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Eating Madison

There’s more to this foodie town than cheese curds

Eating Madison
Photo by Bill Lubing

Poke fun at cheese heads all you like, but it’s the people of Madison who are getting the last laugh. Here in Wisconsin’s capital, local and sustainable food isn’t a trend—it’s the common thread among farmers, restaurants, and the community. People care about what they eat and where it comes from.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Dane County Farmers’ Market. Every Saturday, plus Wednesdays in the summer, some 150 farmers fill Capitol Square with the fruits of their labor: blue-ribbon cheese, organic meat, fresh-cut flowers, just-plucked produce. Everything is locally produced—a claim that many markets can’t make. Judging by the number of visitors and their overflowing baskets, Madison wouldn’t have it any other way.

The people here are passionate about food without being pretentious. At the Old Fashioned, the house burger is made with local grass-fed beef, and then topped hedonistically with fried onions, hickory-smoked bacon, cheddar, garlic sauce, and a soft-cooked egg. Wash that down with one of the 30 Wisconsin brews on tap and you’ll never want for fast food again.

If beer’s not your thing (what are you doing in Wisconsin?), grab a stool at the Old Sugar Distillery. Newly opened in a rehabbed brick warehouse and named after the sugar company that operated here in the early 1900s, this boutique booze-maker is turning heads around the country with its brown sugar-beet Honey Liqueur—a smooth, sweet, and potent spin on whiskey.

For a more refined experience, reserve a table at L’Etoile. Located in an elegant, glass-enclosed space on Capitol Square, Madison’s crown culinary jewel showcases fresh, seasonal, indigenous ingredients to epic proportions. The menu changes often, but if it’s offered, be sure to get the delicate beef carpaccio or the tangy chèvre tart with raspberry coulis.

Breakfast is a big deal in the dairy state. You have two great options in Madison: egg sandwiches at the sunny Marigold Kitchen, or a weekend brunch of bloodies and shrimp cakes at the French bistro Sardine. Arrive early for a table on Sardine’s patio. Under the red-and-white-striped awning overlooking Lake Monona, you’ll start plotting your next visit to Madison.
 

MNMO's Guide to Madison

WHERE TO STAY

The Mansion Hill Inn, a luxurious B&B within walking distance of Capitol Square. From $200 per night, 608-255-0172, mansionhillinn.com
 

WHERE TO EAT

Start your day at Marigold Kitchen (608-661-5559, marigoldkitchen.com) or Sardine (608-441-1600, sardinemadison.com). For lunch, it’s burgers and beer at the Old Fashioned (theoldfashioned.com, 608-310-4545). Dine on the tasting menu with wine pairings at L’Etoile (608-251-0500, letoile-restaurant.com). For a late-night snack, get the mac-and-cheese pizza at Ian’s (608-257-9248, ianspizza.com).
 

WHAT TO DO

Peruse the Dane County Farmers’ Market (dcfm.org), then snack your way through downtown with popcorn from Clary’s (608-255-2994, claryspopcorn.com), truffles from Candinas Chocolatier (608- 845-1545, candinas.com), and handcrafted cheese at Fromagination (608-255-2430, fromagination.com). Catch a free ride on the Capitol Pedaler to the Old Sugar Distillery for a tour and dangerously good Honey Cap (madisondistillery.com).
 


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