Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Jul 25, 2010
01:43 PMSmall Dishes
Weekend in Madison
Out of town guests? New to the city? Routine in a rut? Or, just need a reminder why this place is truly special, even more so during the summer and fall. Here’s my itinerary for the perfect stay-at-home weekend.
Fish Fry at the Old Fashioned. They don’t take reservations and almost always there’s a wait, but rubbing elbows at the long bar is part of the experience. Relax, enjoy one of its namesake cocktails (made with brandy, of course), or the state’s other revered libation, an ice-cold brewski. An order of fried cheese curds or one of their Lazy Susan appetizer assortments will help pass the time and enhance the quintessential Wisconsin dining experience.
Nightcap at the Edgewater Pier. It’s a short walk up Mansion Hill to the Edgewater Hotel, an art deco landmark waiting for its makeover. An elevator will take you down to the bar and café that sits on a pier over placid Lake Mendota. It closes at ten, but it’s up early the next morning!
Breakfast at Marigold Kitchen. The food here’s as bright as its name suggests; local fresh, and full of flavor. The menu along with blackboard specials and bakery of the day is always appealing, but whatever you order, make sure it comes with the house potatoes.
Dane County Farmer’s Market. As much a local treasure as the State Capitol in whose shadow it takes place, it’s the largest producer-only farmer’s market in the country and undeniably one of the best. Serious shoppers come early; by noon it’s a counter clockwise public grand promenade. Regardless, whether buying or just looking, no one makes just one rotation of the Concourse (better known as the Square). Two are prudent and three better still.
Tour of the Capitol. Free, escorted tours (45-50 minutes) of this Beaux-Arts edifice depart from the rotunda. Among other things you’ll learn is the real name of the gilded statue that graces its dome, popularly and incorrectly called “Miss Forward.”
State Street. A latte to go at Michelangelo’s Coffee House, then a slow stroll down our best known thoroughfare, home to an eclectic assortment of restaurants (many with sidewalk cafes) and specialty boutiques. After checking out the shops, street performers and the passing Mad Town parade, it’s time to eat again!
Lunch at State Street Brats. In Wisconsin, a bratwurst is the grilled food of choice and affectionately called a “brat” (if you’re from the hinterlands, that rhymes with “rot” not “rat”). Like the Friday Night Fish Fry, it’s an integral part of Sconnie cuisine. If you live here and can’t stand the site of yet another one of these sausages, I recommend one of the food carts on the Library Mall.
Memorial Union. On your way in, stop at the Daily Scoop to sample some Babcock ice cream—made on the UW campus by the Food Sciences Department and highly esteemed by students and natives alike. Then cut through Der Rathskeller and out onto the Union Terrace. Sitting in one of its candy-colored signature chairs on the flagstone patio under the old oaks, you have a drop dead view of Lake Mendota. If you want a preview, check out the Terrace’s webcam. There’s no more idyllic place on a fine day than here. Sit and have a beer or two, but if you seek more activity, rent a canoe (you need to be a MU member or member’s guest) for a paddle around the lakeshore. Linger as long as you like, but make sure you’re rested up for a night on the town.
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMOCA). Located in the Overture Center for the Arts on State Street, the museum’s permanent collection and changing exhibitions are open to the public free of charge. The gallery stays open until eight o’clock on Saturday night, but your reservation for dinner is at seven. It’s only a short elevator ride away, or if you prefer, make a dramatic entrance up Cesar Pelli’s unique glass stairway.
Dinner at Fresco. The restaurant sits on top of MMOCA, overlooking its sculpture garden with a panorama of downtown. The food’s as sophisticated and appealing as the setting, even better if you’re seated at once of its outside tables.
Out and About. It may not be the Big City, but there are lots of options for entertaining yourself after the sun goes down. The historic Majestic Theatre—once a vaudeville house—is host to an diverse range of musical groups that appear their nightly. Likewise, High Noon Saloon, a few blocks off the square, has something happening most every night of the week. Located on the near eastside, Plan B is a sleek, high energy dance club. If something more laid back is to your liking, try one of the friendly neighborhood bars like the Harmony.
Brunch cruise on the Betty Lou. It’s a two hour trip around Lake Monona featuring a buffet brunch, champagne and cash bar. You need to reserve in advance, but if you miss the boat, Sardine is right across from where the Betty Lou departs and has one of the best brunches around.
Rent a bike at Machinery Row Bicycles. Housed in the same restored building as Sardine you’ll find a full-service bicycle shop, conveniently straddling one of the city’s many bike paths (Bike Path Map). Saddle up and ride south, crossing John Nolen Drive and around Monona Bay and Lake Wingra. After a scenic trip through the Arboretum—the UW’s 1260-acre nature preserve, stop at Michael’s Frozen Custard on Monroe Street and treat yourself before heading back.
Dinner at Lombardino’s. The food’s modern Italian yet refreshingly untrendy and perfect for a Sunday night. The décor is worth the trip a lone, but it’s the quality of the place that will bring you back.