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Friday, December 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Light Snow
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Eating at the 2011 Taste of Madison on ten bucks
At only $3, The Old Fashioned's generous and delicious helping of cheese curds easily beat out those offered at other stands for $4.
Credit:Pamela Selman

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.

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