In M Magazine’s first-ever Readers’ Choice poll,we asked you to vote online for your favorites in 25 categories — from best slice of pizza to top local chocolatier, cooking class, pet spa, kayaking spot and more. The categories and nominations were determined by the M Magazine editorial staff. They represent some of the best food, drink, shopping, treasures and experiences our city has to offer. Check out the list and then discover them for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
BY JORDAN DECHAMBRE, KRISTINE HANSEN AND LISA JONES TOWNSEL
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN BISHOP
Best Local Chocolatier
• Kehr’s Candies, Milwaukee
• Atomic Chocolate, Milwaukee
• Allo! Chocolat, Waukesha
• Indulgence Chocolatiers, Waukesha
Who knew sea salt could catapult a chocolate bar from great to fabulous? That’s the idea behind Indulgence Chocolatiers’ chief artist, Julie Waterman, who turns to the kitchen pantry (coconut oil, peanut butter, yellow curry, sea salt and peppermint oil, for instance) when devising new recipes for her product line of truffles and 3.5-ounce chocolate bars. Some are packed with a local ingredient — Stone Creek Coffee’s Green Bike Espresso in the espresso truffle, or dried Door County cherries in the Cherry Almond bar. This year Indulgence celebrates its fifth year of business, which is pretty sweet.
Best Place to Satisfy
Your Sweet Tooth
• C. Adams Bakery, Milwaukee
• Le Reve, Wauwatosa
• Simma’s Bakery, Wauwatosa
• Regina’s Bay Bakery, Whitefish Bay
Wrapped in chocolate ganache, the bakery’s signature creamy cheesecake with a ribbon of raspberry has beckoned dessert fanatics to the corner of 68th and Wells streets in Wauwatosa for close to a quarter century. You don’t need to be the bride, or a wedding guest, to enjoy the decadence. Drop into the bakery for an éclair, the aforementioned cheesecake or a line-up of breakfast-appropriate pastries with a streak of indulgence, like a turtle Danish, sticky bun or cheese-filled muffin.
Best Restaurant Cheese Tray
• The Cheese Bar, Milwaukee
• Andrew’s, The Delafield Hotel
• Sanford, Milwaukee
• Bacchus, Milwaukee
The Cheese Bar
In 2009 Wisconsin Cheese Mart (around since 1938) had an a-ha moment: Why not do more than sell cheese by the pound? Now, as a result of the owners’ ingenuity, saunter into The Cheese Bar on North Old World Third Street and order cheese plates representing the state’s best artisan creameries, from Sarvecchio Parmesan to Henning’s Mango Fire, and order a pint of local beer (or glass of wine) to boot. If the 175-cheese list overwhelms you, order the Wisconsin Sampler ($11.25), or pay attention to headings (White Wine Selection or Cheddar for Red Wines, for example).
Best Reinvented Mac ‘N’ Cheese
• Sac Mac & Cheese at Balzac, Milwaukee
• Grown Up Mac N Cheese at The Red Mill, Brookfield
• Rosemary Mac N Cheese at Ginger, Milwaukee
• Lobster Mac ‘N’ Cheese at Capital Grille, Milwaukee
The Capital Grille
Why keep your favorite childhood dish of mac ‘n’ cheese relegated to the past? The Capital Grille’s Lobster Mac ‘N’ Cheese (a side dish, $15) is adult-friendly, with a top layer of Panko-bread crumbs adding crunch to chunks of buttery lobster and a cream sauce (mascarpone, Havarti, white cheddar and grana padano cheeses) mingling with campanelle pasta. Did we mention the 5,000-bottle wine list? Talk about an upgrade from what you probably sipped as a child (juice boxes, anyone?).
Best Fresh Bread
• Great Harvest Bread Co., various locations
• Peter Sciortino’s Bakery, Milwaukee
• Wild Flour Bakery, Milwaukee
• Breadsmith, various location
Peter Sciortino’s Bakery
A staple in Brady Street’s Italian-immigrant history, Peter Sciortino’s (open since 1948) has also rolled ahead with the times, introducing gelato, wedding cakes and — gasp — even dog biscuits. But it’s the bakery’s fresh bread that never fails to win locals over, from crusty baguettes to old-fashioned fluffy loafs. Brady Street-area residents have an edge: the wonderful smell of fresh-baked bread wafting through the neighborhood each morning, without fail.
Best Fish ‘N’ Chips
• Lakefront Brewery Palm Garden, Milwaukee
• Three Lions Pub, Shorewood
• Brocach Irish Pub, Milwaukee
• John Hawks Pub, Milwaukee
Lakefront Brewery Palm Garden
With a storied history in fish fries, naturally Milwaukee can hold its own with fish ‘n’ chips, too. Lakefront Brewery Palm Garden, inside Lakefront Brewery’s headquarters on North Commerce Street, puts a Dairyland twist on England’s favorite pub fare. On Friday nights only, music from the Brew Haus Polka Kings fills the packed room, lit by Mission style lanterns, and an outdoor patio hovers above the Milwaukee River. Naturally, you’ll want to wash down your fish and chips with a pint of Lakefront Brewery beer, served on tap.
Best Local Brew
• Riverwest Stein, Lakefront Brewery
• Leisure Beer, Delafield Brewhaus
• Sprecher Oktoberfest
• Louie’s Demise, Milwaukee Ale House
Riverwest Stein Lager
You’ve got to hand it to Lakefront Brewery. Each year, without fail, a new brew joins its portfolio of craft beers. (The latest is Wisconsinite, made from 100-percent locally grown ingredients, including hops.) Yet an old standby never grows old. Riverwest Stein Lager, named after the ‘hood in which Lakefront Brewery was established during the late 1980s, is a beautiful amber when poured in the glass, and combines a balanced maltiness with floral character, capped off by a crisp finish.
Best Health Food
• Outpost Natural Foods, various locations
• Good Harvest Market, various locations
• Beans and Barley, Milwaukee
• Health Hut, various locations
Outpost Natural Foods
A quick walk down the aisles at any of Outpost Natural Foods’ three locations (Capitol Drive, Milwaukee, South Kinnickinnic Avenue, Milwaukee; and State Street, Wauwatosa) and it’s easy to see that the corner-grocery store concept is thriving. Friendly clerks, handwritten signs and shelf talkers are the entrée to health-conscious, sustainably grown food — much of it from regional farms. This is a store where you can trust the buyers and not spend hours reading a laundry list of ingredients only to find eater-beware additives like high-fructose corn syrup in a bag of chips or nitrates in meat.
Best Wine Bar
• Thief Wine Bar, Milwaukee and Shorewood
• Indulge, Milwaukee
• Balzac, Milwaukee
• Vino 100, Milwaukee and Wauwatosa
Thief Wine Bar
Since it first popped up in the Milwaukee Public Market — Milwaukee’s go-to spot for a host of local vendors — Thief Wine Bar has been winning over wine lovers with its wine flights, perfect for those who are “samplers” by nature. Stop by on Mondays for 15 percent off flights, or $4 Fridays, where the experts at Thief offer one red and one white option. The Shorewood location is equally posh, offering some of the best bottles you’ll find in the city.
Best Pizza by the Slice
• Classic Slice, Milwaukee
• Rustico Pizzeria, Milwaukee
• Sal’s, Cedarburg
• Brick 3 Pizza, Milwaukee
It’s hard to resist this Third Ward hotspot’s welcoming atmosphere and posh patio overlooking the Milwaukee River. And the pizza? It gets approval from even the most critical pizza snobs. No greasy slices here. Go for the Toscana, a tempting pie of sausage, porcini mushrooms, tomato sauce, mozzarella and Asiago cheese. Feeling spicy? Try the Piccante: Amatriciana sauce, hot sopressata, hot Italian sausage, hot capicola, smoked provolone and Asiago are the perfect blend of tingle and savory satisfaction. Of course, the classic Margherita with pomodoro sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil, is a popular pick. Or, stop by on Monday nights for $1 slice night to sample a host of zesty varieties.
Best Craft Cocktails
• The Hamilton, Milwaukee
• Bryant’s Lounge, Milwaukee
• Distil, Milwaukee
• Hotel Foster, Milwaukee
Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge
Want to travel back to the 1950s for the night? Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge at 9th and Lapham streets on the South Side of Milwaukee can take you there, right down to the ice-cream cocktails menu, Depression-era drinks like Candle Light and Whiskey River, and velvet walls in the upstairs Velvet Lounge (a private room worth a look-see even if it’s closed to service for the night). Although open since 1938, a few years ago new owner John Dye revived the spot after a brief closure that served as a — thankfully, short-lived — heartbreak for local lovers of nostalgia.
Best Bloody Mary as a Meal
• The Wicked Hop, Milwaukee
• INdustri Cafe, Milwaukee
• AJ Bombers, Milwaukee
• Sprizzo Gallery Caffe, Waukesha
The Wicked Hop
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: a Bloody Mary can indeed sub in for a burger or breakfast. Especially if you’re at The Wicked Hop in the Third Ward, where the Bloody Mary ($9) is a delicacy. The bar’s house recipe is accompanied by the following goodies: a Spanish green stuffed olive, peeled shrimp, Old Wisconsin beef stick, small kosher dill pickle, Portabella mushroom and mozzarella whips. Trust us: you won’t be hungry when you get to the bottom of the glass.
• Larry’s Market, Brown Deer
• Rochester Deli, Waukesha
• Jake’s Deli, Milwaukee
• BenjI’s Restaurant and Deli, Shorewood and Fox Point
The Rochester Deli
Ready to munch on a great deli delight for lunch? Truck on over to The Rochester Deli in downtown Waukesha, where the family owned deli, bakery and catering service will wow you with swift service and mile-high bites like the popular Reuben. Owners Dan and Laura Strackbein (he is the chef; she is the business manager; their three children work here, too) say they believe in treating customers like family. “We get to know everyone by their first names and discover what their tastes are,” says Laura Strackbein, who says they will soon open a second location. “Dan keeps the quality really high. He’s more about quality and presentation.”
Red Velvet Cupcake
• Classy Girl Cupcakes, Milwaukee
• Sweet Perfections Bake Shoppe, Waukesha
• Honeypie Cafe, Milwaukee
• Milwaukee Cupcake Co., Milwaukee
Milwaukee Cupcake Co.
We were all sad when, back in 2009, Sandy D’Amato shuttered Harlequin Bakery next to the cozy Coquette Café next door (which he formerly owned). Now buttercream frosting is back on in that same space, putting smiles on the faces of those with a serious sweet tooth. Debbie Gale and her sister Patti opened Milwaukee Cupcake Co. in the spring of 2010, dutifully naming signature cupcakes after local neighborhoods and buildings, such as “The Cudahy Tower” (white chocolate strawberry) and The Riverwest (Oreo cookies and cream). But what takes the cake is the bakery’s ode to the North Shore: Red Velvet Cupcake, silky cream-cheese frosting light as a cloud with red-velvet cake beneath.
Best Cooking Class
• French Cooking at Coquette Café, Milwaukee
• Shully’s Thiensville
• Braise Culinary School, Milwaukee
• Michael Feker’s School of Culinary Magic, Wauwatosa
Braise Restaurant & Culinary School
Looking for a unique way to sharpen the gourmand within? Many agreed that the solution was Braise on the Go (a division of Braise Restaurant), where traveling culinary classes may crop up on farms, orchards or inns. Run by chef David Swanson, the emphasis is on using fresh local food. And while there are plans to open a brick-and-mortar culinary school this year, the traveling one draws crowds with course favorites like the annual mushroom hunt in May ($50 a person) and the upcoming “4 Chefs, a Farm and a Pig” course, held Aug. 4 ($60 a person), where participants see local chefs create innovative dishes using parts of a pig. “It’s not your traditional cooking classes,” says event coordinator Kristine Petersen.
Best Theater Ambiance
• The Oriental Theater, Milwaukee
• The Pabst Theater, Milwaukee
• Riverside Theater, Milwaukee
• Milwaukee Theatre, Milwaukee
The Pabst Theater
Countless Milwaukeeans can count the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s annual performance of “A Christmas Carol” as their first theater experience. Staged inside the opulent Pabst Theater, the setting is Milwaukee’s crown jewel of theaters. Built in 1895 and designed in the tradition of the great European opera houses, its Baroque interior boasts an Austrian crystal chandelier, a staircase crafted from white Italian Carrara marble and a gold-leaf highlighted proscenium arch that frames the stage. But beyond the inherent beauty, the terrific acoustics make it the perfect place to catch a performance from any of the numerous musical and comedy acts that grace its luxe stage each year. In the coming months, take in the award-winning ambiance with Rufus Wainwright, Paula Poundstone, Ani DiFranco, Jim Gaffigan and more.
Best Rooftop Hangout
• Zen on Seven, Hotel Metro, Milwaukee
• Cafe Benelux, Milwaukee
• Anaba Tea Room, Shorewood
• Blu, Pfister Hotel
How would you describe the perfect sunny Friday afternoon? Try this: a Tulip Turkey Burger with sweet potato fries and a High Speed Wit bier while lounging on the rooftop patio at Cafe Benelux. Formerly Great Harvest Market (an extension of the Milwaukee Public Market), Lowlands Restaurant Group opened the cafe last summer, with the rooftop patio as its crowning jewel. The atmosphere is lively yet relaxing, with a great view of the city and the bustling Third Ward Arts & Fashion District below. You will be tempted to linger for hours and bask in the summer sun — at least until October.
Best Charity Run/Ride
• Briggs and Al’s Run for Children’s Hospital
• Bike MS: Best Dam Bike Ride
• Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure
• UPAF Ride for the Arts
Briggs and Al’s Run for Children’s Hospital
The Briggs and Al’s Run & Walk for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin won this category hands down. This year marks the 35th anniversary for the charitable run/walk that was named for Al McGuire, a former Marquette University men’s basketball coach, and it has raised more than $13 million to fund research, medical care and education since its inception. Each year more than 15,000 people participate in this event that has become a Milwaukee tradition. This year’s run/walk is Saturday, Sept. 15, and starts at 10:15 a.m. at 12th Street and Wisconsin Avenue. “It was a big deal back then and still is today,” says Stacy Bartsch, special event manager for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Best Place to Get Your Kicks on a Kayak
• Pewaukee Lake
• Milwaukee River via the Milwaukee Rowing Club
• Milwaukee Urban Water Trail
• Lake Michigan
Pewaukee Lake, which includes more than 2,400 acres of lake in Waukesha County, is really a great place for all kinds of watersports, including kayaking. Just ask the locals. “I can attest to that,” says Abby Lorenz, a 26-year veteran of the Pewaukee Lake Water Ski Club. “It’s beautiful and vast. It’s in the shape of a figure-8 and known as a sailing lake, but we have three inlets and one outflow. The inlets are very small, ‘kayak-able’ rivers, where you’ll see a lot of nature and wildlife. It’s gorgeous and such a wonderful natural resource.”
• “The Nutcracker” by The Milwaukee Ballet
• “A Christmas Carol” by The Milwaukee Rep
• “Scrooge in Rouge” by In Tandem Theatre
• John McGivern’s annual holiday performance
You don’t have to look to far to find your jolly fill of holiday cheer in Milwaukee. Especially on stage. From In Tandem Theatre’s hilarious farce “Scrooge in Rouge” to The Milwaukee Rep’s inspirational performance of “A Christmas Carol,” this city knows how to celebrate the yuletide. Perhaps the most impressive — and definitely most visually stunning — winter performance is the Milwaukee Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker.” The elaborate scenery, intricate costumes, whimsical musical score and gifted performances by talented members of the ballet company are a feast for the senses. After all, who doesn’t want to be whisked away by the Snow Queen to a land of toys and sweets — especially during the December chill?
Best Pet Spa
• EmBark!, Bay View
• Spa Paw & Tail, New Berlin
• Central Bark, various locations
• Diamondz Pet Spa, Milwaukee
Central Bark Doggy Day Care
Not only will your dog leave here well-rested, happy and ready for a bone, but he may verily well glow, thanks to the on-site doggy salon. While your pooch can get a quick shower anywhere, she is likely to want to be here where she can get an on-the-spot groom-over and even receive door-to-door pick-up service, if needed. Being a one-stop shop is not only good for pet owners, it’s awesome for pets, says owner Nicole Cybela of Central Bark in Mequon. “We service a lot of our daycare dogs; they come at least once a week and it eliminates a lot of stress,” she says. “We want them to be comfortable, and in and out as fast as possible.”
Best Men's Neckware
• Harleys: The Store for Men, Shorewood
• Simon Oliver, Whitefish Bay
• Squire, Brookfield
• Roger Stevens Menswear, Milwaukee
Harleys: The Store for Men
You know your guy will look and feel like a million dollars in the right tie, but it is not always clear which tie will help to elevate him to that status. No worries at Harleys where he (or you) can pick from dozens of quality designer brands, styles and colors. The better men’s clothier, which started in 1948, in fact, devotes an entire wall to neckwear (think Italian silk). “We’re always looking for distinction in patterns and colorations,” notes Tim Ryan, president and owner. “Someone who is drawn to our selection probably has something more distinctive in mind.”
Best Fair Trade Finds
• Lilies, Cedarburg
• Alterra Coffee, various locations
Alterra Coffee Roasters
Friendship can lead to great things, as evidenced by the three guys who launched Alterra Coffee Roasters in 1993. There is no better place to get a cup of joe than at Alterra’s 10 area cafes and in its Mitchell Airport franchises, where more than a dozen single-flavored, decaffeinated and blended coffees area served. The company also serves as a wholesaler to other businesses. Among its café offerings are a handful of fair trade coffees bought directly from farmers in developing countries; about 40 percent of Alterra coffees are fair trade. “We’ve been using the fair trade logo and products since the beginning,” notes George Bregar, director of coffee. “We don’t sell exclusively fair trade, but some of our coffees are certified and carry the Fair Trade USA logo. Our connection is deep and it fits in line with everything that we do.”
Best Boutique to Buy Local Designers
• Lela, Milwaukee
• I See London, Fox Point
• Sparrow Collective, Bay View
• Milwaukee Art Museum Store
Milwaukee Art Museum Store
Buying local is more than a suggestion, it’s a mandatory movement for the survival of local artisans. Designers, artists and boutiques are the epicenter of a city’s arts scene — a collection of people and businesses who add creativity and beauty from a local perspective. And Milwaukee is home to a host of spaces that offer the stunning designs of our own talented art and design set. The sleek shoppers paradise of the Milwaukee Art Museum Store a hidden gem for some of the best gift-buying in the city. Artwork, jewelry, accessories, books and more are available from local creatives like Chrisanne Robertson, Renotta Thompson, John Reichert, Carole Kane, Heather Hambrecht, Linda Marcus and more. It’s a wealth of shopping options you can feel good about.
Best Green Thumb Paradise
• Monches Farm, Colgate
• Ebert’s Greenhouse Village, Ixonia
• Lammscapes, Jackson
Ebert’s Greenhouse Village
You can go on practically any corner block in Milwaukee and grab a few fresh flowers for planting, but you will not experience true flower power there as you will at Ebert’s Greenhouse Village in Ixonia. Brothers Mark and Ron Ebert have turned what started out as their dad’s vegetable farm in 1976 into a thriving business of flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs, gardening products and landscaping services. The village also boasts 38 greenhouses, including the Westbrooke, which houses 30,000 square feet of hanging baskets and planters. “We have a unique village atmosphere with walkways and greenhouses. The way we put together colors and basket combinations is also neat,” Mark Ebert says.