rhymes with song) fly, you will force the friendly dude behind the counter to find the motivation to show you to the door.

Institutional Memory
If you’re looking for some tidbit of the city’s legislative history, forget the Internet or a reference book. No non-human source can match the knowledge coming directly from bureaucrat Barry -Zalben, manager of the Legislative Reference Bureau, an office that remains hidden in the basement of City Hall. Zalben, 60, began working in the bureau in 1972, just one year after it was created as a research arm for the Common Council and City Clerk’s Office. His brain is a database of ­ordinances, a cache of parliamentary procedure, a hard drive of all of the legal mumbo jumbo of municipal government. He reviews the work coming out of his ­office with the sharp eye of an editor and questions aldermen with the ear of a detective to find out exactly what they want from his office. “I can spin a lot of stuff out of my head, or with minimal time, I can check to make sure,” he says. “And I want to be 100 percent sure.”

Chicken To Go
To make mesquite chicken, butchers at Karl’s Country Market slather the divided birds with a delectable special blend of seasonings and bake them until they’re ready at your requested pickup time. Order a pan of these satisfyingly huge pieces for a birthday or football party and watch them disappear. Each $8 chicken serves three to four people. Pilgrim Road at Silver Spring, Menomonee Falls;

Best Lingerie Selection

Offering the best custom bra-fitting service in the city has certainly earned Allure firm, um, support from its customers (1505 W. Mequon Rd.). But what takes the shop over the top is its great selection of fun and tasteful intimate apparel. Sexy or skimpy, sophisticated or sensual, with French imports like Aubade and celebrity-endorsed collections from Italy’s Cosabella, shoppers will have no trouble finding intimates to complement and spoil women 16 to 60. Anything but unmentionable, these bras, thongs, panties, bustiers and camisoles are of such exquisite quality that they’ll have you murmuring ooh-la-la.

Most Polished Weatherman
Forget the toupees, comb-overs and ill-fitting suits that characterize so many TV weathermen. Even on casual Fridays, in jeans, with his long sleeves gently rolled up to the elbow, Eric Braate delivers weathercasts on Fox 6 with the polish of a GQ cover model. On the morning and noon news every weekday, watch Braate analyze the Doppler radar and dish the weekly forecast while always dressed in a crisp suit perfectly paired with a sharp tie – not a wrinkle to be found, not a strand of his hair out of place. The weather can be unpredictable, but Braate’s panache and elegance is a sure bet.

Best Ambush Entertainment
You could be enjoying a waffle at a cafe, working in your cubical or just walking down the street when – whammo! – you’re entertained by the award-winning men’s a cappella group Midwest -Vocal Express ( You never know when they’re likely to offer some mind-blowing barber shop quartet action, performing wherever and whenever by request (quartets to full stage shows can be booked) or impulse: “We burst into song anytime four of us are together,” says member and WKTI disk jockey Jim “Lips” LaBelle. Watch out on Valentine’s Day, when the group dispatches several quartets to ambush the significant others of hopeless romantics. The group has placed in the top 10 in international competition for seven years straight, so if you get caught in the melodic crossfire, rest assured, it’s going to be good.

Any-day Cake
The Madelyn Cakes at Pick ’n Save are sweet in more ways than one (Metro Market, 1123 N. Van Buren St.; 6969 N. Port Washington Rd.). The chocolate or vanilla cakes are adorned with playful polka dots made from colored white or milk chocolate. Now the best part – the buttercream frosting. It’s so smooth and creamy, with just a hint of sweetness, that you’ll be a fan of frosting after just one bite. You can order one, two or three layers ($5.99-$19.99). Perfect for any occasion, or none at all.

Best New Sign
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign but few as cool as the Milwaukee Public Market’s. Deriving its aesthetic from the city’s classic industrial scene, the sign shouts an intrepid red “I’m here” across the chasm that is I-794, bringing some architectural communication to a city long severed by the freeway. During the day, the Gill Sans letters silhouette boldly against the blue expanse of the eastward sky; we can only imagine what it’ll look like against winter white. At night, the double-stroked neon letters buzz with the vitality of the Third Ward. This sign says more than just “Milwaukee Public Market.” It exclaims an exciting new urbanism derived from a city’s strong heritage.

Guitar Shop
Wade Starck started selling and repairing guitars in 1989 with a dozen six-strings in a tiny East Side storefront. Today, Wade’s Guitar Shop (3490 N. Oakland Ave.) stocks close to 100 instruments – from vintage Strats and Dobros to mother of pearl-studded Martins, workaday acoustics by Alvarez and hand-made electric 12-strings by Rickenbacker. Yet his shop hasn’t lost the homey, personable feel. With his reputation as a master luthier and a small but skilled staff, Wade has quietly shaped his business into a trusted outlet for pickers. He’s sold to some of the biggest names in town: the Violent Femmes and BoDeans, Paul Cebar and Willy Porter, as well as the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and AC/DC. And with all of the guitars available to him, what does Wade himself play? A Harmony Stratotone and Harmony Silvertone, 1960s-era electric guitars made out of plywood and sold through the Sears catalog.

Best Pinsetter
BJ Reeves has spent roughly 700 hours in a cramped, 10-by-3 space as heavy objects come flying at him. -Strangely, he likes it. “It’s cool,” he says. “Not that many people can say they’ve been pinsetters.” The 18-year-old sets pins at Holler House, the nation’s oldest bowling alley (2042 W. Lincoln Ave.). Reeves has become something of a bowling expert: By watching a ball, he can tell who is bowling, who’s left- or right-handed or who’s capable of hitting a split. In his four years of setting, Reeves learned the tricks: wear T-shirts and shorts no matter the season, be patient on women’s league days (they like to talk) and watch for tips stuck in bowling balls (high tips ensure strikes). Although Reeves started college in Madison this fall, you’ll still find him pinsetting: “I’ll be coming back. Just not as regularly.”

Best New Dance Venue
Dancers aren’t a fussy bunch – in a pinch, they’ll crowd the uneven asphalt at a free outdoor concert. But provide a space that meets their real needs and the reward is a -kaleidoscope of grace and energy. Paul -Mueller, owner of the almost year-old Hot -Water (818 S. Water St.), has done just that. The cypress dance floor is free of sticky spots and spacious enough to escape bumping bottoms with fellow dancers. Almost every night of the week features a dance lesson and open dancing – from Argentine tango to salsa, from West Coast swing to East Coast swing (the Lindy Hop and -Charleston), even country line dancing (see for schedules).

Best New Park
Unlike most of the green space in Milwaukee that meanders in the Omstead tradition, Burns Common (at Ogden and Prospect) is a rational confluence of ovals and straight lines. In the middle is a precise Beverly Pepper sculpture. Radiating around the central axis are places for more works of art one can only hope will equal the Pepper. Burns Common’s gracious formality raises the level of the surrounding architecture. It’s urbanity at its best – a quiet and assured expression of how human beings shape our world into invigorating and arresting forms.

Worth the Weight? Determining the area’s best cheesecake isn’t as easy as you’d think.

“I’m there!” a staffer shouts as the idea of an office cheesecake taste-off is suggested. When the day comes for said experiment, the air is heavy with promise, and the sampling, smelling, poking and prodding proceeds. Cheesecake is like Versailles or a floor-length fur coat – luxe. With several hot-commodity local bakeries specializing in this weighty dessert (by-the-slice availability was crucial), we prepared for a fierce battle, rating the cakes for flavor and texture on a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best). It wasn’t the clash we expected. Few judges gave any of them a rating higher than 3. Is Milwaukee just not a cheesecake town? The results, from first to last place:
1. Cheesecake Factory (Mayfair mall, 2350 N. Mayfair Rd.): On the upside: “classic, simple, pumpkin pie-ish crust.” Less glowing reaction: “Flavorings are distracting, seem artificial.” $5.95/slice. Score: 22 (out of a possible 30)

2. Suzy’s Cream Cheesecakes (5901 W. Vliet St.): Many noted the “greasy” crust and strong “tangy” aftertaste, yet appreciated the “creamy” texture. $2.95/slice. Score: 20

3. Gourmet Cheesecake Shop (1329 S. 70th St., West Allis): “Too raw overall – was this baked?” and “graham cracker crust almost dominates taste.” $1.75/slice. Score: 18

4. Simma’s Ovens Bakery (817 N. 68th St.): “Light, airy texture” but “borderline bland.” $2.95/slice. Score: 14

5. City Market (2205 E. Capitol Dr.; 8700 Watertown Plank Rd.): “Like paste,” “gummy” and “dense in a bad way.” $3.25/slice. Score: 6

Honorable Mention: Regina’s Cheesecake (available at Beans & Barley and various Sendik’s): Though sampled post-taste test, the cake impressed us with its well-balanced flavor (tangy without the aftertaste) and texture. Available in a cute 3-inch round version. $3.75.

Boutique Bags
The only downside to shopping Miss Groove is trying to decide which of the shop’s fabulous handbags to dangle off your wrist or sling over your shoulder as you make your exit (1225 E. Brady St.). With super-cool selections from boutique designers like -David & Scotti, Plinio Visonia, Kiki Pearl and Kazuyo Nakano, choosing just one bag is, well, almost impossible. There’s a purse for every occasion – fun and funky hobo bags, swingy totes and creatively embellished purses in fabric or butter-soft Italian leather with sensational details, textures, exotic skins, hardware, metallic finishes, exquisite beading and lush embroidery Take our advice: Grab a few.

Best in Media
Beat Reporter: David Umhoefer
After the Journal Sentinel fell asleep on the pension scandal, the newspaper needed a top reporter to stay on top of county government. Umhoefer has done that and then some.

Critic: Duane Dudek
We wouldn’t have picked him years ago, but movie critic Dudek keeps getting better, still has a passion for film and isn’t afraid to disagree with the critical consensus nationally (case in point: his well-done slam of War of the Worlds).

TV Interviewer: Mike Gousha
He throws plenty of softballs on his Sunday night interview, but when Gousha questions candidates during campaigns, he’s a terror – incisive, informed, aggressive.

New Editor: O. Ricardo Pimentel
The new editorial page editor has taken the dull gray pages of editorial and added a broader range of voices, more design, some catchy (but uneven) short hits and at least a little more punch in the editorials.

Play-by-Play: Bob Uecker
Is there anything more summery, more soothing, more nostalgic than a Brewers play-by-play? Bob Uecker is the unofficial soundtrack of Milwaukee.

Secret Reporter: Mark Maley
Mild-mannered Mark Maley is the data editor who puts together the weekly data on the Metro front page. Fun, informative, thought-provoking.

Media Muscle: Charlie Sykes
He’s an entertainer, not a reporter, so he’s anything but even-handed. But with a highly rated morning radio show, the only local political column in the Journal Sentinel’s suburban chain of papers, periodic columns in Madison’s Isthmus and a Sunday morning talk show, Sykes is a one-man media monopoly.

Taste of the Past
Old-fashioned veggies are the -latest thing. Discerning cooks and slow-food advocates prize heirlooms for their flavor, unique appearance and -historic lineage. But where to find more selection than the usual Brandywine or Mortgage Lifter tomato? The growing program at Old World -Wisconsin in Eagle is tops (262-594-6300). For nine years, head gardener Barb -Stelloh has scoured catalogs and seed banks to grow 30 to 40 varieties. She has access to a greenhouse, 14 garden beds and volunteers to harvest tomatoes, potatoes (Irish Cobbler), zucchini (Cocozelle) and more. The lot goes largely to the onsite -Clausing Barn Restaurant, but, new this season, there is also a ready supply for sale to the -public (most likely through October). In the Milwaukee area, check out Pinehold Gardens, which sells at the South Shore farmers’ market (Saturdays 8 a.m.-12 p.m. through October 22; 2900 South Shore Dr.).

Best in Politics
Municipal Vision and Cajones: The City of Glendale for approving the Tax Incremental Financing District that will help re-invent Bayshore Mall and give the city a 21st century hub.

Example of “Power to the People”: The City of Delafield’s vote to put all future expenditures in excess of $1 million to a public vote.

Tactic for Advancing Regional Government: Not, as you’d expect, former Waukesha County Executive Dan Finley’s recruitment to the helm of the troubled Milwaukee Public Museum but the GMC’s strategy of ignoring long recalcitrant Waukesha County and cozying up to Kenosha County instead. Reverse psychology has its virtues.

Lobbying Effort: Whether you -favored PabstCity or not, you have to hand it to restaurateur Johnny Vasallo and the other Downtown businesses that lobbied to defeat Mayor Tom Barrett in an upset of a development plan that once looked like a shoo-in.

Empty Promise: Johnny V’s supposed alternative for the PabstCity area (would that be Mo’s PabstCity?) turned out to be so much smoke and mirrors.

Boondoggle: Four UWM administrators collected $600,000 in paid leave after resigning from the university. And you wonder why legislators are screaming about university spending?

Continuing Comedy: Sheriff David Clarke’s hilariously transparent and ever-changing excuses for assigning -Michael Schuh, a 55-year-old bailiff, to a unique one-man foot patrol of a dangerous inner city neighborhood. Of course, the bizarre switch in assignments had nothing to do with Schuh’s criticism of Clarke in a union newsletter.