Top-Notch Nuptials Tour

Our 2013 Bridal Tour couple Laura Beam and Benn Ingersoll experience some of the best of what Madison’s wedding experts have to offer in sparkle, sweets, savory treats and more

It’s a Ring Thing

One of the most enjoyable (and, let’s face it, a little glamorous) parts of planning a wedding is choosing the rings. Whether you like vintage sparkle, classic elegance, bold modernism or something in-between, choosing rings is a chance for the bride and groom to put their own stamp on their day.

Goodman’s Jewelers is Madison’s oldest jeweler and celebrates its eightieth anniversary this year. You might think all those years of expertise have created a bit of an advantage when it comes to dispensing knowledgeable jewelry advice—and you would be right. John Hayes, owner of Goodman’s Jewelers, can extoll the virtues of the several exclusive brands his store carries. Once a couple finds the perfect piece of jewelry, they can customize their rings as they please: “Our on-site shop makes it possible to do things quickly for customers,” says Hayes.

Speaking about trends, Hayes says the most popular style for engagement rings are halo designs in white gold and round diamonds in three-quarters up to one carat sizes. Cushion and modified square shapes are also frequently requested. Interestingly, he’s also seeing more demand for yellow gold and solitaire styles, too—which is a throwback to styles of ten, twenty and thirty years ago. “We do always have a variety of all [diamond] shapes to choose from. We can create anything to follow all the celebrity trends like a beautiful sapphire surrounded by diamonds.” (Hello, Kate Middleton!) The groom can choose from interesting materials for his wedding band, such as cobalt, titanium, tungsten, Damascus steel and ceramic, says Hayes.

Once you’re done ring shopping, don’t forget to stop back at Goodman’s for bridal party gifts. Hayes says the Honora pearl line and sterling silver jewelry are excellent choices for bridesmaids; for groomsmen gifts, find cuff links, pocket knives, key rings, money clips, watches and engraved flasks or mugs.

Sweet Treats

Cupcakes are increasingly popular on wedding reception dessert tables. Laura DeVries, co-owner of Cupcakes-A-Go-Go Café, explains their appeal: “Our bakery is truly a custom bakery, offering flavors that can’t be found elsewhere. We bake from scratch with a gourmet flair.”

And the bakery isn’t exclusively about cupcakes. Cupcakes-A-Go-Go Café offers an irresistible array of sweet treats such as French Macarons, cake pops, cheesecake, brownies, lemon and Key Lime bars, Door County cherry and other streusel bars, giant cupcakes, tarts, pies, breakfast muffins, pop tarts, quiche and traditional cakes. And if that list alone isn’t enough to make your mouth water, DeVries has this to offer: “We bake all of our products from scratch, using local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible.” This 2013 Best of Madison Gold winner makes forty standard cake flavors (some are seasonal), such as filled or infused cupcakes with crème brûlée, Irish whiskey ganache, light and fruity mousse, cheesecake and cookie dough, as well as “cocktail cupcakes,” which “combine the best of two worlds,” says DeVries.

Cupcakes-A-Go-Go Café has several ways to put a sweet, customized finishing touch to a wedding feast. “Whether it’s a dessert buffet featuring mini cupcakes, cake pops, French Macarons and tarts with a small cutting cake or a giant cupcake, a brunch reception with made-from-scratch ‘pop tarts,’ breakfast muffins and quiche or perhaps a three-tier cake with mini cupcakes as ‘dessert appetizers,’ there really are no limits to the options available,” says DeVries.

A Regal Reception

Deciding on a reception venue is one of the most important decisions a wedding couple will make. The Madison Concourse Hotel has an excellent downtown location and refined atmosphere to match that truly rounds out a Madison wedding experience. In fact this 360-room hotel has the most rooms in the city and boasts two bars and one restaurant (The Dayton Street Grille)—which only adds to the convenience of this spectacular venue. Virtually the entire hotel has undergone extensive renovations within the past five years, with the latest round to be completed in 2014—yet another reason why this bustling spot remains relevant and popular for receptions as well as guest accommodations for downtown weddings. 

Despite the sheer number of weddings The Madison Concourse hosts, catering sales manager Shana Schwarz says that each event is unique. Some trends she’s noticed for receptions include:

• Incorporating fun, personalized dessert buffets instead of a traditional tiered wedding cake.

• Using more personalized touches, such as tables named after
places special to the couple or incorporating family collectibles into décor and overall themes. “We had a well-traveled couple’s reception recently with a very cool map theme throughout the room.”

• Moving away from the traditional head table to either a sweetheart table with just the couple, or a harvest table with the wedding party. They allow for more mingling and socializing between the guests and the wedding party.

• Tech-loving twosomes might incorporate Facebook, Twitter and Instagram into their big day, by making signs or table tents with their special hashtag.

In addition to working with couples on personalizing their big day, The Madison Concourse boasts top-notch amenities (including working with Schwarz throughout the entire wedding planning process) as well as throwing in all of the extras for a fabulous reception. “We include floor length table linens, centerpiece, dance floor, candles, cake-cutting and setup. And through trusted vendors, we offer a variety of [other] personalized extras to make each event unique,” explains Schwarz.Snap Happy

Along with looking picture-perfect for the big day, couples will want to book an experienced photographer to document all of their wedding
day memories. That’s where Sharon Vanorny of SV Heart Photography comes into the picture (we couldn’t resist). Varnorny, a ten-year veteran, shoots portraits, commercial and editorial work and, of course, weddings—check out her beautiful work in this section! Her laid-back attitude and willingness to try any shot makes her easy to work with. And she loves shooting weddings: “It’s like being invited to a giant party! Only I’m getting paid, and that’s pretty awesome.”

When offering advice on what couples should look for in a wedding photographer, Vanorny says, “It’s about finding a good fit for the couple. That’s what I always tell the couple—find someone you want to spend the day with. Make sure you get along. I always want to be on my bride and groom’s side, [and] I want them to be on my side!” It’s also important that a couple’s personalities mesh with their photographer’s, notes Vanorny. “Make sure you like your photographer—that’s the best tip I can give. And find a photographer whose style you like. People want real emotions and to be represented the way they are.”

Savory Surprises

It’s common knowledge that for wedding guests, the food is one of the most memorable details of a wedding! Megan Vlazny, director of sales and event planning at Upstairs Downstairs Catering, notes that their business turns convention on its ear by offering twists on a few traditional catering practices.

“Upstairs Downstairs allows our couples to choose items that are not on the menu. This is their day and we want to make sure they have the foods they love. We also allow our couples to bring in some of their own food for the day. If your aunt makes the best ‘whatever,’ then have this be part of your wedding if it means that much to you.”

Upstairs Downstairs can cater to a number of venues that don’t have on-site catering—like the Madison Children’s Museum, private homes, parks, barns, the Brink Lounge and the East Side Club. Vlazny says that they offer a number of unique, delicious menu items like their Wisconsin Chicken stuffed with cranberries, apples and feta cheese and topped with cranberry port sauce, and appetizers like mac-and-cheese bites or their tomato bisque shooters with grilled cheese rounds.

As if those menu items don’t sound tasty enough, enthusiastic foodies are adding their own touches to catering menus, too.

“Most of my couples want their wedding to represent them as a couple. Because of this we have been doing a lot of family recipes and favorite foods. Also, so many ideas come from Pinterest, so I get a lot of brides that bring in pictures of food items they like. Unique appetizers and late night snacks have also been popular,” says Vlazny. “My chef and I work hard to come up with a menu that works well both for large amounts of people, but is not the same items the couple will see on every other menu.” 

Party Perfect

Wedding planning doesn’t have to be all work—after all, it should be enjoyable too! Couples should treat themselves to at least one special dinner throughout their wedding planning process, and the family-owned Veranda Restaurant and Wine Bar is a great place to dine and unwind. Their comfortable, cozy atmosphere boasts several dining rooms as well as a spacious outdoor patio for the warm months.

Looking for a rehearsal dinner venue? The Veranda, run by husband-and-wife team Nick and Stephanie Schiavo and mom Rose Marie, is the perfect fit for this, too. “We want you to feel at home here, and we specialize in making the experience as perfect as possible, because every wedding should be perfect and exceed the bride and groom’s expectations,” says Nick.

Prepare to taste an absolutely unique menu that boasts “Italian incorporating traditional and contemporary elements and flavors from the freshest local, regional and internationally sourced ingredients,” explains Nick. “We are constantly coming up with new ideas and keeping the menu fresh and interesting for our many regulars and new diners alike. There are definitely staples that we keep around [too] so that our customers can always enjoy their favorites when they need a treat or for special occasions.”

Every restaurant is typically known for a signature entrée, and the Veranda is no different. “We are known for our oysters and mussels, fresh pasta [and our] build-your-own steak menu,” says Nick. For couples looking for a post-wedding brunch, Nick advises checking out the Veranda’s Sunday brunch menu, which features a delicious Eggs Benedict dish and French toast options.

Magical North Woods

Your honeymoon and vacation time are precious and when you want to escape the Madison area, enjoy it at The Beacons in Minocqua. Guests can choose from lakefront condos or secluded cabins and townhomes; the resort is right on Lake Minocqua and is surrounded by thirteen acres of tall pines.

Amenties include swimming area, tennis court, pool, hot tub, sauna, bike and boat rentals including pontoon boats, fishing boats and kayak and canoes, playground, game room, skating rink, sledding hill, fitness center, nature, bike, hiking trails and, for the perfect romantic ending to the day, lakeside fire pits.

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