Suffice it to say that this spring, just about everything has become political. And Wisconsin's own favorite sausage, the bratwurst, has not escaped the ideological debate.
This Memorial Day weekend, Madison will find itself holding not just the World's Largest Brat Fest, but also at least three alternative brat celebrations/charity fundraisers. While the impetus behind creating more grilling gatherings was unease about brat maker Johnsonville's financial backing of the Scott Walker campaign, the official sentiment going forward is: If one brat fest is good, four must be better. And if one charity fundraiser is good, why not a few more? For those of you who have not been keeping track, here is the brat rundown.
The World's Largest Brat Fest will be held at Alliant Energy Center's Willow Island, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. on May 27-29 and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on May 30. About a million bands will be playing over the course of the weekend, and on the menu: Johnsonville brats, Oscar Mayer hot dogs and Tofurkey veggie brats. New this year - roasted corn on the cob. That's right, you don't have to wait for August when sweet corn is in season. Beer, Wollersheim wine and Chocolate Shoppe ice cream will also be on sale.
The People's Bratfest is "intended to show the great local variety the people of the Farmers' Market, Madison and the whole of Wisconsin can put on together." The event will be on the Square (MLK or West Washington side, to be determined) from "roughly 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 28, or until we sell out," reports Bill Fetty, one of the event's coordinators. "We'll have vegan and vegetarian brats competing for the best 'non-brat.'" Other Farmers' Market fare will be highlighted as well.
Although this may appear to be the most political of the alt-fests, "This isn't a boycott; we support all of the charities that are involved with Wisconsin no matter whose brats they eat, buy or sell," Fetty notes. This event prefers to focus on the idea of supporting local farms and agriculture. Proceeds will go to local charities.
Wurst Times (with a hat tip to Charles Dickens - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times") will be held at the High Noon Saloon, the Brass Ring and the Brink Lounge, all at 701 E. Washington Ave., from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 28. The focus is community; attendees should bring one canned food item per person, with donations and proceeds going to Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin.
Sponsors include Minhas Craft Brewery of Monroe and Sheboygan Brats. Tofurkey veggie brats will be available, as well as the regular menu from the Brass Ring. A full slate of bands will be playing at all three venues.
Alt Bratfest, "A celebration of lotsa things local!," will be held at Orton Park from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 29. Advance ticket sales are through BrownPaperTickets.com and go on sale May 20 at midnight. This may be the foodiest of your brat-fest choices.
Sausage and charcuterie will be served and sourced from Jordandal Farms, Black Earth Meats, Goose Chaser Farms, Underground Food Collective, Alchemy, Natt Spil, Weary Traveler Freehouse and others. There will be live music; alcoholic beverages are BYO. A $10 donation = two food items and one beverage; $15 donation = three food items and two beverages. Proceeds go to local charities.
If it had been a little warmer this spring, the Madison area could be welcoming the return of Mad City Shaved Ice with open arms. However, it's been a bit too chilly, says proprietor Ken Pulliam.
Shaved ice is a more refined version of the venerable sno-cone, with a smoother chop. Pulliam originally had a shaved ice shop on West Broadway in 2002, but a hike in rent forced him to change locations to a spot on East Broadway, where "four bad cold summers" did him in. He's back this year with a custom concession trailer and a mobile vending license from the state, planning on selling at fairs and festivals throughout Wisconsin, including Monona's Fourth of July festival. And he's also applying for a permit to vend in Madison's parks.
The shaved ice comes in 35 flavors (though he hasn't pulled them all out yet), including Tiger Blood, Citrus Island and Blue Raspberry.
In addition to shaved ice, he sells fruit smoothies, stuffed pretzels and pizza, and may add Babcock ice cream.
And, because Pulliam lives on Monona Drive and his lot is actually zoned commercial, he can vend out of his driveway. He's been open already on warmer days, and reports that following a big track meet at Monona Grove High School, which is directly across the street, he had a run on smoothies.
Pulliam plans on being open in the driveway at 4405 Monona Dr. from 6 to 9 p.m. weekdays and 2 to 9 p.m. on weekends, weather permitting. It's a short detour off the Lake Monona bike path, and, if you're coming by car, a brief stay in a nearby church parking lot is permissible. For more info, call 608-444-0088.
After two and a half years, the University Square Food Court on the second floor of the new University Square is closing. "It was a tough decision," says property manager Todd Greenwald. "In a nutshell, it was not performing as forecast. It never took on the life we intended."
The court included a handful of fast-food outlets featuring subs, stir-fries and bubble tea, and plenty of spaces for students to study and eat. "We still feel it was and is a good idea to have a place like that in the campus area," says Greenwald.
The second-floor location was perhaps an out-of-sight, out-of-mind logistical problem, while the kinds of food sold stood in contrast to the mostly locally owned, singular kitchens that had found a home in the original University Square over the years.
The court opened in late August 2008, right before the financial meltdown of that September, which made the whole project all the more challenging, says Greenwald. It will remain vacant for the time being, although there has already been "substantial interest" in the space.