With only three days to dive into the food scene of Madison during our trip last summer, we really didn’t waste a lot of time, and were not about to take any chances. We were prepared with a guide book as always, but more importantly, we sought out recommendations from friends who’d lived in and visited Madison. Only folks who really knew their stuff could be trusted. Admittedly, we had some preconceived notions.
Beer, cheese, and ice cream were all top priorities, and not surprisingly it wasn’t long before we’d sampled all three. There is more to Madison than just those basics though, so here’s an overview of a few spots you wouldn’t want to miss if you find yourself in the city of four lakes. The Roman Candle, a local pizza joint with 3 locations, was the one spot we chose more on a whim and out of convenience than from our great list of recommendations. We had just arrived in the city that afternoon, it was getting late, and after exploring some of the local parks and waterfront, we needed to get food into Bergen’s (2 years old) belly immediately. We were quickly welcomed in to the restaurant despite Bergen’s impatience and squirminess, and we breathed a sigh of relief when we noticed the shelf full of books, toys and other amusements right next to our table. These supplies were exactly what we need to help us get through this meal.
Once we got a glance at the menu, we settled one of their specialty pizzas. “The Pestoral” reminded us of one of the old standbys we order for a favorite spot in Seattle, and the Madison version did not disappoint. This pie has a pesto sauce and is topped with tomatoes, fresh Wisconsin feta, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, red peppers, and there’s even some basil thrown into the mix. After a rough night of tossing and turning and a not welcome early rising, we were ready to be spoiled by exceptional food. Good thing, we were led in the right direction (thanks to a nice local who actually walked us right to the door) to the popular breakfast spot, Marigold Kitchen. Even though the restaurant was busy when we got there, I somehow was able to walk right up to the counter to order while Slaed and Bergen snagged a spot. By the time I was joined them at the table, the line was getting close to going out the door!
We went the sweet and savory route and coordinated with a stack of fluffy pancakes topped with strawberries and a expertly crafted breakfast sandwich piled with a fried egg, fresh Wisconsin cheese, applewood smoked bacon, tomatoes, and green onion. This is an order at the counter, then staff brings your food to your table kind of spot. I should also mention that Slaed got the best glass of orange juice (fresh squeezed) he’s had in a long time.
Of course you can’t be in Wisconsin long before you start to notice all of the German influence. After Bergen’s nap and a little freshening up, we decided to start our evening off with some appetizers and a beer or two at the Essen Haus. This traditional German restaurant with 16 German beers on tap, really got us excited about being in the state.
And most importantly, we finally (okay we’d really only been in town for a day) got to sample the fried cheese curds that everyone told us about, and boy were we spoiled! These are the best fried cheese curds we had over the course of our 7-day stay in Wisconsin (and we ordered A LOT of cheese curds). The staff was super helpful (and patient with us) and we also loved the traditional pretzel served with horseradish and mustard. I’d love to go back and really dig into some of their German food specialties.
We’ve now learned that maybe we were pressing our luck a bit by taking Bergen to 2 restaurants in one night, but we were too excited about some of the recommendations we received and we thought we just had to do it all (or at least try to). And we really can’t complain too much because The Great Dane keyed us into another Wisconsin tradition: The Fish Fry. We should have gone with two orders from the fish fry menu, but if you didn’t already know, we love to coordinate our entrees to encompass different tastes, so we had one fish fry and the Great Dane’s burgers on a fancy pretzel bun. My recommendation…fish fry all the way.
It’s tough to really go wrong with any farmer’s market, but Madison’s Saturday Farmer’s Market is really something special. Instead of sitting down for breakfast on this morning, we opted to just do lots of little snacking and nibbling as we made our way around the capitol building. We tried locally made (with local ingredients) scones and mini fruit pies, but the most memorable treat was the raw corn. The woman at the stand shucked the corn for us, and assured us that we did not necessarily need to cook corn in order to enjoy it! We also learned that little Bergen would do just fine with his own piece of corn on the cob—he was occupied for a good 20 minutes munching off each and every last kernel.
More Madison Food Recommendations:
- Ice Cream at Babcock Hall Dairy Store-Grab an ice cream cone that’s big enough for lunch!
- Willy Street Co-op-Handy spot for grabbing a few staples for your hotel or rental. Great salad bar perfect for lunch on the go.
- The Weary Traveler Free House-Plenty of local beers on tap and an overflowing meat and cheese plate that will satisfy all the hungry mouths in your group.
Have you spent time in Madison, Wisconsin? What did you see, do & most importantly…EAT?
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