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Ask the Locals City Guide: Madison, Wisconsin

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UW LogoPeter returned to his alma mater at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this weekend, broadcasting his radio show live from Camp Randall Stadium. Madison is consistently ranked as one of the most livable places in America, so we talked to the locals to learn about some of their favorite spots in the city.

 Marsh Shapiro, Owner, Nitty Gritty restaurant

Without being too self-serving, the Nitty Gritty has been a Madison campus tradition since the late 1960s. Back in the day, it was one of the top blues clubs outside of Chicago, hosting legendary blues artists from Muddy Waters to BB King. Today, the Nitty Gritty is a family-friendly spot, with locations on the University campus and in nearby Middletown. According to the locals, the Nitty Gritty has one of the best burgers in town and has become the place to celebrate birthdays—in fact, this past summer, the Madison location celebrated its 400,000th birthday party. For the record, the oldest birthday gal was 108 and the youngest was one day old.

Check out an interview with Marsh Shapiro on Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio here.

A Madison streetLooking for more local flavors? The Nitty Gritty is part of Madison Originals, an organization of more than 50 restaurants that are independently and locally owned.Shapiro recommends Lombardino’s Italian Restaurant & Bar, where Chef Patrick O’Halloran (no, he’s not Italian) relies on seasonal ingredients and local ingredients for is constantly evolving menu.

For a fine-dining experience, head just outside of the city limits to Quivey’s Grove. The restaurant is housed in a 19th century stone mansion, with more casual food inside the Stable Grill. This is the place to experience traditional Wisconsin-style food, with all local cheeses, sausage and fish. Ingredients come from nearby farms and even the wine list features Wisconsin wines.

Get more destination information with the Ask the Locals Travel Guides.

Smoky’s ClubAlthough one of the healthiest cities in America, Madison is a meat and potatoes kind of place, so a steak dinner is a local tradition. Shapiro recommends the Tornado Steak House for the old-style supper club experience, Mariner’s Inn right on Lake Mendota and Smoky’s Club where a martini is a must.

A visit to Wisconsin has to include a beer stop, so check out the various spots that brew and bottle their own beer. The Great Dane is a Madison institution with multiple locations, while the Ale Asylum is known for producing all-natural, unfiltered ales.

About 30 miles outside of the city is the town of New Glarus, which holds the largest Swiss community outside of Switzerland, as well as New Glarus Brewing Company which will have you yodeling for more.

Long before farmers markets became fashionable, the Dane County Farmers Market was ahead of the pack. The market moves indoors at Monona Terrace in the winter, where it’s held every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to noon. In the summer, the outdoor market takes place in Capitol Square, Saturday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Get more Wisconsin travel ideas with The Wonders of Wisconsin: An Interview With Governor Jim Doyle.

Brennan Nardi, Editor, Madison Magazine

Bicycle ParkingMadison is a biking Mecca. Had Chicago nabbed the Summer Olympics, the bicycling events would have taken place in and around the city.

The Capital City State Trail offers a 17-mile overview of the Madison area, in which bikers pass by Lake Monona, forests and fields, and over and under bridges.

If you’re in the mood for a hike, the Ice Age Trail is a handy—and beautiful—option. The thousand-mile footpath that winds through 30 counties in Wisconsin, but you needn’t trek the entire trail to take advantage of it. The 2-mile Valley View Segment on the west side of town, for instance, travels through open fields and woods and past Prairie-style homes. And on a clear day, you can glimpse the Blue Mounds in the distance.

State Street is the city’s main artery that runs from the State Capitol to the University of Wisconsin campus and is beautiful and bustling year-round. Start at either end on a leisurely stroll and you’ll take in more of the best of Madison, from trendy boutiques and art galleries to restaurants in all price points, plus plenty of laid-back campus hangouts for a beer and a brat.

Get more travel ideas in Hiking & Biking section.

Monona TerraceFor a cultural tour of State Street and downtown, don’t miss the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art inside the Cesar Pelli-designed Overture Center for the Arts, and the Chazen Museum of Art nestled into the UW campus.

While you’re exploring the campus, stop into the Memorial Union, where the outdoor terrace is the best place to take a visitor in the summer. In colder months, the view is nice from inside the student union and the Babcock Hall ice cream, made in the campus dairy plant, is perfect any time of year.

Learn more in our Cultural Travel section.

Madison has more great restaurants than it should for a mid-sized Midwestern city, and the list of fabulous ethnic dining goes on and on. Restaurant Muramoto is always a favorite. A few years back you might have dubbed it Asian fusion, but Chef Shinji’s dishes offer the kind of creativity and flavors worthy of a category all their own.Madison’s State Street Lao Laan Xang is a mouthwatering Laotian cafe situated in the heart of Madison’s hippie-era neighborhood on Williamson Street (dubbed “Willy Street” by the locals). Everybody loves LLX.

L’Etoile and Harvest boast beautiful views of the Capitol and feature seasonal menus that superbly capture the taste of Wisconsin’s rich agricultural heritage.

For a quintessentially Midwestern meal without the higher price tag, The Old Fashioned is the place. Named after the cocktail that’s mighty popular in these parts, the menu takes beer, cheese and bratwurst to a whole new level with fresh local meat and produce and dozens of local and state brews on tap.

For more information on Madison, Wisconsin, check out

And don’t miss Peter’s radio show from Madison. Check out the guests here.

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