Actually, before we get to Milwaukee and Madison, let’s start with my farewell to Appleton:
So I didn’t know these were a real thing. I’m pretty sure I read about these by-products of cheese-making somewhere like in the Little House on the Prarie, but they’re a real thing in Wisconsin. As in, I passed a child at the farmer’s market literally on the verge of a temper tantrum growling “Cheese curds!” at his mom. “No cheese curds if you don’t stop touching your sister,” she replied, exasperated. His response: “I WANT CHEESE CURDS!”
The cheese curds pictured above are a simple recipe Erik’s mom whipped up (note: in Wisconsin, people have RECIPES for cheese curds)–curds sprinkled with a little dill. Simple compared to recipes like deep fried battered cheese curds, but I still thought the dill improved the flavor over the plain cheese curd. When they’re fresh, or about a day old or less, they really do squeak between your teeth–slightly unsettling. As for the taste…as Erik put it, “It’s less dense than normal cheese with a watered-down cheddar flavor.”
Kid, you can have mine.
Back to the farmer’s market. Erik’s parents took us before we left for Milwaukee. It was VAST.
They blocked off an entire street for it! There were two teenage boys playing violin on a street corner, hula hoops for sale, a guy doing some kind of magic show for children, and tons and tons of food vendors. We stopped at:
- a handmade pasta stall (think sun-dried tomato basil fettucini, squid ink spaghetti, and garlic parsley ravioli)
- an artisanal chocolate stall
- various fresh produce stands (corn abounds by the box)
- (considered) stopping at a stall selling fresh corn sliced off the cob and mounded in a cup with salt, butter, mayo, chili powder, etc.
- a place selling a strange combination of stuffed wings and funnel cakes.
We got two crab and avocado spring rolls to share with a thick peanut dipping sauce:
topped off with a funnel cake:
Then, after a snack of fricatta bread (a round of fluffy focaccia-like bread baked with cheese, tomato sauce and veggies on top) and artisanal chocolates…
…we hit the road for Milwaukee. We stopped to visit Erik’s grandparents in Milwaukee and planned on grabbing a quick dinner before hitting Summerfest, which is apparently earned the title of the “World’s Largest Music Festival” in 1999 from the Guiness World Records.
I had no idea what to expect from Summerfest (except a lot of music), but I did know what I wanted for dinner: Noodles & Co. I’d heard lots about this noodle-serving chain from my sister and I really wanted to try it, but Erik wasn’t the biggest proponent of Noodles and by the time we left his grandparent’s house, I was really just craving a stack of pancakes (surprise!).
So we went to Comet Cafe, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant I’d found on Yelp that was supposed to have super fluffy sour cream pancakes and of course we found that they only served breakfast foods until 3 p.m. Erik got the grilled cheese and tomato soup:
I got the Vegetable Heaven salad with marinated tofu, roasted red peppers, carrots, almonds and a citrusy-ginger dressing:
Objectively, it was probably a very good salad–the tofu was among the best crispy marinated tofu I’ve had. (But I just really wanted pancakes.)
Then we finally went to Summerfest!
Erik really wanted corn.
Do you want to know why that corn is so good? BECAUSE THEY DUNK IT IN A VAT OF BUTTER BEFORE HANDING IT TO YOU. Hence the napkin at the end of the stalk to soak up all the butter that would otherwise drip down your wrist. It was pretty freaking good.
Summerfest, however, was not exactly what we expected. It was less music and more about the enormous variety of food stalls and carnival-like attractions. We didn’t stay as late as we expected, which gave us an earlier start on Madison 🙂
We walked around and enjoyed State Street at night, which is completely blocked off to cars. We finally landed at a place called Coopers Tavern where we tried a really crisp and refreshing apple cider on their cute outside patio. It was $8 for that huge bottle that had at least 3 servings and the menu was littered with $5 or $6 glasses of wine. Definitely a deal.
Unfortunately they had to move us inside at 1 a.m., but the inside wasn’t too shabby either. The long bar is mirrored by a row of small wooden tables and flanked by several large, round plank-like tables. They advertise their craft beers above the bar and are apparently home to Madison’s best burger. They have fairly comprehensive brunch, lunch and dinner menus with an intriguing “Dessert Poutine” of lemon poppy seed “frites,” butterscotch “gravy,” and vanilla malt cream “curds.”
A return visit may be necessary.
The next morning, we went to a super cute cafe called Crema Cafe (another Yelp find) for brunch. Erik got the breakfast sandwich:
And I got the pancakes. Door County cherry pancakes.
I soaked them in a smear of the knob of butter and a tiny bit of syrup to counterbalance the somehow tangy batter.
They were (smartly) on the small side. All that soft cakiness thoroughly laced with squishy, tart cherries and crunchy sliced almonds can get a little heavy. THEY WERE MIND-BLOWING.
I started craving them as soon as we left, which led to another pancake kick. I’ll tell you about the awesome ones I just made soon!
Then we drove back to State Street and walked around for awhile. We passed this Noodles & Co. about five times and managed to not go in once. Someday!
Then we stopped in Madison Market where I picked up some fruit for the plane. I hear this is where all the cool kids from University of Wisconsin-Madison shop 😉
At the airport, I discovered that my flight was delayed half an hour. Which turned into an hour. Which turned into an hour and a half. Most of which I spent wandering around the airport which would have been fine except for the sizeable duffel bag that I was hauling around. The strap of that bag and my shoulder are no longer friends.
I finally got home around 12:30 that night feeling a combination of sweaty, groggy, exhausted and dirty (oh, airports) and found this beautiful surprise waiting on my desk:
My “secret admirer” bought these before we left for Wisconsin because he knew I’d be coming back late at night and probably grumpy (he knows me so well!). They’re a week old in this picture, but still beautiful!
His phone number is on the inside of the note. Embarrassing story: I was on the phone with Erik when I saw the flowers/note, squealed, and promptly hung up so that I could figure out whose number was on the inside of the note. Um…it was his.
Note to self: memorize boyfriend’s phone number.
Best boyfriend EVER!