Our region offers endless opportunities for holiday escapes. Here are a few ideas for an easy weekend getaway this winter.
A Smorgasbord of Choices at The Edgewater
By Lindsey Gapen, assistant managing editor
For Executive Chef Joe Heppe, a gorgeous view can heighten a dining experience to maximum potential. That’s why he revels in working at The Edgewater, an urban resort on the shores of Lake Mendota in Madison, Wis.
“If I’ve got a great location, it makes my food taste even better,” he says. “The most unique aspect of The Edgewater is its environment. The lakeside dining is appealing for all visitors, whether they’re here for social or corporate reasons.”
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Heppe mastered his culinary craft in many upscale Chicago restaurants, serving as chef de cuisine at Vermillion, sous chef at Mercat a la Plancha, executive chef and partner at Oak + Char and opening executive chef at Untitled. He pulls from all experiences to create what he calls “Modern Midwestern Cuisine,” which focuses on seasonal and protein-driven ingredients from local purveyors.
Heppe celebrates farmers in the area by sourcing items from across the Midwest and throughout Wisconsin. He also incorporates hyperlocal flavor with products sourced from Madison whenever possible.
“We’re a locally owned, independent hotel property and we strive to be true to Madison,” says Amy Supple, senior vice president and chief operating officer. “Joe does great with food concepts. We support local purveyors by highlighting local farms and Midwest flavors.”
Heppe builds creative menus for each of The Edgewater’s five dining options.
The most elegant is The Statehouse, a seafood and steak restaurant offering fresh, approachable seafood dishes and classic cuts of beef.
Augie’s Tavern is The Edgewater’s charming bar area, with signature cocktails, craft beer and a curated menu of snacks, small plates, sandwiches and salads. One of the most popular items is the “slider of the day,” a $4 snack in which Heppe has featured items like local lamb shanks and pheasant. On Sunday through Thursday from 4-6 p.m., Heppe offers an Oyster Happy Hour featuring $1 Chef’s Choice Oysters, a $7 burger, $5 wings, $5 specialty drinks and wines, and half-price draft beer.
“We’re really proud of our oysters,” Heppe says. “Our vendors ship from independent fishermen, and we really want to promote this great selection of oysters that we’re able to offer.”
During warmer months, The Boathouse is a casual waterfront dining spot serving Wisconsin classics such as brats, burgers and cheese curds – all with Heppe’s modern Midwestern spin.
“Roughly 80 percent of the customer base is local,” Heppe says. “The Boathouse has become a popular casual hangout spot on the water.”
Guests can still enjoy sweeping views of Lake Mendota during the wintertime by stopping at The Icehouse, a casual spot with a lively atmosphere. People who are enjoying The Edgewater’s skating rink can stop by for upscale grab-and-go snacks as well as a wide selection of Wisconsin-brewed beers.
Lastly, The Edgewater is proud of its cafe, a comfortable corner spot where guests can grab pastries and breads from Madison Sour Dough and Stella’s Bakery, coffee or an espresso drink to enjoy inside or out on the patio. The cafe is currently serving Barriques coffee – a Madison favorite.
“We’re an urban resort, not a standard hotel, and we need different experiences for people who are here multiple nights,” Supple says. “This property has existed since 1948, and we want The Edgewater to honor the city’s independent spirit and be a ‘Madison place’ for many generations to come.”
The Fun Never Ends at Granite Peak Ski Area
By Vicki Baumann, operations manager, Granite Peak Ski Area
Whoever referred to the doldrums of winter never managed to make it to Granite Peak in Wausau, Wis. This February and March, Granite Peak, which bills itself as the Midwest’s No. 1 Drive-To Luxury Ski Resort, is anything but inactive. In fact, the resort is chock-full of activities, in addition to some of the best skiing and snowboarding terrain in the Midwest. Here’s a sampling of what you can experience late this winter at Granite Peak.
Family Festival Weekends – Granite Peak is renowned for these events, and their popularity has grown every year. It’s best to make reservations as early as possible for the last two festivals of the season. Packages are available for a family of four and include lodging, lift tickets and rentals for the entire family. Aside from mountain skiing, families can enjoy wagon rides, bonfires, fireworks and live entertainment. Family Festivals are March 3-5 and March 31-April 2.
Spring Break for Families – There’s plenty of activity happening during spring break at Granite Peak and around the Wausau area. Spring break celebrations continue throughout March and into April, with Granite Peak accommodating almost every spring break schedule across the Midwest.
As usual, guests can experience savings on lift tickets and Ski & Stay Packages, but that’s just for starters. There are also petting zoos, scavenger hunts and costume contests for the kids. Events are added weekly, so visit skigranitepeak.com for the latest updates.
Spring Break for College Students – College students looking for an affordable drive-to vacation are in luck at Granite Peak. In addition to savings on Ski & Stay Packages and rental equipment, college students can see live music throughout their break and choose from select hotels that offer free shuttle service – ensuring they’ll travel safely no matter where they explore. Just as families have discovered, college students are realizing that they’ll spend less time driving or flying and more time skiing and riding because of Granite Peak’s centralized location. And, because the City of Wausau has a vibrant nightlife, particularly in the downtown area, students can continue having a great time when they’re off the mountain.
Stuck in the doldrums of February and March? No need to be. Granite Peak Ski Resort is going strong from sunrise past sundown. And, when you head back to your hotel for the evening, it’s always good to know that the Wausau has restaurants for every palette and entertainment for every age.
Visit skigranitepeak.com for information on the latest specials, Ski & Stay lodging packages, events and musical performances.
There’s Always Something To Do in Rockford
By Jermaine Pigee, deputy editor
From learning about fossils and dinosaurs during PaleoFest to celebrating the end of winter at Meltfest 2017, there’s much to enjoy in Rockford over the coming months.
The 19th annual PaleoFest returns March 4 and 5 at the Burpee Museum of Natural History, 737 N. Main St., Rockford.
An annual weekend program celebrating the science of paleontology, PaleoFest features lectures, workshops and kid-friendly events, including interactive exhibits.
“We’ll have new family workshops with new themes, and we have over a dozen noted paleontologists coming to give presentations,” says Scott Williams, director of science and exhibits at Burpee.
There are also two new exhibits on display.
“We’ll have our 5,000-square-foot, 75th Anniversary Exhibit showcasing the history of Burpee, Native American history and wildlife conservation, and also our new Fossil Lake Exhibit, which showcases a unique, 50 million-year-old fossil lake environment from Wyoming,” he says.
Visit burpee.org to learn more about PaleoFest.
Another popular event coming soon is the Sock Monkey Madness Festival, happening March 4 and 5 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Midway Village Museum, 6799 Guilford Road, Rockford.
This annual one-of-a-kind festival is a celebration of the red-heeled sock, which was first produced in a Rockford factory on equipment invented locally. This year’s event features games, crafts and vendors selling handmade and themed specialty merchandise and food.
Guests can also make their own sock monkey during special workshops – one of the highlights of the festival.
“Sock Monkey Madness Festival is a well-known and beloved event in our community,” says Andrea Mandala, marketing and communications manager with the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s interesting to learn of the history behind this popular toy made from original Rockford Red Heel socks. It’s also so fun to make your own real and original version of the sock monkey in the workshop.”
Go to midwayvillage.com for more information.
If you aren’t a fan of snow, get ready for Meltfest 2017, which takes place at Prairie Street Brewhouse on March 25 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Celebrate this family-friendly festival with a variety of free activities, including live music performances, magic and science shows, trolley rides and mascot and character appearances. An annual 5K race kicks off at 10 a.m. and leads runners past (or through) several downtown landmarks.
There’s also an assortment of kids’ activities, including art, drawing, crafts, science booths and balloon creations.
Visit meltfest.com for more information.
Finally, Spring ArtScene showcases original works of art at galleries, studios and commercial establishments across Rockford on April 21 from 5 to 9 p.m. and April 22 from 4 to 9 p.m.
Enjoy original works in various styles, including watercolor, acrylic, wood, sculpture, pottery, furniture and photography.
“Every year I hear the same comments, ‘I didn’t know Rockford had so many artists.’ Rockford has incredibly talented artists and we want them to stay,” says Sharon Nesbit-Davis, interim director of the Rockford Area Arts Council, which organizes the event. “We hope people will support the artists through buying their work.”
This event provides a fun and unique opportunity for people to get together, meet artists and see many types of art in a festive environment.
Go to springartscene.com for locations and other information.
A Mid-Winter Chance to Recharge Your Batteries
By Kathy Casstevens, marketing director, Starved Rock Lodge
Sled dogs howl, singers sing, and both are sharing their expertise at Starved Rock Lodge, in Utica, this winter.
Now in its 11th year, the Rock Star vocal competition kicks off on Thursday nights from Feb. 16 through March 9. The winner collects $500 with a chance to be chosen as the “Fan Favorite” at any of the four nights of fun. Doors open at 5 p.m. with superhero-themed food and drinks.
The singing contest starts at 7 p.m.
The energy-filled sled dogs from Free Spirit Siberian Rescue (huskyrescue.org) return to Starved Rock on Sunday, Feb. 19 for outdoor demos at 9:30 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Head to the northwest corner of the parking lot at the state park’s visitor center to see the action up close.
The indoor seminars take place in the LaSalle Room of the Lodge at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
If you love music, don’t miss the “Dueling Pianos” matinees on Feb. 20 and 21 in the Great Hall. Tickets are $40 per person for this wildly entertaining music and comedy show. Additional performances are also scheduled for April 24 and 25.
Longing for an Italian dinner and celebration of song? Check out the Tenors 3 show, where a talented trio of tenors perform hits from Broadway, opera and more. In addition, the “New American Songbook” tribute shows provide an entertaining montage of one-hit wonders and songs that defined America in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Performances are set for March 27 and 28.
For connoisseurs of fine liquor, Starved Rock’s Whiskey Revolution Dinner takes place on March 3. Guests are greeted with a specialty drink served in a souvenir glass. Then, a five-course whiskey dinner is served, where every item on the menu is infused with whiskey. Experts from Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniels explain whiskey samplings in detail, along with special recipes from the Starved Rock Chefs. Tickets are $60 per person.
Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy guided hikes every weekend throughout the winter to see bald eagles in flight and frozen ice falls, depending on the weather. Discover the Eagle Trolley Tours are offered throughout February on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
As the weather breaks in mid-March, it’s time for the Lodge’s annual Owl Prowl Weekend on March 10, 11 and 12. Embark on night hikes and hear Hoo Haven ornithologist Steve Bailey present interesting programs.
One of the most significant people in the modern-day history of Starved Rock is Sam “Chief Walks with the Wind” Sine. A drum circle tribute to him, along with stories of Native American history, takes place in the Great Hall on Sunday, March 26 at 4 p.m., led by the chief’s grandson, Jerry Savage.
Historic Trolley Tours depart every Saturday and Sunday beginning March 4. Adventurers can learn about the Starved Rock area and enjoy lunch or brunch at the Lodge.
Reservations are required for all Lodge tours and special events. Call (815) 220-7386 or book online at starvedrocklodge.com.