Eating in Madison

Sweet William made his first trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit his Uncle Patrick and Aunt Alex before heading north to see his grandparents in Menomonie.

Madison is a perfect city to visit with kids. It has a delightful children’s zoo (admission is free), a children’s museum that’s appropriate for all ages, and beautiful parks and playgrounds.

William gets wet at the Madison Children's Museum.

There’s another reason I love Madison: its dedication to healthy, local, sustainable food.

We adults had a fabulous dinner at L’Etoile, which has served extraordinary local and seasonal food since its 1976 founding by Odessa Piper, a pioneer of the sustainable food movement. My favorite course was the Heck’s Produce sugar snap & English pea pancake with summer vegetable ragoût, kale, roasted carrot purée, and maple-butternut compound butter.

Another night, we ate at Graze, the gastropub offshoot of L’Etoile. Sweet William and I shared a serving of the fluffiest potato gnocchi with SarVecchio cream, spring vegetables, and truffled-lemon vinaigrette. William fussed when I ate the last gnocco.

We shopped for provisions at the Willy Street Co-op, a market with 24,000 members and an impressive selection of organic, natural, and local foods.

Finally, we made our Saturday morning pilgrimage to Capitol Square for the Dane County Farmers’ Market (aka the Foodie Rapture). It’s the largest producer-only food market in the country, with around 150 Wisconsin vendors in attendance every Saturday (around 300 participate annually). Some vendors are certified organic; many others use organic methods but haven’t filed the paperwork. The produce is gorgeous, the farmers are friendly, and the crowds are ravenous. We left with overflowing bags of heirloom tomatoes, herbs, sugar snap peas, rhubarb, zucchini, potatoes, strawberries, carrots, and bread. It was hard to leave the rest behind.

The environmental and health benefits of eating sustainably produced foods are by now familiar to many of us. Eating in Madison, where the land, plants, animals, farmers, cooks, and consumers are respected, reminds me of the cultural benefits.

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