Reader mail: polka, accordions, Vietnam, dinner

Readers, let’s empty the mailbag! — Fans of polka music sure seem passionate about this style of music. Jim Lueneburg of Menasha says his dad worked six days a week as a barber, then played drums in a polka band at weddings, anniversary parties and other events. “I would go along with him when I(…)

Take Ten: Women-owned farms to visit

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Lisa Kivirist and husband John Ivanko of Browntown have earned national recognition for their farm and renewal energy work. By Lisa Kivirist This Mother’s Day, celebrate the women championing Wisconsin family farms when traveling. We women in agriculture are increasing in number: In Wisconsin, the number of women-owned farms increased over(…)

Hot Springs: smallest national park, historic spa setting

The average spa treatment in this country involves low lights, soothing music, a heated massage table and complete privacy (unless booking a massage for two). The more celebrated the facility, the more likely that services command three-digit prices, plus a tip for the therapist. Buckstaff Bathhouse, open since 1912, breaks all those rules. The location,(…)

Some pets go to work with their owners

Back when I was a newspaper features editor in Madison, which seems like a lifetime ago, one of our most popular weekly items was “Look Who’s Minding the Story,” a photo and caption about a business where a pet lived or regularly visited. Shopkeepers who sold yarn, flowers, bakery for dogs, insurance, consignments, hemp goods(…)

Wisconsin Dells gives downtown artful uplift

Roger Brooks of Arizona is a tourism branding expert who helped shape Wisconsin Dells as Waterpark Capital of the World. End of story? Hardly. Brian Landers was a Dells police officer for 18 years before his election as mayor in 2011. So, no more bad-guy roles? Hah. Kelli Trumble found room for adults-only Sundara Inn(…)

Polka festivals: a sure sign of spring

Almost all states with an official dance choose the square dance, but not Wisconsin. Not by a longshot. We picked the polka in 1993, as a nod to ethnic heritage, but the dance doesn’t acknowledge just German ancestry. “Polka Heartland: Why the Midwest Loves to Polka” (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $30) by folk music historian(…)

New brews, awards, dishes, events for 2016

Spring is a time for renewal, and my notebooks are fat with snippets of new and new-to-me gleanings from annual state tourism and Midwest FoodService Expo conferences. — A few of Wisconsin’s best-known beverage makers are experimenting with new flavors. Wisco Pop! in Viroqua uses whole fruit to add strawberry soda to its all-organic lineup(…)

Boutiques for bowser: Seven pet-friendly hotels

Dog lovers who don’t want to leave their pet at home might think campgrounds and the occasional cabin are their only options for full-family getaways, but a few of Wisconsin’s boutique hotels welcome four-footed travelers too. How pet friendly is Wisconsin? Friendly enough for the state tourism department to emphasize travel with pets as a(…)

Best cheese in the world? Wisconsin’s Grand Cru Surchoix

Best in the world. An award out of U.S. reach since 1988. Almost 3,000 entries, the most ever, from 23 countries. The big cheese in the 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest, judged this month in Madison, is the Grand Cru Surchoix made in Monroe by Emmi Roth USA, whose parent company is a specialty cheese(…)

Radio show tickets: Where to watch broadcasts

Wisconsin Public Radio’s decision to end the “Whad’Ya Know?” show concludes an on-air era of quick wit and timely humor by Michael Feldman, the host for 31 years. His weekly and nationally syndicated schtick of comedy, conversation, music and current events has made the Midwest a little less anonymous, a little more endearing. The final(…)

Hamilton Wood Type Museum: Words carry weight, literally

Sometimes I refer to my freelance writing business as The Word Factory because that is what I churn out from one day to the next. If those words had weight, literally, they’d have filled my office many years ago. It wasn’t all that long ago that words, to the letter, carried weight every day and(…)

Las Vegas weddings: Getting hitched is all you imagine, and more

This is a leap year, so it is officially fine for women to propose marriage on Feb. 29. Maybe the nuptials should be unconventional, too. The average U.S. wedding costs $26,444 without the honeymoon, concludes, whose researchers say 40 percent of couples spend less than $10,000 and 16 percent spend more than $30,000. Las(…)

Pizza lovers know where to find the perfect slice

Pizza lovers, you have spoken. Dozens of you have made your allegiances clear, often using more exclamation points that pepperoni on the average slice. Who makes the best pizza in Wisconsin? We sought your opinion in 50 convincing words or less. Ann Schnuck of Pleasant Prairie wins for this entry: “Wells Brothers restaurant in Racine(…)

Take Ten: Where to go overnight for dinner and show

When in doubt about how to structure your next big date night, start with dinner and a show. Sometimes you can even park just once and not worry about driving again until the next morning, which is especially convenient when wintry weather turns wily. For example: Northern Lights Theater, 1721 W. Canal St., Milwaukee: Inside(…)

Lodging, events, other Valentine’s Day ideas for lovers in Wisconsin

Valentines, this is your month. Here are a few ways to pamper yourselves in style. — We have no shortage of luscious chocolates in Wisconsin, but only one chocolatier in Midwest – Anette Righi DeFendi – makes the cut in Dessert Professional magazine’s 2015 list of Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America. The head chocolatier(…)

Perfect pies: Who makes the best pizza in Wisconsin?

Fennel-spiked sausage. Whole-milk mozzarella. A dozen spices in the sauce. A kiss of barley in the crust. One recipe, perfected over 10 years. The carefully customized nature of pizza at Georgio’s in downtown Milton, population 5,500 in Rock County, wowed me. The cozy setting, with seating for just 44, charmed me. The site’s racy history,(…)

New to you? Bobbleheads, Latin quilts, Trek trips, Harley shows

For your amusement: Snippets of fresh, noteworthy and sometimes unique ventures to enrich travel within Wisconsin. New at Redline Milwaukee, a community art gallery, is “Bobbleheads: Real and Fantastical Heroism,” a free peek at collectibles for the proposed National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. Phil Sklar and Brad Novak intend to open their museum(…)

Fulfilling pie-in-the-sky dreams at National Pie Championships

In the resort ballroom sit retired guys, moms and daughters, home economists, restaurant managers, girlfriends on getaways and many others – all waiting for their just desserts. People who know each other aren’t at the same table, and the mix of pros and amateurs is deliberate, just like the mix of bakers whose masterpieces are(…)

2016 travel predictions, trends:

Prognosticators are plentiful when a new year begins, and so are resolutions. If you intend to travel more or pursue the trip of your dreams in 2016, there is no shortage of experts to offer observations and advice. For me, contemplation begins with a review of my Tweets from the most recent Society of American(…)

Lovely lodging of 2015: from Midwest spa, farm to historic Cusco hotel

Feeling at home while away is a beautiful thing, but definitions of comfort differ. I liked the looks of these places while at work during 2015. Buckingham Inn, 1615 Summit Ave., Madison: Almost in the shadow of Camp Randall football stadium at the University of Wisconsin is bed-and-breakfast lodging in three suites that stay true(…)

Great meals of 2015: grilled cheese to Sea Salt, spiked shakes to Fish on Fire

Time to review life as you know it, and I’ll do the same as 2015 ends. These restaurants, close to home and many miles away, caught my attention this year. Café Hollander, Madison: The Milwaukee-based restaurateur opened this third location in autumn, but “café” is an understatement because of the array of options is fat.(…)

Supper club food: new at Kohl Center, former Shorecrest Hotel

Wisconsin supper club food is the star in new settings that are casual, stylish and distinctive as winter nears. Factor in an expansion of projects that call attention to supper clubs, and what we have is a food movement or renaissance that shows no sign of fading. Ron Faiola of Milwaukee, whose “Wisconsin Supper Clubs:(…)

Best new books: Wisconsin farming, Lake Superior loop, Madison food, beer

Confucius says: You cannot open a book without learning something. Remember that while holiday shopping or treating yourself. Many books cross my desk; count these among my favorites for the year. “Wisconsin Agriculture: A History” ($35) and “Whispers and Shadows: A Naturalist’s Memoir” ($23), both published by Wisconsin History Society Press and written by Jerry(…)