Today was a full work day, and by a full work day I mean that the lovely folk at Visit Madison had organised a full day of meeting chefs, owners and eating at a number of Madison’s top dining locations.
I rugged up against the cold and started the walk downtown to Marigold Kitchen, where I met Kristy Schwinn and Dan Mack, respectively the chef de cuisine and director of operations. We discussed their passion for local produce, how lucky they are here in Madison to have such access to organic, local farms, and their seasonal menu.
I tried some of their blueberry pancakes, written up in Madison Magazine as some of the top pancakes in town, served with orange butter and maple syrup. They are known for their breakfast sandwiches, made on local bakery Batch’s ciabatta, Wisconsin cheese, Black Earth Meats bacon, Housemade cheddar spiked boursin and New Century Farm organic eggs.
I wandered around town a bit before my next meeting and found some food carts setting up around the Capitol square. They told me they are there for lunch Mon-Fri, and there are a number of different vendors selling local food around every day.
Next up was lunch and a meeting with Adam May, the Marketing Director at Ian’s Pizza. We talked about their seasonal philosophy, their rotating menu, and their partnerships with local farms. They rotate their pizza menu’s dependent upon what is available each season, make as much of their sauces, sausages and ingredients in house, and use local wherever possible. At Ian’s they take a whole new approach to pizza – not just building a mix of ingredients that work well together, they ‘like to use the base as a vehicle for an entire meal’. Their thanksgiving pizza is popular, with turkey roast, vegetables, mashed potato and cranberry. Talk to folk around town and they will tell you to try the mac n cheese pizza – which doesn’t sound like it would be anything special. But with the herbed creme fraiche and delicious Wisconsin cheese, it was my favourite out of the four I tried. Their shepherds pie pizza was also surprisingly delicious, with minced beef and lamb, peas, carrots and potato mash.
I was so full, it was time to put my feet up in the suite and spend the afternoon writing. Not too long though and it was time to head out to what Gourmet Magazine has listed as one of America’s top farm to table restaurants, and one of the top restaurants in America by Organic Style. Harvest is focussed on organic and sustainable local produce, and ‘are committed to creating an evolving menu that focuses on the seasonality and locality of the products, rather than any one specific cuisine’.
Harvest has featured in Bon Appetit, and the chef has been listed in the James Beard Top 20 Chefs of the Midwest for a number of years running. With a focus on simple, natural flavours, the flavour of the fresh vegetables, fruits and meats shine through, unmasked by heavy sauces or added flavourings. As a result the dishes are fresh, crisp, delivering the experience of farmhouse dining in the city – just what you want from a farm-to-table dining experience.
I started with a nice little amuse bouche, and then onto a melt-in-your-mouth rabbit for first course. Main was a beautiful, lightly seasoned crispy-skin chicken breast, on a perfectly cooked bed of smashed potatoes, creamed spinach and chicken jus.
My favourite course however, was the dessert of a thick wedge of thick, shortcrust pastry, topped with thinly sliced, spiced and stewed apple with a side of pecan cream.
Disclaimer: I dined and stayed in Madison as a guest of all of the above mentioned restaurants, thanks to a research trip organised by Visit Madison, however all opinions expressed are, as always, my own.