MidAmerica (Destination)
Food & Beverage / 4 years Ago

Madison serves up a large portion of F&B excitement

by Carolyn Blackburn

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    Moules frites, Madison Food Explorers

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    Coopers Cure, Coopers Tavern

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    Ale Asylum tasting room bar

Groups visiting the Greater Madison area for a meeting or convention should leave some room in the schedule, and in their bellies, for a fun culinary outing.

The varied experiences available to groups in this simmering foodie destination include tasty tours, wonderful group-friendly restaurants, award-winning beer and one of the country’s most popular farmers’ markets.

Dane County Farmers’ Market (DCFM)
Established in 1972, DCFM is the largest producer-only farmer’s market in the U.S. It takes place year-round, running indoors from November to April, and from mid-April through early November it can be found each Saturday on the square surrounding the state capitol building.

“Being producer-only means that there is no resale of products,” says Bill Lubing, manager of DCFM. “The one who is selling is the one who grew or produced the item.”

Among the items visitors find at the market are honey, maple syrup, jams, salsas, fresh vegetables, baked goodies, pasta and more.

“As the largest source of locally produced ingredients in the region, DCFM attracts household menu planners and chefs looking for the finest ingredients,” Lubing says. “And there are ample small bottles or packages of spices, dried mushrooms, mixes and other products that tourists find as a perfect memento of Madison.”

Judy Frankel, director of public relations and communications for the Greater Madison CVB, adds DCFM is a popular Madison tourist attraction that on peak Saturdays during the summer welcomes some 20,000 people. She recommends planners either encourage meeting attendees to visit on their own or to facilitate a fun scavenger hunt so they can explore the market as a group.

Madison Food Explorers
“Our downtown tour is a 101 of the Madison culinary scene,” says Andrea Hughes, proprietor for Madison Food Explorers. “It provides everything from an upscale farm-to-table restaurant experience, to exquisite local cheese tastings, to a college favorite hot spot for a brat and a beer.”

Tastes along the way also include everything from food cart empanadas or falafels to beer cheese soup and mac and cheese pizza.

“Not only do guests learn about the food of the area, but they learn about the culture that goes with it,” Hughes says. “For example, our guests learn about the squeak of a cheese curd, the fact that Wisconsin is the No. 1 state in brandy consumption, and how to use a bubbler, just to name a few things.”

Ale Asylum
One of Madison’s popular breweries, Ale Asylum, features an industrial chic ambience, a spacious tasting room, a creative menu that includes beer-pairing suggestions, and an upstairs lounge that’s available for private events for up to 40 people.

Hathaway Dilba, director of promotions for the brewery, says the bar and dining area overlook a 40,000-square-foot brewery operation.

“Diners can observe our brewing process, bottling line and other brewery operations while drinking the beer produced right in front of them,” she says, adding patrons can custom-create sampler sets of six 6-ounce beers in the tasting room.

The flagship beer here is Hopalicious, an American Pale Ale that’s been hailed Madison’s Signature Beer by the Wisconsin State Journal, and Velveteen Habit, an India Pale Ale, was voted Wisconsin’s Best IPA in August 2015 by Milwaukee Magazine.

The Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned, which embraces Wisconsin tradition and delivers on the supper club experience, celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2015.

The supper club, which has gotten ink recently in Brooklyn and other hip destinations, is an iconic way of eating that’s most popular in the Midwest, according to the Greater Madison CVB’s Frankel.

“The Old Fashioned embraces this,” she says, adding standby supper club menu items include cheeses, veggies and other nibbles served on a Lazy Susan, and fried fish on Fridays.

Frankel adds the restaurant offers private space upstairs that’s lovely for group gatherings, and she encourages visitors to look for a sign at the bar with an ever-changing number of Old Fashioned cocktails they’ve sold.

“The Old Fashioned is the signature cocktail of Wisconsin, and it’s the restaurant’s namesake,” she says. “The main ingredient in an Old Fashioned is brandy, and Wisconsin consumes more brandy than anywhere else in world.”

Wollersheim Winery and Distillery
At Wollersheim Winery and Distillery, located nearby Madison in Prairie du Sac, groups will enjoy tours of the facility and tastings of wines and spirits.

“They can visit our historic wine cave, view our still room, spend time in our wine garden or on the distillery patio, and browse the retail stores,” says Julie Coquard, Wollersheim’s co-owner. “We want our visitors to leave with an appreciation of our rich history and an understanding of the winemaking and distilling traditions.”

Prairie Fume, a semi-dry white, is a favorite choice in the wine lineup here, which also includes other tempting whites and some delicious reds.

“On the distillery end, Coquard Brandy is our signature spirit, but we offer a range of other choices, including eau-de-vie, gin and absinthe,” Coquard adds.

Madison Eats
Another Madison tour operator offers several tours, including culinary explorations of downtown and two Eastside neighborhoods. Each tour includes tastings at four to six locations.

“Food tours are wonderful for groups because participants naturally mix and mingle as we walk and nosh,” says Otehlia Cassidy, owner of Madison Eats. “Tours feature everything from farm-to-table fare, ethnic eats and pub fare to Wisconsin cheese and dessert. Included is relevant and interesting historical and architectural info, so group members get a true Madison experience.”

Cocktails and Wisconsin beer are included in many tours, and private and custom tours can be arranged.

Wisconsin Brewing Company (WBC)
Located nearby Madison is Verona-based Wisconsin Brewing Company, which hosts free tours and offers tastings.

“Tours give guests the opportunity to learn about the brewing process and what makes WBC unique,” says Tracy Phillippi, event sales manager.

Among the popular beers created here are Yankee Buzzard, an American IPA; Chocolate Lab, a porter; and Old Reliable, a Munich-style lager.

“We also host a variety of events, including holiday parties and corporate functions,” Phillippi adds. “We have three unique spaces that can be utilized for events, including our tap room, outdoor beer garden and brew house. Each has access to our fresh draught beer.”

The Coopers Tavern
Another of the many great restaurants in Madison is The Coopers Tavern, a neighborhood haunt that serves craft beer and rustic food in a relaxed atmosphere, according to Margaret Riggs, graphic designer and marketer for the tavern.

“The Coopers Tavern is the perfect venue for hosting luncheons, events and meetings,” she says. “Stocked with a private bar, kitchen, AV equipment and state capitol views, the second floor at The Coopers Tavern is designed to house private events.”

Appetizers here include beer cheese pretzels and Belgian frites, entrees include Frenched chicken and pork belly mac, which mingles mac and cheese with braised pork belly, and desserts include carrot cake and brie en croute.

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