As dozens of businesses from around Madison and nearby communities set up camp this weekend to demonstrate their abilities in the kitchen for the city's annual Taste of Madison, I was on a mission to prove that a money-making affair could be tackled on a college student's budget. I was given $10 and told to make it go as far as I could to fill my grumbling stomach.
While walking up to Capitol Square and taking in the hundreds of scents wafting through the air, I decided I needed a game plan if I was going to stick to my budget: I would use my money to get an appetizer, entrée and dessert.
The Taste sets up guidelines requiring merchants to cap their prices at $4 for each menu item, which meant my goal was certainly within reach if I was smart about my purchases.
The first stand that caught my attention was The Old Fashioned, a Madison landmark located on North Pinckney Street. It only felt appropriate to give their gooey cheese curds a fair chance if I was really expecting to taste the city.
I had seen other event attendees walking around with small bowls of tiny cheese curds, so I was pleasantly surprised when the woman working the stand handed me a large portion of the cheesy treat. At the fair price of only $3, I was more than happy to make the purchase -- so many other stands around the Square were asking for $4 for even smaller portions.
The golden brown curds, which served as a delicious appetizer, were surprisingly hot. And, although the first bite burned my tongue, I found them to be absolutely delightful. I was happy to know they were cooked fresh, unlike at some other stands that had rows of pre-portioned items laid out.
I was actually able to make a quarter of a lap around the Square while still munching on my first snack because the portion was so large, but when I saw the Wah Kee Chinese Noodle Restaurant stand offering up sesame chicken, I quickly finished my appetizer to move on to my entrée.
While I was a bit put off by the $4 price tag, knowing that it would leave me with only $3 left to spare for dessert and a drink if the chicken was too spicy, the six-piece entrée looked too good to pass up.
Luckily, my eyes were not deceiving me -- the crunchy, tangy chicken was well worth the expense, especially given the generous portion. The only complaint I had with my purchase is that it left me frantically in need of a beverage.
Still, I knew I only had $3 left, and I saw a sign ahead for chocolate chip cookie dough stuffed egg rolls from Bluephies. I was intrigued.
As I made my way toward my prospective dessert, all I could think of was that I might have to stretch my $10 budget a bit if I was going to be able to enjoy my final course.
To my surprise, I crossed paths with a Mountain Dew stand that was giving away free samples of Mountain Dew White, so I grabbed two sample cups, tossed them back and headed towards Bluephies, whose flagship restaurant is on Monroe Street.
I purchased one order of the egg rolls for $3, putting me right at the $10 mark. When the cashier handed me a bowl with a single, seemingly small dessert, I was started questioning whether the purchase would prove worthy.
But when I picked up the pastry to take my first bite, I was shocked at how heavy such a small item could be. My worries slowly began to fade away. The warm treat was essentially fried dough filled with gooey, melted chocolate chip cookie dough; it literally fell apart in my mouth.
Immediately I decided this dessert was the best purchase I had made throughout the entire trip -- if I hadn't been too full to even finish the one I had purchased, I would have definitely gone back for seconds, even if it meant a failed mission.
Overall, I would have to say the trip was a success on every level: I kept to my budget, I was satisfied with all of my purchases and I headed home with not an ounce of room left in my stomach.