Madison, WI: Come for the cheese, stay for the everything (and the cheese)!

My husband, Doug, and I are coming to the tail end of our week in Wisconsin; it was a business trip for him, but we like to take these opportunities, in places that normally aren’t high on our list of vacation destinations, to explore what a new location has to offer, so I always tag along.  (Plus I’m a sucker for a nice Marriott.)

I knew that I’d have fun regardless of what we did, but I can honestly say that my expectations for The Badger State were murky. I didn’t know much about what there was to do, what the landscape would be like, what the cities would feel like.  However, several cheese plates and Native American-named towns that I can’t pronounce later, I have fallen for Wisconsin! 

Doug’s pesky work schedule kept our activities confined to the weekend and weeknights, but we still managed to see and do some awesome things with our time.

Madison

Farmer’s Market—For the Jeopardy crowd, Madison is the capital of Wisconsin, and also home to the University of Wisconsin’s main campus.  For the hippie crowd, there’s a whole lot of hippie happiness in Madison.  To start with, we walked right into an open air farmer’s market set up around the perimeter of the Capital. There were dozens and dozens of stalls, selling everything from fresh cheese to fresh bread to apples, chilies, carrots, spices, and even arts and crafts. It quickly became apparent to us that Wisconsin is very, very big on buying and using local produce, meat, dairy; local everything.  If you can get there, the market takes place every Saturday through November 9th!

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Fromagination—This is an awesome artisanal cheese shop right off of Capital Square.  The free samples abound in this place, as do the local beers, wines, and cheese paraphernalia, but if you don’t fill up on little bitty pieces of Wisconsin’s finest, there’s a small menu of sandwiches and salads as well. I enjoyed a delicious, simple sandwich with local salami and provolone on a nice chewy baguette, and we also picked up some ‘cheese orphans’ on our way out the door.  The people behind the cheese counter are experts, and will steer you towards the cheese of your dreams, (not to mention the wine or beer to go along with it.)

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State St.—State Street is the main drag in Madison, and it will take you all the way up to U. of Wisconsin’s main campus, as well as the first picturesque view of Lake Mendota.  This street is packed with nothing but quirky shops, restaurants with sprawling sidewalk seating, and your occasional coffee and tea shops.  There’s something there for every appetite, every budget, and every lifestyle.  It quickly became clear that as far as college towns are concerned, Madison is a bit of a Mecca.

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MOCA—Yes, even little old Madison, Wisconsin has a Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s a small venue that only hosts a couple exhibits at a time, but with FREE admission, and a feature on the evolution of American photography from the 1950s to the present day, we had to take a look inside!  The sleek, modern museum was playing host to several weddings the day we were there.

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Graze—I don’t have enough words for how brilliant this restaurant was.  The eclectic menu boasts a range of American standards, like chicken and waffles, to such Asian classics as pillowy soft buns stuffed with pork belly and kimchi.  My meal hailed from the Tex-Mex region.  I had juicy, charred slices of pork on a bed of creamy hominy grits with sweet corn and onions poking out, topped off with a pile of watermelon pico de gallo.  It was literally perfect.  Doug had gnocchi in a lush yet light goat cheese sauce, garnished with tender pulled pork, and both fresh and cooked veggies to round out the dish. Throw in the bourbon gimlet I had to drink and the slice of pecan pie that we split, which was so good it was evil…Graze provided us with an evening our taste buds shan’t forget.

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Overall, Madison was a clean, beautiful place, with big city eats and a small-town feel.  The weather was nothing short of idyllic when we were there, which helped, and kept us outside all day, but with the overabundance of shops and curiosities, any traveler with any forecast will find their day heartily filled in this Midwestern capital.

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Stay tuned to Little Red Adventures over the next few days to check out the rest of our trip!

~Lauren

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