Unexpected gems: Bay Motel, Leg Lamp Lodge, Molly O

double-cutLittle luxuries and surprises are a part of what makes travel a joy, and this applies to my wanderings throughout Wisconsin in 2014. Remember that what you take for granted in the back yard indeed might earn ovations from out-of-towners. Here is a glimpse of what impressed me unexpectedly.

Bay Motel and Restaurant, 1301 S. Military Ave., Green Bay – I know what you’re thinking, and it’s true that independently owned lodging is a gamble, but this one is a winner. Almost in the shadow of Lambeau Field is a clean, cheerful, retro and accommodating motel from the 1950s whose U-shaped layout adds a layer of privacy. Attached is a restaurant with lovely bakery, reasonable prices and lots of locals as customers for breakfast. Room rates quadruple on Packer game days, because the stadium is within a walk, but watch ’em dive deep after the season ends. I paid less than $50. baymotelgreenbay.com, 920-494-3441

Double Cut Charcoal Grill, 1305 Kalahari Dr., Wisconsin Dells – Quality, choices and a la carte prices at this new steakhouse inside of Kalahari Resorts match the best of what much larger cities offer. So save up, dress up, linger in the cozy lounges and check out the sassy bathroom décor (above urinals are photos of women with magnifying glasses). doublecutgrill.com, 608-253-7637

Leg Lamp Lodge, 427 W. College Ave., Appleton – If you love the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story,” check out the well-lit gams at this upstairs bar, but it’s usually just open on Fridays and Saturdays. The clock turns back in other ways, too. Staff wear fishnet stockings. You play shuffleboard, or just hang near the fireplace and absorb the oddly comforting ambience. facebook.com/leglampavenue, 920-882-0690

Molly O – In the 1990s, Molly Otis of Hayward gained widespread recognition as the leader of Molly and the Heymakers, an alternative country band that disbanded. Now she’s back: Her rootsy music comes from Molly and the Danger Band, and she also tours as a solo performer (I heard her at Rivers Eatery, Cable). mollyomusic.com

Frank’s Pizza Palace, 815 W. College Ave., Appleton – Anybody in business since 1955 earns my respect, especially since pizza was an exotic meal back then. That made it harder to survive until Lawrence College students became fans, and Appleton’s first pizza maker remains a hometown favorite. Watch pie makers at work from the storefront window. Don’t ignore the lusciously tender hot beef sandwiches, which are almost as dreamy as owner Jeannie Pierri-Brice’s thin-crust combos. frankspizzapalace.com, 920-734-9131

White Jasmine – A mother-son home business that began with exotic spice blends now adds Mediterranean zing to Gouda cheeses. The woman behind the products, Huma Siddiqui, hosts a televised cooking show that is filmed monthly in front of an audience in Madison. Tickets are required but free. What’s cooking next? Cilantro garlic shrimp on Jan. 18 and cod fish tacos on Feb. 21. whitejasmine.com, 608-516-2030

O’so Brewing Co. Tap House, 3028 Village Park Dr., Plover – Inside an ordinary-looking suburban mall is an extraordinary lineup of 40 tap beers from Wisconsin craft brewers, most produced by the host brewer. Expect hoppy, nitro, malty and other types of beer. Sample anything for $2 or $3, then nurse a pint or take home a growler. Brewery tours happen at 2, 3 and 4 p.m. Saturdays. facebook.com/osobrewingcompany, 715-254-2163

Before I Die Wall, 4245 Hwy. B, Land O’ Lakes – Art lovers in May 2014 introduced a “Before I Die” wall on the outside of Brew’s Pub, near the Wisconsin-Michigan border. It is part of a global project that encourage average people to fill in the blank, chalkboard style, and share their personal hopes with the world. Learn more from the book “Before I Die” by Candy Chang of New Orleans. Similar walls are in Wausau, Madison, Milwaukee and hundreds of cities around the world. beforeidie.cc

Eagle River street dances – By 7 p.m. on Thursdays during summer, a downtown street is blocked off and the music of Bill Haase and His Orchestra draws a crowd that totes in lawn chairs, buys hot dogs from Boy Scouts and struts their leashed dogs. Moms dance with toddlers, sisters might dress alike and an occasional guy doesn’t think twice about kicking up his heels solo. Good people watching? You bet, and a fun, fine portrait of Americana. eagleriver.org, 715-479-6400