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Madison, Wisconsin

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  • susan waksman Mar 11, 2006 05:14 PM

My son just decided to attend grad school in Madison. Any suggestions for eating there over the next few years?

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  1. I just got accepted to grad school in Madison! If I decide to go there (I have not heard from all the schools I've applied to), we can share houndly tips. :-)

    That said, when I visited, we had a wonderful meal at a Nepalese restaurant called Chautara. It was excellent, and almost enough to convince me that Madison is not the food wasteland I had feared. I've linked to someone else's review -- you'll get the idea. Also, I heard very good things about the sushi at Wasabi.

    Congrats to your son! :-)

    Link: http://www.thedailypage.com/going-out...

    1. Congrats to your son! I came for grad school 10 years ago and never left. ;)

      Does he have any particular favorite cuisines?

      Here's some of my favorites--they skew toward the Westside because that's where I live.

      Cheap(er) Eats
      Saigon Noodle--6754 Odana Ave.
      Taqueria El Pastor--2010 South Park St.
      New Seoul Korean Restaurant--2507 University Ave.
      La Concha--3054 Fish Hatchery Rd.
      Lulu's (Middle Eastern)--2524 University
      Thai Orchid--6714 Raymond Rd.
      New Orleans Take Out--1517 Monroe St.
      Yirgalem (Ethiopan)--2623 Monroe St.
      Food carts on Library Mall
      Marigold Kitchen--118 S. Pinckney
      Lazy Jane's--1358 Williamson St.
      Manna Cafe--611 N. Sherman Ave.

      More expensive but don't have to be limited to parent visits
      Cocoliquot (small plates, French bistro inspired)--225 King St.
      Restaurant Muramoto (small plates, asian-inspired)--106 King St.
      Lombardinos--2500 University Ave.
      Harvest--21 N. Pinckney

      5 Replies
      1. re: kmendelsohn

        All fine choices, but dont forget the Plaza, home of the world famous Plazaburger!

        Link: http://www.theplazatavern.com/

        1. re: kmendelsohn
          s
          Susan Waksman

          Do you know any place with decent New York Bagels or deli?

          1. re: Susan Waksman

            The one local bagel factory, Bagels Forever (2947 University on the near West side), makes a denser, chewier bagel (as opposed to Einsteins/Noah's). My dad who's from Brooklyn says they're more authentic and likes them.

            The closest thing to a New York deli is Ella's (2902 E. Washington on the East side) which is Kosher style but not officially kosher. And the decor is a blast.

            Manna Cafe makes bialys on Sundays and matzoh ball soup on Fridays.

            We actually tend to get cold cuts/sausage from the Bavarian Sausage Kitchen (6317 Nesbitt Rd) and make our own sandwiches. Love the German Bologna and garlic salami.

            Hope this helps!

            Link: http://www.ellas-deli.com/

            1. re: kmendelsohn
              s
              susan waksman

              Thanks so much I printed Ella's menu, too.

              1. re: kmendelsohn

                Interestingly, The Chocolate Shop on State Street (the ice cream place next to Subway) serves H&H Bagels. They're frozen, but what you gonna do?

                I also really like Bruegger's Bagels (on University Ave.), FWIW.

          2. Madison has a (very) decent restaurant scene for a city of its size, but IMHO, there's a bit of a dearth of deli/bagel places - which is somewhat surprising, now that I think about it, given the fact there are so many former East Coasters (including my husband) who live here. Might be a good opportunity for any entrepreneurs out there...

            1. Lived in Madison for half my life, the other half in NJ. I can tell you the bagels do not compare here (its the water here), but Bagels Forever puts out a good product. Ella's is far from east coast good, but offers an adequate alternative. The corned beef reubon at the Nitty Gritty is good- some of the best corned beef I have tasted anywhere in the USA (and I have tasted some of the best in NYC and NJ).

              Agree with the earlier recommendation for Lombardinos, Chautara and New Orleans Take-Out. Also, just love Le Cocoliquot (sp?)- french style tapas, solid wine list (small), plus they also make their own chocolates which are to die for. Could not find a website but here is a local review (Incidentally The Daily Page offers great insights into local dining scene). http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/nod...

              Additional recommendations, here goes:
              Nitty Gritty- burgers and salads (also free beer on your birthday), located downtown on Frances and Johnson- http://www.nittygrittybirthdayplace.c...

              Thai- Sa Bai Thong- great Pad Ka-Ree- on University Avenue a mile or so west of campus- http://www.sabaithong.com/

              L'Etoile- best restaurant in Madison, but pricey ($100 per diner with wine). Originally owned and operated by Odessa Piper, a protege of Alice Waters from Berkeley who had started the whole eat local movement in the USA- all ingredients are seasonal and native to WI/IL. I recommend their special cooking classes (not hands on, but a good chance to interact with Chef Tory and learn about local ingredients)- http://www.letoile-restaurant.com/

              Wah Kee Noodle Shop- great Chinese, especially noodle dishes, inexpensive.

              Takara- Japanese- both west side and downtown. Good sushi.

              Firefly- unique Asian fusion restaurant, nice decor, slow service but great food. Good noodle dishes and fabulous brunch menu. http://www.foodfightinc.com/firefly.htm
              Incidentally, foodfight runs a few different restuarants in town, all of which are exceptional. Johnny Delmonicos is an upscale steakhouse and Monty's BluePlate Diner delivers some of the best breakfast in town (great malts too).

              Madison is a much better place to eat today than when I was in grad school. Enjoy!

              1. This kid is going to go to Ella's and run back east! Don't try to get "great" bagels, deli, or lox here. You'll only find stuff that is barely edible at best. Embrace what the midwest has that is locally "grown"...beers, sausages, local restos like lombardino's, marigold kitchen, delaney's, cocoliquot, tornado, et al.
                Stay away from foodfight resto's except for tex tubs tacos which is actually fairly tasty and fun (sit at the bar though)
                Visit the madison originals website for other great local spots then vist surrounding towns that have decent food like Monona, New Glarus, Milwaukee...

                1. Ella's Deli was great in the 60's through the mid 80's, especially the State Street store. Once that location closed, the food went rapidly down hill. We won't eat there any more, after giving the place numerous chances. It keeps getting worse. Monty's Blue Plate, Hubbard Street Diner, and Dotty Dumpling's Dowery are respectable for Madison Roadfood.

                  1. For food on the go I would recommend Myles Teddywedger's Cornish Pasty on State Street

                    1. A hearty second of this one. The pasty may not be elegant food, but they are tasty.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mike_d

                        I third Myles pastys--the steak or the ground beef are exceptional!

                      2. My favorites around the capital are: Delmonico's(steak), Peppino's(Italian), Cafe Continental(brunch or dinner), Marigold's (breakfast/brunch). Also, the Weary Traveler on Williamson street is great. I love Ian's for pizza and Wasbi does have good sushi.

                        1. La Paella on Fish Hatchery is excellent Spanish (real spanish, not mexican or south american) tapas & entrees.

                          1. Wasabi is definitely the place to go for Sushi in downtown Madison.

                            La Hacienda on Park St. is good for Mexican.

                            Pizza Oven in Monona has good thin crust.

                            As for ice cream, I'm a Chocolate Shoppe fiend. They've got stores all around town and are also served at Ella's Deli.

                            1. If son is hankering ice cream, I heartily recommend the UW's very own Ag School's ice cream--known as Babcock. It's for sale in the Memorial Union's lobby and at their own storefront in one of the dairy school buildings on campus. But your son really doesn't need my advice on this; a student can't miss this famous, delicious local wonderment.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Hot Dish

                                Actually, a couple of years ago, they closed the small storefront in Babcock Hall and built a good sized store in the middle of the 1st floor at Babcock. It is more of a soda fountain than the small store. They also offer a wide variety of cheese.

                                One more thing. The entire campus seems to be under construction in the area. Get a good map to get to Babcock as many of the roads in the immediate area are closed or blocked.

                                1. re: jlawrence01

                                  Thanks for the update on Babcock--I am a Madison native who now lives in NYC, and while I'm in town at least twice a year, I'm bound to miss some important chowhound developments. My father's a professor whose office isn't far from Babcock Hall; I have happy memories of stopping for a cone en route to his office.

                                  1. re: Hot Dish

                                    I have a vivid memory of Babcock Hall German Chocolate Cake ice cream. I have never had anything close to that since. (Dr. Babcock invented the testing of butterfat content)

                                    Sorry to hear Ella's on State closed. It was great for grilled (fried actually) poundcake turtle sundaes. Also it was the only place in town where this okie could get iced tea in the dead of winter.

                              2. One can eat well in Madison, but it's hard to eat grand. I have been in Madison exactly one year. I have found many places that are worth your lunch money, but for anything truly special you'd have to wonder about 100 to 150 miles south (which should not deter grad students too much--a daytrip to Chicago at least once a month should be on every Madisonian's menu).

                                The most interesting part of the Madison food scene has been Asian. Unfortunately, after Boston, sushi--and Japanese food in general--has been disappointing. Ginza of Tokyo has some interesting dishes (avoid the tepanyaki) but the sushi rice is not consistent and the appetizers are scary. The same goes for most other Japanese (Takara--at least two locations, and Wasabi), except, perhaps, Edo on Park St. (OK sushi, forgettable other food) And forget about Chinese food--stricktly suburban greasy spoon (either Chinese fast food or buffet--all loaded with MSG).

                                On the other hand, some good Korean (especially if you chat up the owner), Laotian, Nepalese (Chautara, plus another small joint on the same block) and Indonesian (Bandung). It's important to remember that there are three distinct areas for food hunting and some restaurants are represented in two of them, or, like Ginza, in all three. The quality may vary by location.

                                After some bad experiences with Indian food in Boston, I was relieved to find an outstanding lunch buffet at Maharajah (both East and West side). Other restaurants also often have buffet lunches and some can be quite good.

                                Having tried several Thai locations in the city, I have to side with my Thai friend and vote for SaBai-Thong on University. Recommendations for L'Etoile and CoCoLiQuot are definitely on the money--a good chunk of money for a grad student. But the food may be worth it when parents come to town.

                                Forget deli! There are enough Italian and German shops in the area to get your own cold cuts (check out Grape & Company--started by transplanted New Yorkers last year) not to worry about the lack of a good deli. I have two kids under 5, so Ella's is a frequent destination. But the food quality is mediocre, the bagels are the size of a dollar coin (and reminiscent of Lender's Bagels in texture), and I got minor intestinal problems from their cold cuts twice (kids usually eat hot food, so they are OK). People don't go there for the food.

                                Also note that Ocean Grill, Firefly, Hubbard Diner, Monty's Blue Plate Diner and a bunch of other restaurants are owned by the same group. So some culinary decisions in these places are similar. All are palatable, but not exciting (except for the total bill at the Firefly and Ocean Grill).

                                Tried and true Wisconsin food is tavern style, which explains the number of taverns and burger joints (including Nitty Gritty). There are many debates over who has the better burger, and opinions among my friends are often diametrically opposite. Same goes for another Wisconsin relic--supper clubs. So the best steak in Madison is likely the one you make on your own grill.

                                But on the shopping side, there are plenty of opportunities. The abundance of farmer's markets at least 6 months out of a year is well complemented by Brennan's (which also has good cheese). But even regular supermarkets have great selection for day-to-day cooking, although both quality and availability vary by location (my favorite destination is Copp's in Middleton on Century Ave.--best meat selection and quality). There are several Asian markets, including four within reasonable distance from University (two on University and two on Park). Public transportation is encouraged (students get free semester bus passes), but a car is a must for anything other than studying.

                                Overall, I've come to appreciate the city a great deal in the past year. Still, I go to Chicago (or at least the Northern suburbia) nearly weekly.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: aardvark_cousin

                                  excellent post aardvark-very thorough--do try the steaks though at Lombardino's and at Delaney's. Super-good to say the least.

                                  1. re: aardvark_cousin

                                    As a Madison native, I feel I have to defend our Chinese food! Try Imperial Garden (two locations, I think) for non-greasy, non-buffet Chinese food. It's my favorite restaurant, ever.

                                    1. re: kerkers

                                      I've been to the Imperial Garden and I like the supermarket they attached to the University & Allen location. But their food, although non-greasy, non-buffet, is stuck in the 1970s. It lacks flavor and flair and everything has the same texture. It's not bad for Madison, because there are just so many generic MSG-laden buffets. But that's as positive a comment as I am willing to make.

                                  2. For unusual Chowish food shopping, my favorites include Fraboni's Italian grocery on Regent St. near campus (they make very respectable sandwiches), and the Asian supermarket nearby, just south on Park St. as mentioned by aardvark.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Hot Dish

                                      I just found decent Bahn-mi at the Asian IGA on Park St. They have them every day in their chilled sodas section as well as some really good noodles in a palstic container that has bits of pork and a spicy vinegary peanut sauce. Tasty to say the least. They used to import decent bao from Chicago on Fridays, but I haven't found them for there for the last yearor so.

                                    2. Smoky's and Friday Night Fish Fry -- I grew up outside of Madison and now live in the SF Bay Area where we have outstanding restaurants for all types of food--well I can't really name a good Greek restaurant! When I head back to Madison, I stick to the steak houses and Friday night fish fry joints. Smoky's on University does a superb job with steaks and potatoes. Hash browns are an art form in the Midwest and you can have them at every meal. I also love the French Blue Cheese dressing that is often served at the steak houses. Mariners is another excellent family steak house in Madison. My brother took me to his most recent favorite spot for Friday Night Fish Fry, but I can't remember the name. For an old stand by, you could try The Stamm House. Hey Friday Fish Fry was just featured in Saveur! Don't miss the farmer's market on Saturday's by the capitol. I also miss the gyros shops on the main strip by the University. My relatives from Illinois would drive to an apple orchard putside Madison called Ski-High for the fall apple crop and the cider. Ski High is near Devil's Lake State park, a beautiful lake surrounded by glacial rocks and bluffs.

                                      1. I am coming to Madison in October and want to take my son and 10 or 12 of his friends from the University to dinner. I've read the posts and it seems that Lombardinos would be a good place. Any other suggestions for a moderate or high moderate place to go? Thanks

                                        15 Replies
                                        1. re: stanman

                                          What kind of food do you want? Lombardinos has become the Upscale Italian cuisine, but, if you want great food in the true Wisconsin vein, try the Old Fashioned, The Great Dane or Hubbard Ave Diner in Middleton for Moderate comfort food.

                                          1. re: madtowner

                                            madtowner, Thanks for responding. I'm looking for a fun place- something that not right on State Street where the kids have been before. Family style Italian, steak (if not too pricey), something with real local flavor. The Great Dane website looked good. That might be the answer. If you think of anything else, I'll appreciate it. Thanks again. Go Badgers!

                                            1. re: stanman

                                              Well, the Great Dane isn't Italian, but it is a great atmosphere. The only other real italian type restaurant that I think is great isn't even close to campus, it's Rosarios on Monona Drive, even though I haven't been there, I've heard good things. Also, there is Portabellas just off state st. http://www.portabellarestaurant.biz/

                                              1. re: stanman

                                                I almost forgot one important place if you like true italian food..The Greenbush Bar on Regent St, it's in the historic Greenbush neighborhood in the old Italian Workmans Club. They have the best Sicilian style food, and all homemade, no store bought pasta..Good Luck Choosing and Go Badgers!!

                                                1. re: stanman

                                                  delmonicos is the place for steak, but its a bit pricey. the tornado room also serves a great steak & has great atmosphere, near capital & state street.

                                                  1. re: adia

                                                    Delmonicos is pricey, but so is the Tornado Room, not nearly as, but you have to remember, stanman is taking a bunch of people out, I'm not sure if he'd want to pay a wad'o'cash just to eat comfortably..LOL..it's all good really, actually, I thought of another really great Italian place just off the square..Tuto Pasta, I think one is a cafe style and there is another right on State St.

                                                2. re: madtowner

                                                  Hubbard Diner is, well, a diner. They are popular for pies, although I was never impressed with any of their food. If you want to truck out to Middleton, into my neck of the woods, you might as well go for Griglia Tuscany, another upscale Italian. Leave Hubbard for a group brunch. Another possibility closer to the university is Firefly, but it has mixed reviews.

                                                  If you want more ethnic food, either SabaiThong (Thai) on University or Chaotara (Nepalese, sort of) on State will accommodate large groups with advance notice (you can arrange a fixed banquet menu for the lot and pay per person).

                                                  The most recently popular joints are CocoLiquot and Sardines (both more bistro style and opened within the last year). I have not been to either, but both are always full and seem to be fast-paced.

                                                  My recommendation is based on the fact that if you wanted the Wisconsin flavor, you would have lived here. But if that's what you are looking for, just follow the crumbs.

                                                  1. re: aardvark_cousin

                                                    Umm, I already live in Madison, I think you would be referring to the poster named Stanman, I already know of Cocoliquot and Sardine, nice places, but pretty expensive for my pocket book, plus, I wouldn't think the poster would want to bring in a bunch of young college kids to Cocoliquot nor Sardine, he's looking for more Italian and Steak type places.....

                                                    1. re: aardvark_cousin

                                                      FYI- Griglia Tuscany closed last spring (they said they did not want to compete with PF Changs and Abuelos and Quaker Steak and Lube which were just opening down the road- too bad).
                                                      I believe Tutto Pasta is opening or just opened up in its place.

                                                      1. re: madsdadus

                                                        You're absolutely correct. I live practically across the street from them and did not notice their passing until recetnly. Tutto Pasta is now open in the next block.

                                                        In reply to madflower, I'd like to apologize for an earlier confusion--I replied to the thread, not a specific message, which is why it was posted as a "reply to madflower". But I also disagree that a somewhat upscale bistro would be out of bounds for college kids who usually don't have an opportunity to go to such places, especially since they are being treated. And if the kids are Chow material, then going to a steakhouse is not going to set their hearts on fire.

                                                        1. re: aardvark_cousin

                                                          That's okay, It can be confusing. I am certainly not disagreeing with what you said about Cocoliquot, or Sardine, I was just responding to what stanman was looking for, family style, steak not expensive..:) I've not been to Cocoliquot, but there website gives prices and etc..nice but waaaay out of my league for sure. FYI: there is going to be a Brazilian Steak House coming to Madtown, not sure of the name yet, but I guess the owner of the Church Key on University will be starting it up, it sounds interesting!

                                                          1. re: madtowner

                                                            Any more word on the Brazilian Steakhouse? Have not seen anything. Also, patiently awaiting the start of Roman Candle in Middleton. Not having been to the East Side Roman Candle, is it all hype or is it really that good on the East Side?

                                                            1. re: madsdadus

                                                              Here is the link that I have on the Steakhouse thing
                                                              http://www.madison.com/tct/features/s...
                                                              As far as Roman Candle, I really haven't eaten there, I had read on the daily page forum in the Isthmus that it was a mixed review of pizza etc...I heard that La Rocca's on Willy St had good pizza though, so I guess the best thing is to try it!!.

                                                  2. re: stanman

                                                    I would second Greenbush- moderately priced, terrific pizzas and comforting soups, wonderful bread, and an eclectic menu that changes seasonally- think Smoked Trout Salad that was great. Plus, there is a fun crowd there. I do not think they take reservations so it may take a while for a bigger crowd on a football weekend. Lombardinos is a wonderful recommendation, although I would not classify it as fun. Great Dane is good bar food (and they have an enclosed patio that is terrific in good weather), but so is the Nitty Gritty (outstanding burgers, but limited menus on football weekends, with probably a bigger party atmosphere than the Great Dane). Pregame, you should check out State Street Brats for some Wisconsin staples.

                                                    You did mention fun, and one of the most fun restuarants in all of Madison is Jolly Bob's Jerk Joint on Williamson Street. Sure, big difference between Italian and Jamaican food. But very high on the fun quotient. And if the kids are legal, the best drinks in town (and almost anywhere in the USA, and I've spent lots of time in NY, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, SF, DC, Miami). The food is outstanding- spicy to make you sweat. Fragrant fish options incorporating many chutneys. YUM! They do not take reservations either, but you won't mind an hour or two in their bar either. Bonus if their outside is open- very casual with plastic lawn chairs/tables right out of your local Target- complete with fountain and trees.

                                                    Enjoy the eats!

                                                    1. re: madsdadus

                                                      Is Jamerica still across the street from Jolly Bob's? Although I would also rec. JB's for a group who wanted to enjoy the drinks and the outdoor dining, I thought the food was actaully better at the tiny, funky Jamerica.

                                                  3. I went to a Himalayan/Indonesian place there last week - Dohban on Atwood. I thought it was very good. Very good service as well.

                                                    1. I'm surprised that no one's mentioned the Memorial Union Terrace -- when the weather's good, a bratwurst and draught beer by the lake is a dining experience that can't be beat anywhere. Finish it off with Babcock Hall ice cream. With all due respect, Aardvark_cousin, you're out of your element.

                                                      Lombardino's has really been turned around (under new ownership) to be a very tasty and actually surprisingly authentic Italian eatery. It's a good bet.

                                                      The Old Fashioned is the new breakout hit -- try the Sheboygan brat or fried walleye, get an artisanal cheese plate, and make sure to drink the Spotted Cow on draught (if you're of legal age, of course.)

                                                      I'm a New York City bagel snob (I settled on Terrace Bagels of Brooklyn as my favorite, but I will give props to H&H and Tal), and I like Bagels Forever -- a lot. They make them fresh, constantly, and they're cheap as hell. Just the right amount of dense and chewy -- in my top ten (if not top five) bagels anywhere.

                                                      Nick's on State St. isn't a great eatery (except for the homemade pies -- I like the pecan and apple) but it's a great bar. Cozy and classy as hell.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: jrnorton23

                                                        I may be out of my element, but not because of the quality of the food. I don't like sharing my food with six-legged creatures and they seem to be abundant at all food outlets at the Union. I'll pass, tyvm.

                                                        I can understand why Spotted Cow is so popular around Madison--next to the state-standard Miller or Miller Lite, it actually tastes like it has some heft. If you are used to drinking anything other than Miller (even Bud--yuk!), Spotted Cow tastes like water (or worse). I'll take something from Great Dane or Capitol any day, especially since I live in the Capitol Brewery's shadow. THAT's tap!

                                                        Actually, that's another reason I don't hang out at the Terrace--the beer selection is wanting. I suppose, I am a beer snob, but I'd rather lose the view and hang out at the back porch of Great Dane. Decent food too!

                                                      2. L'Etoile was just named one of Gourmet Magazine's top 50 restaurants. When ever possible they use local, organic vegetables and local grass fed meats. The food is fantastic and I highly suggest a visit sometime, but as others have mentioned it can be pricey. Check out their website,
                                                        www.letoile-restaurant.com

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: GoLocal

                                                          L'etoile's biggest hand up on anyone in town is their veteran pastrymaking, which is outstanding. The rest of their food is very good and locally grown, but personally, I far prefer its neighbor Harvest as my top spot in Madison to eat. They also cook using local ingredients and have multi-course dinners themed on individual ingredients each month. Think Cappucino Truffle Lobster Bisque, White Truffle Risotto, and Key Lime Tart with Shaved White Truffle for some....

                                                        2. I had a great lunch with my goddaughter and her mother yesterday at Husnus, a Turkish/Mediterranean place. The address is 547 State Street. The phone is (608) 256-0900.

                                                          1. I'm constantly amazed at how little press my favorite Madison restaurant gets. Mekong, a Thai/Vietnamese place in the Gateway Mall, also home to the previously mentioned Bandung, may not win any prizes for atmosphere, but every dining experience I've had there has been spectactular! For my midwestern tastebuds, the deep fried crab meat pockets are the best I've had, and I've had many. Their lemongrass and basil dishes as well as al of their larb varieties and their papaya salad are as flavorful as anything I've had in the city. An added draw is waitress/sister to the owner Annie who will know you by name by your second visit, know your preferences by your third, and is always able to provide suggestions based on your personal palate.

                                                            Sa Bai Thong, mentioned above, is my former favorite for Thai, but it is nowhere near as reliable for the transcendent experience consistently provided by Mekong.

                                                            Madison now has an excellent Chinese restaurant. China Palace on Madison's north side draws customers from all over town with it's American style Chinese and reportedly very authentic Native Szechuan menus.

                                                            Finally, I was drawn into this posting in the first place while doing a search for Ella's Deli. Both the downtown and E. Washington locations have been favorites of mine since before I moved to Madison as a student 15 years ago. On a recent visit, however, I was amazed at how overpriced and just BAD the food has become. I'm sure they can get away with less on the food front because of their as far as I know, unique in all the Midwest atmosphere. Even that, though, seems to hold a lot less charm than it posessed only a few years ago. Maybe it's my jaded eyes, but it seems that today's Ella's is a far cry from the fairyland it was in the late 80's. They've always been purveyors of popular culture--with a Beatles display being among my earliest Ella's memories--but now every other tableau has a television tie-in. Am I right or am I painting a too-rosy picture of the Ella's of yore?

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: nitsua

                                                              I think you are right on with Ella's Deli. My kids (2 and 4) no longer want to go there. It's become boring to them. Even last weekend, as we were munching on mediocre sushi, they were given an option to go to Ella's for ice cream. The 4yo reply? "Do they have ice cream here?"

                                                              The crowd there, especially when it's full, seems to consist mostly of groups of high-school or college students who've been going there for years and of large local families who want the grandparents to have an experience with their grandchildren. Weekends there are still increadibly full, with lines out the door by 11 am.

                                                            2. So Susan-

                                                              Now that it has been 9 months, have you had a chance to try any of the above? And if so, what have you found? I have looked at some of your replies but I have not seen any critiques of our critiques.

                                                              1. I just got back from my first meal at Sardine, which everyone in town has been raving about both for the quality of food and the accompanying price.

                                                                We had a nice charcuterie plate to start off with. My girlfriend got a wonderfully delicate salmon with portabello mushrooms and spinach in a beurre blanc sauce over french lentils. Their other fish courses, from the trusted opinions I've heard, are similarly well prepared. My lamb chops with sauted escarole, white beans, and tomatoes confit and an herb au jus were delicious, if slightly salty. The total for the appetizer, 2 entrees and $10 wine corking fee was $63, which is much lower than one would expect for the type of smart and well-prepared meal we ate.

                                                                Can't wait to go back when it's nice out because the view of the Monona Terrace and the lake is great.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: mrbeermug

                                                                  Greenbush, Greenbush, Greenbush.....great asthetics, great food. Try the calamari and of course, one of their wonderful pizzas. I go at least once or twice a month.
                                                                  Harvest over L'Etoile??! No way....It's just a cheap imitation started by an incredibly bitter woman. Ask questions about the menu and you'll discover very quickly they are just capitalizing on Madison's love of their farmer's market and the trend of buying local.
                                                                  Also of note are the wine and producer dinners at L'Etoile.......
                                                                  Did I mention you should go to Greenbush???!

                                                                2. When I'm en route from Minneapolis to Chicago or vice versa, I stop at the Willy Street Coop (on Williamson). They have made to order sandwiches, sandwiches and desserts to go, great produce, a salad bar, the works. Your son might think about joining, although you don't have to be a member to shop there.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: slowfoodgrrl

                                                                    Willy St also has some of the best pre-packaged sushi in town! Extremely fresh and delish! If he lives anywhere near the east side, he should definitely join. I have been a member for probably more years than he has been alive.....

                                                                  2. Just thought I'd post my fave tavern food place: the Blue Moon Bar. Yes, most all the side dishes are deep fried but the burgers are great - esp the Blue Moon Burger with blue cheese and garlic. Casa Bianca has the best pizza west of New York - not that I feel strongly about it or anything...
                                                                    I like the menu at the Great Dane and the food is good and consistent.

                                                                    1. we're going to be in madison for a few days this week, and this thread has been really useful.

                                                                      in case anyone has read this thread and is worried about the lack of bagels, gotham bagels is apparently new and when we stopped on our way through madison this summer, we were really impressed by the quality and frendliness of the whole place.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: lettezilla

                                                                        I know that Muramoto recently won some awards. Is there any new spots or worthwhile spots not mentioned in this thread?

                                                                        1. re: dave43

                                                                          Magnus is in the top 5 of Madison, IMO, especially with the new Norwegian menu. Not mentioned here for some reason. L'Etoile, Muramoto, Magnus, Lombardino's, Eno Vino.

                                                                          The Brazilian Steakhouse has been open for a while too. Great food, but maybe not a great value (are any of these places?). It's called Samba.

                                                                          1. re: TAsunder

                                                                            >> Not mentioned here for some reason.

                                                                            Most of this topic is 3-4 years old. I've found newer overviews of Madison dining to be more useful and up-to-date:

                                                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/462929
                                                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/570274
                                                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/608266 (breakfast)

                                                                      2. Just a few of my personal favorites:

                                                                        Italian - Lombardino's

                                                                        Japanese - Takumi

                                                                        BBQ - Smoky Jon's (which has won best BBQ at the national contest 6 years in a row)

                                                                        Bistro - Sardine

                                                                        Burger - Dotty's Dumpling Dowry

                                                                        Barfood - Great Dane or Weary Traveler

                                                                        Thai - Sa Ba Thong or Ha Long Bay

                                                                        Burrito - El Pastor

                                                                        Slice - Ian's

                                                                        Whole Pizza - Pavlov's

                                                                        Brick Oven Pizza - Pizza Brutta

                                                                        Fries - Brasserie V (also best for beer)

                                                                        Place to Hang - Union Terrace

                                                                        1. i'm surpised no one mentioned Nadia's on State Street.

                                                                          Hong Kong Wok in Hilldale Shopping Center has authentic (and awesome) congee and fried vermicelli on their weekend brunch menu. Some dishes here are authentic, some americanized, but overall very yummy. It might be a tad bit far from campus though.