CITY GUIDE: Madison
Today’s city guide is brought to you by Cammie Sorensen!
Madison is a wonderfully unique town – in many ways because we are a fusion town – both the capitol of the state, and home to a Big Ten university. We are also situated on an isthmus, which simply refers to the fact that we are a city between two picturesque lakes. Boasting a variety of wonderful local eateries, plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts, the university and all its glorious sporting and other events, and two pristine lakes, which frame our state’s capitol, Madison is simply outstanding.
I LOVE playing tour guide to friends and family who are enjoying their first visit to Madison. There is such fun to be had, sights to see. Let’s take a virtual tour, today, shall we? It’s Saturday in Madison. Let’s get started!
We’ll start in the heart of Madison’s downtown – on the Capitol Square. Madison is one of the United States’ most bike-friendly towns, so it’s fitting we’re also one of the country’s super-cool cities to adopt an Urban Bike Share program. Madison BCycle, with its 32 stations and 300 bikes scattered throughout the downtown area make two-wheeled downtown-transport a cinch. So fun, right?
Each Saturday morning – Spring + Summer + Fall – enjoy the colorful bounty at Madison’s on-the-Capitol-square Farmer’s Market. At the farmer’s market, you’ll find a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, such that you may choose to skip the produce section during your next trip to your local grocery store. You’ll also find LOTS of local cheeses (hello dairy state!) fresh meats, and baked goods. When I visit the farmers market, my standby vendors are Stella’s Bakery (try the fresh-out-of-the-oven hot & spicy cheese bread!), and Brunkow Cheese (make sure to sample the fried mozarella). Madison’s a really unique town, and that uniqueness attracts equally unique people. On your trip around the square, you’re likely to see plenty of talented musicians and artists, whose wares are for sale to passersby.
Following a stroll through the market, I suggest breakfast on Pinckney Street (an arm off the Capitol Square) at Marigold Kitchen. I usually go for one of their savory scramblers, made with local organic eggs, but if you feel the need to carb-load, the fresh berry-topped french toast is out of this world. If you’d like to take something to go, choose from dozens of scones and muffins, along with a steaming espresso drink from the espresso bar. Marigold Kitchen is a super hot spot, though, so word to the wise – get there early. Seating is first-come, first-served, and a table-for-two can be hard to come by come ten o’clock on Saturday morning.
Since you’re stuffed from all that french toast at Marigold’s, we’ll let the food settle until dinner, which you’ll enjoy at Marigold Kitchen’s sister eatery, Sardine. One of Madison’s most-loved spots, Sardine is situated on the shore of Lake Monona. Although the restaurant itself doesn’t have a beachy-feel, the beauty of the view (and patio seating, if you want) is just lovely and so perfectly accents Sardine’s wonderful menu items. Sardine has managed to find a just-right feel that makes it a favorite for classy birthday parties and date-night dinners alike. My all-time favorite item on the menu is the Roasted Half Chicken with Balsamic Butter Sauce. It’s just delectable. When you make your reservation (which you should), though, reserve one of those half-chickens, because everybody loves ’em, and they go quick on a busy Saturday evening. Pair it with the Parmesan polenta instead of the frites, and you’ll be in out-to-dinner heaven.
Save a little room for dessert, because we’re headed to the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial (student) Union, and the outdoor terrace, which overlooks the larger of our two lakes, Mendota. On Saturday nights during the summer, the stage on the Terrace boasts local and well-known musicians, who provide a soundtrack to the beautiful summer. Get some chocolate peanut butter ice cream in a waffle cone inside the Union at the Babcock Hall Dairy ice cream counter. Thank me later for the recommendation on the chocolate peanut butter ice cream.
Sit back and relax; this is Madison – one of our country’s finest.
*Featured photo by Ann Althouse