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Trip Report Visiting Our Student DS in Madison

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I've done Madison trip reports in the past. But a few months ago someone posted saying there was no current info on Madison restaurants. So I decided maybe I should try to do a brief report on our weekend visit. I use the word "try" because brevity is not easy for me!

Over the years, I've seen many posts from folks headed to Madison for college visits. So I'll attempt to post some info that may be of use to them for both that initial visit and for trips to the area if their child chooses UW.

First a little background. We live in the western suburbs of Chicago. Our son is in his fourth and final year at UW-Madison. There have been many times we've made the drive up and back in a day, two to three hours each way depending on traffic. But we've been fortunate to do overnight stays three or four times each year. So we've had the opportunity to try quite a few restaurants in the area. We always enjoy our meals in Madison. And this past weekend was certainly no exception!

I should probably also point out that we're pretty much budget travelers. And that's reflected in where we stay and which restaurants we choose. Fortunately, in Madison it's easy to eat well without spending a lot.

Next installment: A side trip to New Glarus.

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    Hope to get back to it very soon! I kept getting interrupted this morning, then had to go to work, etc., etc. But I figured once I'd posted this intro, I had to get back to it. Whereas if I held the intro until I had time to write more, I might not ever get to it. ;)

    If you have specific questions, ms_go, please ask! I'll be more than happy to try to answer anything I can.

    One of the things I want to get to is some general info about where we take our son for groceries and those type of errands when we go to visit. I'm hoping that maybe some of the Madison area Fodorites will jump in on that part to "flesh out" my knowledge of those aspects of Madison. As well as putting in their two cents on anything else they think would help.

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    Before I get back to the actual report... As I mentioned earlier, back in May someone posted to say she wasn't able to find current restaurant info for Madison. In case anyone has opened this thread looking for restaurant info, here are a couple of links to get you started. First of all, the aforementioned thread got some good responses:

    http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/restaurants-in-madison-wi-169651-2.cfm

    And here's a thread from August of '09 that I've found very helpful:

    http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/interesting-restaurant-on-west-side-of-madison-wi.cfm

    It was through that thread that we learned about David's Jamaican Cuisine, one of our absolute favorites. And we finally got around to trying another one from it this past weekend.

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    Caph...very interested in the rest of your report. And I agree that there is not a lot of info on the board about Madison so this will be a good thread for future visitors. Looking forward to your review and impressions of New Glarus.

    And I hope you don't mind my adding some of my own trip report to yours but combining this into one thread seems useful.

    My DS is a junior at Madison, and we were there visiting him last weekend too. Got to see the Badgers route Austin-Peay 70-3.

    Our DD and her BF came with us. Our drive from St. Louis is a little longer than yours (around 5 1/2 hours) but still very doable. Something was clearly happening in Madison last weekend because I can usually get 3.5 star priceline hotels downtown for around $50. But we ended up at the Sheraton Madison for around $75. It's too far away to really be included in the downtown list of hotels but is a nice hotel. The Austin-Peay team was staying there.

    Friday night we went to Harvest for dinner http://www.harvest-restaurant.com/

    I had wanted to try the Old Fashioned but DS' friend who was coming with us said she didn't really like the food there. We'll have to try it next time. We did get a reservation to Harvest for 6 people late that afternoon, which always worries me a bit. However, the restaurant was busy and really delicious but certainly not in the budget travelers list of places to go.

    There were people hanging out the door and on the sidewalk next door at the Old Fashioned but it doesn't look like they take reservations. http://www.theoldfashioned.com/

    I think one of the greatest things to do in Madison is to visit the Dane County Farmers market that happens every Saturday morning around the State Capitol http://www.dcfm.org/index.asp. All the produce is so beautiful, I just wanted to bring everything home and start cooking. We ate breakfast while walking around the square (great hot spicy cheese bread) and brought some cheese and bread to bring home . The bread was from Cress Springs Bakery (see this article in NYTimes) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/magazine/11food-t.html

    Sat. night we ate at what is now our favorite place in Madison. It's a small but very authentic rustic Tuscan Italian restaurant called Osteria Papavero http://www.osteriapapavero.com/

    They don't take reservations but we got there around 6:30 and had no trouble getting in. We shared a Salumi platter with several different kinds of house-made salamis and pates and a special salad with roasted vegetables. I had a special lamb raqu pasta that was incredibly good. Everyone else was very happy with their selections. Walked out of there stuffed, with leftovers for DS' fridge.

    Sunday morning was our usual visit to Mickey's Dairy bar. Another place they hang out the door. Great pancakes, omelets and something called a scrambler which seems to be able to have anything in you that you could possibly want. http://www.yelp.com/biz/mickies-dairy-bar-madison

    I want to try Marigold Kitchen for breakfast next time we're there, but not sure I can drag anyone away from Mickey's. I've heard good things about it. http://www.marigoldkitchen.com/

    I also want to try the Jamaican place listed on the other thread. It sounded good, inexpensive and tasty.

    While searching for links for this thread I found http://www.madisondining.com/ Probably a useful resource.

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    Thanks for adding your info, Liz! The more here, the more helpful it will be. Especially since the restaurants on your list are all ones we've never tried!

    I've heard such good things about Mickey's. But we're just not patient enough to wait in line!

    The Old Fashioned is on our list of places to try too. Definitely for the beer as well as the food! And it's walking distance from DS's apartment. But, again, the line thing! We'll probably try to check it out for an early dinner some time.

    Do try David's! Definitely not upscale. But very, very good. If you're ever there at lunch time on a weekday, I recommend trying the buffet. It's a good opportunity to get an overview of their food, so to speak. And I understand it's the only time they serve their mango chicken, which DS and I really liked. Now that I think about it, every time we've been there it's been for lunch. But we've only managed to hit the buffet once. They have good lunch specials on Saturdays though.

    I'm hoping to get to that next installment later today. Why is it that as soon as I start something like this, things get crazy on me! :-D

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    FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 24: NEW GLARUS

    This is something we'd been wanting to do for years. In fact, I remember reading about New Glarus shortly after we moved to the Chicago area back in '83! Now that DS is 21, we finally got around to it! He, his sister and her husband had taken the self-guided tour at New Glarus Brewing Company a few weeks previously and had really enjoyed it. Well, the tasting room part of it! ;)

    Their "review" had made DH and I all the more determined to get there during this final year of Madison visits. Since we were going up on a Friday and spending a day longer than usual, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

    The timing of our visit worked out very well for our daughter as well. A good friend of her husband's was visiting from Ireland. She was off Friday, her husband had to work. So the drive to New Glarus proved to be a very good way to entertain their guest. It was a nice opportunity for him to see something of the midwest outside of the city.

    We didn't take the most direct route from here to there because we had to pick up DS first. The drive up I90 to Madison was overcast, but uneventful. As we were leaving Madison, the sun broke through the clouds and it was a very pleasant drive through rolling farmland and pretty little towns. It took us about half an hour from Madison. Even with one minor wrong turn!

    The original plan was to meet DD and friend in the parking lot of the brewery around 1:00 and then later have lunch in town. Well, we got started slightly later than we'd planned. They got started quite a bit later than they'd planned! So we met there at 2:00 instead:

    http://www.newglarusbrewing.com/

    The brewery is outside of town on top of a hill. It's a somewhat dramatic drive up an unpaved road to reach this very pretty setting. All the more attractive on that sunny, but windy, early Fall afternoon.

    Both kids commented on the fact that the parking lot was much more crowded on this Friday than it had been on the Sunday they'd previously been there. But, on our way through town, we'd seen banners advertising an Octoberfest that weekend.

    DS and DD assured us that, while nice, since we were running a little later than planned, the self-guided tour wasn't worth the time. So we made our way through a group of people in hard hats (obviously waiting for a guided tour) straight to the gift shop. On their previous visit, they'd paid for the samples there and then ordered and drank them in the lovely seating area just outside. But we were told that beer was being served only in the sampling room that day. We were invited to pay for it in the gift shop if we wished and told that, if we wanted to brave the wind, we were welcome to sit outside to drink it. But we would need to make our way across the hall to the sampling room in order to get the beer.

    The sampling room is a rather large room with cane bottomed chairs along the sides and high tables (with no chairs). There were enough people there (including one very large, animated group) to make it fairly loud. So we opted to order our samples and head outside.

    On the advice of our kids, we started with the sampler. For $3.50 you have your choice of three 3 oz. servings and you get to keep the glass. I wish I could remember exactly, but I think there were 6 to 8 choices.

    We've been big fans of New Glarus beers since our first visit to Madison when DS was checking out colleges. Pretty much any restaurant in Madison that serves beer has at least one New Glarus beer on the menu. And you can't buy it outside of Wisconsin, so we always take some home with us!

    That day I chose to sample the Staghorn, Totally Naked and the Belgian Style Red. All were very good! I'm not sure how much of the Red I could drink as it's very sweet. But I liked it a lot! Much better than I'd expected.

    Despite the wind, they had a small booth set up that was serving wood fired pizzas. The kids got a cheese one, of which I had a couple of bites. It was very good!

    After we'd finished our samples, we each got a pint. It was $6.00 for the first one (including the glass) and then $3.00 for refills. Unless you opted for the Belgian Red (as our daughter's friend did). It was, I believe, $9.00 a pint. For my pint, I chose my favorite New Glarus beer, Fat Squirrel. Both of our kids chose their favorite, Spotted Cow. And I think my husband got the Staghorn.

    It turned out to be a very pleasant afternoon. It was definitley windy! And a bit chilly. But the sun was shining and it's such a pretty spot. A chance to spend time with our kids (and a very charming young man from Ireland) and excellent beer...Hey, what more could you ask for?! :-D

    After the pint, we decided it was time to head into town for lunch. On their previous visit, the kids had asked for suggestions and been directed to Garner Stube, which they'd really enjoyed. Besides liking the food, there's a coupon for a free small glass of beer in the little coupon booklet the brewery gives! So that's where we went.

    http://www.glarnerstube.com/

    What a pretty, hilly little town New Glarus is! We parked a block or so from the restaurant. The street was lined mostly with small gift shops. And tents had been set up for the Octoberfest.

    We enjoyed Garner Stube just as much as the kids had on their first visit. It was so late by this time, around 4:00, that we were afraid we may run into between lunch and dinner problems. But we didn't. They were relatively busy but we had no trouble getting a table. The restaurant has a nice, inexpensive sandwich menu as well as specials.

    Both my husband and son ordered a grilled pork sandwich that they both enjoyed immensely, DD's friend ordered the reuben, DD ordered the portobello mushroom sandwich and I chose a cod sandwich that was on the specials list. It was all very good! Because mine was a special, I had a choice of fries or soup and went with the Swiss vegetable soup. A very good, cheesy choice! Lunch for the five of us, pre-tip, was $51.00.

    Garner Stube is fairly small and the bar takes up about half the space. It's very comfortable, wood paneled with a Swiss/German feel. Very enjoyable all the way around!

    For our free beer, all of us but DH (who chose Coke) went with New Glarus' Cabin Fever (I think that's the name!). Very good!

    On our way back to our cars, we stopped in a couple of the little shops.

    Obviously, this was a quick trip and we didn't see a lot of New Glarus. But we very much enjoyed what we did see. I feel sure we'll be back!

    There's really not much else to say about Friday. It was a very pleasant drive back to Madison. But we were all so stuffed from our very late lunch that we weren't up to going out for dinner that night!

    However, in the next installment I'll talk a little bit about where we stayed.

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    We ate at a retreat center in the Madison area. They have an organic garden. It is at Holy Wisdom Monastery run by the Benedictine Women of Madison. If they are ever fixing a meal for a public gathering from their garden, you will want to eat with them. The food was fabulous. It was fresh from the garden. Or they had preserved it themselves from their own garden. It would be well worth visiting their award winning LEED building and learning how and why they have won the highest honors for LEED building and living in the USA at this time.

    The food was so good that it would be worth getting a group of friends together and then asking Holy Wisdom Monastery if they would prepare a meal for you from heir garden.

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    Oops! I forgot to add that we split an appetizer of Garner Stube's excellent cheese curds. They're fried in a very light, crispy beer batter. Wonderfully ooey-gooey!

    Sounds very interesting, reedness!

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    LODGING

    After reading Liz's installment, I wish I'd thought to check Priceline! I don't know why, but I've just never thought to use it for Madison.

    Our lodging of choice is the Super 8 on the beltway:

    http://www.super8madison.com/

    Their rates vary and we have stayed in other budget chains at times when we've gotten a better deal elsewhere. But, overall, we've found this to be the best place in terms of location, value, breakfast, etc.

    They're certainly not walking distance to campus but it's not a bad drive. And we find ourselves using the beltway so much when we're in Madison to run errands, etc.

    They have a very nice pool, hot tub and workout room. And, as budget hotel continental breakfasts go,theirs is good.

    We've stayed here often enough to know what to ask for; third floor, no adjoining door! And we always get it.

    As Liz mentioned, rates were high everywhere in Madison last weekend. My son thought it was because of the football game. And he may be right. I think this is the first time we've ever stayed on a football weekend.

    I may try Priceline next time. Then again, I think we have enough rewards points for a free night at Super 8 next time!

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    SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25: MORNING AND EARLY AFTERNOON

    Our Saturday got off to a very leisurely start. Our son was going to the football game, we weren’t. So we slept in a bit and took our time with a light breakfast at the hotel. It was after 10:00 by the time we headed for the capitol square to hit the Farmer’s Market. As Liz said, a not to be missed event! We’re rarely in Madison early enough on a Saturday to catch it. So when we are, we make sure to get there!

    We found a metered parking spot about a block away with an hour limit and went over to join the crowd. And it was crowded! You pretty much have to go with the flow! We made our way all the way around, with a detour for the organic food festival that was part of the market that morning. Along the way we sampled many delicious things, including lots of cheese curds, and picked up a few things we thought would hold in the cooler until we got home the next day. One of our favorite purchases was an aged blue cheese from Bleu Mont Dairy. Last time we visited the Farmer’s Market we bought an equally excellent aged cheddar from them.

    We got back to the car with one minute left on the meter! Talk about cutting it close!

    Knowing that we’d have some time to kill that day, I’d done a search for used book stores on Yelp. We’d been to a few in Madison in the past, but I wanted to see if there were any we didn’t know about. And I came up with a very good find:

    http://www.bookedformurder.com/

    Booked for Murder isn't a large store but has a nice selection of used mysteries. Luckily for me, they had both of the books I was most hoping to find. And they were even on sale! The store was running a buy one/get one free on their $3.00 mass market paperbacks.

    We spent a very pleasant 45 minutes or so there. The woman working was so friendly and helpful! I love shopping in a place where you feel you’re appreciated!

    And she kindly gave us directions to Mineral Point Road so that we could try a restaurant I’ve been wanting to visit since I first read lincasanova’s thread that I linked earlier: La Baguette. They don’t seem to have their own website. But here’s the Yelp page:

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/la-baguette-madison

    We were very glad that we finally made it to this pleasant little spot. When we arrived around 12:15 or so, there were only a handful of people there. By the time we left, they were getting quite busy.

    We walked up to the counter and looked over the menu and then I ordered while my husband got our table. He chose a cup of their tomato basil soup (which was served with a little bowl of grated cheese and croutons) and tomato basil focaccia. I ordered the ham and gruyere sandwich on a baguette. We both chose to drink water. Our total was $14 and change.

    When the waitress came with his soup and my sandwich, she told us that they were out of the focaccia and asked what DH would like instead. He went with zucchini quiche. It was excellent! As was everything else. As I said to my husband, my sandwich was definitely a meal that couldn’t be rushed. The bread was too chewy!

    Since we were already on Mineral Point Road, we decided to drive down a little ways to a shopping center with which we’re very familiar. It contains the Target and Copp’s we always hit to restock our son when we visit. We knew we’d be back later with him. But we figured we still had at least an hour before he’d be home from the football game. And Frugal Muse seemed like a good place to kill some time!

    http://www.frugalmuse.com/west.html

    This is an excellent used book store! Huge, comfortable, with a great selection that includes music and DVDs. They also have a great location in Darien, IL.

    Next installment, a few words about errands and dinner at Inka Heritage.

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    Hi CAPH52.
    I would like to thank you for your report 'A Big Campus, A great Lake...' circa 2007.
    I was researching for our trip to the North Shore when I chanced upon your report- WOW!
    My family thought I was crazy to carry the 24 pages with me, but they are all happy that I did as thanks to your report we managed to fill our 2 days in Minnesota with beautiful memories.
    I've mentioned your report in my blog:http://artismoments.blogspot.com/
    and have posted some pictures from our road trip.I hope you'll get a chance to have a look.
    I do admire you for persevering with the details- it helps.
    Happy travels:)
    Arti

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