Madison, Wisconsin may be best known as the state’s capital city and one of the country’s best college towns, but look a bit closer and you’ll find a meetings and events destination with plenty to offer.
With venues boasting nearly 800,000 square feet of combined meeting space, plenty of after-work activities to keep groups busy and rated as one of the most walkable cities in America, Madison can be a great option for planners.
But what about the food? Farm-to-table takes on a whole new meaning here, as the city’s location in the heart of America’s farm country gives Madison a natural edge when it comes to locally sourcing ingredients affordably and reliably.
The city is home to one of the most authentic farm-to-table movements in the country, because farm-to-table isn’t just a fad in Madison, it’s how food has always been prepared.
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Rob Gard, director of PR & Communications for Destination Madison, says that ease of sourcing for Madison chefs have offered a unique advantage in developing the city’s farm-to-table offerings. “Our chefs can source ingredients from the largest producers-only farmer’s market in the U.S., which is open year-round. With numerous other farmers markets in the region as well as thousands of farms, access to seasonal ingredients is convenient and cost-effective.”
If you’re hosting an event in Madison, consider these group-friendly restaurant options to give your guests a real taste of midwestern flavor and authenticity.
One of the newest players on Madison’s farm-to-table scene, Cadre opened in the fall of 2019. Its unique take on French classics and focus on highlighting fresh ingredients and local farmers have made it a standout already.
Located in the Regent neighborhood in the heart of Madison, Cadre is right in the center of the action. The restaurant is just a short distance from popular meeting venues such as Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center and The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Madison.
Cadre’s menu updates frequently based on seasonal availability, but French-inspired favorites such as the bouillabaisse (seafood stew) and beef bourguignon (braised beef), staples in French cuisine, are some of the most popular menu selections. Cadre’s drink selection is impressive too, with over 50 wines, cocktails and beers, many highlighting Wisconsin-based craft brewers. (Photo: Cadre’s beef bourguignon (braised beef) is French-inspired and sourced locally; Credit: Cadre)
For group events, Cadre can work closely with planners to make meals memorable. Planned events can have menus customized to accommodate many dietary restrictions. Cadre features a dining room that can seat nearly 50 people for plated dinners or up to 80 for less-formal events such as a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres hour. Private rentals and buyouts are an option as well—meeting planners can check with management to learn more.
[On Topic: Q&A With Chef Tory Miller, Restaurateur, Madison]
One of the most venerable farm-to-table establishments in Madison, Graze focuses on creating menus that spotlight local production methods such as grass-fed beef, acorn and whey-fed hogs, cave-aged cheeses and vegetables grown in Wisconsin. Graze’s unique offerings, polished presentation and intimate, conversation-focused space brings the refinement of a gastropub together with the community atmosphere of a traditional supper club.
Group events at Graze include two different menu options for three course meals, and entrée selections can be modified upon request. One consistent favorite on the pre-fixed menus is bibimbap. A Korean rice dish, bibimbap is traditionally served in a hot stone bowl featuring locally sourced vegetables and is offered with either marinated ground pork or tofu.
Guests who need special dietary accommodations won’t be left out either. Graze has alternative menus on hand for gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, alcohol-free and meat-free selections.
Graze’s central location in Downtown Madison is near meeting and event destinations such as Monona Terrace Community and Conference Center, the State Capitol and the Alliant Energy Center. Group dinners or meetings don’t need to be constrained either—the private dining space shared by both Graze and L’Etoile (profiled below) can comfortably fit 40 for a seated dinner and up to 55 for cocktail hour events. If you need to feed more people, contact management to inquire about private buyouts, which can accommodate up to 110 people.
Photo: Offerings from Graze such as these classic Wisconsin cheese curds highlight local production methods; Credit: Keni Rosales
No profile of Madison’s farm-to-table restaurants would be complete without L’Etoile, recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s Award for Excellence. L’Etoile was one of the first farm-to-table establishments in the U.S. when it opened its doors over 40 years ago and its appeal has only grown since then.
The restaurant is known for developing lasting relationships with local farmers, over 200 of whom provide meat, vegetables, fruit and dairy for L’Etoile’s celebrated offerings. Led by executive chef Tory Miller, L’Etoile’s vision of the future focuses on helping farmers explore heirloom varieties, heritage breed animals and production of new artisan products in and around Wisconsin’s fertile farmland.
Photo: Madison institution L’Etoile offers renowned farm-to-table dining with exceptional wines; Credit: EQRoy/Shutterstock
Drinks are equally prized at L’Etoile as well. Named one of America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants by Wine Enthusiast in 2018, L’Etoile offers wine experiences with tasting menus curated by the restaurant’s own sommelier. You’ll find famous sites and varietals as well as lesser-known selections, all individually selected to create a memorable pairing with their locally sourced, Midwestern dishes.
Planners looking to bring their groups to L’Etoile can work directly with Chef Miller to assemble a custom menu for their event, with many gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and meat-free options available directly from the menu to keep your events inclusive. L’Etoile shares its central location and meeting room in Downtown Madison with Graze (profiled above), meaning planners can expect a capacity range of 40-55 attendees. L’Etoile’s restaurant buyouts can accommodate up to 150 people.
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Located slightly off the beaten path in Oregon, Wisconsin, Charlie’s on Main is just a 15-minute drive from Downtown Madison and well worth the trip. Charlie’s is known for its locally sourced classic Wisconsin pub fare, personalized drinks program and location that features a large meeting space known as The Main Event.
The space was originally constructed as a hardware store in 1898, and the building’s Romanesque revival design offers unique elegance and 1930s-style aesthetics to give your event some personality. Don’t forget to try a cocktail at the secret underground speakeasy in the basement—just describe how you’d like to feel and let the expert mixologists craft up a one-of-a-kind cocktail.
Photo: The Main Event space is right out of the 1930s with classic elegance and a refined air to immediately add class to your meeting; Credit: Parry Heide
The food at Charlie’s will help you get a taste of Wisconsin—ingredients are sourced from around 40 local farmers, and all produce comes from a local CSA (community-supported agriculture) group. Charlie’s is also a gluten-free haven—it offers gluten-free beer on tap and nearly every menu item available without gluten, including local favorites like fried fish and cheese curds. Additionally, you’ll find a large vegan menu, (including vegan cheese curds) so all participants can enjoy the comfort of Wisconsin cuisine.
Event planners will find a range of available options when looking to dine at Charlie’s—depending on group size. The Main Event can hold about 100 people, and the bar can seat between 60-70. The secret speakeasy in the basement can hold about 40. Private rentals are available as well, which can push the total capacity for all three separate spaces together up to around 200.
Destination Madison 608.255.2537
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