Best of Madison 2012: Food & Drink
GOLD: Nostrano | To fully capture Nostrano at its best, one must get out to the farm. Owners Tim and Elizabeth Dahl match each square inch of restaurant space with the same amount of garden space on Madison’s west side. Much of the menu stems from the dishes Tim himself likes to eat. “I cook what I’m hungry for,” he says flipping through a rustic Italian cookbook. “I want to eat that.” Flips a page. “That looks awesome.” It seems local diners share Tim’s tastes.
Click to view a photo slideshow of Nostrano.
SILVER: The Old Fashioned
GOLD: Merchant | Merchant is at its best right after the sun sets and the last rays of orange light intersect the golden glow of hanging lanterns, exposed bulbs and dim flicker of the tabletop candles. It’s lively but not overcrowded. The sound of booze and ice emulsifying in shakers accents the conversation. Notes of fresh herbs and citrus tantalizingly mate with aromas of grilled burgers, steaks and roast chicken. The whole place—down to the food, the wallpaper and the exposed cement floor—feels rustic and nostalgic.
Click to watch a video of Merchant.
SILVER: Buck & Honey’s
GOLD: Marigold Kitchen
SILVER: Mickies Dairy Bar | Imagine a restaurant where grandmothers, businesspeople, college athletes and preteens order the breakfast: three generous portions of cheese-topped scrambled eggs atop a bed of “yanks,” all smothered in gravy. The famous Scrambler is the dish that has brough generations to Mickies Dairy Bar since 1946. “People come here to go back in time,” co-owner Janet Thongnuam says above the laughs and clatter filling the place on a Friday morning. “It’s a place of memories.” It’s also a family affair, says Thongnuam, pointing out two of her kids working behind the counter. “And my husband’s in the kitchen.”
BRONZE: Original Pancake House
GOLD: Weary Traveler Freehouse
SILVER: Blue Moon Bar & Grill
BRONZE: Harmony Bar & Grill | The Harmony is a neighborhood joint that lives and breaths its surrounding community. It’s a fan favorite whenever the Badgers, Brewers or Packers are vying for a title and at its best during happy hour and into the evening, when regulars, softball leagues, families and friends table up around great bar food and local brews.
Click to view a photo slideshow of Harmony Bar.
GOLD: Greenbush Bakery |;At its prime time, around 5 or 6 p.m., when all the donuts have been baked and are neatly arranged on display, Greenbush Bakery is “a donut paradise,” says general manager and baker Nels Labansky. Take a tour from donut production to consumption at this year’s best bakery.
Click to view a photo slideshow of Greenbush Bakery.
SILVER: La Baguette
BRONZE: Lanes Bakery & Gift Shop
GOLD: Spotted Cow (New Glarus)
SILVER: Hopalicious (Ale Asylum) | A rush of luscious citrus aromas floods the nostrils. Lips meet the glass and pure hop flavors layered with citrus overtake the mouth. Another sip and yet no bitterness lingers. This is how Otto Dilba, co-founder of Ale Asylum Brewery, describes the first sip of a Hopalicious, but he won’t tell you that. “We want people to experience Ale Asylum for themselves,” he says. “We try never to tell people what they should think.” Well, the people have spoken, and they’ve voted Hopalicious silver for best craft brew. Even before this American Pale Ale hit the shelves, brewmaster Dean Coffey knew he he had something special. Now it’s the craft brewery’s flagship beer, making up sixty percent of Ale Asylum’s beer sales. It is clear this beer has a permanent spot on taps around Wisconsin. Hopalicious is the beer that Ale Asylum wants to be interesting for the connoisseur and easy for the novice. “We’ve got beers that are real heavy, bitter bombs, but Hopalicious is not meant to be that beer,” Dilba says. When is Hopalicious at its best? The moment you finish it and still crave another.
BRONZE: Warped Speed Scotch Ale (Lake Louie)
GOLD: Babcock Hall Dairy Store
SILVER: Chocolate Shoppe