Eating Out Is A Responsibility

21 madison mapLinda Burton posting from Madison, Wisconsin – “Madison folks are big on Sunday brunch,” I read. Since that’s my idea of a good Sunday too, I searched out the possibilities, settling on the Marigold Kitchen, the #1 Best, according to several reviewers. I liked its location too, right off Capitol Square; I could get my outdoor capitol photos while parked in the same spot. The weather had cooled, at last, to a civilized 73 degrees. The drive was easy, a straight shot towards the capitol down Washington Avenue, onto the isthmus that is Central Madison. This city of lakes, you see, really is; Lake Mendota and Lake Monona are two of the smaller lakes left by those 21 capitol street endfamous glaciers of long ago, separated by a strip that’s just wide enough to build a city on. The capitol sits in the middle with a few blocks in either direction towards the water; possibly the most pleasant spot nature and humankind could have put together for a Sunday morning outing. I parked in a meterless spot right beside the capitol under a shade tree; Marigold Kitchen was just a block down Pinckney Street. Somebody else had read the reviews; the outdoor tables were 21 marigold welcomefull and the line to get inside hung outside; someone passed out menus to study while we stood. The routine was set up for efficiency; order at the counter, pay and get your number; get seated when the next table came open. I’d never thought of adding fresh sweet corn and yellow squash to my scrambled eggs, but that’s what the Scrambler offered and that’s what I chose, along with Marigold Potatoes and Rosemary French Toast. “A table there, near the door,” was offered with a frantic point; I scooted fast and grabbed my spot. Did I mention the noise?

21 marigold plateI’ve never been in a mosh pit at 3 AM, but the noise level in the Marigold was what I’d pretty much imagine it to be. The stereo speaker was above my head, from which the sounds of high-energy jazz tried valiantly to overcome the din of voices and the clanging of pans back on the grill. Two elderly ladies with walking canes had been escorted through the crowd early on to chairs set against the far wall; a young man stood in line behind me to order for them. “Was this his idea?” I thought, wondering if he was a grandson, as I noted the dazed look on their faces. But folks were having fun, and I did too; my food came promptly and the corn/squash/spinach/broccoli eggs were great; a new recipe I’ll try at home. Marigold Potatoes, by the way, are not cubed, they are sliced and very tender, not crunchy fried. I 21 marigold muffinscould have ordered Chile Poached Eggs or Duck Confit Hash or the Breakfast Sandwich “with fried egg, cheddar-spiked boursin, applewood smoked bacon, tomato and green onion on toasted ciabatta.” I could have ordered any one of a number of omelets, with artichokes, zucchini, roasted poblano peppers, fried hominy, or chorizo sausage, accompanied by field greens tossed in champagne vinaigrette. The couple beside me went for pancakes; blueberry topped with orange almond butter and granola. “Creative, healthy food prepared by friendly staff” is their motto, and for sure, “folks in Madison are big on Sunday brunch.”

21 capitol lindaI got my capitol photos in no time flat; families strolled the easy-walking capitol grounds and sidewalks around the square were filled with outdoor diners enjoying a perfect day. Which made me wonder – just how many outdoor dining spots are there in downtown Madison? Back in my room, I flipped through the materials I’d picked up from the front desk about the city. I daresay every city I’ve been in has great restaurants and many interesting things to do. But not every city promotes what it has. Madison gets a big “thumbs up” from me for several of its publications. The Madison Visitors Bureau publishes an Official Visitors Guide, Towns & Associates publishes Madison Originals Magazine, and Isthmus Publishing Company puts out Isthmus Dining. I found the answer to my question in the Visitors Guide; in just the Central Downtown area, 48 restaurants are listed; 31 of those offer outdoor dining; 7 are right on Capitol Square. Like the Blue Marlin (seafood), the Brocach 21 outdoor diningIrish Pub (brocach is Gaelic for “badger den”), Francesca’s Trattoria (Italian, of course), the Tipsy Cow (tavern food and beer) and Tornado Steakhouse (white linen dining). Harvest is on Pinckney Street like the Marigold; Gourmet Magazine has featured it as “one of America’s best Farm-To-Table restaurants;” Organic Style Magazine ranks it one of the “Top 20 Restaurants in the USA;” the New York Times Magazine calls it “Madison’s Must-Visit Restaurant.” Who am I to argue with the New York Times? It’s on my “must-visit” list for sure.

21 smokehouse saladI believe it takes three things for a city to have a good restaurant environment: good restaurants have to be established, and promoted, and supported; I’m seeing evidence of all three here in Madison. Isthmus Dining, which is distributed free with the weekly newspaper, offers well-illustrated articles about FOOD; the issue I have in hand covers “12 Months of Meals” with tantalizing write-ups describing what the food editors have been eating. Kyle Nabilcy picked lomo saltado at A La Brasa Latin Cuisine (marinated sirloin with rice and vegetables) and the beef brisket and smokehouse salad at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. Linda Falkenstein picked crepe paysanne and salade nicoise at Chez Nanou, a 20-seat French café, and bun dau hu chay (vermicelli with fried tofu) at the Viet House in East Madison Shopping 21 chez nanouCenter. Andre Darlington picked Alsum Farm spicy sweet corn with Fritos appetizer and a Sassy Cow shake (with booze added) at Dlux; and fish and grits with a side of black-eyed peas at Melly Mel’s. You get the idea – variety is the spice of everyday eating! The magazine covers restaurants that deliver something other than pizza; Edo Japanese for sushi, Bandung, Lao Laan-Xang, and Curry in the Box for great curries; Banzo for Mediterranean; El Pastor for Mexican. And if you really want pizza, and salad, Ian’s Pizza makes their salad dressings from scratch. They also offer a Mac’n’cheese pizza; “Carb on carb,” they say. “Why choose when you can have both?”

How would you know these things, if they weren’t brought to your attention?

21 dumplingsWhat we like about eating out is partly about food, of course, but it’s mostly about the experience; that’s why hearing about the experiences of others gets us in the mood to go. My favorite article in Isthmus Magazine is “50 Food Experiences” not to be missed in Madison; with color photos of each. I wish I could try all 50 while I’m here; I’ll settle for 10, and mention a few more. I’m a dumpling lover; should I go for the vegetable dumplings at Himal Chuli’s or the shrimp dumplings at Dumpling Haus? A few appealing breakfast items are mentioned: the V breakfast bagel with scallion tofu, roasted poblano peppers, tomato, and avocado at Gotham Bagels; the Epic Pop Tart at 4 & 20 Bakery; poached eggs on corn cakes at Eldorado Grill; grilled focaccia with scrambled eggs, avocado, and cheddar smothered in 21 chocolatecoconut-curry aioli at the Mermaid Café; lemon ricotta pancakes at Sophia’s, it’s said they convert customers who don’t even like sweets. Pick one? I can’t decide. Speaking of sweets, Gail Ambrosius offers up a wicked-looking “salted caramel” treat at the Chocolatier. I’d like to try the Bluebird Sandwich at Crema Café, it’s chicken salad with blueberries; and the Walnut Burger at the Harmony Bar; I’ll skip Bob’s Bad Breath Burger over at the Weary Traveler, which claims there’s enough garlic on it to kill a vampire; now that’s cute. The AP10 is an eggroll inside a spring roll at Ha Long Bay; the Rachel at Stalzy’s Deli is a Reuben with cole slaw inside.

The restaurants are there and they certainly are well promoted; it’s the solemn responsibility of the mosh-pit-noisy crowds, and me, to support them, wouldn’t you say? And did I mention they have beer-battered cheese curds at the Old Fashioned Restaurant, where everything is Wisconsin?

Marigold Kitchen

Harvest Restaurant

Old Fashioned Restaurant

Visit Madison

Isthmus Dining