Madison Eats, part 2

Seriously, Madison has too much good food to limit it to just one post. Which isn’t to say that everything we ate was wonderful – we had some downright lousy coffee, for example, and tried to get drinks at a couple of places that turned out to be too upscale (while also smelling really weird) or too dive-y – but there were plenty of places that were just right.

Breakfast, day 2: Marigold Kitchen

Veggie Scrambler

French Toast

Photos by beautifulcataya

There are two things I would like you to notice in these photos: the breakfast potatoes in the first, and the exceptionally decadent French toast in the second. We ate all of these things. My scramble of the day was kind of wet and disappointing, but the incredibly flavorful breakfast potatoes more than made up for it. I don’t often want potatoes – they can be really hit or miss – but these were worth the risk: crispy and salty, fried up with onions and a lot of rosemary. Amazingly good. Shane had a different French toast than is pictured here, but it was no less wonderful.

Lunch, day 2: Chautara

Chautara - sunny spot on a cold day

Photo by humbletree

Tofu Buff at Chautara restaurant

Photo by John Kannenberg

Max had his first samosa, and I had the ridiculously flavorful seitan buff. I have fond memories of this place, even moreso now that I’ve shared it with Shane, Jenn, Bill, and Max.

Dinner, day 2: Natt Spil

lively up yo'self

Photo by mkebbe

We had planned on having a really nice dinner while in Madison, but neither of us were particularly hungry or decisive when it came to making a plan on our last night in town. While Shane moved the car, I decided on Natt Spil, which was supposed to be sort of dive-y and intimate while also having good food and music. The cuisine is somewhere between Chinese and Italian – really, I’m not sure what you’d call it. Not fusion, as that suggests a melding of the two flavor sets. Really, it’s a place where you can get dim sum and also pizza and also cocktails. I like all of those things. We were a little underwhelmed by the food and definitely by the service, but that didn’t stop us from devouring a small pizza and a plate of shrimp cakes. My cocktail was delicious, though I couldn’t tell you what it was. It seemed like the sort of place we’d definitely go with friends – like the Galaxy Hut, except completely different.

Drinks, day 2: Merchant Madison

Merchant cocktail list

Photo by jumbledpile

I spotted Merchant while we were walking around the first night in Madison. We didn’t love their food menu, but decided to stop in for a cocktail as a majorly scary storm rolled in over the lake. You’ve gotta love a cocktail bar where the menu is reputable enough that you’re happy to go with the “bartender’s choice” option. There were so many good things, but I’d already started down the bourbon road, so it seemed like folly to stray.

I was right. And the drink the bartender made me was even more right but unfortunately I will never know what it was because when I went to order another, he was gone! I know that it had at least five ingredients, one of them bourbon, another absinthe, and that I really shouldn’t have had another after that. I also know that Shane had two delicious cocktails, perhaps made with gin, perhaps citrussy? I don’t know.

What I do know is that we ordered toast with lardo – another good idea – and then I ate all of the toasts. OK, not all the toasts. But most of the toasts. And they were good.


Photo by jumbledpile


1016 Mom’s Belated Football Birthday

Today was all about Mom – from breakfast to football to cake.

Hawkeye Pride

For breakfast: French toast and fried apples.  I don’t love French toast, but Mom and Shane both do, so while they slept in, I battered and grilled up slices of challah dipped in egg, milk, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice.  I also cut up and sauteed a couple of apples in butter and cinnamon – perfect for spooning over the French toast or, in my case, stirring into Greek yogurt with a bit of maple syrup drizzled over the top.

While Shane headed off to Detroit to watch moped races at the Thunderdrome, Mom and I hit the farmer’s market and did some window shopping in Kerrytown, then grabbed a quick lunch at Plum before heading off to the game!  I came by my love of Big 10 football honestly, albeit later in life. All of my family is from Iowa, so we grew up cheering for the Hawkeyes and the Hawkeyes only. None of us have ever had much use for professional sports, though I do really enjoy live baseball. Mom follows Hawkeye football and wrestling in particular, and seeing the Hawkeyes in all of the Big 10 stadiums has been on her bucket list for years.


Getting to watch the Hawkeyes beat Michigan in the Big House, then, was all kinds of dreams come true.  Mom was jealous of all of the high fives I collected as we walked around the stadium exchanging “Go Hawks” with other Hawkeye fans.  Aside from a few grumps, the Michigan fans around us put up with our cheers – and gave us a good-natured ribbing when the game appeared to turn around in the fourth quarter.  If I hadn’t hurt my knee (don’t ask me how – all I did was stand up), it would’ve been a perfect afternoon.


Shane picked us up downtown, and we spent the rest of the night relaxing at home with chicken stew, red velvet cake, and Wisconsin’s victory over Ohio State. Two of the three were excellent, and the other was warm and satisfying, if not exactly what I’d had in mind when I fired up the crockpot. Apart from the knee, it was pretty much a perfect Midwest fall day – and exactly the sort of belated birthday Mom wanted.

0619 With the Family

To be honest, I don’t really remember much about breakfasts growing up.  I know that my parents wouldn’t ever buy us sugar cereal, at least not when we were small, so if a box of Corn Pops came into the house, it was because one of us had bought it with our paper route or babysitting money.  Sugar cereals were something we’d look forward to when staying with our grandparents, who would buy the little sampler packs in anticipation of our week-long visits in the summer.

I do remember eating sunny-side up eggs with Pop while he read the newspaper when I was very small, and Sunday trips to Stockholm Inn for Swedish pancakes after church – I didn’t like “Swedos”, and would get eggs or regular pancakes, while being able to eat a Super Stack was a point of pride for my brother.  I remember Pop occasionally making pancakes with chocolate chips or blueberries, and I remember that we had pancake molds in the shape of a dinosaur and a bear.  I remember making eggs when I was very young, cracking an egg into a ramekin, covering it with water and then plastic wrap, and climbing up on the counter so that I could reach the microwave.

As an adult, I’ve enjoyed having breakfast with my parents when I go home for a visit – I’m usually up early, and so can sit at the table and nurse a cup of coffee with them while they listen to the Sunday puzzle before the rest of the house wakes up.  Breakfast this morning – in lieu of a Fathers’ Day brunch – was coffee, French toast made from Zingerman’s challah (not waffleized this time), and sausage links from our pig.  It turns out that Mom really loves French toast but rarely had it when we were kids because none of us were huge fans – so I was glad to be able to make a breakfast that was a treat for everyone.  Pop came in from walking the dog just in time for the first slices to come off the griddle, and Shane was just waking up as I put on the last slices.  Despite being half-awake from last night’s drive, I think I managed a decent, if a bit almond-y, breakfast.

0522 Ode to Sam’s French Toast

There are many Champaign institutions for which we’ve found acceptable substitutes.  OK, maybe not many.  A few.  Having Buzz down the street made up for the lack of Cafe Miels from Kopi.  The fried stuff and beer at the Galaxy Hut more than made up for the loss of fried stuff and beer at the Esquire, though they’re totally different animals. But there’s no replacing this:

Sam’s French toast, originally uploaded by Tiger_Bee.

Sam’s French toast is the stuff of dreams.  It’s basically the perfect diner breakfast.  I know that by saying this, I’m risking losing some of my local food cred. But Sam’s French toast is amazing.  And there’s no replacement.

You’d think that some other diner would be able to figure this stuff out.  I mean, take a couple of slices of white bread – the more commercial and generic, the better.  Dip them in pancake batter – probably batter made from a box mix that can be bought in bulk at GFS.  Slap it on the griddle until it’s toasted golden, then top with cinnamon sugar and a small lake of imitation maple syrup.

You wouldn’t think it’d be that hard to duplicate.  You probably also wouldn’t think it’d be so damned good that this weekend I tried to write a song about it to the tune of Julia.  But seriously, guys, this is the best French toast on the planet.

0409 A Relaxed Breakfast

Most mornings I’m up and out of the house before Shane gets out of bed – I take the bus and work an 8 hour day, while he rides his moped and works a 7.5 hour day, giving him a bit more flexibility in his schedule.  This means that we rarely sit down to breakfast together – and if we do, it usually takes the form of sitting at our computers with our breakfasts, rather than sharing a meal at the table.

This morning, however, we needed to go to the courthouse to get our marriage license, and as the office doesn’t open until 8:30, we were able to have an actual breakfast featuring an actual conversation and also bacon.  We had leftover bacon in the fridge from Monday’s dinner, so I fried that up, and made a quick French toast for Shane using some challah that we’d had in the freezer.  I had cottage cheese and a dollop of jam – and bacon, of course.  It was really nice to have a little bit of quiet time together before starting our workday – and before raising our hands and swearing that we understand Michigan marriage law, even if we don’t agree with it.