By the time I made it to the twenty-fifth annual Taste of Madison early Sunday evening, the two-day festival was already winding down. Starting shortly after the farmers' market packed up early on Saturday afternoon, the Taste brought tens of thousands of people downtown to sample dishes from nearly seventy restaurants and caterers from around the city and surrounding region, not to mention the four stages of live music. The crowds were still thick at these locations on Capitol Square, but with less than two hours left in the feed, many menu items were no longer available.
The primary thing I stopped by for was, though. This was the chocolate chip cookie dough egg roll presented by Bluephies. An appropriately gooey treat to accompany the late summer heat, the dessert is a perennial award winner and favorite at the Taste. And again, it didn't disappoint.
Otherwise, there wasn't too much there that drew my interest. Having visited the Taste nearly every year over the last decade, and not particularly interested in sampling dishes from the latest chains making their way to Madison, I only made a couple of other stops. The obligatory cheese curds and a small pile of French fries were fair, but hardly different from those available at any tavern or carnival deep fryer.
Ultimately, it was the familiar that satisfied most in a sea of familiarity. Even though I've eaten lunch there scores of times, the King of Falafel was my favorite stop. A skewer of chicken and a cool cup of Vimto from this underrated restaurant located near the curve where Gorham turns into University provided for a fitting conclusion to my visit to the Taste.
There were as many experiences at this year's Taste of Madison as there were visitors, though, a few of which were shared online. Blogging and photos from the festival follows:
- "It looks just like Art Fair on the Square except there's no art and lots of food," wrote Dave Okonski in the introduction to a short photo gallery of the Taste.
- Rick Packard attended the Taste on both Saturday and Sunday. He had mixed reviews for his first visit:
You long-time Dane County residents will remember the three Brat und Brau restaurants from days of yore -- they were great establishments for good food, drink, and lots of free popcorn. Frankly, I wish the Brat und Brau would just stay in the past, though, instead of rearing its ugly head every year at the Taste…His visit to the second day of the Taste was better, though. "After yesterday's dismal food choices, I was much more particular with my purchases today, wrote Packard. "And overall, I was very happy with my food-- so I'd have to give today's visit two thumbs up."
We then made our annual pilgrimage to Ruby Chinese and American Restaurant to sample the Crab Rangoon and Cashew Chicken. There were about a zillion Asian restaurants at the Taste this year, and Ruby's food was easily the best of the lot…
- "As an individual keenly interested in food, and someone who also appreciates living in the city with the most restaurants per capita, I await the yearly event with great anticipation," wrote Monica Halberg. "For me, the gastronomical event satisfies the desire for flavor diversity without the uncomfortable feeling of fullness..." she concludes.
- Jordan Ellenberg shared an amusing story about a case of mistaken identity caused by some spilled squash curry.
- One fan noted selections from Bluephies, The Melting Pot, Hong Kong Café, and Carlos O'Kelly's. The highlight of the bunch?
I think my favorite thing there was Bluephies' chocolate chip cookie dough eggroll. As its name alludes, it was a blob of chocolate chip cookie dough wrapped up in an eggroll crust and deep fried. Unhealthy for sure, but the little treat tasted awesome! The deep-frying process retained the cookie dough filling's doughy texture while warming it to perfection and melting the chocolate chips. It was so rich!
- One attendee simply listed six dishes she sampled at the festival.
- "It was hot, and there were too many people, but the Taste of Madison was fun anyway," wrote another attendee who had high praise for the double vanilla cheesecake from Lombardino's.
- There were nearly as many people commenting on the music at the Taste. Consultant Bill Geist, a former president of the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, commented on the performance by Rock and Pop Masters, something of a contract supergroup featuring a rotating cast of B-list musicians that gave their first show on Saturday afternoon. "Former Survivor lead vocalist Jimi Jamison was in fine form on his featured songs and former Pat Travers guitarist Jerry Riggs simply cooked," wrote Geist. "Toss in a surprise guest appearance from Joe Lynn Turner (former Deep Purple/Rainbow) launching into an impromptu version of "Hush," and it was a great couple o' sets."
- Another attendee
- Another music fan had high praise for Trent Tomlinson, a country singer from Missouri who played the Taste on Sunday afternoon: "I am definitely sold. If you ever get a chance to see him perform, run, don't walk."
- Finally, Clear Blue Betty published a photo gallery from their weekend show.
Next year marks the start of a second quarter-century for the Taste of Madison, and will be held on Labor Day weekend, August 30-31, 2008.