Best of Greater MKE 2019


So when we asked you, our readers, to nominate and vote for your local favorites across those genres, you responded with overwhelming enthusiasm. From the most influential Milwaukeean to where to find the best whiskey selection, the best spot for a guy’s night out to the best fun run, and so much more, read on to find out which people and places you chose as the Best of Greater MKE. You don’t need us to tell you that the residents of Milwaukee and its surrounding counties are passionate about our region and the unmatched quality of life it affords us — from its world-class art and entertainment options and its imaginative and evolving culinary scene to the myriad lakes, parks and trails that offer year-round outdoor fun and our top-notch pro athletes.

Most Influential Milwaukeean: Joe Bartolotta >>
Joe Bartolotta passed away as this issue was being developed, but his mark on Milwaukee — as cofounder of The Bartolotta Restaurants, member of Visit Milwaukee’s board of directors and champion of countless causes citywide — is undeniably one that won’t be forgotten. “He was a businessman, but he felt like a regular person,” says Kelly Mallegni, the restaurant group’s marketing manager and an employee of Bartolotta’s for nearly four years. “... I feel really honored to have worked for him and known him and to be in the position as the press person [for the company] to continue that voice, his voice, which was such a powerful voice in our city.” — J.K.

Runner-up: Tom Barrett

Local Musician: Pat McCurdy
“What inspires me as a musician and an entertainer are two very different things,” says Brookfield native Pat McCurdy. As a musician, McCurdy says he enjoys the “arc of creativity” and particularly likes lyric writing, while entertaining brings the thrill of a live audience. “I like interaction,” he adds. “I like the audience to be a big part of [the show]. And when that starts clicking, it’s just an experience like no other.” McCurdy is scheduled to play 28 shows this month, is working on a new album, and in November will go on tour with Yipes!, the rock band he performed with throughout the ’70s and ’80s. “I wanted to be a musician when I was 9 years old,” he recalls fondly, “... and it worked out pretty well for me.” — J.K. Photo courtesy of Pat McCurdy

Runner-up: Amanda Huff

<< Activist: Christine Neumann Ortiz
Christine Neumann Ortiz joined Voces de la Frontera as its executive director in 2005. The membership-based, community organization focuses on defending the rights of immigrants, she explains, and its leadership and members are currently campaigning to restore driver’s licenses for Wisconsin immigrants, noting their economic contributions to the state. “There is an historic moment that all of us are living in that demands that we push back against this escalated human rights abuse,” stresses Ortiz. “... A simple driving infraction ... is being used as a way to target immigrants for deportations. … No one should have to live with the fear of being separated from their family.” To learn more about Voces or to join the organization, visit — J.K.

Runner-up: Jan Wilberg

TV Weatherperson: Mark Baden – WISN 12

Chief meterologist Mark Baden has graced TV screens throughout Greater Milwaukee for more than 20 years. “I was fortunate enough to land the chief meteorologist job when I was 26 years old, in 1997,” says Baden, who lives in Mequon with his wife and three daughters. “… To be honest with you, Milwaukee was probably going to be another jumping point to a Chicago or something bigger. … I found that I just absolutely fell in love with Milwaukee.” The St. Louis native credits his team for his tenure with WISN 12. “Overall it’s just a good environment,” he adds. “... Honestly, it sounds cliche, but it’s fun to go to work everyday.” — J.K.

Runner-up: Rob Haswell, FOX6

Radio Personalities: Bob and Brian – 102.9 The Hog >> 

Despite cast shakeups at other Milwaukee area radio stations, longtime friends Bob Madden and Brian Nelson have defied the odds. The snarky duo has been broadcasting together for more than 30 years, first joining the station in 1989, and their eponymous morning radio show is consistently ranked as one of the top shows in the city. Philanthropy is a cornerstone of their show, too, with the pair co-hosting annual events, including a radiothon and a golf outing, to benefit the MACC Fund. The nonprofit raises funds and awareness for childhood cancer. — J.K. Photo courtesy of Bob and Brian

Runner-up: Dave Luczak, 96.5, WKLH

<< TV Sportscaster: Tim Van Vooren – FOX6

Following a childhood spent watching Milwaukee TV, West Bend native Tim Van Vooren joined Fox 6 in 1990, eventually nabbing the network’s sports director role. He says he enjoys the job’s inevitable variety, as no two days are the same. “We’re busy year-round with relevant teams that people care about, and that’s awesome,” Van Vooren explains. “... There’s great interest here, and there’s great success here.” He praises Milwaukeeans’ loyalty to their hometown teams, as well as their optimism for what’s next. “The calendar just really turns in a positive direction,” he adds. Off camera, Van Vooren, his wife and their four children call Mequon home. — J.K. Photo courtesy of FOX6

Runner-up: Lance Allen, TMJ4

Fine Artist: Pamela Anderson >> 

“What inspires me is strength in finding myself in my artwork,” says abstract-style painter, sculptor and designer Pamela Anderson of her work. The self-taught artist says she’s been painting since age 6, but didn’t pursue a full-time art practice until 2011, after decades spent working in Corporate America. Today she maintains a sustainable practice, even earning the coveted spot as The Pfister Hotel’s 2016/2017 Artist-in-Residence. “I don’t think an artist ever finishes refining their work or their practice,” says Anderson, adding that she’s arrived at a very happy place in her discovery of self. “... I feel like I’ve achieved much of what I’ve set out to do, but I have so many ideas yet to investigate.” — J.K.

See Pamela Anderson’s work in the following exhibits:

— Indiana Green 10th Anniversary Exhibit at the Cedarburg Cultural Center; on view through Aug. 25

— SPARK: Material Studios & Gallery Group Show at the Frank Juarez Gallery; on view through Aug. 31

— “Body of Work” at the Brooks Stevens Gallery, Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design; on view through Sept. 7

Runner-up: Jan Falk

<< Sports Figure: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Perhaps best known as the “Greek Freak,” Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo most recently led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, sending the city into a basketball-induced flurry of excitement. He’s an easy player to root for too — exceptionally talented, humble and philanthropically minded, and notably loyal to the Bucks. Antetokounmpo’s contract with the team expires in 2021, binding him to Cream City for at least two more seasons, but we hope his well-documented fondness for Milwaukee and its trademark as a big city with a small town feel will keep him local for years to come. — J.K.  Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks

Runner-up: Christian Yelich

Character: John McGivern

A born and raised East Sider and three-time Emmy Award winner, John McGivern is a Milwaukeean who found his way home again. The actor/writer lived and worked elsewhere for more than two decades, but returned to Cream City in 2001 to star in the comedic murder-mystery, “Shear Madness.” Today McGivern is busy filming his ninth season of “Around the Corner with John McGivern,” the highest-rated show in Milwaukee PBS’ history, and now also hosts a second show for the network, “Next Avenue Community Conversations,” which tackles subjects facing viewers over 50. “I love it all. I really do,” says McGivern of what keeps him in Milwaukee. “… I love that I made a choice to come back. And I’ve never been busier!” — J.K.  Photo courtesy of John McGivern

Runner-up: Joe Bartolotta

TV Newscaster: Ted Perry – FOX6 >> 

“I like being part of the fabric of the community,” says Ted Perry of his role as an anchor and reporter at FOX6. “I like that I will go places and people will want to talk about what’s happening. I could shop online, but then I miss out on that interaction. I really value that.” A UW-Madison graduate and 26-year FOX6 veteran, Perry says he encourages young journalists to take a similar approach to their profession: “Don’t just cover a community; become a part of it.” — J.K.  Photo courtesy of FOX6

Runner-up: Joyce Garbaciak, WISN 12

Best Local Band: Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie has been pouring some aural sugar on Southeastern Wisconsin for more that 20 years, playing favorite “hair band” hits and ballads from the 80’s — plus a few 70’s anthems — from bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Journey, Def Leppard and more. The fun-loving rockers pride themselves on their over-the-top performances, boasting top-tier sound, lighting and special effects crews for a memorable headbanger of a show. Head to to find out when and where you can get yourself a serving­. — N.K.   Photo courtesy of Cherry Pie

Golf Pro/Instructor: Todd Halverson

A lifelong golfer and Waukesha County native, golf instructor Todd Halverson now works for the County, teaching six to 10 lessons each week in both individual and group settings. “I mainly work with beginners,” explains Halverson. “I get a joy out of seeing them as they learn how to swing the club, and all of a sudden they’re able to get the ball in the air and are like, ‘Oh my gosh! Look what I just did.’” He says he tries to keep his lessons simple, fun and enjoyable, but says mastering the sport of golf requires repetition and consistent practice. — J.K.

Runner-up: Travis Becker

Spot to Learn More About Wine: Thief Wine Shop and Bar

With locations in Shorewood and the Milwaukee Public Market in the city’s Historic Third Ward, Thief Wine Shop and Bar offers a dazzling array of wines from across the globe, and boasts friendly staff that is thrilled to chat with customers about all things vino. Thief regularly hosts seminars and wine-tasting events, such as the upcoming Shorewood Summer Spectacular on August 18. “Thief has always taken pride in our eclectic and diverse selection at both the bar and in the shop, but this award is all about the customer experience, which is even more gratifying,” said Thief proprietor Phil Bilodeau. “…We’re passionate about providing an unpretentious, informative, and enjoyably memorable wine experience.” — C.J.

Runner-up: Ruby Tap

Veterinarian/Veterinarian Clinic: Dr. Noah’s Ark Veterinary Clinic >>

Pets are part of the family, and when they are injured or ill, we want them cared for by an expert who knows just how much they mean to us. For many locals, that’s Dr. Noah Arnold of Dr. Noah’s Ark Veterinary Clinic, voted the areas top veterinary care. With a lifelong passion for animals’ wellbeing, plus years of experience and an endearing devotion to his own pets — brown tabby cat The Little Boy, and enormous Alaskan malamute Bella — Arnold and his talented team are skilled at and passionate about taking the best care of your furry family members. — N.K.

Runner-up: Elmbrook Veterinary Clinic

<< Tailor/Seamstress: Hyde Park MKE

Hyde Park MKE in Wauwatosa is the latest incarnation of a tailoring business that was founded in 1930, and owned since 1960 by the Strigenz family. Sydney Deutsch, granddaughter of Erwin Strigenz, now runs the shop. Now, not only can you get your coat or dress custom-tailored or dry cleaned at Hyde Park, you can also shop for original clothing, accessories, jewelry and gifts, many created by local designers and artisans. Deutsch, a graduate of the Mount Mary College Apparel Product Development program, is carrying on the family tradition and updating services for the next generation of impeccably dressed customers. — N.B.

Runner-up: Ana Semar

Doggy Daycare: Central Bark

Calling themselves the “UnKennel,” Central Bark Doggy Day Care serves locations throughout Southeastern Wisconsin and offers a range of services including day care, sleepovers, full-service grooming, training and even dog parties. Pet parents who want their pups to play and be pampered while they’re at work or out of town for vacation or family celebrations can trust the caretakers at Central Bark to spoil their pets and give them MKE’s most comfortable home away from home. — N.K.

Runner-up: Happy Paws Grooming & Daycare

Local Photographer: Andrew Feller >>

If you schedule a photo session with photographer Andrew Feller, you’re not just going to get a professional photo, you’ll get an engaging conversation too. Because Feller is a true believer in the power of research. He’s going to learn as much as he can about you and your organization so that he can get the best photo. “Whether it’s a CEO or someone who benefited from some program, being able to have a conversation is what breaks down the barrier, and that’s where a genuine smile comes from,” Feller explains. He loves to focus on small businesses and nonprofits, especially arts organizations such as Arte Para Todos (Art for All), to tell their stories through images. Find him at —N.B.    Photo courtesy of Andrew Feller

Runner-up: Ari Rosenthal Photography

<< Music Lessons: White House of Music

Whether you have your eye on a music career or just that guitar you’ve schlepped around since high school but never learned to play, the White House of Music has a trusted source for musical instruments and the skills needed to play them since 1953. Once Waukesha’s community music store, White House has since expanded to Watertown, West Bend, Wauwatosa, Germantown and Hartland, bringing the joy of making music — and learning something new — to generations. — L.A.

Runner up — Wisconsin Conservatory of Music

Furniture Restoration: Greg Mueller Upholstery >>

Business owner Greg Mueller has been upholstering furniture for four decades, opening his business in Menomonee Falls 36 years ago, and relocating to Thiensville in the late 1980s. “It’s interesting work. No two pieces are alike,” he notes, adding that some pieces he sees are antiques. Mueller credits the longevity of his business to loyal customers, some of whom he has known for over 30 years. “The best reason I have for being in business is great customers,” he adds. — C.J.

Runner-up: Graybar

Cosmetic Enhancements Provider: Clinic of Cosmetic Surgery

Clinic of Cosmetic Surgery doctors Mark M. Blake and Roger C. Mixter, along with their caring staff, combine a wealth of plastic surgery knowledge and expertise with compassion and community involvement. The Clinic offers a number of cosmetic services, from breast augmentation and liposuction to facial treatments and eyebrow lifts. Besides providing top-notch patient care, Mixter and Blake are active in multiple community organizations and activities, including F.A.C.E., a local and international organization treating low-income individuals with craniofacial deformities, and Lose The Toos, a program in which he and Blake partner with the Boys and Girls Club to help youths by removing gang-related tattoos. — C.J.

Runner-up: Aesthetic 360

<< Landscaper: Flagstone Landscape Design

Cedarburg-based company Flagstone Landscape Design provides its clients with a wide variety of customized home features made from high-quality and natural materials, from lighting to fountains, and ponds and pools to decks and fire pits. Flagstone also offers drainage and irrigation solutions, as well as container planting services. A painter as well as a landscape designer, Flagstone principal Peter Kudlata brings a trained, artistic eye to the landscaping process. — C.J.  Photo courtesy of Flagstone Landscape Design

Runner-up: Landworks, Inc.

Shoe and Leather Repair: Jeff’s Shoe Repair

If you have a beloved boot or a favorite dress shoe that needs some TLC, take our readers’ advice and take your damaged footwear to Jeff’s Shoe Repair on N. 84th Street in Milwaukee. Jeffrey Brandenburg has owned the business with his wife for 35 years, proudly restoring shoes, boots, handbags and leather to its former glory. “It feels great to be a winner — [I’m] doing the best customer service that I can provide,” he says. — N.K.

Auto Dealer: Wilde Automotive Group

Founded in the 1940s by World War II pilot Harold L. Wilde, the family-owned and operated auto dealership has grown to five Wisconsin locations and four Florida locations. Featuring a well-stocked inventory of reasonably-priced new and used vehicles of many different makes and models, from Hondas to Toyotas to Subarus to Dodge Rams, Wilde also has five financing and auto service centers, and offers many vehicle specials. — C.J.

Runner-up: Sommer’s

Last Minute Gift Shop: Winkie’s Hallmark & Gifts >>

For more than half a century, family-run Winkie’s Hallmark & Gifts has been a beloved destination for generations of regional residents and charmed tourists seeking unique local-themed merchandise, tasty candy-counter treats, tasteful (and often just plain fun) home décor items, upscale body care products and more — whether those items find their home in the purchaser’s residence or become a treasured gift for a special someone. Located on Silver Spring Ave. in Whitefish Bay’s quaint shopping district, Winkie’s Hallmark & Gifts offers a modern boutique experience and trip down memory lane all rolled into one. — L.A.

Runner up: Waxwing

<< Antique Store: Farm Girl Art & Antiques

Go ahead and step into the display windows at Farm Girl Art & Antiques in Walker’s Point. Some of the quirkiest finds, like vintage lighting, festive banners and charming framed prints are waiting for you there. For 10 years, owner Lisa Goldner and a cast of about 25 vendors have been curating their specialty collections at the shop, refreshing their shelves with every season. Take your time to browse hundreds of fascinating items, from a Davy Crockett lunchbox to a pair of antique snowshoes to hang in your cabin. Look for crafting classes featuring how-tos, door prizes and treats. (The store always closes for August, but is back in September with lots of new-found treasures.) Open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. — N.B.

Runner-up: Antique Addicts

Classic Barbershop: Gent's Classic Barbershop >>

Equal parts classic, old school barbershop and modern men’s salon, this Menomonee Falls favorite specializes in making guys of all ages look great. Owner Nick Papageorgio — who loved visiting the barber with his dad as a kid — also offers a “Dads and Lads Outing” for fathers and sons, discounts for men over 60 and military veterans and special Saturday appearances by Richard “Dick” Bozek, who’s been barbering for more than six decades. — L.A.

Runner up – The Men’s Room

Place to Buy Milwaukee-Centric Merchandise: Milwaukee Public Market

Milwaukee’s always bustling public market will celebrate its 15th year in 2020, providing the Historic Third Ward — and the region as a whole — with a single stop to socialize, drink and dine, learn something new, and shop for fresh food and unique merchandise. In the middle of the market is Brew City Brand, a 23-year-old, family-run business known for its unique, wryly comical Milwaukee-centered merchandise, including wearables with built-in beer pouches and bottle openers, plus socks, hats, can coozies and more. Buy gifts for a friend or a little something for yourself, and then refuel with Milwaukee’s own Kehr candies and a bracing cup of Anodyne coffee. — L.A.

Runner up: Winkie’s Hallmark & Gifts

<< Artisan-Crafted Jewelry Store: East Towne Jewelers

For more than three decades, Mequon’s East Towne Jewelers has provided customers with personalized services from custom jewelry crafting to heirloom jewelry repair, restoration and repurposing. Their imaginative, one-of-a-kind designs incorporate attractive stones like opal, turquoise, and lapis, an inventory of loose diamonds and a variety of high-end jewelry from designers such as Indiri, Mediterranean Artists, Phillip Gavriel, Bavna and JB Star. —C.J.

Runner-up: Atypic Gallery

Outdoor Outfitter: REI Co-Op

Brookfield’s REI is a paradise for outdoor sports and nature enthusiasts, offering everything from tents and kayaks to snowboards and yoga mats. Offering a large clothing selection for men, women and kids, shoppers can also browse used clothing (online only) at Passionate outdoors enthusiasts can also sign up for a number of classes on topics like bear-proofing camping gear, backcountry stoves and water treatment, how to pack a backpack and kayaking and canoeing basics. — C.J.

Runner-up: Sherper’s

Dual Winner: Home Furnishing Store and Best Home Accessories: BILTRITE Furniture-Leather-Mattresses >> 

Randi K. might be BILTRITE’s public face, but the 91-year-old business is truly a hands-on family affair — which extends to its staff members, who also enjoy BILTRITE’s focus on family, community and work-life balance. Founded in 1928, the store’s team understands Milwaukee’s eclectic blend of house styles and appreciation for value without sacrificing quality. “Being family owned and ‘born and raised’ in Milwaukee, we understand the climate of this area,” says Randi K. “It’s different when you go to a chain store. They’re buying nationally; we’re buying locally for the Milwaukee area. We totally understand the looks. We have baby boomers downsizing, millennials buying first homes and everything in between!” — L.A.

Home Furnishing Runner-up: Colder’s Furniture Appliances Mattresses
Best Home Accessories Runner-up: Fringe Interior Design

<< Farmers Market: West Allis Farmers Market

When the bell rings precisely at 1 p.m. on Saturdays at the West Allis Farmers Market, area farmers can begin to sell the cream of their crops. This market opens later than others because when it first began operations 100 years ago, farmers picked their produce in the morning, carted it into town and sold it in the afternoon. You can’t get much fresher (or local) than that. About 50 to 60 vendors are selling in peak months of July and August, and the market is open through Nov. 30. (CQ) Hours are 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and until 7 p.m. the last Thursday of the month. “Like” the market’s Facebook page for featured items each week. — N.B.

Runner-up: Tosa Farmers Market

Flea Market: Maxwell Street Days, Cedarburg

Antique lovers and bargain hunters are likely to find loads of second-hand treasures at Cedarburg’s Maxwell Street Days. Now celebrating its 53rd year, and with the help of more than 100 volunteers, the Firemen’s Park flea market is held four times a year to benefit the Cedarburg fire department. “The volunteers, firefighters and EMS personnel work very hard to make these four events a success every year,” says Kim Esselmann, Cedarburg Fire Department deputy chief. — C.J.

Runner-up: St. Martins Fair

Menswear: Harleys: A Modern Man Store >>

A longtime Shorewood institution for well-dressed men, Harleys has major updates in the works. “Harleys is moving to the Third Ward after 70 years of being in Shorewood. We are so ecstatic about our future in Milwaukee,” says Harleys’ Jeff Brand. “We are currently working on finishing up the store design along with rebranding both our corporate and local identity. We are so excited to win our category again with your readers. It truly means a lot.” — L.A.

Runner up: JoS. A. Bank

<< Womenswear Boutique: Faye’s

Shopping for the freshest fashions and accessories has become tradition for generations of metro Milwaukee ladies who trust Faye Wetzel and her talented team to dress them in comfortable but cosmopolitan style sweetened with attentive, intelligent customer service. Locations in Mequon and Brookfield draw fashionistas from around the Cream City area and beyond. And the business’s commitment to philanthropy and arts education makes your purchases all the more pleasing. — L.A.

Runner up: The Navy Knot

Fishing Spot: Pewaukee Lake

Passionate anglers frequent many fishing destinations until they come across their perfect spot. For many Milwaukeeans, 2437-acre Pewaukee Lake is their go-to for musky (it’s know as the finest lake for this fish in the entire state), plus largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye and pan fish. Though fishermen share the five miles long lake with recreational sports boaters in the summer, its abundant weedlines and rock bars keep the lure of throwing a line into this sportsman’s paradise top of local anglers’ lists. — N.K.

Runner-up: Lake Michigan

Local Fun Run: Briggs & Al’s Run & Walk for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin >>

Both a key fundraiser for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and a beloved Milwaukee tradition, 100 percent of the proceeds raised at the annual Briggs & Al’s Run and Walk benefit programs and services at Children’s that help prevent and ease the suffering of patients. Organized for more than 40 years, the run and walk offers several options for participants — an 8k wheelchair route, an 8k running route, and 3-mile and 5-mile walker routes. — N.K.   Photo courtesy of Briggs and Al's Run and Walk

Runner-up: Samson Stomp & Romp    

Performing Arts Program for Kids: First Stage

Milwaukee’s second-largest theater company is, proudly and literally, kid stuff. Now in its 32nd year, First Stage is also among the nation’s largest professional theaters for young audiences, employing 30 to 40 professional actors each season and providing inclusive theater education and opportunities to thousands of other aspiring performers. — L.A.  

Runner up: Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

<< Nature Center: Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

Known as a birding hotspot on the Lake Michigan shoreline, the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Bayside is the perfect place to have a close encounter with the natural world. Enjoy a birds-eye view of the tree canopy and the lake from atop the center’s 60-foot observation tower. Visit a live bird of prey at the center’s raptor exhibit and “Word with a Bird” weekend presentations. Hikers can explore six miles of trails, including the wheelchair-accessible Mystery Lake Boardwalk, where turtles, frogs, muskrats and herons can be spotted among the water lilies. Check the center’s website for nature-themed activities for kids and adults throughout the year. — N.B.  Photo courtesy of Schlitz Audubon Nature Center

Runner-up: Urban Ecology Center

Golf Course: Blue Mound Golf and Country Club

Wauwatosa’s picturesque Blue Mound Golf and Country Club has provided patrons with a memorable experience on the links for more than 100 years. With 18 holes over acres of sprawling, pristine greens, this stunning course hosted Wisconsin’s first PGA major in 1933. The hallmark of the Blue Mound experience, though, is the welcoming clubhouse and amazing dining experience, perfect for planning your next enviable social event or just a celebratory dinner and drinks after golfing its challenging holes. — N.K.

Runner-up: Grant Park Golf Course

Girls’ Night Out Spot: Twisted Willow >>

A former home transformed into an intimate and relaxed restaurant, Twisted Willow offers farm-fresh ingredients in elegant and upscale American dishes along with a variety of refreshing drinks for anything from a casual night out to a celebration. After sampling dishes from flatbreads to pastas to pâté and more, gather your girls and head to the third floor’s TreeHouse Lounge to experience the bustling cocktail bar and sample sips from their varied drink menu. — N.K.

Runner-up: The Outsider

Dual Winner: Performing Arts Company/Organization and Place to See Live Theater: Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

With exciting changes to its campus and the arrival of the mega-smash “Hamilton” in the offing, the Marcus’ approaching half-century mark promises to be memorable. “At the Marcus Performing Arts Center, we strive to be an energizing force that connects our community to the world through collaboration, innovation, social engagement and the transformative power of live performing arts,” says Heidi Lofy, vice president of experience and engagement. “Moving into our 50th Anniversary season in 2019/20, we will continue to present the best of Broadway and other world class performing artists. And the Marcus Center is planning significant improvements to our campus that will meet the changing needs of our resident partners, patrons and community, plus ensure our campus is more welcoming and accessible to everyone.” — L.A.  
Photo courtesy of Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Runner up: Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Charity Event: ALS Evening of Hope

Every March, ALS Association Wisconsin Chapter hosts its annual Evening of Hope. Also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a rare, progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the spinal cord and brain, causing weakened muscles, which impact physical function. An Evening of Hope raises funds for research to end ALS through live and silent auctions while also offering patrons appetizers, dinner, drink and dancing to live music. — N.K.

Runner-up: Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse

<<  Recreational Trail: Oak Leaf Trail

Whether you bike it, roller-blade it, run it or walk it, Milwaukee County’s 125-mile Oak Leaf Trail leads you to some of the most breathtaking views in the city and the burbs. The trail’s “branch lines” ­­— Milwaukee River Line, South Shore Line, Menomonee River Line, Kinnickinnic Line, Root River Line, Oak Creek Line and “Zip” Line – take you through parks, along the lakefront and into bustling urban areas. A map of the Oak Leaf Trail System, as well as the trail’s Explorer Map, are available on the Milwaukee County Parks’ website. — N.B.

Runner-up: Glacial Drumline State Trail

Place to See Live Music: Summerfest

Milwaukee is home to top-notch music venues large and small — but the granddaddy of them all is The Big Gig, the pride of Milwaukee’s lakefront and still the world’s largest music festival. Over the course of 11 days, about a million music lovers converge on Henry Maier Festival Park to take their pick of performances by hundreds of bands, plus rides, sports demonstrations, kids’ activities and, of course, a gastronome’s dreamscape of cold beer, cocktails and tasty eats. — L.A.  

Runner up: The Pabst Theater

Beach: Bradford

Situated along the glimmering shores of Lake Michigan, Bradford Beach is the ideal place to spend a summer day. Having undergone a revitalization 10 years ago, the beach is among Wisconsin’s first to receive the Blue Wave Certification, Clean Beach Coalition’s environmental certification for beaches. Several sand volleyball courts make Bradford a premier destination for leagues, tournaments and camps throughout the summer while The Dock serves food and drinks for beach-goers more interested in a leisurely day by the water. — N.K.

Runner-up: Harrington Beach State Park

Guys’ Night Out Spot: AXE MKE >>

Nothing quite says “Guys Night Out” like aiming imposing  — and sharp! — objects at a target while drinking beer. After a short orientation with your Axe Master, AXE MKE gives you a lane and 60-90 minutes to practice your throwing skills. Following the National Axe Throwing Federation’s guidelines, Axe Masters explain the rules, and attentive staff keeps a keen eye on the proceedings to make sure no one is hurt. A stress reliever, work out and bar sport to fuel your competitive nature, AXE MKE is the perfect place for a Saturday with the boys. — N.K.

Runner-up: The Rumpus Room - A Bartolotta Gastropub

Local Art/Maker Festival or Fair: Lakefront Festival of Art

A boon for lovers of unique and upscale art, and the unofficial launch of festival season, Milwaukee Art Museum’s annual celebration blends knockout artistic creations with music, food and family-friendly fun. Each year, nearly 200 artists from across the U.S. converge on the museum grounds for an outdoor, three-day, visual feast that draws thousands to Milwaukee’s lakefront just before thatother big gig gets underway. — L.A

Runner-up: Irish Fest

<< Street Festival: Bastille Days

Vive la France in the heart of Cream City! Milwaukee’s annual French-themed celebration — one of America’s largest — draws a quarter of a million Francophiles and other fun lovers to Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square Park to revel in live music, an international marketplace, delicious cuisine, cooking demos, wine tastings and more, all in the shadow of a lighted, 43-foot Eiffel Tower replica. The festival’s pièce de résistance? Five thousand runners of all abilities take to the streets for the Associated Bank Storm the Bastille run/walk that commemorates the July 1789 attack on the Bastille prison in Paris. — L.A

Runner up: Cedarburg Strawberry Festival

 Places for Adventurous Eats: Odd Duck >>

Odd Duck knows how to commit to a theme. The front window of the restaurant on Kinnickinnic Avenue is home to a haphazard collection of duck figurines, and the homey charm of the space could make you forget for just a moment that you’re about to embark on a worldly culinary journey. Odd Duck’s menu of small plates changes with the season, so check the menu before you go, but expect inspired dishes like squid ink fettucine, a savory Dutch baby pancake with asparagus and duck egg, or bánh xèo, a Vietnamese crepe made with turmeric, herbs, tofu and sour mushroom soy. Wet your beak with a seasonal cocktail that’s as adventurous as your meal — think coconut-infused gin served with pineapple syrup and Thai basil. In the time it takes to eat dinner, you’ll circle the globe. — N.S.

Runner-up: Birch + Butcher

<< Summerfest Eats: Saz’s

Peanut butter and jelly. Spaghetti and meatballs. Summerfest and Saz’s. Some combinations were just meant to be, and that’s true of this popular eatery that you’re guaranteed to find each year at Summerfest. Saz’s serves up its signature mozzarella sticks, chive fries and cheese curds throughout the festival grounds during all 11 days of the annual event. Whether you’re grabbing a bite before rocking out to your favorite band or you’re sitting down with friends for a full meal at Saz’s Dockside Barbecue, Saz’s is a can’t-miss Summerfest food experience. A marinara-dunked mozzarella stick from Saz’s is as Milwaukee as a bratwurst with a brew. — N.S.

Runner-up: Belair Cantina

Takeout: Culver’s

The Best of Milwaukee voters have spoken, and their message is clear: Nothing beats a classic butter burger and a bag of cheese curds from Culver’s, at least not when it comes to takeout. In a way, ordering from Culver’s is sort of like supporting a local business — the restaurant did start in Wisconsin, after all — although the fast food chain now has franchises around the country. With dozens of locations around southeast Wisconsin, you can’t beat the convenience of Culver’s for a meal on the run (and for a quick custard fix too). — N.S.

Runner-up: Thai-namite

Bakery: Simma’s >>

The cheesecake at Simma’s is the stuff of legend. To learn why, try the classic cheesecake with a raspberry filling, sandwiched between a chocolate cake bottom and a topping of chocolate ganache. If cheesecake isn’t your dessert of choice, feast your eyes (and then your taste buds) on the picture-perfect selection of goodies in the display cases full of eclairs, cream puffs, tarts, truffles and other specialty sweets that are as beautiful as they are delectable. — N.S.

Runner-up: Grebe’s Bakery

<< Breakfast: Blue’s Egg

Wake up early: Blue’s Egg doesn’t take reservations, but you’re going to want a table at this beloved breakfast joint with locations in Wauwatosa and Shorewood. Sure, you could order an omelet or a standard stack of pancakes — Blue’s Egg has all the breakfast basics covered — but you don’t want to miss one-of-a-kind dishes like the crispy blue crab cake served with remoulade, the Dubliner benedict with corned beef and paprika aioli, or the lemon cheesecake French toast (who says you can’t eat dessert for breakfast?) And don’t miss out on the cinnamon-sugar monkey bread; it’s worth the $1 upcharge to “crunk it” and get the side of bourbon dipping sauce. — N.S.

Runner-up: Mad Rooster Cafe

Soup: Panera Bread

In a climate like ours, it helps to have a reliable source for soup on speed dial. Cue Panera Bread — this fast-casual chain restaurant covers all the classics, from chicken noodle to broccoli cheddar and creamy clam chowder. Some soups are a meal unto themselves, like the Bistro French Onion Soup. In the warmer months, you can fill up on seasonal soups like the Summer Corn Chowder. For a vegan option, try Panera’s Ten Vegetable Soup. And, of course, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy your selection in a signature bread bowl; it’s the perfect starchy complement to a heartwarming bowl of your favorite soup. — N.S.

Runner-up: The Soup Market

Butcher Shop: Bunzel’s Meat Market >>

This old-school Milwaukee meat market has been in the same family for four generations, and even after moving to a new, bigger location in 2016, Bunzel’s hasn’t lost the personal touch that makes it a favorite among locals. The store sells a commendable selection of fresh meats and sausages, and they also specialize in processing wild game, from bison to boar. Added bonus: Bunzel’s is a one-stop shop if you need to pick up a few grocery items, baked goods or a meal to go from the take-out menu that changes daily. — N.S.

Runner-up: Ray’s Butcher Shoppe

<< Chicken Wings: Elsa’s On The Park

Elsa’s has been a downtown Milwaukee institution since 1980, and we bet that has something to do with their wings. By the looks of this intimate eatery, you’d be forgiven for thinking they might not specialize in game-day fare, but Elsa’s has a wing flavor for every mood or appetite, including hot and spicy buffalo wings, dragon wings tossed in soy and ginger, or buck ‘n wings in a tangy teriyaki sauce. Hungry? Make a meal of it and order the platter of all three flavors that comes with a side of fries, celery and creamy blue cheese dressing. — N.S.

Runner-up: Points East Pub

<< Poké: FreshFin

FreshFin Poké made a splash when it opened on North Avenue on Milwaukee’s east side. Now, the poké powerhouse is bringing its signature fresh bowls beyond downtown and into the Third Ward, Brookfield, as far as Madison and even into the Fiserv Forum. FreshFin serves classic Hawaiian poké made with fresh sashimi-grade fish, along with cooked proteins like shrimp and chicken, in addition to protein options for vegans. Don’t sleep on the Spicy Tuna bowl made with ahi tuna, edamame, jalapeno, cucumber, sriracha aioli and crunchy onion pieces, served over rice or a bed of mixed greens. Aside from their signature bowls, FreshFin also offers a BYOB option — build your own bowl, that is. Choose your own protein, sauces, add-ins and toppings like blanched kale, mango, crispy or and pickled ginger. — N.S.

Runner-up: Aloha Poké Co.

Date Dinner: Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro >>

On date night, an inviting setting is key, and Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro delivers romantic ambiance in spades. The vaulted ceilings and rustic-chic décor somehow make the French-inspired cuisine taste even better, and then there’s the stunning vistas overlooking Lake Michigan, which are the picturesque cherry on top of a romantic evening. Make a reservation for two and enjoy the ultimate fine-dining experience with the three-course menu du chef for a prix fixe feast. Add the wine pairings or select your favorite vintage from the all-French wine list.

Runner-up: Sanford Restaurant

<< Dual Winner: Craft Cocktails and Whiskey Selection: The Rumpus Room

Whether you like it neat, on the rocks or mixed into a classic cocktail, you’ll have no trouble finding a whiskey to your liking at The Rumpus Room in downtown Milwaukee where the Bartolotta gastropub offers an expansive whiskey list to satisfy your palette. If whiskey isn’t your liquor of choice, sift through the restaurant’s equally impressive house cocktail menu for drinks like the classic Wisconsin old fashioned, or opt for something a little more adventurous yet distinctly Sconnie, like the Capone in Door County, made with rye, cherry liqueur and
orange bitters. — L.S.

Craft's Cocktails Runner-up: Bryant's Cocktail Lounge | Whiskey Selection Runner-up: Bryant's Cocktail Lounge