Monday, May 14, 2012

MILWAUKEE, WI - Day 2: Around Wauwatosa

The locals call it "'Tosa," and today we're going to explore like a local.

Start your day with a caffein boost at the nearby location of Milwaukee’s spot-on small chain of coffee shops:

9125 W. North Avenue
Wauwatosa, WI  53226
As my contact puts it, “this is what a coffeeshop should be.”  Just the right funky, non-corporate vibe, an atmosphere that makes it fine to stay an hour and chat or work, and really good coffee.  I love that you order the sizes in simple numbers (“1,2,3,or 4”) rather than having to mouth off in a foreign language when your brain is already fuzzy. I gotta admit, however, I’m not sure even I could handle a three-shot extra large.  I had the minty-chocolate “Bull Frog,” and it was awesome.  Rumor has it the curried chicken salad is truly yummy, if you end up here for lunch instead of your morning kick-off.

Travel a few blocks north to this morning’s fiber fix:

Fiberwood Studio
2709 92nd Street
Milwaukee, WI  53222

Designer/weaver Barbara Chappell has created a true arts studio for “fiber aficionados” in this clean-lined, full-of-style store.  One of those people just born to teach, Barbara utilizes her masters degree in textiles and clothing not only to serve on the faculty of a nearby college, but to inspire her customers.  “I want my customers to move beyond merely following a pattern to becoming fiber artists.”  Hearing her talk, you want to do just that.  

A first for DestiKNITions, this store clearly focuses on the weaving craft, but you’ll find fibers here you won’t anywhere else.  Barbara’s on a mission to help ball-and-hank-minded knitters to make friends with the “cone,” and you’ll see enough yarn on cones here to pull you in.  

“I buy what I like,” and I like her style, to be sure.  Machine knitters, this store has special goodies for you, as well as roving in yummy colors for the felters among us.  I found this to be a truly unique store that expanded my fiber horizons.  Here are a few projects to consider:

Knit Necklace
Stainless steel fine wire and beads create this stunning piece that reminded me of pussy willows.  Talk about work that demands a closer look!  If you want to wear a conversation starter, this is just the ticket, especially on days too hot for scarves or shawls.

Wet Felting pieces
I’m not a big fan of felting, but even I loved the lush artistry of these pieces.  You’d be best served by taking the class rather than tackling these on your own, but what results!  The mittens felt surprisingly soft and lush on, and the bowl is a unique piece that would make a most welcome gift.  Barbara has a set of slippers in her felting repertoire, too.

Knit Along:
The Feza Vest
This pattern, exclusive to Fiberwood Studio, knits up two hanks of Feza Alp Natural into a free-form yet drapey vest that’s just perfect for summer wear.  This is one of those brilliant patterns that lets the fiber do the talking--simple garter stitches combine into an artsy, versatile accessory.

One of the niftiest things I’ve seen yet is Barbara’s favorite gadget:

LeClerc Fringe Twister
Does exactly what it says it does.  How?  I'm not so sure but it's amazing to watch.  Ask her for a demonstration of this simple yet ingenious little machine.

Once you’ve scored your fiber finds for the day, travel back down 92nd Street to pick up the picturesque Menomenee River Parkway.  This scenic road winds along the river until it deposits you out in the charming town of Wauwatosa, known as “‘Tosa” to locals.  Straight out of a postcard and highly walkable, this town has everything I look for in an afternoon escape.  While can list the dozens of choices to tempt you, here are the spots I most enjoyed:

I admit, too often I find that where boutiques are concerned, artsy and friendly don’t often combine.  Ah, so not the case here:

7532 West State Street
Wauwatosa, WI  53213

The staff here was as friendly as could be, making me feel like I could manage the artisan style showcased in the window.  The clothes--really unique stuff--were actually reasonable even before the great sale I found.  The top I bought here has become an instant favorite and garnered me many compliments.

The Little Read Book
7603 West State Street
Wauwatosa, WI 53213
“Dedicated to the fine art of browsing,” this little store is full of character on and off the page.  The staff made some very good recommendations, and a well-stocked children’s section pairs with just the right amount of giftware make for a pleasant shopping experience.  You know how I feel on this subject: independent bookstores deserve our business!

Ready for lunch?  Head over to:

Pizzeria Piccola
7606 West State Street
Wauwatosa, WI  53213

Since visiting Naples, Italy, the thin-crust Neopolitain pizza style has become my ‘za of choice.  Order up the Piccola (provolone, fennel sausage, red onions, mushrooms and black olives) or the classic Margherita (my fav with mozzarella and fresh basil) and you can’t go wrong.  All of their pizzas are available with traditional dough, wheat dough, or gluten free dough.  Dine outside if it’s a lovely day, but don’t get desert because we’ve got somewhere lined up for that.

Blue Lapin Home and Garden
7600 Harwood Avenue
Wauwatosa, WI

Looking for a hummingbird feeder?  A whimsical tin pig?  Moss pots?  All those decorative touches and more can be found in this store.  I especially liked the candles and other bath products.

After you’re done shopping, it’s time to for a break at:

Le Reve
Patisserie & Cafe
7010 Harwood Avenue
Wauwatosa, WI  53213

Yes, the food is good here, but I confess I never got farther than the bakery counter.  A friend recently introduced me to macarons--the rich little French cookie--and I bought one of every flavor they had and sat down to pure bliss.  An inventive menu and a full bar give you a wide variety of options here, not to mention the oh-so-French atmosphere.  
Now that you’ve had your sugar fix, it’s time for another yarn fix.  A little bit of a drive takes you to:

Cream City Yarn
15565 W. North Avenue
Brookfield, WI 
Lisa Ruesch and her partner Kristine Porrit opened this innovative store just over a year ago, but don’t let their yearling status fool you:  these two know their stuff.  

While you can easily see the building’s one-room-schoolhouse origins, this is what the world would look like if IKEA opened a yarn store.  Fine quality basics, an array of exclusive patterns, and a technology-friendly atmosphere caters to a young but adventurous customer base.  Ravelry comes out of cyberspace to be put into full action here.  Chock full of projects to inspire you, you’ll also find a friendly staff ready to help you expand your skills.  Here are some of the projects I found particularly inspiring:

Suzanne Vest
This pattern by Jennifer Donze vest uses a smart cable detail to take a basic piece up a notch.  If you follow the recommendation and knit this up in 4 hanks of Madelinetosh DK superwash merino wool, you’ll have just enough left over to make a matching cowl.

Pont Neuf Cowl
This Kollage Yarn pattern works fine in Madelinetosh DK, or the favored basic Cascade 220. I like the balance between cozy and lacy on this piece--its slightly airy nature could take you farther into spring than most cowls.

Celtic Flower Mittens
Designer Jennifer D works one skein of Madelinetosh Worsted Weight Vintage into these retro-feel mittens.  I’m especially fond of the cuff edge--not too fussy, but just enough tailoring to feel special.

Honey Cowl
Our knit-along from Cream City is this inventive basic that wields a simple slip stitch pattern to create a dense but drapey waffle-like texture.  One or two hanks of Madelinetosh superwash merino DK knits up into this excellent gift (or self-splurge).  Good in a neutral basic, or opt instead for bright splash of color to send winter’s bleary skies on the run.

Amy Miller’s LeFleur Clutch
A new customer favorite is this piece from Interweave’s Spring 2102 issue.  Who could resist the eye-catching graphic on this practical pouch?  The color combination options set my mind blooming with possibilities.

How do you end such an amazing day?  With an amazing iconic Wisconsin dish, that’s how.
Take yourself across the street to:

Parkside 23
2300 Pilgrim Square Drive  
Brookfield, WI 53005

Yes, they grow much of their own produce, but you’re here for one thing:  macaroni and cheese.  Leave the blue box behind forever and step into the world of mac n’ cheese like you’ve never had it before.  I was doubtful that a dish so basic could live up to the hype, but whoa, I was wrong:  this is superb.  Take my advice and do not leave the state without eating this dish.

I know I’ve only dipped my toes into the depths of the Wisconsin fiber world, but these two days were as richly satisfying as the best dark chocolate.  A true perfect adventure!

Up next, a “swiss cheese” of a scarf from Ruhama’s.

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