Sure, dinner out on Valentine's Day is a classic move, and many restaurants cater to couples with special menus and prices to make dining out a no-brainer experience. But what if you had a plan that was a bit more out of the ordinary, a bit more adventurous, and even a bit more impressive to that special someone? Here are six ideas for impromptu food tours that will make Valentine's Day 2017 one you'll remember - and who knows, maybe it will even mark the start of a new tradition? Go ahead and take credit for these ideas. We won't tell.
Tour #1: All Sweets, All Day
Valentine's Day is the one night when you definitely don't skip dessert, so why not just make it an all-dessert, all-day extravaganza?
Start your tour with a stop at the brand spankin' new, second location of Bloom Bake Shop on Monroe Street. Selections vary, but you can't really go wrong with whatever you choose - from whoopies to cookies to cupcakes. (Our personal favorites are the cinnamon roll cupcakes, pictured below.)
Then, rendezvous at midday with your sweetheart at Dough Baby Bakery on State Street. They have more than just doughnuts, but make sure you get at least one of them. The women behind Dough Baby have raised doughnuts that are just, well, tastier than most. The dough itself is just-right dense, just-right rich and not too sweet, and they use coconut oil for frying so you can feel good about that in the middle of your cream-filled, dessert-filled day. Right?
Finally, before you head to dinner, start with dessert at Humble Sweet and Savory Pies on Regent Street. Like all the bakeries on this tour, the selections change daily based on what's fresh and available locally. Just count on being able to get a variety of sweet and buttery pies (take it from their head baker, Jennifer)
Tour #2: Latin Lover
You can fill your day, your tummy and your soul with the flavors and colors of Latin America, even if (like us) you happen to be totally Midwestern.
We suggest starting the morning with a stop into Barriques for the Mexican Mocha. It's chocolately, sure, but the kick of the cayenne pepper is what you'll really notice. See more food from Barriques on hankr
For lunch, pay a visit to La Taguara (two locations in Madison) for authentic Venezuelan food. The menu can seem new and unfamiliar, but don't worry! The staff is always ready to explain the options and flavors and make recommendations that fit your tastes. Our favorite is the Cachapa con Queso. A cachapa is a sweet corn pancake (pictured below, on the right) filled with a blend of cheeses, and it's as incredible as it is unique in Madison . Close second: any of the arepas.
For dinner, we suggest La Mestiza on the west side. Unassuming in location (part of the Market Square development) and unbelievable in taste, flavor and presentation. La Mestiza is one of those hidden gems in Madison that regulars don't want you to know about. Try the enchiladas, and get the guacamole! The portion sizes aren't huge, so you'll have room for dessert later.
Tour #3: Beer, Food and Bar Games!
Food is fun to eat. Good beer is fun to drink. Games are fun to play. Here's a tour that combines the fun of all three into one super-fun night.
To kick things off, advance straight to Karben4 Brewing for apps and taps. We recommend getting an order of house-made pretzel sticks or warm beer bread (mmm, beer bread) to go with your Tokyo Sauna, and grab one of the available board games to play while you sip and eat.
With your appetite primed and your competitive spirit awoken, scoot (or Uber) toward downtown to Next Door Brewing on Atwood. Bring a deck of cards with you, play a rowdy game of SlapJack (or whatever two-player game you can effectively play while eating burgers on Stella's hot spicy cheese bread) and - yes - have a beer.
Your final move is to head to The Brass Ring on East Washington Ave. The Ring is the current king of Madison pool, with eight pro-size tables. If pool's not your thing, play a few games of shuffleboard or darts while you and your competitor totally destroy a plate of late-night Irish Nachos. Game, set, match. See more food from The Brass Ring on hankr
Tour #4: Fresh and Heart Healthy
Dessert all day...bar food all night...OK, maybe we need a lighter option. We can do that!
Is there such thing as a destination granola bar? If you ask that question to anyone that's been to Firefly Coffeehouse in Oregon, the answer is absolutely YES. They're filled with whole nuts, heart-healthy oats, dried fruit and all-natural peanut butter, and one bar is enough of a breakfast to keep you going all morning.
After getting out and spending the rest of your morning with your Valentine, re-fuel at Forage Kitchen on State Street. There are a number of signature salads or grain bowls, or you can build your own bowl with greens, grains, proteins and all things fresh, healthy and hearty.
Time now for a sensible dinner! For this meal, swing over to Oliver's Public House on Old University Ave. Oliver's is a scratch kitchen and offers really great small plates that change frequently. Talk to your server about what you like and they'll guide you to what's right. Best of all, their cocktail program is one of Madison's best, so you can toast your loved one (and your good health) deliciously. See food from Oliver's on hankr
Tour #5: Cozy by the Fire
We all know a warm fire can be as romantic as it gets, so this tour keeps you warm and toasty all night.
Start at the upstairs bar at The Wonder Bar on Olin Avenue for their signature Wonder Bar Side Car within range of the beautiful wood-burning fireplace. Dreamy looks into your partner's eyes are optional, but suggested.
If you can escape The Wonder Bar without eating, head to dark and cozy Natt Spil on King Street. Not only will you enjoy a pizza from their wood-fired oven, you'll also now be able to say you've been to a Chinese Norwegian Pizza Disco (the menu at the Natt Spil is eclectic, and DJs perform nightly). It's a cash-only spot, FYI.
For your final stop, find your way to the Memorial Union and grab a table by the fire in Der Rathskellar. Whether or not you're a UW Madison grad, this is a great spot for beer, or ice cream, or both. And time at the Union is always better with friends, so invite others to meet you there and exchange stories of the evening's culinary conquests while you listen to crackling wood and stare across the table through memories so thick you'll have to brush them away from your faces (h/t James Earl Jones).
Tour #6: Underground Valentines
Our sixth and final food tour recommendation for making your Valentine's Day great takes us underground to some of Madison's best subterranean hangouts.
If it were us, we'd start at The Heritage Tavern on Mifflin. They're featuring a special menu on Valentine's Day, but we have food in store at your next stop so just have a hand-crafted cocktail or two at the ground-floor bar that makes you feel as though you're below street level in midtown Manhattan.
Now it's time for dinner, and for good eats below the streets there really is no better choice than Greenbush Bar on Regent Street. The restaurant is in the basement of the historic Italian Workman's Club Building that, like the Greenbush neighborhood in general, has a storied past. Nowadays, it's home to fantastic housemade pizzas, a good beer selection and classic cocktails, and a come-one-come-all vibe.
When the pizza is all gone but you're just not ready to call it a night, make the downstairs rathskellar at the downtown location of The Great Dane your final stop. Who knows if anyone feels like eating at this point, but at least you'll have the option of a nightcap beer in an old stone basement that could be haunted for all we know. And if the idea of spending the last moments of your romantic underground evening with just you, your date and a few ghosts isn't the best idea we've had in this article, hey - let's hear you come up with something better!
Bonus Tour #7: Just Food You Love
If all you're really looking for is a great meal out at a local restaurant, then hankr can help with that, too. Visit www.hankr.it, or download the free app for Apple and Android and start finding the food that fits your mood on Valentine's Day and any day.