50 Things to Try in Madison Before I Die

by Holly on February 16, 2012

in Madison Food Challenge,Wisconsin

It’s February. I’m getting over a funk. I’m singing “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” on repeat in honor of Whitney Houston. And I’m going to throw something kind of awesome at you.


Yep, you read that correctly: A FOOD CHALLENGE. Just call me Andrew Zimmern, Anthony Bourdain or Adam Richman. Wait…actually don’t. Because it’s time we have a lady representing the hearty appetites of the world, and I am pretty sure this Everythingtarian could take down all those men in a food challenge. Remember how I can pack it down like a veteran 300-pound, “you-want-an-order-of-onion-rings-and-fries-with-that?” truck driver? Yeah, I can.

And I will.

You see…a couple of weeks ago, I happened upon writer Andre Darlington’s “50 Things to Try in Madison Before You Die.” Fifty of Madison, Wisconsin’s most delectable…most ridiculous…and most mouthwatering fare. How was I not going to challenge myself to complete all 50?

If you know me at all, you already know the answer.

Challenge accepted.

1) Sunday Chicken Dinner at Tornado Club

2) Bloody Mary at Sardine*

*please note that in Wisconsin, why yes we do chase our bloodys with a shot of beer

3) Roti, Tarkara, and Dal at Himal Chuli

4) Fetalicious at Glass Nickel Pizza

5) The Roman Candle pizza at The Roman Candle Pizzeria  (see here)

6) Orange Chocolate Chip Babcock Hall ice cream at the Memorial Union

7) Charcuterie at Osteria Papavero

8) Lunch at Le Baguette

9) ‘Das Boot’ at the Essen Haus**

**I’ve consumed more boots of authentic German beer than I care to claim on this blog

10) Pork Buns at Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar (see here)

11) High Tea at Natt Spil

12) Bell’s seasonal beer and a cigar at Maduro

13) A Lazy Susan at The Old Fashioned (see here)

14) Farmer’s Market omelette at the Shamrock Bar

15) Walnut Burger at the Harmony Bar

16) Market Bun at Graze 

17) Breakfast Biscuit at Ingrid’s Lunch Box 

18) Picnic from Fromagination

19) Weekday lunch at The Paradise Lounge

20) Build-your-own-sandwich at The Willy St Co-op

21) Lunch at Mediterranean Café

22) The Corso at Stalzy’s Deli

23) A ‘Boo Burger (while doing laundry) at The Caribou Tavern

24) The Big Cheesy at Teddywedgers

25) Affogato at Nostrano

26) Fish Fry at Toby’s Supper Club

27) Mustard tasting at the National Mustard Museum

28) An “Aero” omelette at Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room

29) Mi Rancho at Taqueria Guadalajara

30) Cumin Lamb at Fugu

31) Seasonal cocktail at Merchant***

***tequila, strawberries, egg white + deliciousness in a glass (according to the bartender)

32) Goi Cuon Cha Gio (AP10) at Ha Long Bay

33) Mac ‘n Cheese pizza at Ian’s Pizza**** (see here)

****the amount of mac n’ cheese pizza slices I consumed in college after 2am is embarrassing

34) Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes at Sophia’s

35) Brandy Old Fashioned cocktail at Le Tigre

36) The ‘V’ and ‘G’ breakfast bagels at Gotham Bagels***** (see here and here)

*****The ‘V’: scallion tofu cream cheese, poblano peppers, avocado, arugula & tomato on a bagel

37) Mighty Isis at Mermaid Café

38) Grey Salt Caramel at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier

39) Bob’s Bad Breath Burger at The Weary Traveler  (see here)

40) 4 am breakfast at Willalby’s

41) Waffles at Indie Coffee

42) Crab Rangoon at Lao Laan-Xang

43) Chicken sandwich at JD’s Chicago Maxwell Polish Sausage & Steak Burger

44) Pho at Saigon Noodles

45) Macaroons at Marigold Kitchen

46) Eldorado Eggs at Eldorado Grill

47) Fleuri from Fantome Farm

48) The Scrambler at Mickies Dairy Bar

49) Miche from Madison Sourdough

50) Zanzibar Chocolate ice cream at The Chocolate Shoppe

And yes, I’ll be documenting as many of my food challenge experiences on my blog as possible. I mean, how else am I going to boot those boys and get my own Travel Channel show?

Seriously, Travel Channel…call me already.

What is the BEST thing to eat in your city? Give me your city, the name of the place and if you feel so inclined, your credit card number so that I can fly to see you and let you bring me there. Sharing is caring after all!


Mackenzie @ Eat. Exercise. Evolve February 16, 2012 at 9:46 pm

San Diego… we have great cheap Mexican food and amazing craft beer everywhere you look. If you’re ever in San Diego, let me know! I’d give you my credit card number, except I work at a school… so you’d find my limit is rather low & that I have no money. Oh, and I don’t know you. That too.

Dorothy February 16, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Definitely looking forward to seeing the documentation of you crossing these off the list…. sounds delicious!
Not sure I could give just one favorite for the Quad Cities (IL/IA) though I’ve definitely sampled some of the best. An initial favorite that comes to mind is sipping Mugs of beer on Sunday evening in summer on Bent River Brewing Company’s patio.

alyssa February 16, 2012 at 9:59 pm

PLEAAASE come to NYC so we can do an eating challenge together!!! i’ve only done one. i’m still suffering from it. http://www.alyssaarminio.com/ttt-man-and-woman-vs-food/

Jessica February 16, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Sooo the Mustard Museum is on my 101 in 1001. Perhaps we should do that one together…two birds, one stone!

Lindsay @ Running the Windy City February 16, 2012 at 10:13 pm

I NEED that bagel sammie now! It looks so good :)

Robyn @ Blueberries and Oats February 16, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Love it, Holly!! I just moved so not sure what my favorite foods are here..(must make money first! >.<) but your challenge helped me find an article titled "The Big Eat Seattle: 100 Things To Try Before You Die". I am definitely going to take it's advice. ~.^

Emily February 16, 2012 at 10:35 pm

FUN!! I’ve had #13, #20, #33 (several times), as for #50 Fat Elvis is superior to anything and everything in life.

Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table February 16, 2012 at 10:36 pm

I have a sudden urge to fly to Madison, pick you up, and beg that bartender to make me my very own tequila-strawberry-deliciousness.

There are too many good things in ATL to choose one… a bruch sandwich at Rosebud called “The Big Nasty,” my fav bartender at Holeman & finch surprising me with things like a whiskey-tamarind syrup with a glass rimmed in dehydrated bacon, and entire bar dedicated to Belgian beers… you need to come for a long weekend. The F&W festival is May 10-13th. I’m just saying.

Is there one of these lists for Boulder?!

elise February 16, 2012 at 10:44 pm

lets take on a new city together. im thinking somewhere in south america. after we hike macchu pichu? perfect. its on.

grace b February 16, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Ate at Boogaloos in the SF Mission WEEKS ago and that meal still haunts me with deliciousness.

Temple o’ Spuds was the shit.

This food challenge looks amazing and I know you can do it!!! Go gurrrll.

Ann February 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm

I agree that the Travel Channel needs to call you. But what would be your secret thing that you do on almost every episode? Andrew Zimmerman eat penis almost every week. You should drink a boot of local beer! That would be fun.

Ruth @ the tasty tRuth February 17, 2012 at 2:45 am

Um, definitely one of my favorite posts! There’s nothing quite like a Madison food challenge. I’m gonna be pesky and say — how do you not have #6 or #21 crossed off?!? Haha… let me know if you need help completing either. :)

Amy B @ Second City Randomness February 17, 2012 at 5:49 am

You’ve already got a nice headstart on this one! Good luck!

I can’t even narrow down the options… but I’m thinking if I could try anywhere, I’d want to hit a Rick Bayless restaurant. I’ve only heard good things… obvi.

Lindsay @ Lindsay's List February 17, 2012 at 7:10 am

We need an AMAZING place to eat on Saturday night at BLEND! FIND SOMETHING!

brandi February 17, 2012 at 7:41 am

this is why i wish lived near a bigger city. this list looks incredible!

Maren February 17, 2012 at 7:54 am

Challenge Accepted! haha love it! Well, I did love the Beer Cheese Soup at Mabel Murphy’s here in Fergus Falls, but my lactose issue has really put the downer on that one…so I’m going to have to go with the homemade chili at Ole & Lena’s in Rothsay, MN! Rothsay’s only about 15 min away, so I can still consider it where I live. I NEVER eat red meat except if we go there. It’s the best I’ve ever had.

Amy Franklin February 17, 2012 at 7:58 am

One of my cousins is the restaurant manager at Eldorado Grill…they have the BEST margarita, made from scratch. Good stuff, what a fun challenge! Enjoy!

sarah @ sarah learns February 17, 2012 at 8:08 am

yes! i told brad all about this list. shockingly, he’s not as excited as i am to try to tackle it but i think i’m pumped enough for both of us. :) let me know if you want a partner in crime for any of them.

Hillary February 17, 2012 at 8:11 am

This is kind of the best idea ever.

In Baltimore, I’d say the best thing to eat is a crab cake from G&M. I’m not Maryland born and raised, but good Lord, I can recognize how incredible and authentic these bad boys are.

Back in Providence (where I WAS born and raised), the best/most disgusting/most authentically Rhode Island thing you can eat is a hot weiner, all the way (onions, meat sauce), with a coffee milk (no, not coffee with milk. Milk with coffee-flavored syrup). Every time I go home, I need to have at least one. Ok…two.

Shannon February 17, 2012 at 8:14 am

I haven’t tried many restaurants in Sacramento but Frank Fat’s is the best I’ve been to. It’s a fantastic (but expensive!) Chinese restaurant downtown. I’ll have to do some research and try out some other restaurants in Sacramento…

Alison February 17, 2012 at 8:25 am

We have ‘beer backs’ in Iowa with our bloody mary’s too. Upper midwest represent. :)

Evan Thomas February 17, 2012 at 8:26 am

When you come to Providence, we’re getting the vegan, gluten-free chocolate bundt cake from Wildflour and it will blow your mind.

Julia February 17, 2012 at 8:27 am

OH man I miss Himal Chuli so muuuch! I remember going to that place when I lived in Appleton.

If you’re ever in Cleveland and feeling not-too-fancy, La Bodega makes some pretty delicious sandwiches. Or if you want to be slightly fancier and way way cheesier, Melt. Or if it’s lunch and you don’t mind eating in a restaurant that’s not marked on the outside but colored like a box of crayons on the inside, Tastebuds.

stasha February 17, 2012 at 8:30 am

oh my lord, this makes me miss mad-town big time. so jealous of the endeavor – can’t wait to live vicariously through you as knock out the rest!

Sara February 17, 2012 at 8:30 am

First of all: Macaroni and Cheese pizza?!!! Whatttt? Where have I been?
Second: If you’re ever in Knoxville, TN you must go to Tomato Head–wonderful. I just moved to Columbus, OH and am blown away by all the local restaurants. Still looking for someone to try every.single.one.of.them with me. :) BUT, I do know that if you do meander over here you must have Jeni’s Ice Cream. http://jenisicecreams.com/

Julie @Savvy Eats February 17, 2012 at 8:50 am

Yesssssss to Orange Chocolate Chip Babcock Hall ice cream at the Memorial Union. Except at Babcock Hall. In case you were wondering, it is very difficult to not eat ice cream ALL the time when you have classes in Babcock every day.

And Yes. to Ingrid’s!

Though I’m shocked that cookie dough egg rolls from Bluephies didn’t make the list!

And now I would like to move back to Madison.

Kristie February 17, 2012 at 8:56 am

Holly, let me help you tackle some of these. When I read the article I also felt it taunting me to take it on. ;) I live near Indie Coffee, so if there happens to be a Saturday morning you want to meet up for the waffles we can knock that one off.

Also, I hope you love the orange chocolate chip ice cream from Babcock. I think it is delicious and super perfect in the summer!

Coco @ Opera Girl Cooks February 17, 2012 at 10:03 am

San Francisco has about a gazillion amazing things to eat, so it’s awfully hard to pick a “best” one to share with you! That being said . . . I’m gonna go with a serving of carrot cake ice cream from Smitten in Hayes Valley. They make each serving to order, using custom mixers and liquid nitrogen to freeze the ice cream right before your eyes. This method makes for the smoothest ice cream known to man, and the carrot cake flavor has little bits of candied carrots sprinkled throughout . . . unbelievable. Their TCHO chocolate flavor is amazing too. With candied jalapenos on top. Yup.

Katie February 17, 2012 at 10:06 am

Ummmm can I come take this on with you? Any town that serves Bloodies with a shot of beer is fine by me.

erica banks krug February 17, 2012 at 11:15 am

What a fantastic idea! I don’t do the flex thing, but maybe a lacto-ovo-pescatarian-booze friendly Madison list is in order. Hmmm…. Get #15 with fried onions and blue cheese. It’s ridiculous. Cheers!

Katie February 17, 2012 at 11:44 am

Kind of makes me want to take a vacation to Madison and help you finish your list.

Also, best dish in Denver is butternut squash nioki at Root Down. You (we) should have it when you’re here. We can wash it down with a Moscow Mule…which just happens to be my favorite drink made in Denver at the exaaact same restaurant. :-)

Rachel February 17, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Oh my God. I need to do this I think I have like 2 checked off that list. You are a pro!

Kate February 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Ohhh so many great places to choose from! I’d at Mojave Grill with Sweet Corn Tamales, then walk across the street to have gelato from The Chocolate Bar. And then we can make a picnic across town and sing “I Will Always Love You” at Whitney’s final resting spot because…..she will buried in my town! Insanely random, but true!

Sarah@The Flying ONION February 17, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Best thing to eat in my city: Boston Baked Beans. I’m all about the beans…haha. :D

(although our clam chowdah is pretty darn good too…)

Ann February 17, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Yes this list is what I’ve been waiting for! The Scrambler at Mickies is DEFINITELY a must-try. it’s enormous, and that reminds me I have to take part in food-eating contests too! Maybe we’ll run into each other and have a showdown :D

Kat M February 17, 2012 at 9:04 pm

I’m from WI too! Totally have done Das Boot! We always talk about going to Babcock Hall for Ice Cream but never seem to get around to it. Himal Chuli is amazing BTW!

Steve February 17, 2012 at 10:33 pm

May I respectfully suggest #51:

#51: A tour of Capital Brewery / attend Bockfest 2012 at Capital Brewery.

Steve February 17, 2012 at 10:34 pm

And #52:

Consume an apple fritter from the Greenbush Bakery after bartime.

Barb February 18, 2012 at 7:05 am

LOVE this list.
And, Appleton / Neenah / Green Bay isn’t that far away.
Favorite things to eat:
Thai from Cy’s
Cranky Sticks from Cranky Pat’s
Mashed Potatoes from Good Company

sofia February 18, 2012 at 8:49 am

i love this. i have a google map of “places to try” in nyc, and it grows every day. come and visit and help me knock some off the list?

Tamar February 18, 2012 at 10:13 am

Currently living in Ann Arbor, where Zingerman’s deli makes the best corned beef sandwiches ever. And I’m a Jewish New York transplant, so that’s REALLY saying something.

I haven’t tried any of those places in Madison! I feel so left out. Do you have a favorite of the ones you’ve tried? I’m there a couple times a year.

Christine February 18, 2012 at 11:52 am

I also have consumed far too many of #33 in the early morning hours…Hehe. Have fun crossing this list off, sounds delicious! I would add Bluephies in there too.

Sarah Marie February 18, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Hi. Totally random question having nothing whatsoever to do with your blog post… but it needs to be asked. How on this earth do you get your hair to look so awesome? From one curly girl to another, tell me: what products/methods do you implement to avoid looking like Medusa and/or Chewbaca? Many thanks.

LindsayC77 February 18, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Oh my gosh, great idea! There are a few of these I will never do (I’m not a beer drinker, and I have no intention of ever going to the ‘bou again … ever) and a few I disagree on.

For example, it’s all about the Brighton Beach at Gotham! For reals. And the best cheese at Fantome Farms is the straight-up goat cheese. The sandwich that IS the Weary Traveler is the West of the Andes.

But other times he’s spot on. The bloody mary at Sardine is my favorite. Gail makes an amazing caramel. And Nostrano affogato? I could have that EVERY DAY.

At some point after we meet for waffles at Indie Coffee (which according to my editor have been known to induce labor), can I buy you that brandy Old Fashioned at Le Tigre?

Jordan February 19, 2012 at 1:01 am

Los Gatos, CA — Great Bear Coffee — The Chocolate Coffee Cream (a.k.a. CCC) is a must try before you die! As their website states, the Great Bear makes their most famous drink of “chocolate, ice cream and coffee extract, topped with real whipped cream”. But don’t take my word for it, read the reviews: http://www.yelp.com/biz/great-bear-coffee-los-gatos.

You can check out their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/greatbearcoffee

Julie February 19, 2012 at 8:17 am

Hey there – I’m also a UW Madison grad living in Madison after college…and….I have to say – I’m very surprised you have not had The Scrambler from Mickey’s. WHAT? How is that even possible? Unless you went there only for pancakes, I guess, but, really? Must be a typo! :) I’m definitely bookmarking the list! And, mac and cheese pizza from Ian’s really is the best thing ever – I’m lucky to have graduated before they opened! Yes, I’m old. ;)

Lynda February 21, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I am Nancy’s sister…Laura’s Aunt. As a “newby”, I am looking forward to reading your blog. Thank you for the wonderful ideas.

Denice February 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Holly- Here is a quick and public message to you!
1> THanks for the motivation for my half. Such an AWESOME experience. I wish you twice as awesome an experience as my half was!
2> There are not words to express how much I want to come visit you and have a boot of beer (too bad I am giving up beer for lent) and to help you knock off some of your points on your list.
3> And well. I just love your blog, and your lists. I wish you a happy day!

Lauren @ The Climbing Chef February 23, 2012 at 10:54 am

I like #45 on the list… Macaroons!!!! Just go…. you know that macaroons are the best thing ever invented. I’m in Chico, CA and I think the best “secret” food we have is our Farmers Market Pie lady! She is the cutest hippy “girl” I have ever met and probably the sweetest. She makes all her pies (gluten free ones too) out of local, organic ingredients and she also makes her own tea. My fav. is the lavender, cucumber, mint tea :) COME VISIT CA!!!

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