The last trip Kirios and I made in August (although most of the trip was September) was to visit friends in Madison, Wisconsin. This was Kirios’ third trip to the area and my second. We had been there eleven months earlier in November and were looking forward to warmer weather. Unfortunately, it was too warm – temperatures were in the 90s most of the week. It was even hotter than DC! Despite the weather, we had a really nice trip.
We flew direct to Madison’s small airport on Friday afternoon and relaxed for a bit before dinner at Bomber’s. At Bombers, our server sat us and told us that at “P-Nut Bomb” would be sent. She shouted “R2D2,” and an employee behind the bar sent a “bomb” painted like R2D2 flying across the ceiling. It hit a bull’s-eye near us and proceeded to dump peanuts out from inside it. Some landed in a metal bowl which was brought to our table. Others sprayed across the floor and stayed there. In addition to the peanuts, we started off with an order of fried cheese curds with a chipotle ranch dip. The cheese curds were tasty, lighter than those at The Old Fashioned, which we had previously dined at specifically for their cheese curds. We especially enjoyed the chipotle flavor in the dip. The dip tasted a little too good, we even double checked that there was no meat in it! For dinner, I had the Stuffed ‘Shroom – a crispy fried portobello stuffed with cheddar and muenster cheese (and lots of it), along with lettuce, tomato, and the signature “Bomber Sauce.” It tasted like the ‘shroom burger Spike Mendelsohn serves at Good Stuff Eatery, but oozed with extra cheese. Wisconsin style, I guess! Kirios had the Mad Sconnie Burger which actually had bacon blended into the patty along with fried pickle slices on a spicy cheese bread roll (see below for more on the roll). He was a pretty happy camper.
Following dinner we strolled over to the University of Wisconsin Student Union and enjoyed popcorn and a pitcher on the terrace (the Badgers are big on their beer gardens!). When I told my mother we were going to the Student Union, she suggested we were a bit old to be hanging out there. But in fact, it seemed like there were just as many parents as there were students enjoying the beverages, beautiful weather, and sunset over the water. There was a reggae concert but it didn’t start until 9pm (which was 10pm in my normal time zone!) so we left as it was beginning.
Saturday was a lazy day for all of us. We were originally planning to kayak on Lake Monona, but we were wimpy and liked the idea of canoeing more than being strapped in to a kayak that would inevitably flip over. There weren’t any canoes available, so we bummed around the house for a while before heading into town. We checked out a used bike sale and then looked for treats at the local food co-op. Kirios and I bought a large spicy cheese bread and had almost half of it in one sitting. This stuff is legendary around Madison and there’s always a long line for it at the Saturday farmer’s market. We visited the farmer’s market during our last trip to the area, but they were already sold out of the good bread by the time we reached the Stella’s Bakery booth. This year we even stocked up, bringing a loaf back to Maryland with us, chilling out in my freezer as we speak!
After eating at the co-op we went for a drive and found ourselves at the Madison arboretum. We didn’t spend long there, but by the time we left we were in the mood for a bike ride (everyone is always biking in Madison). We signed up for a 24 hour pass for Madison’s bike share program B-Cycle and drove over to a bike station next to a 20 mile bike loop. When we got there, we saw a free promo code for the 24 hour passes… Too late for that though. B-Cycle offers 30 min rentals and then charges additional money for extra time beyond that. We planned to bike for just under an hour, which would be an additional $2 charge. The trail was lovely and there was even a scenic field we stopped to take pictures at before turning around. (I’m way too slow to attempt the whole 20 mile loop!) We didn’t account for picture-taking time though so we hurried back to compensate and prevent an additional automatic $5.00 charge for our bike rentals. The sign on the handlebars which said “Tick tock you’re on the clock” didn’t make us feel better either. We made it back before the hour was up, but decided that the bike share program wasn’t a great solution for a leisurely ride.
Saturday evening we had dinner at Ha Long Bay which serves Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian food. Mostly we needed to detox from excessive amounts of Wisconsin cheese, and this did the trick. I ordered crispy fried noodles, veggies, and tofu like I get at our favorite Vietnamese place in Pittsburgh. I still ate too much, but I didn’t need any lactaid pills!
We biked to downtown Madison on Sunday morning taking advantage of our 24 hour passes. It was a scorching hot day already and unlike the bike trail we were riding on streets and sidewalks with hills and bumps for which the 3-gear B-Cycle bikes weren’t ideal. By the time we returned our bikes, I was exhausted and ready to walk. I’m still a pretty new biker and I thought I did pretty well by riding three different bikes during our three different trips in August!
When we got to downtown Madison, it was filled with people for the Taste of Madison event in Capitol Square. There were four long blocks of food vendors and three stages with different themed live music lineups. Kirios and I cooled off with locally brewed beer. Our friends had at least 3 different smoothie/ices treats. We headed to The Old Fashioned’s booth for the best cheese curds in town while looking at the other options around us. We ended up making a full circle before purchasing more food, making frequent trips into the capitol building to refill our water bottles, use the restroom, and cool off. Kirios had a slider with friend onions. I had a really tasty Indian corn fritter served with rice. One of our friends and I ventured over to the “Melted: An Urban Grilled Cheese Shop” booth. (This won’t shock anyone who knew me growing up.) The shop is scheduled to open in Madison this month and won a blue ribbon at Taste of Madison. And that’s how we wound up in a 30 minute and growing line for half a grilled cheese sandwich. The line was so big people decided to join just to see what it was all about. It was a combination of buzz and inefficient serving practices. I got the “American Caprese” sandwich with cheddar and cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and green pepper. The jalapeño cheddar also sounded like a good option. My sandwich was pretty tasty. The sun-dried tomatoes provided a nice flavor, but there weren’t enough of them to take away from the buttery bread or creamy cheese. I was disappointed though overall – the veggie empanada I planned to try next was sold out by the time we got out of the grilled cheese line. It also wasn’t enough food to justify spending $4.00. Plus it was still incredibly hot outside. Our friends rode their bikes back home, leaving Kirios and I at the event for a while longer before they picked us up. Kirios made a B-line for the chocolate covered bacon on a stick. I opted for some Wisconsin-made ice cream to get over my empanada-less disappointments. Kirios was glad to help me attack my duo of flavors. He noted that while I shared with him, I was pretty focused on my solo enjoyment of the ice cream. Oops.
Monday, Labor Day, we drove to Beloit,WI to visit our hostess/friend’s mom. We took the scenic route there and it was interesting to drive through the small towns. It was also incredibly telling and sad to see the short brown cornfields which suffered from this summer’s oppressive heat waves. These are not things that Kirios and I see everyday living in the densely populated D.C. metro area. Once in Beloit, we went for a walk in the woods at the property. We cooled off with snacks and drinks and we had a lot of fun topping our own pizzas. Kirios was particularly proud of his pizza mountain with layers upon layers of toppings.
Tuesday we returned home to Maryland with spicy cheese bread and a bag of cheese curds after almost 3 hours of flight delays. We were tired from all of our traveling adventures and looking forward to the arrival of cooler autumn weather. And of course, we were very thankful for our wonderful friends for having us and making it such an enjoyable trip!
P.S. Miss the pictures? Me too. Tell Kirios to hurry up and upload some!