Tag Archives: Madison

New restaurants to try in Madison, Wisconsin

We found some great dining options a year ago in Madison, including Forequarter, which is included in this story in this weekend’s  Minneapolis STribune, which suggests even more good places to eat!

 

Wisconsin’s capital and university town gets an A for its culinary delights.

The market wasn’t her only success. Piper also established L’Etoile in 1976 as one of the country’s great early farm-to-table restaurants. That it carries on today, even without her, proves that she wasn’t acting alone. Madison, a university town populated by global food-smart students and scholars, was ready to do some serious eating.

It has been eating well ever since, as one of the Midwest’s most adventurous culinary cities.

Madison is worth visiting for more than just food. It stretches between two lakes and makes for a fun weekend. Downtown’s anchoring State Street, running from the Capitol Square to the campus, is lined with art museums, coffee shops, bookstores and galleries. At dusk, people collect on the Memorial Union terrace, where bands play to the setting sun, brats get grilled and people paddle on Lake Mendota in rentable canoes and kayaks, past splashing swimmers.

A lot of the crowd is building up an appetite for dinner, and the best place for a taste of Madison’s most ambitious dining is Forequarter. Run by the Underground Food Collective, and headed by four-time James Beard nominee Jonny Hunter, the restaurant is zealous about local foraging and sourcing. That makes dinner, in the low-key dining room, a very model of purist locavore cooking (forequartermadison.com; 1-608-609-4717).

Start with the charcuterie plate and forget those luncheon meat platters that too many kitchens try to pass off now as serious carnivorous dining. The Forequarter plate is butchered at the Food Collective’s own Underground Butcher. A recent platter included Tuscan and Calabrian salamis, sobrassada, Prussian ham and coppa. Then dive into the veg-friendly menu, which changes daily, depending on what just sprouted. A shaved parsnip salad may come brightened by pink peppercorn vinaigrette and studded with cerignola olives; a plate of rainbow carrots may play off daikon tzatziki and hazelnut dukkah. Pan-seared lake trout might pair with roasted sweet potato and ginger broth. Hold out for dessert if it’s some version of the carrot layer cake ribboned with orange marmalade and pistachio.

If that feels too Noma-esque, book a table at Sardine. Sitting on Lake Monona, the airy converted warehouse of a dining room, fronted by a snaking bar, is one of Madison’s most handsome, and the menu follows glossy suit. Co-owner and chefs John Gadau and Phillip Hurley, Chicago transplants, know how to plate contemporary comfort food that skips a lot of borders, from French to Mediterranean. Their standout signature dishes range from a warm duck confit and frisee salad, roused by green beans, bacon lardon and a poached egg, to pan-roasted skate wing dressed with caper-almond brown butter. The kitchen’s namesake sardine burger — grass-fed angus beef dressed with a fig and caramelized onion jam — is a wonder itself (sardinemadison.com; 1-608-441-1600).

For straight-up comfort food, the pair’s homier Gates and Brovi serves a perfect chicken piccata (­gatesandbrovi.com; 1-608-819-8988). For pure tradition, though, Tornado, just off the Capitol Square, is everything a classic steakhouse should be (­tornadosteakhouse.com; 1-608-256-3570). The beamed dining room looks like Paul Bunyan’s North Woods cabin and the tenderloin comes with buttery hash-brown potatoes, fresh-baked breadsticks and a crisp iceberg lettuce wedge doused in French blue cheese dressing.

Just across the square, L’Etoile, now headed by James Beard winner Tory Miller, sits next to its more casual sister kitchen Graze (­letoile-restaurant.com, 1-608-251-0500; grazemadison.com; 1-608-251-2700). The most unexpected restaurant in Miller’s portfolio is his Spanish-themed Estrellon, where the tortilla espanola is worthy of any Latin mama and the paella Valenciana comes served in the traditional black pan and crowned with rich dabs of aioli (estrellonrestaurant.com; 1-608-251-2111).

Among Madison’s crowded run of other global restaurants is Italian restaurant Lombardino’s, its dining room packed with a winking collection of “La Dolce Vita” kitsch. The kitchen does right by a pan-Italian menu, from seasonal bruschettas to knockout pastas (lombardinos.com; 1-608-238-1922). The kitchen’s pizzas are fine, as well, but for a bona fide, beautifully blistered, straight-from-Naples version pulled out of a wood-fired brick oven, head to Pizza Brutta, on restaurant-jammed Monroe Street (pizzabrutta.com; 1-608-257-2120).

In a city dense with Asian students, there is an odd dearth of decent Asian restaurants. The exception is a growing constellation of Japanese eateries. Best among them is Muramoto at Hilldale mall, where the standard-issue sushi is augmented by a fantastic Asian slaw, calamari paired with ponzu mayonnaise, and a miso-marinated black cod (hilldale.muramoto.biz; 1-608-441-1090). The other strong option is Red, where the seasonal maki sometimes goes too baroque (consider the red paradise roll, a mélange of spicy salmon, asparagus, arugula, seared tuna, pineapple avocado salsa, fried garlic and pea shoots that reads more like a casserole than maki) but where the sushi itself is always first-rate (red-madison.com; 1-608-294-1234).

For a return to regional flavors, Quivey’s Grove, on the far west edge of Madison, is one of the town’s best surprises (­quiveysgrove.com; 1-608-273-4900). Its Stone House dining room, in a 19th-century farmhouse, features a menu rooted in largely Scandinavian and German culinary traditions, making for big meaty plates that get cooked with finesse. The Friday fish fry is an ode to a Midwestern classic. So are the fresh-baked pastries.

But for the best sweet stop in town, head back to Monroe Street, where Bloom Bake Shop features cupcakes, biscuits, doughnuts and cinnamon rolls (­bloombakeshop.com; 1-608-509-7669). The antidote to the oversized cupcakes churned out by the chains, Bloom’s delicate cupcakes are made with locally sourced ingredients, so a lemon and blueberry version comes baked with real fruit, folded in like a smoothie, and topped by the lightest lemon buttercream. It makes for a bright last taste of Madison.

Food and travel journalist Raphael Kadushin regularly writes for Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler and other publications.

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Sjolinds, Driftless Historium, Military Ridge State Trail biking, Grumpy troll, Blue Mounds, Stewart Lake, Marcine’s — in and around Mt. Horeb, WI

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Stone House airbnb Mt. Horeb

Playing catch up.  On Sunday, we met our friend Jane for breakfast at Sjolinds (“shoe” linds)  in downtown Mount Horeb – cheerful Scandinavia fare (tried the Scandinavian fruit soup, bit too gelatinous for me and certainly for Dirck). We got a sneak peak at the very impressive Driftless Historium, a new local history museum (that I’m writing a story about) and then attempted to ride bikes in 94 degree heat on the Military Ridge State Trail. The trail is packed dirt and stone but really lovely. But the heat kept us from going far. We went a few miles east, which was all downhill (we barely peddled) but, of course, uphill on the return; Then we went a few more miles west which was more level but less shady and closer to the highway.

Mount Horeb’s Grumpy Troll brewpub was packed with hot sweaty people like us — including several motorcyclists.  We ended up on the second floor, eating newly introduced nachos. Pleasant place. And cool temps! To really cool off, we went to the local swimming hole — Stewart Lake County Park — which reminded me a bit of Ithaca.  Small body of water, murky and warm on top, colder toward the bottom, lined with woods including the occasional white birch (my favorite). Across from the sandy beach, some kids took turns climbing up a sagging pine tree and jumping when they reached the top. Dangerous but looked like fun. We drove to nearby Blue Mounds and spotted people eating ice cream cones on the porch of the local convenience store so we joined them. (The one employee was very busy scooping cones and working the cash register.) Onto Blue Mound State Park where we climbed up a high old wooden observation tower (I got a splinter holding onto the railing) for a stupendous view of rolling green Wisconsin dairyland – with pristine red wood/stone foundation barns, century farms with white farmhouses, the occasional golden limestone house like the stunner we airbnbed in. As our friend Jane suggested, we drove from the park along Ryan Road (near Highway F) for more glorious views from high on a ridge. We also drove past  Campo Di Bella Winery which also offers farm-to-table meals and farm stays. Looks promising!

Dinner was classic townie – Marcine’s, a tavern in the small town of Mount Vernon, that Jane took us to. Fortunately we just missed the band (which could have been very loud) but sat at high top tables and drank beer and ate very good burgers. Place was packed.  Later, we finally could really enjoy the porch at our airbnb (cooler temps, fewer bugs), where we sat on a quiet night and chatted with our airbnb host Nina, a former professional juggler who does various jobs now (including helping out at the famous Bleu Mont Dairy in Blue Mounds).

 

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Farmers market, State street brats, chocolate ice cream at the memorial union, Forequarter—Madison/ also Mount Horeb and Blue Mounds, WI

 

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Stone House airbnb Mt. Horeb

Busy day. On a hot, sunny morning, the farmers market around the state capital building in downtown Madison was packed with people all walking the same direction in a slow circle past asparagus, morels, spinach, cheeses, lots of cheese and bread. We picked up some famous bandaged cheddar at the Bleu Mont Dairy stand and met our Airbnb host there. (She was selling cheeses.) also bought some very solid 8 grain bread at cress spring bakery.

Onto the first place I tried a brat (I think) while visiting my sister who went to U of Wisconsin – State Street Brats. We shared a table on the patio with a nice retired couple who moved from Brooklyn to Madison 30 years ago. After window shopping on State, we walked to the union and ate rapidly melting ice cream bones on the busy patio overlooking the lake. The place was packed with visitors also eating brats and ice cream and looking out at the boaters and sunbathers. Suddenly it is summer.

 

Onto the pretty rural town of Mount Horeb, 30 miles west of Madison where we are staying in a remarkable 1860 stone farmhouse tucked into a lush green valley with horses grazing and a pristine red barn with a cupola in the distance. The house is so hidden from the road that we had to call the owner from a nearby Apple orchard. Our gps said we were there. But there was no house in sight. Turns out we had to drive down an even narrower gravel road, park by the pasture in the woods and walk a few seconds and there was the lovely two story limestone house, with cool contemporary touches – a wood deck and overhang, a copper colored wrought iron railing. Inside the house is fanciful and bohemian, filled with artwork, old photos, big brass horse adornments. Our room on the second floor landing is all Beatles, with aYellow submarine mural covering one wall and photos of John, Paul,George and Ringo on the other. Our host is a former professional juggler who used to perform with her former husband all over, including on Caribbean cruise ships. Than you Airbnb.

In cheerful Mount Horeb, we visited a few shops, most notably the Pop Place, with soda pop from all over (yes, Vernors from Detroit) and Artisan Woods, a gallery with work by 70 wood artists (beautiful inlaid wood paintings, cutting boards, nightlights, wood purses and wood earrings. Nearby, in Blue Mounds, we cooled off in a chilly and very cool Cave of the Mounds. Not too claustrophobia inducing except for a few very narrow low passages where we had to walk single file. And no bats. And awe-inspiring stalagmites and stalactites.

Dinner was at the small and superb Forequarter, which is almost hidden in a quiet residential neighborhood east of the capital, unnamed on the storefront awning. We sat at the bar and promptly received free glasses of sparkling wine, in hour of our 28th anniversary (I don’t remember mentioning this when I made the reservation online but must have.) We had house made charcuterie, some amazing crispy fried mushrooms, herb and ricotta dumplings in a broth with greens, mushrooms and aspagus, rhubarb sorbet with “parsnip crumble” and a very moist and solid lemon marmalade layer cake with lemon frosting and pink peppercorns. (we took most of this home).

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