Ooh, I’ve always wanted to go to Madison. It seems like such a great little town. After seeing these photos, and thinking about all the cheese there is to taste, it’s just been pushed higher on my gotta-get-there list. As a NYer, I’m loving your peak into the Midwest, a strange and distant land to me.
Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed Madison! I lived there for 6 years before moving to Chicago, and after 7 years in Chicago, I still miss it terribly. In fact, my old boss is the owner of Fromagination!
Next time you’re there you should try Himal Chuli for Nepali food, Michael’s for frozen custard, and see how the cheese curds at Blue Moon stack up against the ones from the Old Fashioned. Also, cocktails at Genna’s and dinner at Harvest (L’Etoile’s main competition).
I, too, visited Madison briefly for the first time in June, and came away with a little crush on the place. If it weren’t for those freezing winters!! We had a terrific friend-guided tour of the capitol, the Frank Loyd Wright Menona Terrace, and downtown area. Charming and cool all at once. And those cheeses are pretty incredible.
My favorite thing about Madison, though, was roasting marshmallows and making s’mores amid fireflies in in the back yard of My Baby’s grad-school friends, whom I was meeting for the first time. THAT was fun!
Thanks for the suggestions for exploring when we are able to return there from the west coast.
Glad you loved Madison. I lived there for 2 years during grad school and there’s no where else like it. Next time I would suggest renting bikes and trying out the fantastic bike paths. I also highly recommend The Weary Traveler on Williamson St. (Bob’s bad breath burger is the best) and some chocolates from Gail Ambrosius over in the Atwood neighborhood!
Grew up 25 miles south of Madison and graduated from UW-Madison. You are so right, Madison has much to offer … one visit will just whet your appetite for more. Definitely a cool city even in the heat of July and August. Thanks for the trip down memory lane … I don’t get back there often enough!
Never been to Madison or the state of Wisconson. Thank you for sharing your adventures – you put a whole new spin on the city. Looks like a cool city with great amenities . Look forward to hearing about the hickory nuts!
Oh! Glad you got a tub of the Driftless sheep’s milk cheese (did you get to try the lavender/honey?)! So glad you came! I’m a server at L’Etoile and wanted you to hit Madison as soon as I saw you were doing a Midwestern tour…you can come back anytime, and I’m happy to be a tour guide, if need be! (or, just buy you a refreshing cocktail, somewhere!) Agreed on Bandaged Cheddar, Himal Chuli and the Weary Traveler, too. Lots of fun to be had. And also, if you like Willi’s cheese, check out Jeanne Carpenter’s blog: cheeseunderground.blogspot.com. There is a Wisconsin Originals Cheese Festival in November; maybe another road trip? Thanks for coming!
Hi Dawn, I unfortunately don’t remember anything about the mushrooms. Maybe someone else will know. They sure are pretty….
Nancy- Yes, I tried a bunch of the Driftless varieties, they are wonderful. Fun that you are a server at L’Etoile! How is the new space? I’ll be curious to check it out when I return. Thanks for sending that blog, and yes I’ll be in touch for more recommendations when I plan a return visit. Thanks so much for writing.
If you’d been a few weeks earlier, you would have hit the market during sour cherry season – and I know how you like your sour cherries.
It looks like you got a lot of my favorites at the market – Bleu Mont Dairy is wonderful! I’m guessing you’ve tried Pleasant Ridge Reserve? They have a pretty wide distribution, so you may have stumbled upon that fabulous WI cheese in Chicago.
Hmmm…other delights from our fair city? Enjoying a beer on the Memorial Terrace on a Saturday evening, jerk salmon from David’s Jamaican, a cinnamon roll from Renaissance Farms (at the market), pie at Monty’s Blue Plate, breakfast at Lazy Jane’s, and anything from Lao Laan Xang. Hope you come back soon!
I am so inspired to visit Madison! I live about 45 minutes from the Wisconsin state line, have in-laws who live maybe 45 minutes from there, and spend lots of time in Wisco, and yet I’ve never been to its capital. For shame! I’m hoping to convince my husband that a trip is in order. Thanks for such a wonderful post!
I’m glad you enjoyed your trip to Madison, I’ve lived here for 6 years and in Wisconsin most of my life and it is definitely a great place to live to enjoy really fresh local ingredients, although we are known for our cheeses we also have some great meat and produce suppliers and an abundance of organic farmers in the area, so I definitely recommend a repeat visit. Some other restaurant suggestions are Natt Spil, for a great bar atmosphere a block off the square, Magnus which recently changed their menu to specialize in Scandinavian modern cuisine, which personally I’m a huge fan of, the wild boar and duck are highly recommended. Madison is also known for a variety of great south east asian restaurants because of a substantial Hmong community, some of my personal favorites are Ha Long Bay on Willy Street, and Lao Laan Zang in the Atwood neighborhood. We also have some great breakfast spots such as Sophia’s which is only open on the weekends and is always packed to the brim but you never mind waiting because of the amazing home made pastries and waffles. Sardine and Marigold are a couple more great brunch spots, owned by the same 2 guys they have brunch down and always have special quiche and omelet options, Sardine is also open for dinner which is another great meal, but more of a spendy option. Ok I think I’m getting a little carried away but I get pretty excited about eating out in my hometown.
Are you on your way to Minneapolis now? Because, well, you HAVE to go to Bar La Grassa. And send me an email if you do and I’d love to meet you there. As ever, love your site. Have a great road trip! You continue to inspire me. I’ve never been to Madison and I’ve lived just a day’s drive away from it for 8 years now. L’Etoile and authentic cheese curds might just have sealed the deal for me.
While on a road trip with a friend about 10 years ago,my husband visited Madison. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since. It’s become the benchmark for great towns of that size. We’re Canadians so unfortunately it’s not really possible for us to make it our home.
There’s a dearth of similar sized places with as much to offer here, no Madison of our own.
Just for the record, we’ve made it our mission to travel from one end of the country (Canada) to the other looking for great places (and I havn’t really met anywhere I hate), so fellow Canucks, don’t think I’m down on home.
Is Milwaukee on the list? Surprisingly satisfying cute town. La Perla has some tasty Mexican food, if I recall correctly. And don’t miss the art museum! There’s also a wonderful lunch place (arg, can’t remember the name) with delish coleslaw sans mayo, more of an Asian flair, a local will know the name of the place!
I just discovered your blog (which I will definitely be coming back to!), and I was so excited to see this post! I am a student in Madison, and I have fallen in love with the wonderful food scene here. Thanks for offering such a great portrait of my city!
I’m so glad that you had a good time! Your photos capture Madison in such a lovely way. As a native, I am so lucky to live in Madison and thankful that I live in a city that continuously works to improve itself. One of our weekly food-eating staples is the Ironworks Cafe in the Goodman Community Center. Fresh, local ingredients cooked by teenagers as part of a work/study program. It’s top-notch, affordable, and smile enducing.
I agree with the recommendations above – Madison is a great place to eat your way around. In addition to the Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival, coming back during the Wisconsin Film Festival is always a great time. 5 days and 200+ films = thousands of dreamy film-goers.
It looks like you have lots of suggestions for a future visit, but I have to recommend one more:
The Greenbush Bar is a magical place.
Squirreled away under an Italian social club, this restaurant serves some of the best pizza in town and has wonderful pasta dishes as well. And it’s not the typical red-sauce joint (though I hold those dear as well) – the restaurant has a real focus on quality, local ingredients and it shows in the food.
I actually find Madison a little too perfect to actually live there.
Just saw this – I’ve lived in Madison for the past four years, and we’re trying to figure out a way to never leave. I second the recommendations for Gail Ambrosia’s chocolates, and the Weary Traveler. You also must spend a summer evening at the Union Terrace, enjoying a pitcher of WI brew and the gorgeous view of the lake, while listening to a free show. It’s a summertime tradition.