Madison WI late March weekend
I'm a Philadelphia hound looking for some help with a weekend in Madison in a few weeks. We're coming for a wedding, so not a ton of time to look around, but I think we can fit in some good meals.
We're arriving Friday. Staying at the Hilton Monona Terrace. In my mind, I'm looking for a nice dinner, preferably that takes reservations so I know we won't have to wait around, and where we can walk from the hotel to the restaurant. From the board, I gathered: Nostrano, Harvest, Fresco, 43 North (although the online menu doesn't really excite me), and Graze (which looks great but doesn't take reservations and L'Etoile looked a little fancier than we were going for). We don't really need Italian or Sushi (although Muramoto looks great), since we get a fair amount of both in Philly. Afterward, I'm looking for some place to grab drinks, cocktails and/or beers, and possibly meet up with other folks.
There is a possibility that there may be some grand, last minute effort to get friends together for Friday night dinner. This stresses me out, but I have to be prepared. So, I'd also take suggestions for places where we can roll up with a group on a Friday night (gastropubs? Great Dane?). I may be willing to get in the car for that, since I know other folks are staying at the Sheraton on John Nolen Drive.
I'm also looking for Saturday breakfast and Sunday brunch. We're willing to drive to either or both if needed. An earlier recommendation for Sunroom Cafe looked good for breakfast, as did Sardine for brunch. If there are other spots that would bring us to a great neighborhood that we otherwise wouldn't make it to, I'd take suggestions!
thanks in advance!
Of the restaurants you mentioned, I'd encourage you to try Harvest, which has a quiet, serious foodie vibe, and takes its commitment to local food seriously. You won't go wrong with any of the restaurants you mentioned, though. For atmosphere, Graze / L'Etoile win (same location), if that's important.
However, if you want food in the Wisconsin tradition cooked superbly with a noisy, happy atmosphere, consider a supper club. The Old Fashioned [http://www.theoldfashioned.com/] , which has locally sourced food prepared in local ways, is on the same block as Graze, has great atmosphere, but serves less pretentious food. It's no bar or diner, though. Think grilled cheese made with 12-year-old cheddar.
If you want a classic, but not kitchy, steak/supper club, visit the Tornado Room [http://www.tornadosteakhouse.com/], which is within 3 blocks of the hilton (toward the west). It's superb in food and service.
I love Marigold's (I go every Friday morning), but for fun, you might want to try the tiny Bradbury's http://www.bradburyscoffee.com/ which serves crepes to die for, both savory and sweet.
To grab drinks, I'd encourage you to try The Cooper's Tavern http://www.thecooperstavern.com/. Has my favorite (hard-to-find) brew and terrific bacon jam.
Have a great weekend!
The second restaurant opened in Madison by the guys who own Marigold would be a perfect dinner spot: Sardine. Great cocktails, gorgeous atmosphere, right down the street from Monona Terrace.
I've loved both Harvest and Fresco. Not so much 43 North.
And I agree with the recommendation above for the Old Fashioned. It's right on the square (i.e. which surrounds the state capitol). It's sort of a combination of an old Wisconsin supper club (a Wisconsin institution consisting of a traditional American restaurant) along with enough to drink to qualify as a gastropub. So it's perfect for your intent to roll up with a group on a Friday night. If you want a place with enough local flavor to be the most well-known reasonably-priced restaurant/bar in town, that's the Old Fashioned. www.theoldfashioned.com
They're really very different kinds of places. If you want an upscale dinner with creative food in a "white tablecloth" setting, go to Harvest. If you've got a group and you prefer local flavor and traditional foods in a casual barlike setting, go to the Old Fashioned. Both are great at what they do; it's just a matter of what you're looking for.
Thanks, I'm trying to strike a balance between what I want and acknowledging that this wedding weekend is ultimately going to end up being a reunion of college friends for my husband. And, they are not the plan-ahead crew. Old Fashioned seems to meet my foodie/eat local desire while still being a hang out. We were both excited about that recommendation.
Although, from soupkitten's post, it seems like if we can convince a few folks to go a little more upscale, we might be able to hit Graze...
i'm from msp, so i'm not a local, but on a recent visit to madison we loved marigold kitchen enough that we had 2 breakfasts there in 3 days. would have loved to have tried sardine.
our standout dinner in madison was at graze. i would note that it's big enough that you may not need a res, and has informal bar area and outdoor seating where a larger group can sit together or in a cluster of tables. great locally sourced food, lovely space, cheaper than we'd pay for the same meal at home! graze is attached to/shares an entrance w l'etoile (whose chef is a 2012 james beard award finalist) on the capital square, so walkable from the old fashioned as well.
Thanks for all of your help, it was really, well, helpful! Started out the visit with a trip to the Old Fashioned. We had to wait a while, but we found some space at the end of the bar in the side room and chatted with drinks (and friend cheese curds) until we could get a table. Once seated, we inhaled the lazy susan #6 and some beer cheese soup. So good. Most of us got the fish fry, cod, which was great. Just as was suggested, a great casual place with good, local food. We even ended up back here the next day between the wedding and the reception and were able to fit in a few more fried cheese curds and the lazy susan #7!
I got up early on Saturday morning and wandered around a bit on my own. Hit up Bradbury's coffee for coffee and a muffin (and some local cured sausage to take home). I was really impressed with the Capitol area. A little later, I met up with my husband we went to Graze for breakfast/brunch. Split the beignets, and each had egg dishes. They were really really good. Great, fresh eggs with super yellow yolks. We also had bloody marys, loved the touch of the smoked sausage and cheese curd for garnish. And, what's the story with the beer chaser for the bloodys? It's a nice touch, but I've never seen that.
We walked down State Street, doing a little shopping before the wedding, and then stopped at Fromagination on the Square before heading back to the hotel. What a great shop! Picked up some fantastic local cheeses, crackers, and beers.
Thanks again, we had a great, short visit and long to return to see more of the city!