If you're seeking some local food inspiration, look no further than Madison, WI. I had the opportunity to spend a recent weekend touring (and eating) my way through Madison. The scenery was beautiful and it was incredibly inspiring to see a town and a community so committed to and excited by eating and shopping locally and sustainably. Every coffee shop my good friend Katie (a Madison transplant) and I passed by touted fair-trade brews. Countless bars around town served up local beer and it seemed that every restaurant takes pride in featuring local farmers and ingredients right on the menu. This trend clearly has taken hold in cities and towns across the country, but it was interesting to be somewhere where eating (and drinking) locally and seasonally is a focus of so much of the community. Katie kept gushing about Madison's weekly farmers market and now I know why. It's a serious event. It's packed and expansive (and I thought I was spoiled by NYC's Union Square market!). The Dane County farmers market is up and running every Saturday and features
(Katie shopping it up at the market!)
produce, fresh pasta, local meats, unbelievably good cheese and fabulous bakeries like Cress Spring who was recently featured in the NY Times for their use of locally sourced and ground whole grains. Interesting that Cress Spring's natural fermentation methods allow their bread to by easily eaten by individuals with wheat allergies. The bread runs out fast, but I did sample a few of their baked goods like the raspberry-pear tartlet and I can see why the bakery's so popular.
Aside from the greenmarket, Katie took me on a fabulous culinary tour of Madison. Here's a rundown of some of the wonderful locally-driven restaurants and delicious meals we had.
Harvest - Our weekend dining commenced at Harvest, one of Madison's top seasonal restaurants. Word of advice if you go, start your night off with one
of their signature cocktails (trust me, they're worth a few extra calories...walk around the city and you'll easily work them off). The Elderflower Gimblet (St. Germaine, vodka and prosecco) was hands-down incredible. To get a nice sampling of the menu, Katie and I shared a beet salad with ricotta dressing and hazelnuts, grilled squid with spicy olive tapenade and a homemade cavatelli pasta with roasted cauliflower and breadcrumbs. I am a huge fan of sharing dishes -- it's the easiest to get a lot of little tastes in without overdosing on calories.
Marigold Kitchen - To prep for a big day of touring the
greenmarket and walking throughout the city, we hit up one of Katie's favorite brunch spots, Marigold Kitchen, close to Madison's capitol. A simple, energizing breakfast of chili poached eggs with rosemary toast, manchego and a few thin slices of prosciutto along with some fresh fruit and of course local coffee was a great start to a long day. Interesting omelets, sandwiches and daily specials with seasonal produce also speckled the menu.
Ma-Cha -- By late afternoon, a quick pick-me-up snack was an absolute necessity. We popped into a newish tea house and art gallery, Ma-Cha. Co-owner Anthony Verbrick greeted us with huge jars of dried tea mixes to sniff and choose from and a tasting of house-made mini asian buns (pork and sweet potato-ginger). The space is adorable, the tea and snacks were awesome, info about tea's health properties and proper brewing was bountiful, and Anthony was incredibly helpful and patient as we sniffed our way through at least a dozen jars of loose tea leaves! He also happens to be a great resource for local restaurant suggestions. If I were a student in Madison, Ma-Cha would for sure be my secret study haven of choice.
Katie and I finished the weekend off with a Madison-esque dinner (one that involved a bit of cheese, a burger -- yet again shared -- and some local beer) and a great Sunday brunch at a teeny-tiny spot close to downtown. I will withhold the name so Katie can continue to hit it up as she pleases and actually snag a seat. I will say however, that my omelet with butternut squash and roasted red peppers was ridiculously good.
I'll sign-off with a brief mention of the oddest (but so delicious) food item I taste-tested in Madison: cheese curds -- little pieces of cheese that form when the milk separates into liquid and solids. They're typically from cheddar, have a mild flavor, "squeak" when you eat them and have proven to serve as a great snack with a few crackers or an apple or pear.
Thanks KP for such a culinary-inspired tour of Madison!