Like stars against the infinite black of space, the best of Milwaukee’s people, places and things give our urban landscape dimension. As with the stars, we use the best and brightest among us as fixed points to navigate ourselves forward. We are drawn to their gravity, energy and brilliance. Each year, we as a staff dust off our proverbial telescope and train it on unexplored patches of our little universe. Each year, we are amazed at what comes into focus: new and previously overlooked heavenly bodies twinkling boldly against their background. We catalog our finds in these pages. A fearless explorer, an elegant new clock, a beautifully revived beach, overlooked artists, retail shops and dining treats… all stars to us. Together they create a distinctive pattern – a constellation – in the expanse of our little metro-galaxy. Our annual Best Of celebrates the newcomers to this twinkling landscape, along with great
standbys we add to our Hall of Fame.
All of them shining stars.
Edited by Mario Quadracci
w/Anne Baesemann, Tom Bamberger, Kurt Chandler, Ann Christenson, Chelsea Fischer,
Erik Gunn, Jim Hazard, Jeanette Hurt, Paul Kosidowski, Rosemary Lane, Kathryn Lavey,
Howie Magner, Bruce Murphy, Mary Van de Kamp Nohl, Steve Paske, Kate Rawsthorne, Colleen Heather Rogan, Evan Solochek, Kahara Schabach and Kasey Thompson.
Source of Cool Design
Opened in May 2008, HOT POP (213 N. Broadway) is nothing if not unique: equal parts clothing boutique, art gallery, toy store and home goods shop. It has cutting-edge clothes, limited-edition vinyl toys and art prints, as well as items by such renowned designers as Alessi, Areaware and Poketo. Don’t forget to check the back gallery space, where the store regularly holds hip and relevant art shows.
Some green sacrifices (hot showers, huge SUVs) come at too big of a cost for many people, but it should be no skin off your back to deal with your discarded biodegradables in some other fashion.
keep greater Milwaukee Beautiful and Outpost Natural Foods have teamed up to teach you how to compost – and the classes are cheap. The $15 investment will make you a greenie, and yield some nutrient-rich soil. Register at kgmb.org or call 414-272-5462.
Place for Tea
The Anaba Tea Room (2107 E. Capitol Dr.) isn’t your granny’s tea shoppe, but chances are she and your hipper friends will find it to be their cup of tea. With 70-plus loose-leaf varieties, a custom Chinese tea table in the corner – not to mention chef Gregg Des Rosier’s delectable scones, salads and sandwiches – Anaba is a great place to linger over a cuppa.
The whoopie pie, a Pennsylvania Dutch classic, is back in a big way, with recent features in The New York Times and Gourmet magazine. Several different interpretations are available in the Milwaukee area, but for our money, it’s not a whoopie pie without a marshmallow filling, and Koppa’s (1940 N. Farwell Ave.) serves up these delectable chocolate sandwich cakes the ol’ fashioned way. And they come with an equally ol’ fashioned price of just 99 cents.
To Say Cheese
It’s not as grand as the Calatrava wings, nor as artistic as di Suvero’s The Calling, but the cheesy Bronze Fonz (RiverWalk near Wells St.) is the place for a truly cornball photo. Heck, it’s not even a good likeness of Henry Winkler in his Fonzarelli prime, but tourists and local passers-by don’t care: They mug for cameras, hug each other and even pucker up, planting big wet ones on Fonzie’s face. Pure, glorious kitsch.
Brady Street isn’t just a great place to drink and dine or nab some fashionable new duds. It’s also the best place to shop and eat with your pooch. Most stores on the street allow admission to well-behaved canines, and many also have bowls of water placed outside to refresh thirsty pups. Bad dogs stay home.
Perched on a wooden coffee table with a few fake tulips and a well-worn TV is Koppa’s antique Atari game system – and it still works. The store (1940 N. Farwell Ave.) bought the Atari four years ago on eBay, and hungry customers have worn out the mod plastic chairs in front of it playing nonstop ever since. A wooden shelf houses a full collection of classic games, including favorites like Asteroids, Hangman, Canyon Bomber and, of course, Pac-Man.
Fresh, Whole Lobster
For an incredibly reasonable $12.95, St. Paul Fish co. in the Milwaukee Public Market (400 N. Water St.) serves fresh, whole lobster at your table, along with drawn butter and the requisite tool to take the whole thing apart. A tasty deal.
On the East Coast, they call it “chowdah.” At Milwaukee’s Umami Moto (718 N. Milwaukee St.), the word is “mmm.” This creamy lesson in patience (sip slowly for ultimate satisfaction) is also laced with potato, corn and snow peas. See if you can pick up the pungent flavor of dried porcinis.
Kyle Lobner is a true-blue Brewers fan. Playing off the Los Angeles Angels’ “Rally Monkey,” Lobner offers to us fans, through his blogging at Brew Crew Ball, the “Rally Lobster.” That would be Lobner’s dachshund, Gorman, dressed (adorably) as a lobster. The Rally Lobster reminds us of Nieves’ no-hitter, Braun’s 2008 playoff-clinching homer, Robin Yount’s 3,000th hit and the legacy of Harvey’s Wallbangers. In other words, the best a Brewers ballclub can be. We hope the Rally Lobster is here to stay.
Lobster Mac & Cheese
the capital Grille’s (310 W. Wisconsin Ave.) mac and cheese ($13) is no namby-pamby side dish – fluted pasta and lobster tossed into a mascarpone, havarti and Parmesan cream sauce. Rich enough? Some grated white cheddar and panko bread crumbs are scattered on top.
A signature at Eagan’s (1030 N. Water St.), this bad boy adds hunks of Maine lobster and a tangy lemon-caper mayo to the standard bacon, lettuce and tomato. It’s not a cheap sandwich, though: $19.95.
For years, probably for decades, that inflated lobster has topped the delivery car for william ho’s Chinese restaurant on the East Side. The cutest crustacean-topped car in town.
New Iron Hotel
One might not think of iron, rumbling and exhaust as the appropriate stuff to base a luxury hotel on, but the new Iron Horse Hotel (500 W. Florida St.) pulls it off. Informed by the aesthetics and attitude of its neighbor, the Harley-Davidson Museum, the Iron Horse is a bit industrial, a smidge naughty and a whole lot beautiful. With two restaurants, a perpetually buzzing bar and the nicest guest rooms in the city, the Iron Horse is a welcome addition to this city of hard-edged sophistication.
Milwaukeean Eric Larsen was part of the first-ever summer expedition to reach the North Pole in 2006. Then in January 2009, he led a group to the South Pole, becoming one of only a handful of adventurers to visit both poles. Also, he has plans for another North Pole visit, as well as a trip to Mt. Everest’s peak. Thus, he’d be the only person to reach all three points in a calendar year. Crazy.
The Chocolat Bar at the Intercontinental Milwaukee (139 E. Kilbourn Ave.) literally redefines desserts. Yes, you’ll find some of the standard chocolate items, but also many inventive ideas, such as cordials served in edible candied cups, chocolate and wine pairings, and dessert pops (say, a stick of Nueske’s bacon laden with peanut butter ganache and smothered in dark chocolate). Not to be missed are the praline bonbons, including the nougatine and hazelnut crunch. Yum.
New Old Clock
Walter Johnson, the founder of Johnson Controls, made the City Hall tower’s original pneumatic clock in 1896. It was an ultra-modern design for its time, with block minute marks instead of Roman numerals and elegant hands, all pitch black against a white face. Years ago, however, someone had the bright idea to electrify the dial, inverting the tones so the hands and markings could be illuminated against a black field at night. Its elegance disappeared with the flip of a switch. Now, the city and Johnson Controls have switched back to the original design. The graphic elements of the clock are stately. The big, round, white dial freshens up the fussy Flemish Renaissance Revival tower, reminding us there is probably no circle in architecture more perfect than a clock.
Best Tiki Artist
Shorewood’s own Dave Hansen, whose Polynesian inspirations outfit the Foundation bar and other tiki enclaves around town, may be the best tiki artist in the Midwest. His intricate wood carvings transport you to a warmer, gentler place in the middle of winter, but at any time of year, they’re best enjoyed with a mai tai in hand.
The beer tours are great, but the hottest tour in town is the free walk through Great Lakes Distillery’s South Side digs. It features tastings of artisanal vodka, gin and, in the near future, absinthe. Come enjoy the first spirits made in Wisconsin since Prohibition.
New Art Scene
The green Gallery East (1500 N. Farwell Ave.) is the only place in Milwaukee where you can walk off the street and into the international contemporary art world. John Riepenhoff and Jake Palmert own the gallery, a former dry-cleaning drive-thru that now sports a big, blank green sign. Inside is the result of a local art movement that first created the Milwaukee International Art Fair, and then this place. It shows artists who are represented by New York galleries and would not care to show in Milwaukee were it not for the ambition of some very smart and connected people.
JW and Melissa Buchanan are so familiar with success, they might consider doing a poster celebrating themselves. Better known as The Little Friends of Printmaking, this award-winning husband and wife team provide the poster art scene with a fresh interpretation of the silkscreen. Their posters are at once overt and nuanced, layered with hilarious characters and hidden details for the careful observer. They’ve been exhibited locally, but you can also find and purchase their works at thelittlefriendsofprintmaking.com.
Revisit of a ’50s Boyhood
Luckily for local rail enthusiasts, Milwaukee has been home to Walthers model trains (5601 W. Florist Ave.) since 1932. Today, the company represents more than 300 international companies and is the world’s largest online and hobby store distributor for anything and everything related to quality small-scale model trains. In a showroom adjacent to its distribution center, you’ll find more than 200,000 products, ranging from tiny screws to Walthers’ own high-end Proto 2000 locomotives, plus inspiring, elaborate scale setups and an exhibit of historic molds and models. And the company is still expanding.
Menomonee Falls Eclairs
Nino’s Italian Bakery (N88 W16672 Main St.) makes them the size of Schwarzenegger’s former biceps, with enough custard filling and chocolate frosting to cover the Alps. The family-owned shop is in the heart of Menomonee Falls, but feels like a slice of Little Italy, with its checkerboard floor and a display case backed by a faux terra cotta roof.
Place to Find Your Inner Jeff Gordon
There are no fumes and a quiet hum instead of a deafening roar, but Lucky Bob’s slot car raceway (5822 W. Forest Home Ave.) gives you the next-best thing to the thrill of a NASCAR finish. This miniature racetrack for souped-up toy cars offers several HO-scale tracks (the size of a long pingpong table), but for a real thrill, try the eight-lane, one-24th-scale raceway. On busy nights, the place is filled with racers who bring their own cars. But you can also rent cars for all the tracks and work on perfecting the hair-trigger touch that will keep you hugging the curves without a spinout.
For the sophisticated romantic, there’s no better place to splurge on a date than at Indulge (708 N. Milwaukee St.). Wine, chocolate, cheese and charcuterie … these are some of our favorite things, and they’re all served up in their highest forms by a knowledgeable and passionate staff. Plus, with a wine list featuring categories like “flirty,” “sensuous” and “voluptuous,” who knows where the night might go?
A lion with a crown might seem ho-hum. But the design of Cafe Hollander’s (2608 N. Downer Ave.) logo – the almost reptilian shape of the lion, its lasso of a tail – planted on the front of the restaurant’s all-cotton T-shirts is uncomplicated cool. The long-sleeved hoodie is particularly rad.
Who would have thought the Department of Transportation, which has brought us visual despair in the form of sound barriers, could make a great minimalist work of art. Yet its latest creation, the Marquette Interchange, is elegant and visually audacious. The essence of the work is defined by two colors – the steel is a dusty sky blue and the concrete a subdued gold. This accentuates the span’s thinness, its most obvious virtue, and draws beautiful and graceful lines across the sky. The blue seems perfect. It is just desaturated enough to change according to the light. There’s a moment while the sun is setting that it matches the sky. Yet it’s a bold color that holds its own and remains flat, while the gold picks up all the yellow light in twilight and just glows.
Mac & Cheese
Kraft dinner, be damned. At Triskele’s (1801 S. Third St.), the indulgent baked macaroni and cheese dish lets you choose aged cheddar, Gorgonzola or goat cheese. To give the mac (and your bill) more heft, you can add chicken or andouille sausage. The best part? The crispy Ritz cracker crumb topping.
Reinvention of a Chain
Following the path paved by Target when it hired renowned architect Michael Graves to design everything from toasters to watering cans, the once-mundane Kohl’s Department Stores have become a haven for great design. If you haven’t been there recently, it’s a whole new shopping experience, with big-time names like Vera Wang, Dana Buchman and Ralph Lauren putting their marks on everything from head-turning women’s dresses and sportswear for value-conscious fashionistas to jewelry, handbags, footwear, linens and towels.
Entering its sophomore year, Sugar Maple bar (441 E. Lincoln Ave.) offers the largest selection of tap beer in town. With 60 drafts to choose from, it’s a beer connoisseur’s (and beer glutton’s) dream come true. Sugar Maple’s comprehensive craft beer selection makes ordering a challenge. But the bartenders know their stuff and can help steer you in the right direction. Or you could always try a sampler.
Place to Shop Like a Celebrity
There’s a definite buzz set off by Lorena Sarbu (310 E. Buffalo St.), whose other boutique caters to tony customers in Beverly Hills. The colorful, sparkling shop focuses on European design, with beautiful separates, elegant cocktail and evening fashions, fabulous furs, sexy swimwear and signature accessories aimed at women who delight in being noticed. You’ll find fashion statements by a bevy of British, Italian, Romanian and French designers that are luxe indeed and don’t come cheap.
Place to Witness the Artistic Process
Now in its third year, The Montgomery Davis Play Development series lets audiences in on the playwriting process, putting on staged readings of works in progress (by Wisconsin playwrights) with top-notch actors. The playwrights are there listening carefully to the script and the audience reaction, and there’s usually time for a conversation (led by Chamber Theatre’s literary guru, Jacque Troy). The discussions are smart and spirited. And cocktails are served.
Side-By-Side Men’s & Women’s Shops
With Boutique B’Lou and Roger Stevens flanking both sides of the entrance to the Pfister Hotel (at 424 and 428 E. Wisconsin Ave., respectively), both sexes are offered ready access to a selection of sophisticated wardrobes that bespeaks the sweet smell of success. Never has it been easier for couples to shop together for all the sportswear, business attire, smart evening and elegant black-tie fashions, and quality accessories needed to keep looking perfectly pulled together while moving ever forward.
Back-Room Clearance Sales
Stephanie Horne is oh-so savvy at finding ways to trim prices on contemporary designer fashions. She’s actually tucked a permanent clearance shop she calls Stephanie Horne Rack into her Historic Third Ward boutique (159 N. Broadway). And if you think all you’ll find is odds and ends, think again. Horne hand-picks a constantly changing selection of seasonal trends (including a great selection of event dresses), sporting labels like Rebecca Taylor and Diane von Furstenberg – all at 40 to 70 percent off retail.
Place for Exotic Birthday Parties
With more than 400 tanks of fish from waters that are salty, tropical and brackish, as well as hundreds of rare exotic animals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, some awfully adorable kittens and all the pet food, supplies and expert advice you need to care for them, Hoffer’s Tropic Life Pets (7323 N. 76th St.) has done a great job of filling 32,000 square feet of space with fascinating wares. Even if you’re not in the market for a degu (a rodent from South America) or a sugar glider (a marsupial similar to a flying squirrel), stop in and take a peek at the huge transitional wall mural depicting desert, ocean and rainforest wildlife, two koi ponds, a saltwater tide pool and three pits that allow safe observation of snakes, alligators and tortoises. A favorite site for school tours, it’s the place to host birthday parties with a real wow factor.
Return to Its Roots
After rethinking a foray into women’s fashions, Aala Reed (1320 E. Brady St.) owner Laura Cole returned to her original passion – menswear. Concentrating on what she does best, she offers men of all ages exciting options for everything from classic business casual to fashionably edgy contemporary wardrobes. With an even wider selection of fits, styles and price points from designers like Hugo Boss, Gant and Ted Baker London, there’s a whole slew of guys cheering the change.
The jazz format at WYMS-FM is long gone, and places to find live jazz are dwindling, but you can still hear classic work by the great ones as you’re wandering the suburban faux city at BayShore town center. Listen to that lamppost as you stroll from Forever 21 to Barnes & Noble, and you might hear Ella, Miles, Cannonball, or even the great Coltrane himself. For that total jazz club ambiance, bring your own red leather banquette, pack of Lucky’s and Dewar’s on the rocks.
Place to People-Watch
Blending in is key when trying to people-watch. That’s why the placement of Alterra on the Lake (1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr.) is perfect. You can plant yourself at a shaded table on the outdoor patio and watch away. The range of people – from coffeeshop funksters to bookish literati to suburban tourists – is fascinating. And you can easily ogle the lakefront runners and other buff bodies passing by without seeming like a voyeur. Even though you are.
Bevy of Bamboo
Artasia (181 N. Broadway) embraces many things Asian, but what’s most unique is its ever-expanding line of high-quality solid bamboo flooring, furniture and building materials. Bamboo is harder than most woods, yet it’s a sustainable, green alternative, and all accompanying glues and finishes here are certified environmentally safe.
Specs Appeal (420 W. Silver Spring Dr., Glendale) offers a cache of cool frames you won’t find anywhere else in the city. Like trendy Schnuchel frames from Germany that are easily customized by color, size and shape to fit and flatter individual faces and personal styles. Other choices include a line of graphic, hand-painted frames from Axel, vibrantly patterned über-urban frames from Etnia Barcelona, and bold and ornate oversized metal frames by Cazal.
Sandwich & a Brew
Need a hot sandwich and a cold brew for a sophisticated palate? Try G. Groppi’s Food Market (1441 S. Russell Ave.). More than 75 microbrews are a fine sight for beer lovers. In the winter, Old Rasputin Imperial Stout is a belly-warmer. Summer crowds will appreciate the Horny Goat Belgian Style Wheat, both in name and taste. After drinks, douse your hunger with one of 16 gargantuan grilled panini.
For years, flotsam and jetsam, seagulls, shady characters and the odd guy with a metal detector were about the only visitors to Bradford Beach. But something has changed. After some TLC from the Sue Black-led parks department, the beach has blossomed into the place to be on a summer’s day. Seven days a week, if the weather is semi-cooperating, Bradford is packed with skimpily clad Milwaukeeans playing volleyball, soaking up the sun and splashing in the water. How sweet it is. n
Old-Fashioned Variety Store
Fischberger’s (2445 N. Holton St.) carries a little bit of everything: pencils, sewing goods, fabric, children’s books, vintage clothes, kitchenware and some of the best, most original toys in town. Besides reviving the old-time variety and notions store, Fischberger’s also revived its own space. For half a century, this former bakery sat empty and neglected. Now it’s a classic place to linger.
The heavy molasses flavor makes you think of Grandma’s batter-smudged apron. The coarse sugar coating is the crunchy intro. Then Amaranth Bakery’s (3329 W. Lisbon Ave.) thick molasses cookie segues into a pillow of softness. The denouement: a desperate craving for more.
PLAN B BARS
It’s Friday, and you’re going out with friends to the hottest spot in town. Only problem: it’s the hottest spot in town, meaning long lines at the door, bar and bathroom. Time for Plan B! These are the best.
Jamo’s (1800 N. Arlington Pl.), a 1970s throwback cocktail lounge, focuses its retro touches in the right places: the décor and possibly some of the patrons. The modern updates are good ones. A recent visit featured an impressive soundtrack (the new Wilco CD) and damn good drafts (Delirium Tremens and Riverwest Stein among them).
Fat Abbey Biercafe (134 E. Juneau Ave.) gets the nod because it wants to be more than the average Water Street watering hole. Like other Diablos Rojos ventures, it has an amazing beer list complemented by a panoply of cocktails, delicious nachos and a sleek space.
Cafe Centraal (2306 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) is a very large version of Cafe Hollander. Large like it’s impossible to imagine it ever being filled to capacity. Enjoy your Trappist ale and feel free to invite everyone you know.
Although decidedly unlike the Milwaukee Street lounges, Buckley’s (801 N. Cass St.) is a hidden gem that will impress your swankiest friends.
If Bremen Café (901 E. Clarke St.) doesn’t have something to please you, you’re simply too hard to please. Featuring late-night eats, a game room and a generous happy hour that lasts until 8 p.m., Bremen serves up delightful beverages with a dash of hipster and a heap of relaxation. n
BEST OF THE MEDIA
Best Newspaper Commentary Section
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s weekly crossroads section. This long-standing feature continues to be a serious forum for discussing ideas and policy in the city, state and nation, drawing on credible and expert voices from the community and newspaper staffers to explore a wide range of topics.
Worst Newspaper Commentary Section
The JS’s Monday letters-only commentary section was caused by the paper’s 2008 downsizing, and its letters to the editor typically consist of little more than slanted, simplistic screeds hurled back and forth among partisans.
Most Missed Newspaper Critic
Departing writer Tom Strini might have coasted a bit in his latter years, but he was by far the most intellectual of the JS critics and, at his best, brought a fierce passion and intelligence to his reviews of dance and classical music.
Least Missed TV Correspondent
John Mercure, late of WTMJ Channel 4, was always ready to condemn stores for selling racy material and help cops “sting” pedophiles, all in the service of his station becoming the most sensationalized broadcast outlet in town. (Mercure now has a PR job for a local insurer.)
Most Engaging TV Editorialist
WITI Channel 6’s Ted Perry, whose nightly commentaries hit the regular-guy, common-sense persona just right.
Toughest Act To Follow
Mark Katches, who wowed the Journal Sentinel (and its readers) by ratcheting up the paper’s investigative and project work during his less-than-three-year tenure heading its Watchdog team. Highly capable reporter Greg Borowski was promoted to take Katches’ place, but how long will the ever-shrinking paper continue its commitment to such in-depth reporting?
Most Ironic Media Pitch
First lady Jessica Doyle did a pro bono turn in which she praised private colleges for getting you to your diploma faster than public universities, even as her husband, Gov. Jim Doyle, cut the budgets of public universities.
HALL OF FAME
Strolling through its narrow aisles with the dulcet melodies of Frank Sinatra filling the spice-perfumed air, you feel like little has changed since this family-owned deli/grocery store first opened on Valentine’s Day in 1946. Its meatballs alone are enough to warrant a Hall of Fame nod, but Glorioso’s offers so much more. From made-from-scratch cannolis, antipasto and sausages to imported oils, cheeses and sauces, you won’t find anything more authentically Italian in the city.
While the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s student-run radio station’s roots stretch back to the early ’20s, WMSE-FM as we know it today first hit the airwaves on March 17, 1981. An impressive run, considering that for the last decade, it’s been 100 percent supported by listeners and sponsors. WMSE is dedicated to airing the widest range of the greatest music you’ll find on the dial, from every kind of rock to jazz to classical to country. Because DJs are free from the constraints of corporate-owned radio, you never know what they’ll play next. Therein lies the beauty.
Their rumble is unmistakable. Their style, legendary. From Brigitte Bardot sprawled across her black hog to Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper cruising the country on custom choppers, Harleys have been an American icon for more than a century. During that span, they battled Pancho Villa, helped defeat the Nazis, survived the Great Depression and expanded into more than 30 countries. All told, countless numbers of Harleys have been driven worldwide. Frankly, this Hall of Fame induction is long overdue.
Every great city has a great improv comedy troupe. Chicago has Second City, Los Angeles has The Groundlings and Milwaukee has ComedySportz. Started by Dick Chudnow in 1984, CSz has grown into an international presence, with chapters in 22 cities, including Manchester, England. Earlier this year, in honor of its 25th anniversary, Milwaukee hosted the ComedySportz World Championship for the first time since its inaugural competition in 2004. And, of course, we walked away with the crown.
On the short list of coaches who have brought championships to Milwaukee, Al McGuire has to be No. 1. In 13 seasons with Marquette, he led the men’s basketball team to an NIT title (1970) and two NCAA Final Four appearances (1974 and 1977), the latter one culminating in the school’s only national championship. While McGuire passed away in 2001 after a battle with leukemia, his legacy in Milwaukee and the larger coaching world lives on through his annual charity run/walk, the Marquette sports arena named in his honor, and McGuire, the one-man play based on his life.
Addition to the Home Shopping Scene
When Suzanne Rafenstein moved her home furnishings boutique Embelezar (241 N. Broadway) north from Bucktown’s hip shopping district to the Historic Third Ward, Chicago’s loss was our gain. Like an evocative bazaar, the store entices shoppers to explore a potpourri of home embellishments, artisan-created gifts and cultural artifacts gathered from the world over. The idea here is to not just find an object for decorating the home, but to fall under the spell of the story it evokes, whether it be a Maori carved stone, Venetian silk chandelier, Moroccan ceramic, Italian tiled tray or stunning textiles from Turkey or India.
This town seems to have a love affair with fruit tarts. A staple of every self-respecting bakery in town, the dessert has many interpretations. At its most ideal, a fruit tart should be about the fruit itself. The crust should offer a smidge of texture, contrasting butteriness and warmth against the snap and tang of the fresh, plump fruit arranged on top. The custard should give the fruit a buoyant, creamy lift both on the shell and in the mouth, coating the palate with a delicately sweet creaminess that calls forward a bit of tartness in the fruit juices. We decided to put the city’s most beloved fruit tarts up against each other in a staff taste test. While it was close, top honors went to V. Richard’s market (17165 W. Bluemound Rd., Brookfield). One of the first local bakeries to offer this wildly popular desert, its tart still remains the gold standard.
“In da locker room, snuck to post my twitt,” began the halftime text message from Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva. While Bucks brass were nonplussed, the ensuing media firestorm made him a Twitter star. But now, “CV31” has taken his 50,000-plus followers to Detroit, so who’s the best tweeter on the local sports scene? Presenting Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Barnett. Always good for several daily updates (but so far, none during halftime), “NickBarnett” has more than 15,000 followers. When Michael Jackson died, he tapped into his tweeple, offering a signed jersey to the first person who delivered a leather Jackson jacket. He’s also used Twitter to spar with the media and raise money for charity. We can’t wait to see the tweets after his first sack of a certain Vikings QB.
Performing Arts Export
A few of our local playwrights are doing Milwaukee proud. Laura Lynn MacDonald’s adaptation of Peer Gynt was staged in Central Park this summer by the Gorilla Rep. Alice Austen’s plays have been staged in Chicago, London and Brussels. And Josh Schmidt (known in town as a sound designer) wrote a musical, Adding Machine, that ran off-Broadway for 150 performances and won several critics awards (the CD is soon to be released). Schmidt’s latest, A Minister’s Wife, has received raves in Chicago and may be New York-bound as well.
The signature black cherry mojito at Art Bar (722 E. Burleigh St.) is a Riverwest favorite. The secret is the muddled black cherries and the black cherry rum. It’s light and fresh for the warmer months, a good drink for sitting outside on an Indian summer evening.
New Theater Space
In Tandem theatre’s Chris and Jane Flieller have been nomads for more than 10 years, staging shows where they could find space. That all changed when serendipity landed in the form of the Calvary Presbyterian Church basement, which was in need of some activity. Now, the Tenth Street Theatre (628 N. 10th St.) is a great place for a play, inviting and intimate with a spacious lobby where you can stretch out and wander between acts.
The locally owned Ben Franklin Crafts (1083 Summit Ave., Oconomowoc) has been around since 1973. Beaders, quilters, knitters, scrapbookers, artists and crafters all love this hobbyists’ haven, with its inexpensive classes, knowledgeable staff and wide selection. And even the less-than-crafty are inspired by the works on display, an annual quilt show, “make-it/take-it” mini classes and the Country Corner Gift Shop.
Route from MKE to IRE
The folks who own County Clare, the Milwaukee Irish inn and pub (1234 N. Astor St.), know a thing or two about Ireland. They organize weeklong excursions year-round to the group’s Irish affiliate, the 250-year-old Castledaly Manor, a short drive from Dublin. The best deals are had in January and February, when temperatures are moderate in the Irish midlands, snow is rare, and by Valentine’s Day, daily temperatures hover in the 50s and 60s and the daffodils have burst into bloom. A package rate for two – including airfare, one of the inn’s 22 private guest rooms and an Irish breakfast each day – is $2,500 during peak season. But in February, it’s around $1,000 less, and at the manor house’s pub each night, local singers and dancers gather around the fire with their pints of Guinness to take the chill off the evening with an Irish bonding experience second to none (toll free at 866-604-7474).
Student-Run Lifestyle Blog
Paris Hilton is blabbering again, but you don’t need a tabloid magazine to read about it. The students at the UWM Post’s life and culture section, known as Fringe, publish a blog about all things entertainment. With posts about everything from Madonna’s adoption fantasies to popular YouTube videos addressing Cleveland’s bad reputation, the Fringe – uwmpostfringe.wordpress.com – is a great way to track what’s going on in pop culture from a student’s perspective.
Tucked away in Riverwest, Shi Chai (832 E. Center St.) is a Mediterranean deli and hookah lounge that caters mostly to neighborhood residents and college students. Smoke curls toward the ceiling, but it smells sweet and inviting. Gather with friends and enjoy more than 50 tobacco flavors, plus some of the excellent hummus or a pot of tea. But the main draw is the hookahs, surely the most luxurious way to smoke tobacco. Stuff With
The welcoming décor at O-town’s new martini bar, Splash (134 N. Main St., Oconomowoc), will entice you to take a seat in the bar area. Don’t. Keep walking until you get to the elevated rear of the room, a private gathering spot reminiscent of the upper deck on a cruise ship. There, you’ll enjoy your drink (we recommend the Razzle Dazzle martini, $8) along with the lovely view of Lac La Belle and the popular little fishing canal that joins it to Fowler Lake. Cheese Curds
The view of the lake from Bradford Beach: incredible. The view of the lake from Bradford Beach while consuming melt-in-your-mouth fried cheese curds: incredibly amazing. Northpoint snack bar combines both, proving Bartolotta Restaurant Group knows fried Wisconsin fare as well as it knows international haute cuisine.
East Side Picnic
Escape the crowds of Bradford Beach and relocate your picnic basket north to Atwater Park (Capitol Drive and Lake Drive, Shorewood). With a jungle gym, benches and grassy knolls, Atwater offers a quiet and breathtaking view of Lake Michigan from atop a bluff. For those who muster the courage for the switchback descent to the water, a delightful secluded beach awaits. It’s the perfect spot for the family or a romantic date.
From a brightly colored picnic table on a RiverWalk patio, Soups On (221 N. Water St.) is the Third Ward’s go-to spot for soup-to-go and an up-front view of the Downtown riverside promenade. But Soups On is probably best appreciated during the wintertime, when lunchers pull up plastic deck chairs around plastic patio tables inside the cozy restaurant and catch the rays of sunshine streaming through the picture windows. Dig into a bowl of fresh soup or chili made from scratch (and all good) while watching the river flow by.
Doing 20 long-lunges before 6 a.m. is totally worth it as long as there’s a pretty lake to look at, right? After a Milwaukee Adventure Boot Camp (414-881-5348) workout at Bradford Beach – with equal parts encouragement and badass drill sergeant schtick – you might just skip that sugar doughnut that you so craved for breakfast. n\
Who would be more appropriate to choose the best tikka masala – the creamy, tomato-based sauce offered at every Indian restaurant in town – than a group of yoga teachers? And so it was. Our panel of taste-testers may have gotten all bent out of shape while trying to rank the city’s best tikka masala, but it didn’t show in their contemplative gazes. While there wasn’t a single downward dog in the group of five sauces, there was – like with the universe – a clear order to things. The yogis enlightened us with their comments.
1) Taste of India (17800 W. Bluemound Rd., Brookfield) – “Perfect balance,” “lovely,” “fresh.” The best.
2) Royal India (3400 S. 27th St.) – “Fantastic color,” “perfectly spiced.”
3) Maharaja (1550 N. Farwell Ave.) – “Nice consistency,” “hugely flavorful.”
4) Mayura Indian Restaurant (1958 N. Farwell Ave.) – “Not as good,” “a little sweet.”
5) Tandoor Restaurant (1117 S. 108th St.) – Alas, “like tomato soup” and “bland.”