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From the Farm to the Table: The Bounty of Madison, Wisconsin

By Paul Rowe

Madison is home to the largest producer-only farmers market in the country, with attendance of over a half million people per year. Many restaurants are completely farm-to-table.

"For us, farm-to-table simply means that we buy our ingredients straight from reputable local farms," says Merchant's Culinary Director Evan Dannells. "Because we have the luxury of being surrounded by so many artisanal farms with a diversity of product, farm-to-table here in Madison simply means eating well and sourcing your ingredients locally."

Because Merchant buys locally, their menu is constantly changing in fluidity with the seasons, creating an authentic representation of the bounty of Madison, Wisconsin.

For Merchant, buying locally also means serving the highest quality of ingredients while extending the true craft of farming. This positively impacts the community, the environment, and yes, the palate.

"Merchant has cultivated a company rooted in the industry, the community, and our staff," says Joshua Berkson, Co-Owner of Merchant. "Everything we do connects us to the rich, evolving culture of the neighborhood, which stands for history, quality, authenticity, style, approachability, and fun."

With the rise of "New American" cuisine, the Travel Network, the Food Network, the Slow Food movement, and AirBnB, there is a new demand for services that are genuine, human, local, and served with pride. "We are in the midst of a huge food revolution in America," says Berkson."There is a pervasive American Craft Movement taking place in urban centers all over the country and the winners in the movement are the ones who champion age-old methods, local economies, local ingredients, and people. I'm proud to be a part of it."

Among the many popular dishes at Merchant are the house ground and grass-fed burger, the charcuterie and cheese plates, small plates, steaks, chops, roast chicken, and the assortment of seasonal small plates.

The dining room feels bar-like, boasting a selection of craft cocktails. "Our Regret cocktail is our most popular drink," says Dannells. "One of my favorite summer cocktails that we just put on the menu is called the Herbie Husker, created by my colleague Sean Davis. It's a riff on corn with Mellow Corn Whiskey, house-made fresh corn-raspberry-rhubarb syrup, lemon juice, and Bittercube's Jamaican #2 Bitters."

The drink selection is deeply rooted in history and culture. The diversity of Merchant's drinks matches that of its dining menu.

"At Merchant, we have a platform to express ourselves across the American repertoire, which, because we are a land of immigrants, can be from anywhere," says Dannells.

Working hand in hand with bakers, artisanal cheese makers, distillers, and wine and beer producers with a classically trained team has helped carve a niche for Merchant in Madison's thriving craft scene.

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About The Author

Paul Rowe is a graduate instructor of writing and master's student of Literature at...

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