We were in Madison, Wisconsin a couple weeks ago, staying at the Madison Concourse Hotel, a block from the capital building. We did not have a car, so we walked everywhere, and there were lots of interesting places within walking distance. Wisconsin is very proud of their cheese (their license plates proclaim Wisconsin as “America’s Dairyland”) and their beer. As we traveled in the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, we asked the driver about local brews. He said we had to try the Spotted Cow, which turned out to be light and hoppy. I asked him to recommend a pale brew, and after some thought, he mentioned he likes Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. That one made me laugh, because it is a California beer!
Let’s start with the Madison Concourse itself. Their dining room is casual but very nice, and the service was quite good. (The only dubious server was their manager, who seemed to “step-in” when someone called in sick, or if it got very busy.) The food was also good, and reasonably priced. The only not-so-good food we had there was the breakfast buffet oatmeal, which was more like gruel. 😦 Oatmeal directly from the kitchen was a little better. Sunday night they catered the event we attended at the hotel; again, quite good, though nothing to specifically rave about.
Friday evening we walked down State Street toward the university, and decided to stop at Nick’s Tavern. It was like walking into a bar from the 1950s. 🙂 The booths were upholstered in a naugahyde pattern I remember being on the dinette in our house when I was a child (except ours was cream and copper-colored, and theirs is black and copper). We had corned beef sandwiches on pumpernickel, and very good homemade french fries. It was simple, but yummy. 🙂 The only drawback is that none of their beers were on draft.
Saturday night we walked up to the Capital Square and had dinner at Graze. The glass walls of the building look onto the Square, which has lots of trees. The food is a bit expensive, but was quite good. The service was good. The idea is that everything they serve is grown locally and sustainably, and the available ingredients inspire what is served. We started out with an Artisan Cheese Board (four cheeses and bread); cannot remember what the cheeses were, but we finished them with varying degrees of enjoyment. I had Bibimbap, which is a Korean dish made with rice, veggies, a cooked egg, some ground pork, and a chili pepper paste — it was spicy, but very good. My husband had a Pub Burger, and said it was one of the best hamburgers he has ever eaten. While there I sampled a local brew called Snake Hollow IPA, a pale lager with fruity overtones. [I sampled more beer in those five days than I normally drink in months. All in the name of research, of course.] 🙂
Monday night we returned to the Square, after another person at the NADWCon recommended Cooper’s Tavern. It is an Irish pub, very relaxed, lots of wood, and the staff was very friendly. We went there because I learned they serve Beef Marrow, and I am all about trying new things. 🙂 I actually try to eat a minimum amount of beef, because feed lots have a very negative impact on the environment. However, Coopers and Graze both buy beef raised sustainably, which means their environmental impact was lessened. I have wanted to try Beef Marrow ever since reading about it in Julie and Julia, but knew I would never go through the effort of preparing it. Cooper’s served it with pumpernickel bread and roasted garlic; I ate the marrow spread on the bread, and it was really good. 🙂 I followed it with Amy’s Salad, which was made with spinach, cranberries, walnuts, pear, apple, and crisped goat cheese. Also drank a pint of Asylum Bedlam Ale, so fruit/hoppy, it was almost like drinking dessert. My husband had the Irish Cobb salad, which had corned beef in it, and he said it was very good. It was probably a good thing we discovered Cooper’s on our last night in Madison, because there were other things on the menu I would have liked to try. (And we might have missed the other places.) Cooper’s serves Poutine, a Canadian dish made with fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy. Yes, it sounds strange, but I have heard Canadians rave about it, and like I said, am all about trying new things. 🙂
I love the area I live in, partly because it is remote. However, that means we do not have a lot of good places to eat. (Yes, we have a few favorites.) I remember Berkeley CA has a great variety of restaurants within a few blocks. Ashland, Oregon’s restaurants have to be good, or they do not stay in business long; we have had some very good food there. Madison WI now goes on the list of our favorite places to visit for the food. 🙂