• Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     
  • Best of Minnesota 2015

    You voted, we calculated. Now it’s time to rip the envelope open and announce the winners of the 14th annual Best of Minnesota readers’ choice awards.

     
    FROM THE Spring 2016 ISSUE
     

At Minnesota Meetings + Events Magazine, we strive to come up with the stories and news most relevant to you—our readers. But our best issue, the one that truly gives us a pulse on the industry, is the one in which you pick the content and decide who and what is the hottest right now: the annual Best of Minnesota issue.

Our 2015 winners run the gamut. They range in age from 100-plus to less than a decade. They hail from Bemidji to Lake Elmo, Roseville to Excelsior. Some have hundreds of employees; some have just four. Some are Best of favorites, others are welcome additions. One is connected to the Mall of America, another sits atop Lake Minnetonka. Monkeys frequent one, comedians the other. But they all have one thing in common—you picked them as the best in their specific niche. And for that, we thank you. Now, drum roll please.

Providers

It’s easy to sell a city when it’s as beautiful as Duluth. With the glittering Lake Superior, plenty of hiking, myriad parks, and breweries, restaurants and shops that can’t be ignored, it’s no surprise the city is such a popular destination. But even with all that, Visit Duluth works tirelessly each year to promote the beauty of the area—and this year it reaped the benefits of that work, winning Best Convention + Visitors Bureau (Town/Area More than 80,000 in Population). Coming up this year, Duluth will host Hockey Day Minnesota, Travel Alliance Partners Dance and the Duluth Air Show.

The Roseville Visitors Association may be a small CVB—the organization has only four staff members—but it functions just as well as a 100-person team. “While we are a small CVB, we offer the same level of service and products that you will find at a CVB 10 times our size,” says Julie Wearn, CEO. “Our experience, passion and creativity are what make us stand out from other CVBs in Minnesota.” That commitment is just one reason the organization wins the Best Convention + Visitors Bureau (Town/Area 25,000-80,000 in Population) award—a new category created to include Minnesota CVBs of all sizes. For those looking to plan events in Roseville, the CVB can provide a number of services including site inspections, customized tour itineraries and attraction reservations.

Discover Stillwater scoops up 2015’s Best Convention + Visitors Bureau (Town/Area Less than 25,000 in Population). Known as Minnesota’s birthplace, the city is the second most popular destination to the Mall of America, according to Christie Rosckes, marketing director. No problem if you’re unfamiliar with the area—Rosckes hosts a handful of tours each year for those looking to learn more about the charming destination. “I love hosting the familiarization tours because in four hours guests are shocked at the unique stories and the amount of venues and attractions packed into our historic district,” she says. “Stillwater offers the unexpected; something different from the typical meeting locations.”

The 26-year-old Adagio Djay Entertainment takes home the Best Entertainment award. “Adagio is definitely a brand of its own,” says Jay Brian Kochendorfer, owner. The company has 35 DJs—some of whom are bilingual—ranging from American Idol finalists to actors and radio talent. For those unable to meet in person, the company has online tools—including the ability to search through its extensive music selection on the company’s website, making it easy for those outside of the Twin Cities or even out of state. “We want to find the right vision for the client, whether they have one or not,” says Kochendorfer. “It’s really about making a match for a personal experience.”

A past winner and recent Best of Minnesota finalist, Lauren B. Photography was voted 2015’s Best Photography/Videography. Lauren Falk honed her skills in college, where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in business but was able to take a plethora of photography classes and worked as the on-campus photographer. Falk, who shoots everything from weddings and events to portraiture and theater, credits her reliability as a reason readers continue to cast their ballot for her. “I deliver a quality and consistent product,” she says. “I’m very easy to work with and have a quick turnaround; I do the things [clients] want me to do.”

A first-time winner, Brave New Workshop earns the crown for Best Team- Building Activity/Facilitator/Organizer. The comedy theater, which got its start in 1958— making it the oldest in the nation—has produced a high number of prolific, well-known comedians, including Al Franken and Tom Davis. Its event center can hold anywhere from 30 to 230, and the teams pride themselves on their ability to offer guests literally anything they are looking for in an event. “I can tell you, in the hundreds and hundreds of events in our space, our client has never heard the word ‘no.’ And I mean never,” says John Sweeney, owner. “Our wide menu of services is done with a certain flavor of irreverence and promiscuous humility.”

Places

Minnesotans love their golf, and with 400 courses statewide, according to the Minnesota Golf Association, there’s no lack of options. But, as the winner of Best Golf Venue, Madden’s on Gull Lake is a must on your to-play list. The largest golf complex in Minnesota, Madden’s has 63 holes, which provide visitors of all skill levels the opportunity to play. Most notably for event planners, there are staff members specifically dedicated to planning tournaments that can last anywhere from one day to the course of a weekend and hold 12 to 300 golfers. This year, 40 percent of the resort’s guest rooms will be brand new, giving past visitors an exciting reason to return.

Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge in Deerwood takes home Best Historic Venue, and for good reason—the resort is nearly 120 years old. Check this out for history: Joseph and Josephine Ruttger and their sons started serving hot meals and a place to stay in the 1890s. They then opened the resort itself in 1898 (charging guests $5 a week for bed, board and boat), and the rest is (pardon the pun) history. Sitting on 500 acres of land, the resort has 10,000 square feet of event space for up to 300 guests. “The tradition of hospitality established by my great grandparents, my grandparents and my parents informs everything we do,” says Chris Ruttger, president. “We celebrated our centennial almost 20 years ago, and our roots continue to be very important to us.”

A relative newbie, Radisson Blu Mall of America in Bloomington is getting major recognition, winning Best Hotel with Meeting/ Event Space (More than 300 Guest Rooms). You can’t beat the convenience of the hotel with its direct connection to the Mall of America (you won’t even need your parka to cross the sky bridge); everything is in one place. And, the airport is in close proximity, making it easy for out-of-town guests to travel to and from the hotel. Fifteen private event spaces that accommodate 10 to 1,000 dot the hotel; the Mall of American venue space also can be used. According to Harry Gorstayn, general manager, “[your] options are only limited by your imagination.”

It’s no surprise our readers voted for The Saint Paul Hotel as Best Hotel With Meeting/Event Space (Less than 300 Guest Rooms)—they’re just confirming what everyone else around the country knows to be true. Indeed, the hotel has been named the Top Hotel in Minnesota from Travel + Leisure; was ranked No. 1 in the Twin Cities from U.S. News & World Report; and has landed on Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers Choice “Top 10 Hotels in the Midwest” list, just to name a few. Opened in 1910, and designed by Reed and Stern—the same architects that designed the Grand Central Terminal in New York—the hotel (with 14,000 square feet of event space) also boasts a fascinating past.

Bayview Event Center takes advantage of arguably the best (and most famous) aspects of Minnesota—the lakes. Specifically, the venue—which wins Best Meeting/Event Space (No Hotel)—sits on the Lake Minnetonka shoreline, with a two-level event center that overlooks 400 feet of lakeshore. Aside from its on-land options, the venue also has six charter boats that can serve groups from two to 150. “We believe we are the best meeting and event space in the Twin Cities because we are located right on the beautiful Lake Minnetonka,” says Briana Baker, venue coordinator. “How could you not enjoy yourself on one of Minnesota’s most historic and gorgeous sites?”

In 2014, the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront began a 19-month complete renovation (changing from the St. Paul Crowne Plaza to the InterContinental brand), and its work is officially recognized with a win in the brand new Best Renovation category. The renovation included full updates to all 410 guest rooms and a complete update to the lobby. The property now also features a new dining option called the Citizen Supper Club. There were a number of hotel renovations this year around the state, but Kimberly Osterhout, director of sales and marketing, notes their laser focus on the design elements helped them stand out from the pack: “The level of effort that went into a complete overhaul and the attention to the small details and finishes throughout the property really make the conversion of the former Crowne Plaza into the InterContinental a remarkable transformation.”

A Best of Minnesota mainstay, Grand View Lodge Golf Resort & Spa takes home Best Resort with Meeting/Event Space. The honor is a perfect way to celebrate an incredible milestone for the resort; this year it’s blowing candles on its 100th birthday. “Since 1916, Grand View Lodge has been providing guests with memorable vacations,” says Frank Soukup, director of marketing. “It is an honor to be recognized by our guests.” The resort is open year-round and has a number of venues across the property that have room for up to 400 guests.

Back in the 1970s, John Schiltz was a cook at the original version of the Lake Elmo Inn. In 1983, after attending culinary school and working around the country, he found himself back in Minnesota on the same day the restaurant went up for sale. So, some might call the owner and his company kismet. This year, he, his wife Christine, who is a co-owner, and his team win Best Restaurant/Bar with Private Dining Space. There are a number of event options, including four rooms in the hotel and a completely separate event center that can hold up to 300 people. And Schiltz wants people to know that while the restaurant might be outside the city limits, it cannot be overlooked. “Some people may think [Lake Elmo] can’t deliver what Minneapolis does, but it’s quite the contrary,” he says. “Our price is the only thing that doesn’t compete with the city—it’s a lot less.”

With so many event spaces in Minneapolis and St. Paul alone, it can be easy to forget the other places around the state. But the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, 2015’s Best Venue Outside of Twin Cities Metro Area, proves that it’s a necessity to think big. The venue has a perfect location situated on Lake Superior, giving it stunning views of the Duluth Harbor. There are number of options for events: The City Side Convention Center has 26,000 square feet across seven rooms; the Lake Superior Ballroom features the same amount and can seat 1,800 people; the Harbor Side Convention Center boasts two reception areas and flexibility for 15 meeting rooms; and the Harbor Side Ballroom is 12,000 square feet. There’s plenty of room for everyone.

Things

Flamingos, lemurs and spider monkeys, oh my! While the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is best known for its animals, you can’t leave out the gorgeous event space. Its offerings make it MNM+E’s Best Attraction. The zoo sits on 11.5 acres and has nearly 196 animal species representing 1,792 individual animals. There are 10 different event locales with space for up to 400 guests. Highlights include the Enchanted Garden, which features seasonal flora and has views of the Conservatory, Frog Pond and Excedra—an outdoor space. Things to look forward to this year include a new giraffe feeding station and a butterfly exhibit with hundreds of butterflies.

AV for You again wins Best Audio-Visual Provider. Fourteen years ago, Josh Reitan started the company, running it out of his house. As he tells it, he would don a suit and offer to provide audio-visual rental equipment and services to restaurants with small event space; talk about humble beginnings. And many of those customers continue to work with him today. “AV for You has always taken the approach that the success of the event and happy customer is more important than any profit from one given event,” says Reitan. “Many of my early jobs were in restaurants, so I learned the importance of customer service early on and have carried those principals into AV for You.”

A newcomer to this category, Breezy Belle at Breezy Point Resort on Pelican Lake wins the Best Boats/Cruises/Charters award. Captain and manager George Rasmusson helms the 100-person boat, which carries more than 4,000 passengers each year. Cruises have only been offered since 2010, but judging by those numbers it’s clearly a huge success. Catering on the boat serves up your classic grill fare, including steak, salmon and hamburgers. The resort itself has 19 meeting facilities across 25,000 square feet of space with two rooms that can hold up to 450 people.

When you think Minnesota State Fair, cheese curds, farm animals and Princess Kay of the Milky Way likely come to mind. But 2015’s Best Event is much more than that. The site of Minnesota’s popular annual event, the fairgrounds are open for any and all events year-round. With 16 different buildings, free parking, catering and other services, the location is a no-brainer. “[The fair] is a rite of passage and something almost everybody in Minnesota has a connection to,” says Brienna Schuette, marketing and communications manager. “No matter what happens outside these gates, the state fair will be back at the end of August.” Don’t miss out—this year the state fair will run from Aug. 25–Sept. 5.

D’Amico Catering is the Best Catering Company (On- or Off-Site), and our mouths are watering just thinking of its food. The 30-year-old company has catered intimate gatherings as small as 10 to large galas with 10,000 people—there’s no such thing as too big or too small. With 11 locations across the Twin Cities, the company also has a host of event planners to help with all your catering needs. And, it strives to be as sustainable as possible, with a program called Naturally D’Amico that endeavors to meet all of their GOALS (Green, Organic, Artisanal, Local, Sustainable).

Minneapolis-based Event Lab, which has been on the scene since 1994, features a wide range of services. You name it, they have it, from linens and floral design to theme décor and lighting installments, and, they can travel all over the country for any event. So it’s no surprise the company earned the popular vote in the Best Event Décor category. Jodi Lindstrom, a territory sales manager for Victory Corps in Minneapolis, provides event decorating materials for the company, and Event Lab’s use of that material is why she voted for the company. “They are constantly designing and offering new props and products to use at events,” she says. “Every time they decorate for an event, they take special care to make sure all of the décor items are coordinated, beautiful and fun.”

Bachman’s has a rich history in Minnesota, which didn’t go overlooked by readers, who voted it atop the Best Florist category. In using the company, you will work with a consultant who will help you come up with the exact décor you need, even if you don’t know what that might be. For Gary Botzek, co-owner of Capitol Connections, voting for the floral shop was an easy choice. “We like and use Bachman’s because of their quality; they are easy to work with and a Minnesota company,” he says. “Bachman’s fills our order and fills our needs.”

The third-generation, family-owned-and-operated A-1 Minnetonka Rental has a unique offering for customers—it is the only rental company in the Twin Cities with a hexagon-shaped canopy with translucent fabric. Voters have named the company Best Rental Service Provider. “We are a customer service-focused company that offers premium event rental products,” says Chad Wagner, owner. “Our staff is exceptional, and our inventory is beautifully maintained.” Party and event rental services are available in Wayzata, Excelsior, Orono and other westmetro communities.

While Grand View Lodge Golf Resort & Spa does deliver on its promise of excellent customer service, the success of its social media accounts can’t be overlooked, especially after conquering the Best Social Media Presence category. The resort boasts incredible numbers with 27,000-plus likes on its Facebook page alone and more than 2,000 on Twitter. “[The accounts] don’t feel corporate like many sites may,” says Soukup. “We connect with our past and future guests and provide a platform for announcing up-andcoming, exciting news.”

Renee’s Royal Valet – Limos, Coaches & Trolleys—Best Transportation winner—has garnered a number of awards, including one from us in 2011, and the Best Transportation winner in our sister publication Minnesota Bride 11 years running. “Renee’s Royal Valet is known for providing a high level of personalized service, having impeccable vehicles, always being on time, and having top-notch chauffeurs who are well groomed and professionally dressed,” says Chad Peterson, owner. “This makes us a favorite with many event planners.” This year, the company is adding another trolley with room for more riders and another limo coach. Founded by Renee Aymar-Kosmatka, the company has been around for 24 years. “What makes us stand out is the diversity of our fleet and service options,” says Peterson. “We have the ability to provide a unique client experience.”

Editor’s Picks

Best View
Observation Deck from W Minneapolis - The Foshay’s 30th-floor Museum

Admittedly, it’s impossible to objectively decide on the greatest view in Minnesota; there’s no shortage of sweeping vistas in the state. But at the W Minneapolis - The Foshay—Minnesota’s first skyscraper—you get a side of history with your 360-degree view in the heart of downtown. The 32-floor hotel, then the Foshay Tower, was built in 1929 by Wilbur Foshay and designed after the Washington Monument. Foshay reserved floors 27 and 28 as his private residence, but before he could enjoy the lavish suite—complete with glass-paneled ceilings that boast stunning views—he was locked up for mail fraud. The space was converted to the speakeasy- style Prohibition Bar and opened to the public, where guests still party like its 1929; up to 60 people can be accommodated for a private event here. The 30th floor houses the Foshay Museum; artifacts like photos, newspaper clippings and top hats worn at the construction site give glimpses into yesteryear. The Observation Deck, a staircase up from the museum, wraps around the top of the building and guests can walk along the gated exterior for a complete panorama of the city. Tip: Try using the pano setting on your camera phone. —Morgan Halaska

Best New Venue
Solar Arts by Chowgirls

When Chowgirls Killer Catering announced that it would be opening a venue in January 2015, there was a collective (silent) cheer in the special events industry. Already renowned for its local and organic, not to mention delicious, food, Chowgirls took over operations of the third floor of the Solar Arts Building in Northeast Minneapolis and people followed, knowing to expect a venue as exquisite as the company’s catering. Owners Heidi Andermack and Amy Brown renovated the 6,500-square-foot industrial space, preserving architectural elements of the century-old building while adding their own decorative touches, like the 8-foot carved wooden bar, and features such as a glass-enclosed meeting room and comfortable bathrooms. Chowgirls’ mission of providing sustainable food and commitment to sourcing regional and organic ingredients complements the values of the owners of the building, who recently renovated the structure to be environmentally sustainable (which included adding 100 solar panels on the roof). It’s a win-win-win situation. —Morgan Halaska

Best Brewery
Indeed Brewing Company

In a thirsty local market that seemingly sprouts a new craft brewery by the week, Northeast Minneapolis’ Indeed Brewing Company is somehow a seasoned vet at the raw age of 4. Indeed, much like the hop-rich beer its known for, continues to evolve, the latest chapter being the addition of the Ox Taproom (capacity for 40 seated, 70 cocktail style), opened in August 2015 as a response to rapid private event inquiries and the need for additional space during peak taproom hours, according to Kayla Erbach, engagement manager. “With this space now available, we are able to accommodate private events any day of the week,” she says. “Unlike the Main Taproom, [70 seated, 100 cocktail style], The Ox does not share any direct walls with the brewhouse, so daytime events are also available without noise interruptions from our daily production area.” Both spaces are equipped with updated audio-visual capabilities and each event includes a private brewery tour option. And with Chowgirls Killer Catering as a new neighbor and exclusive partner in the Solar Arts Building, the dynamic duo’s countless mouthwatering pairings create event-catering heaven. —Bobby Hart

Best Sporty Venue
Canterbury Park

The recent renovations at Canterbury Park have been just as exciting as the races that grace its tracks. The past two years have been action-packed at every turn, opening the new Expo Center, launching the new Triple Crown Club event space and remodeling the Mezzanine level. “With these new assets, we have the flexibility and versatility to host a wide range of events as well as multiple events in a given day or weekend,” says John Groen, vice president of marketing. “Clients can conduct trade shows in the Expo Center [capacity for 1,500 banquet, 2,130 reception], host high-end receptions in the Triple Crown Club [464 banquet, 635 reception] and offer breakout sessions on our Mezzanine level [1,300 banquet, 1,600 reception].” The Expo Center offers over 24,000 square feet of clear space that can fit 130 booths and the 3,500-squarefoot atrium can accommodate eight booths; those combined with a variety of indoor event spaces make Canterbury one of the largest convention spaces in the state. And the park’s live horse races and casino games provide built-in entertainment for guests, earning Canterbury a first-place finish. —Bobby Hart

Best Speakers Agency
Élan Speakers Agency

It’s hard to find a bigger advocate of the local meetings and events industry than Devie Hagen. Frankly, it’s hard to find an industry gathering in which the president/CEO of Élan Speakers Agency is absent. “Since my company was designed by focus groups of local meeting planners, I aim to meet their needs,” says Hagen, who started her career as an administrative assistant working with C-level executives, then spent 13 years as a meeting planner for a medical device company before going into hospitality sales and management. She opened Élan in 2009 and soon started booking speakers worldwide, garnering awards such as MSAE’s Allied Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and MPI Minnesota’s Supporting Company of the Year in 2012. Hagen, who personally vets speakers and negotiates fees free of charge, says she focuses on successful professional business experts, what makes them different and what attendees can get from their style of presentation. But Hagen’s roster of talented speakers speaks for itself— so to speak. “I spend a lot of time getting to know my speakers,” she says. “I read their books, see them present as much as possible. I know their expertise, their best audience, their topics. I believe in all the speakers in my portfolio—they never let me or my clients down—they exceed our expectations, plus they are honest, genuine, ethical people.” —Bobby Hart

Have you ever met someone who doesn’t like brunch? Me neither—and I doubt I ever will. It’s hard not to love a two-meals-for-one situation, especially one that incorporates the best meal (breakfast, of course), and the most important one, as we all learned growing up. Throw in a late-morning reverie and some heartier lunchtime fare, and you’ve got a recipe for human comfort.

 

D'Amico Catering has officially opened Bushel & Peck, the Mill City Museum's new cafe. 

An approachble lunch menu, new weekend brunch, and wine and beer options round out the menu. Later this spring, the cafe will fill with fully updated décor; a food truck also is in the works.

 

The 15th Annual Best of Minnesota Meetings + Events readers’ choice awards welcomed meeting and events professionals to Solar Arts by Chowgirls on March 30 to honor this year’s best in the business. As the resident new guy (I started as assistant editor Monday of that same week) I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the local industry. I’m convinced the best way to acclimate to a new community is to dive right in, and during my first week, the Best Of awards provided the perfect opportunity to do just that.