While in town for a regional conference, I was set to schmooze in the city of Madison, Wisconsin. With a capital building stunningly similar to the one in our nation’s capital, I even managed to confuse a few East Coast friends with a Facebook post of the iconic building.
The Madison Concourse Hotel was just a few blocks away, and despite the easy written directions, I had to call for help. Too many one way streets, some construction, half the population on bicycles and several pedestrians in costume. Ah yes … it was Halloween weekend in Madison. With a high of 45 degrees.
The downtown area has so many taverns, shops and restaurants that it’s hard to be disappointed. For a quiet business dinner, we chose Cooper’s Tavern*. This led to a big burger, handmade chips, and a tall glass of Magnar’s cider. After 5 hours in the car, this was much needed. After a hotel breakfast & lunch the next day, dinner (and consequently lunch the next day) was Ian’s Pizza*on State Street, a casual by-the-slice locale. After much deliberation I chose Macaroni & Cheese pizza (you read that right) and for lunch the next day the special was Succotash. Kudos to you, Ian, whoever you are. Our reception that night was hosted at the Shamrock Bar*, just around the corner on Main Street. They were beyond decked out for Halloween and hosted our large group without any trouble, including a late night Electric Slide exhibition, which I missed out on.
Post presentation day I met with relocated East Coast friends and launched a beautiful weekend. While we enjoyed several epic home-cooked meals (see: pumpkin pancakes), we did have the opportunity to venture out to some new locations, including the Dane County Farmer’s Market*, which I have since renamed to “Happiest Place on Earth.” Move over, Disney.
The Dane County Farmer’s Market is endless. It encircles the capital building in a riot of color and smells; from budding mums in reds and golds to long stalks of green sprouts, to the smell of baking bread and grilling cheese. Our friends guided us through the vendors, pointing out their favorites. We needed no encouragement to navigate the free samples, which were everywhere. Cheese curds, salsas, homemade breads. One vendor encouraged me to take a ground cherry out of the basket, just to give it a taste.
The cheese curds are in a league all their own. Endless dairy vendors are here on the square competing for your attention, and they’re all about the squeak. What? Squeaky cheese? I’d heard of stinky cheese, but not the squeaky kind. Welcome, my friends, to Madison. Best known for their debut in poutine (fries + gravy + curds), a farmer informed me that the curds are best eaten fresh, soon after they’re swept from the milk. Within 12 hours or so, they’re ready to take a turn to Colby Jack cheese. While I missed the fried version, you bet your ass I’m going to go find it, and soon. My GA did send me on a mission, after all.
Stuffing our faces with hot, spicy cheese bread, we made the rounds wide-eyed and stomachs slowly filling. A stop at nearby Barriques* Cafe was just what we needed to sit down, warm up and clear our heads. Later, while the girls went thrifting in the Halloween crowds on Atwood Avenue, I stopped off at Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery* for a cup of joe and a chance to catch up on all the indie papers. This also includes almost falling asleep on the couch in the corner.
On my final morning in Madison, we dined at Johnson Public House*, a mecca for coffee lovers. The preparations at the bar are intense: beakers, filters, timers, beans, carafes and piping hot water. Our breakfast sandwiches took a long time to arrive but the reward was worth it: a gooey mozzarella, egg and tomato with pesto on wheat was .. perfect. Sitting in a cozy armchair watching the coffee connoisseurs was peaceful, and delicious.
Before leaving the city behind, I had to swing into the Chocolate Shoppe* to test my cooler and satisfy my sweet tooth. I packed up a pint of Espresso Oreo to go, and I’m happy to say it made it home after 5.5 hours in the car. It was well attended by the sheep’s milk feta and cheese curds that also mysteriously made their way into the bag. Needless to say, a five hour drive is nothing if it means a dairy-cation as delicious as this.
* [H] Madison Concourse Hotel: 1 W Dayton Street, #608-257-6000 / http://concoursehotel.com/
* Cooper’s Tavern: 20 West Mifflin Street, #608-256-1600 / http://www.thecooperstavern.com/
* Ian’s Pizza: 100 State Street, #608-257-9248 / http://www.ianspizza.com/html/stateStreet.html
* Shamrock Bar: 117 West Main Street, #608-255-5029 / http://www.yelp.com/biz/shamrock-bar-madison
* [+] Dane County Farmer’s Market: On the square / http://dcfm.org/about-the-market/
* Barriques: 127 W. Wash Ave, #608-268-6264 / http://www.barriquesmarket.com/our-cafes/west-washington/
* Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery: 2827 Atwood Avenue, #608-241-2200 / http://daisycafeandcupcakery.com/
* Johnson Public House: 908 East Johnson Street, #608-347-0483 / http://johnsonpublichouse.com/
* The Chocolate Shoppe: Various locations / http://www.chocolateshoppeicecream.com/
[+] The Dane County Farmer’s Market is reported to be the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country! Over 160 vendors attend each Saturday. It is also, blissfully, a year-round gig. The DCFM will move indoors in two weeks, celebrating two winter sessions in community centers, until it’s warm enough to come back to the square. Two thumbs up for an awesome, green, local endeavor.