Last summer I got married in the grand state of Wisconsin, the land of cheese, home of brew masters, and makers of brats. The weather was beautiful. It was supposed to rain, but it stayed partially sunny in the upper 70s all day. The best part of the day that didn’t involve people (husband, friends or family) was the location and the food! This is my (late) ode to the beautiful city of Madison in the context of food. I hope you come visit soon!
The morning before the big event, my partner, two of my bridesmaids, their dates and I ate our way around the Madison Farmers’ Market. Saturdays around the Capitol, you can spend your morning eating fresh fruits and veggies, cheese (especially cheese curds!), salsas and dips, baked goods and meat sticks, then bring home eggs, meats (everything from beef to venison to ostrich). Travel Magazine voted it the best farmers’ market in the country! All items are produced locally by the vendor behind the table.
In college, I used to wake up early with my foodie roommate and grab breakfast around the square. You have to pace yourself, I’m talking 4 solid blocks of vendors. I always brought back beef sticks for my boyfriend (now husband). Even in cold or inclement weather, it’s always a good time (and less crowded!).
The UW Madison Memorial Union is an amazing place! The Union, with its seat on Lake Mendota, is one of the few student unions in the country that serves beer. There is a beautiful terrace overlooking the lake with fun orange, yellow, and green chairs.
Weddings at the Union, are a sight to see! The rooms are spectacular. Plus, the food is mighty tasty, which was a pleasant surprise. Our wedding photographers, Miranda and Adam at Reminisce Photography and Design, were gracious enough to let us share their beautiful shots of food and fun at the wedding! If you’re determined, you might even catch a glimpse of the Matzo wedding on their blog, Reminisce’s Blog.
Surprisingly, the food at the student union was good! Who knew!? During the cocktail hour, we had a delicious array of appetizers and snacks.
I didn’t get to taste them, but I heard the spinach wraps were delicious.
One of our friends made our two-flavor cake – coconut and cinnamon. We like strong flavors, so the cakes packed quite the coconut or cinnamon punch! And thanks to my geeky husband, Hon Solo and Princess Leia topped the cakes.
Unfortunately, we got so swept up in the eventing that we only got to taste what we shoved in each others mouths. Sad. Thankfully, she baked us a smaller version and shipped it a month later.
Anyway, back to Madison! Rice hails from the great city, and I lived there for 4 glorious years. We both hope you take a trip there soon! It’s less expensive than bigger cities like Chicago, but has a lot of amazing culinary surprises! Take a visit to some of Matzo and Rice favorites like:
Walking through the front door at Mickie’s Dairy Bar is like walking out of a time machine. This great breakfast diner still has their original 1950s menu posted, counters with stools, excellent malts, and portions that would be large even when your parents were born. They’re only open until the afternoon, so go early and be prepared to wait. Trust me, it’s worth it.
The Capital Brewery is one of the best breweries in the US. It’s worth a visit even though it’s just outside of Madison, in Middleton, but really, if you have a car it’s only about 5-10 minutes away. The joy of going to the brewery itself is the spacious beer garden and friendly (and helpful) staff. The brews are cheap, they allow dogs, and you bring a picnic or order your favorite pizza delivered to your table! The brewery tour is worth your time. Fun fact: The brew tanks are named after Frank Zappa songs! You can learn more about their delicious brews at their website or right here on Matzo and Rice! We recommend their Capital Amber, Autumnal Fire, Supper Club, and Island Wheat, but really I haven’t had a beer from there that I didn’t like.
The Great Dane Pub brews their own! Definitely try the Stone of Scone Scotch Ale, Chocolate Cherry Stout, or their Crop Circle Wheat. All of their burgers are good, soups are excellent, beer bread & honey butter is a great starter, and their pretzels are perfect to share. Portions are huge, so come hungry! It can get loud on the weekends, but you can still hear your table mates. Come early and nab a spot on the pool table.
The Essen Haus has over 200 beers, with 17 German imports on tap! Grab a boot to share (or a 3 or 5 liter stein) and pass that puppy around. Be sure not to set it down, or you’ll be the one to buy the next round! The food can be hit or miss (German fare is a bit heavy), but the sampler plate is always good to share. A trip is a MUST on days when the Polka band is in.
Ian’s Pizza is the mecca for late-night eating. Their thin crust slices and pies have great tooth to them – nice give in the dough paired with a solid crust. Personally, my favorites are their famous mac and cheese and the awesome BBQ steak and fries pizza! They have a fun selection of seasonal slices, too, including: tomato pesto, chicken pot pie, farmers’ market grilled veggie, smores, and chili cheese fritos (yes, you read correctly). Their innovative flavor combos make your tongue dance for joy! While I’ve had a few slices that weren’t my favorite, I’ve never been disappointed with a selection. That said, I always order at least one slice of mac and cheese. They also have locations in Chicago and Milwaukee, if you’re going to be in those areas. The food is the same, delicious and creative!
Whenever my parents would come visit me when I was living in Madison, I would have them take me to Bluphies for breakfast! While they bill themselves as a restaurant and vodkatorium (!), the real magic is in their brunch and lunches. I ate there once for dinner, and, while it was good, I’d rather eat their breakfasts and lunches. Their milkshakes, pancakes, french toast, and egg dishes are pretty amazing. They also serve a top notch tuna nicoise that my mom ordered EVERY TIME without fail (we’re talking 4 years, several times a year). If you’re there for lunch, save room for dessert. Their cakes are sky high and their pies are the right proportion of insides and crust. The restaurant is fun, boisterous, and great for groups and kids (and groups of kids). While I haven’t tried the vodka they boast, go ahead and try it with your eggs and waffles. I don’t judge.
Visit the Bellini Italian Restaurant to see where Matzo had her rehearsal dinner. The owners were very willing to make a special menu for us and let us substitute sides. Instead of their traditional appetizers, we did an assortment of pizzas, cut up into smaller slices and bused around to the mingling guests. Pizzas are a great finger food, and it allowed us to have a nice array of veggie and meat options. For dinner, we ate family style, and they didn’t force us to order the same number of servings as guests. While we had a few extra servings left over, it wasn’t as ridiculous and wasteful as having the same number of chicken breasts as guests. The shrimp were tender and the chicken was juicy and flavorful. Their desserts are a little on the heavy side, so we asked to get gelatto instead. The main room is romantic and cozy, but able to support our party of 50 without us bothering the other guests.
State St. Brats isn’t the greatest food in the world, but it’s one of the best places in the city to watch a Badger game. It’ll be crowded and the service might be slow, but you’ll be surrounded by several hundred of your new found Badger friends. As denoted in the name, they do make a mean brat.
The Plaza Tavern & Grill Incorporated, just off of State St, has a wide array of beers (Optimator on tap!) and pub fare. The Plaza’s secret burger sauce was written up by Maxim Magazine as the sauce they would add to create the greatest “Frankenburger” ever. The August 2008 (pg 94) issue said the sauce is “a savory white substance that tastes like a cross between mayo, sour cream, and angel tears.” On a side note, and not to get them into trouble, the Plaza was the first bar I drank at while under 21. At the time, they had the second greatest Juke Box in Madison sporting songs by the Pixies and King Missile.
Babcock Hall’s Dairy Store is the go-to place for UW Madison’s homemade ice cream! We we like it so much, we served it at our wedding (see below). Our favorite flavors include chocolate peanut butter (salty and sweet!) and green tea. If you don’t make it to the store, you can also get cones at the Union.