This summer Lottie + Doof is hitting the road and exploring the Midwest. Like too many Chicagoans, I don’t leave the city often enough to visit the surrounding area. This summer I’m in search of good food and good times and I’ll be taking you along for the ride. Next Stop: Madison, Wisconsin.
I never knew Madison was so cool. The capital of Wisconsin and home of the University of Wisconsin, Madison is a vibrant town that manages to feel both like a small town and a city and seems to offer the best of both worlds. It is situated on an isthmus in the middle of a few lakes (Bryan would like me to point out that the only other U.S. city located on an isthmus is Seattle). Being surrounded by water means there are pretty views and plenty of water-based recreational activities. Madison is an easy breezy drive from Chicago through rolling farmland and a great destination for a summer road trip.
We arrived before lunch to met our friend Deb at The Old Fashioned and enjoyed a pretty fantastic meal of fried cheese curds, beer and cheese soup, and brats. This is the Wisconsin I know and love. The meal was a perfect start to our time in Madison.
Next stop was Fromagination, which is a silly name for the best cheese shop I have been to in the Midwest. An incredibly well-stocked and curated cheese selection was complimented by an equally impressive selection of prepared foods and kitchen goods. We spent over an hour sampling cheeses and learning more about cheese production in Wisconsin. We also had our lives forever changed by the cheeses of Willi Lerner from Bleu Mont Dairy. Willi Lerner’s bandaged cheddar is nothing short of extraordinary and one of the most wonderful things I have ever eaten. Seriously people, if you have access to this cheese you need to be eating it right now.
We managed to stop eating for a few hours to explore other parts of the city. Context is a men’s clothing store that I had heard good things about. I wasn’t prepared for it to be as wonderful as it was. A really excellent selection of clothes that was much closer to what I would expect to find in Los Angeles or New York than in Wisconsin—there certainly isn’t anything like it in Chicago. More than the merchandise, the staff was really welcoming and ready to discuss clothing with you—and not in a stupid way. I loved this place.
We also visited the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art which was hosting its Triennial of Art, a collection of significant contemporary art from across the state. Although the quality of the work varied a great deal, it was overall an impressive showing and a nice way to spend part of the afternoon.
L’Etoile is probably Madison’s best known restaurant. It has been around since the 1970s and is often referred to as the Chez Panisse of the Midwest. It is dedicated to using the highest quality, local, organic ingredients. It was a pretty incredible meal and I recommend saving your dough to give this place a try.
The main reason we wanted to visit Madison was for the legendary Dane County Farmer’s Market which takes place on the square around the capital every Saturday morning. This is the largest producer-only market in the states and features a huge selection of vendors selling a really nice range of goods. I was impressed by the crowds of people shopping at the market as well as the diversity of products. I found oddities like sumac, grape leaves, hickory nuts (more on them soon!), and elder flowers as well as all of the expected early summer fruits and vegetables. We spent a couple of hours at the market, sampling foods and talking to vendors. Madison residents are lucky to have this amazing source for food.
We were both impressed by Madison and are anxious to return for more fun. I hope to get to the market on a more regular basis and I look forward to further adventures in Wisconsin cheese, which might actually be the best thing in the world.
[Above, our haul.]