Standing in the parking lot at the EAA Airventure Museum, consulting my phone to find a place to have lunch in Oshkosh, I stumbled upon the Brooklyn Grill. How could I, a Brooklyn native, say no?
While at lunch I learned that the restaurant, located in an historic old storefront right near the Fox River, is named not for the New York borough of my birth, but for its own riverfront neighborhood.
That Oshkosh has a neighborhood called Brooklyn was just one of many, many things I didn't know about this city of 66,000 on the shores of Lake Winnebago. Though even just a single day spent exploring the city helped open my eyes to some of the charms of Oshkosh, I know there's still more to discover.
Like most folks, we were lured north by the EAA Airventure Museum. Though during the annual AirVenture Fly-In – slated for July 23-29, 2012 – the entire area is awash with aircraft of all shapes, sizes and colors, and thousands of aviation enthusiasts – we visited on the first day of summer recess and nearly had the place to ourselves.
Or maybe it just seemed that way because the museum, airport and grounds are so sprawling. On a morning punctuated by horns shouting "ah-ooo-gah" – the Ford Model A Club was in town – we wandered the gasp-inducing exhibits in the museum.
There are replicas of the Spirit of St. Louis and the plane the Wright brothers famously flew at Kitty Hawk. There are scads of unusual experimental craft and a giant hangar with twin engine military planes.
Especially popular with the kids is Propellerama, wall-sized display of propellers of all kinds, in motion, of course.
Upstairs, however, is the real kids zone. The KidVenture gallery is a room with an array of fun, hands-on aviation exhibits. Kids can pedal a bike to create wind, can do virtual hang-gliding and ride in a virtual reality hot-air balloon, too.
There is a long row of flight simulators offering a variety of situations in which kids – and, ahem, a parent – can try their hands at flying.
There's a lot to explore at the AirVenture Museum and though we spent about 90 minutes there, I suspect we only barely scratched the surface. So, we expect to soar back in for another visit.
But, we were hungry and so we drive downtown to Brooklyn and The Brooklyn Grill.
The Brooklyn Grill, 607 S. Main St., was a solid and affordable lunch choice, with an outdoor patio (too hot the day we were there) and an old-style vibe inside, with a giant photo of the Brooklyn Bridge along one wall, behind the bar. No egg creams on the menu, however.
I had a breaded perch sandwich and the little one had a grilled cheese as the place filled up around us with what appeared to be regulars. Even though we were making our debut the friendly staff chatted with us just as much as they did with the more familiar faces.
What really grabbed us, however, was the old firehouse in back. The Brooklyn Hook and Ladder #4 station was built in 1868 by William Waters, who apparently was the architect of many a building – and many landmarks – in Oshkosh.
The gorgeous building, with a classic firehouse lookout tower, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
As we drove past the university – where we saw new recruits getting tours of the campus – we passed countless lovely old homes and buildings, including the stunning Read School, 1120 Algoma Boulevard, built in 1879 and apparently still going strong.
Read School also emerged from the pen of William Waters and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
Arriving at the Oshkosh Public Museum, 1331 Algoma Boulevard, we were pleasantly surprised to see it, too, is housed in a Waters-designed Edwardian mansion built for the Sawyer family.
In addition to a range of interesting exhibits about Oshkosh history, the house itself is a treat to visit, with its well-preserved details and some eye-catching Tiffany stained glass windows on the landing between floors.
Upstairs, we spent a lot of time exploring "Toys: The Inside Story," which runs through Sept. 2. The show busts open toys like the Etch-A-Sketch and Operation to explain how these favorite games and toys actually work.
The result is an a series of engineering and science lessons, explained to kids in a way they can completely – and happily – grasp.
I regret having left the museum forgetting to pick up a copy of a book about William Waters that I saw in the gift shop when we arrived.
Afterward, we thought about visiting the Menominee Park Zoo and the Little Oshkosh Playground, located right on the lakeshore, but I think I tuckered half the team out and instead we pointed the car south and headed home. But with a pretty good list to get us going on our next visit to Oshkosh.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.