Named after the early-morning first shift for crew aboard seafaring vessels, First Watch ensures chefs arrive at work with the rising sun, chopping fresh produce, baking muffins, and mixing french toast batter each day. As guests arrive, perky servers greet them with an entire pot of Sunrise Select coffee, as well as the morning paper and free WiFi. Since 1983, First Watch’s carpe-diem philosophy has spread to more than 100 locations across 13 states, pleasing crowds with thin, sweet crepes and fluffy whipped eggs, hash brown skillets, and enormous multigrain pancakes. Recently placed at the top of a Consumer Reports list of best family restaurants, First Watch takes the customer experience seriously. Chefs focus entirely on crafting nourishing sunrise feasts and midday meals, shunning afterthoughts of steaks and burgers for edible masterpieces of omelets, belgian waffles, homemade biscuits, and wholesome lunch salads and sandwiches.
When The Melting Pot originally opened in 1975 just outside Orlando, diners had just three options: swiss-cheese fondue, beef fondue, or chocolate fondue. The restaurant first expanded four years later, when an enterprising waiter at the initial location opened up a new outpost in Tallahassee. Today, the company—now owned by that original waiter, Mark Johnston, and his brothers Mike and Bob—reigns as the premier fondue, wine, and drink restaurant, stretching across North America with more than 140 restaurants linked by underground tunnels. The restaurant's menu has also expanded, and patrons can now expect six varieties of hot dipping cheese paired with salads, meats, and molten chocolate.
On a given night, groups of viscous-loving foodies gather around tables to nosh on cheese fondue appetizers and various salads while cooking steaks and seafood in a choice of healthy broth or oil. Birthday revelers and romance seekers cap decadent evenings sharing chocolate desserts that have defined The Melting Pot for decades.
Melthouse Bistro elevates a favorite childhood classic with its innovative roster of gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches. The menu lists handcrafted creations such as the Maliblue whose country fresh bread is stacked high with Wisconsin blue cheese, alongside smoked turkey breast, pecanwood smoked bacon, avocado, tomatoes, lettuce, hard boiled eggs crumbles, and roasted garlic mayo. Each crispy medley of veggies, cheeses, and meats—which range from The Brasserie's braised short ribs to the hand-battered fried chicken of The Buffalo Bill—sidles onto plates tucked between locally baked artisan bread from Breadsmith. The bistro looks to local farms for its produce as well, prizing the down-home vibe of made-from-scratch meals over the artificial hum of fluorescent-light hoagies. Suggested wine and craft beer pairings whisper under each item listed on the menu, fleshing out the gustatory revelry.
The Melthouse's merger between modest and stylish cooking has garnered praise from OnMilawukee.com, the Journal Sentinel and A.V. Club Milwaukee, which praises the "delicious sandwiches, solid sides, and stellar service." Its decor mirrors the edibles, walking the line between rustic and modern: wood reclaimed from a century-old granary decks the walls, while floor-to-ceiling windows and metallic stools flaunt crisp edges.
Palms Bistro Bar artfully blends cuisines from corners of the globe traditionally unused to culinary interaction, such as Eurasia and Euramerica. The dinner menu begins its gastronomic game of Risk in Europe, with strategic selections of baked Danish brie ($11.95) and bruschetta ($9.25), before redirecting its forces to Southern Asia. The spicy Thai peanut pasta ($13.75) comforts lost, searching souls with sautéed bok choy and shiitake mushrooms tossed in a chilicious peanut sauce. Entrees such as the peppercorn-dusted, 10-ounce flat-iron steak ($25), served with a twice-baked potato, and the pan-seared Alaskan halibut ($26) revitalize diners accustomed to sadly stagnant restaurant routines, whereas the steak salad ($14.50) acts as an omnivorous pact between the meatiest meat and greens, grape tomatoes, and marinated red onions. Palms' full-service bar has wine by the glass or bottle, plus seasonal cocktails that transform throughout the year, unlike the perpetually neon-orange canopy of an old-growth Tang-sequoia forest.
Inside an arty Bayview studio space, nine-year styling veteran Janelle Bonus partners with distinguished beauty expert Lena Golden (aka The Skin Guru) to beautify clients from the inside out. Janelle's deft scissors shape hair into stylish new looks, and she's skilled at transforming strands with all-over color and strategic foil placement. She also offers body-waxing services that include Brazilian waxes and full-body services that transform surfaces into dolphin-like smoothness. With more than six years of industry experience, Lena specializes in skincare treatments including microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and a trio of specialty facials that she named after their intended spiritual target—heart, crown, and third eye. Together, the duo showers clients with in head-to-toe vanity.
Mrs. Robert Hall Baker built a lakeside summer residence in 1885 that she called “the Redwood Cottage.” Despite the humble name, Emily Baker’s residence was no quaint bungalow. She commissioned a Queen Anne mansion, now restored, that still houses 17,000 square feet of living space with a peaked turret, 30 lavishly appointed rooms, 13 fireplaces surrounded by hand-carved mantles, antique tiles, and a lakefront garden. Since its days as a summer retreat for Emily and her five children, the house has led a colorful life. It thrived as a Victorian sanitarium for wealthy patrons suffering from nervous disorders, a Prohibition-era speakeasy, and a boarding-house for Playboy Club burlesque dancers, before becoming a restaurant and lakefront hotel.
Today, renamed the Baker House in honor of its founder, the mansion is again a private residence that doubles as a luxury inn, restaurant, and portal through time back to the Gilded Age. Visitors can listen to the house's player piano in the music room, play backgammon in a game room, and sip glasses of wine fireside. In scenic settings lauded in USA TODAY as a romantic destination, guests enjoy dishes from a menu that features artisanal Wisconsin cheeses and charcuterie, filet mignon, and butter-broiled lobster tail. Rather than sitting in one central dining room, guests are seated throughout fire-lit parlors while lounging on wing-back chairs and overstuffed fringe couches overlooking Lake Geneva.
Visitors who want to indulge further in a Gilded Age fantasy can spend the evening in a luxury hotel suite decked in dramatic decor, working fireplaces, ornate woodwork, and SPA bathrooms with steam showers. A personal butler is continually on staff to tend to guests' needs.