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Madison WI for Parents Visiting UW Student

Actually, he's our nephew, but it's the same idea.

In a few weeks we will be visiting our nephew, a freshman at UW-Madison, for part of a day on a Sunday. We plan to take him out to eat, although we haven't yet decided what time we will get up there, so this could be for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Obviously it needs to be a place that's open on Sunday. Casual attire is a definite (knowing Madison, that probably doesn't eliminate much, especially since L'Etoile isn't open Sundays anyway). Proximity to the university campus is desirable. (I'm familiar with the downtown square immediately around the capitol, but not at all with the campus or the rest of town; I don't know if the downtown places are considered close, or if there are a bunch of other places closer to campus.) So much the better if it's a place that a university student would consider a real treat (which may be due to quality of food, special atmosphere, portion sizes, etc). I'm not aware of any specific preferences or requirements he may have regarding types of food, but AFAIK he's pretty open-minded. No sushi, please!

I've reviewed the two comprehensive discussions on Madison here (at www.chowhound.com/topics/125180 and www.chowhound.com/topics/418838 ) but haven't gotten far enough to know what places mentioned there might be (a) close to the university, (b) open Sundays, or (c) particularly impressive for a university student.


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  1. I don't think you should rule out the area around the Square on distance from campus. The campus abuts the end of State st., though it is large in area.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mike_d

      That is, campus extends west quite aways, but the east end is at the end of State St. 15 min. walk to the Capitol?

    2. I was visiting Madison last weekend and had a nice late-ish dinner of tapas at Magnus, near Monona Terrace. My companion and I shared a Spanish cheese plate, seared yellowfin with onion confit, and bay-scallop ceviche. If your nephew is adventurous enough to want to try a variety of small plates, it might be a fun place for you. (It's a couple of blocks from the capitol building, FYI.)


      Restaurant Magnus
      120 E Wilson St Ste 3, Madison, WI 53703

      1. As our plans evolve, I think it's more likely that we'll have Sunday brunch with him, rather than Sunday dinner. I've been looking through websites and menus, trying to find something that's nicer and offers more than, say, just a place to get an omelet. I've come up with several possibilities that sound pretty good:

        Café Continental - www.znbar.com
        Cocoliquot - www.cocoliquot.com
        Sardine - www.sardinemadison.com
        Eldorado Grill - www.eldoradogrillmadison.com
        Nau-Ti-Gal - www.nautigal.com

        So if anyone has any comments on their brunches, or any additional suggestions, I'd appreciate them.

        Oh, I realize that the first four are all in downtown Madison. Nau-Ti-Gal is inconveniently located on the opposite side of Lake Mendota from campus, but if the food is good - ? - the fact that it's an all-you-can-eat buffet might appeal to an eighteen-year-old guy.

        5 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          Of your list, I would recommend both Cocoliquot and Sardine, with Sardine edging out on top. In the Monroe street district, I would recommend Bluephies (eclectic veggie diner?) and Brasserie V (French/Belgian inspired bistro). I think Eldorado and Tex Tubb's would both be disappointing for you, being from Chicago and having a ready supply of fantastic Mexican. Cafe Continental is fine, although not as good as Sardine. As I mentioned in the Madison lunch thread, I'm a big fan of The Old Fashioned (upscale Wisconsin tavern) and the new Cabana Room (Brazilian-esqe cafe). Magnus is where I would want someone to take me, if they were coming to Madison and footing the bill.

          2701 Monroe St.
          Madison, WI

          Brasserie V
          1923 Monroe St.
          Madison, WI

          The Old Fashioned
          23 N. Pinckney St.
          Madison, WI

          Cabana Room
          240 W. Gilman St.
          Madison, WI

          1. re: itsbubbles

            Thanks for the additional information!

            Restaurant website links (so I have them handy, because I keep referring back to this topic):
            Bluephies - www.foodfightinc.com/bluephies.htm
            Brasserie V - www.brasseriev.com
            The Old Fashioned - www.theoldfashioned.com
            Cabana Room - www.sambabraziliangrill.com

            1. re: nsxtasy

              thanks nsxtasy - you're amazing with the links!

              No one has mentioned Blue Marlin, http://www.thebluemarlin.net/, it's just off the square on Hamilton.

              We had a great dinner there last December. Anyone know if it's still there? I'd recommend it if it is.

              1. re: Cookiefiend

                Blue Marlin is fantastic...I've had a great dinner and an awesome Friday lunch there. Unfortunately, they're not open for brunch. However, if your visit stretches into dinner...

                1. re: itsbubbles

                  I've been checking out this post - Mr CF and I are going to be in Madsion today and tomorrow for meetings and we've been trying to decide where to go tonight. Since we've been to the Blue Marlin and really liked it (good wine list too), we're going to try a new place this time - provided I can get a reservation at the last minute.

                  I read your post (and followed nsxtasy's links) regarding Sardine, Cocoliquot and Mangus and I've checked out the menus. Hopefully we can give one of them a whirl. The Old Fashioned sounds great too and since they're open for lunch too - Saturday afternoon, here we come!

                  thanks everyone!

        2. As a college-age Madisonian, I think good bets would be Tex Tubb's Taco Palace at 2701 University ave (just west of campus), and cafe continental. Both are open on Sunday. Cafe Continental is more upscale and very tasty, but if you're looking for something more fun and casual, Tubb's Taco Palace is a great place. They are new at 2701, having replaced Firefly in September, but they've had an East side location for a while and they have been consistently well-reviewed. Here's their website:


          2 Replies
          1. re: Mangojane

            Argh! Tex has lost me for good. It was bad enough that they routinely put peas and carrots in my burrito. Last time, there were pineapple chunks in my el pastor!

            (Foodfight is growing too big for their britches, IMHO.)

            Take your nephew to Lombardino's. Great food, fun atmosphere, diverse menu.

            It's a place he could take a date and not kill his budget. Right down University Avenue from campus.

            Also independently owned. You'll find the owner running the kitchen.


            1. re: Monch

              I have no opinion on Tex, but pineapple is actually an authentic option for a taco al pastor.

          2. You mentioned 5 restaurants, 4 of which are high on quality, atmosphere, and even portion sizes. I can't, however recommend the Nautigal. I've been to their Sunday brunch. Its very high on starches and meats. Not much for quality. A lot of stuff hanging around in the steam table for a long time. Pretty uninspired fare. If its just quantity you're looking for (maybe your nephew is a football player) then by all means, go. Your other choices are far superior. I would rank Sardine tops, then Cafe Continental, Cocoliquot, El Dorado. These fit the category of a real treat particulary if you consider a student's budget.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jalanc

              I'm really looking primarily for quality rather than quantity. Sounds like Nau-ti-gal is a No-no-no. So with Tubb's in the mix, I've now got two Tex-Mex-ish places, two French places, and one Euro-everything. All sound like they're good choices.

              Thanks for the comments...

              1. re: nsxtasy

                I've enjoyed dinners (not brunch) at both Sardine and Cocoliquot. Sardine is very much a French brasserie style. The food was quite nice, with my only complaint being that, at dinner, it was very noisy. Cocoliquot is a bit more contemporary/creative american. If your nephew is into chocolate, Cocoliquot makes their own creative chocolates on premises, and you can order them by the piece (sort of sushi style) for dessert. My Badger son enjoyed both places, and a friend has now taken his freshman daughter (who has thoughts of going into the industry) to Cocoliquot twice because she liked it so much. Both are walking distance from campus, altough Sardine will take a half an hour or so.

            2. After several prior attempts were aborted due to the harsh weather this past winter, I was finally able to make my trip to Madison earlier today. We decided to have brunch at Sardine, and it was excellent in every way. The food was excellent; we both had the crab bacon and rock shrimp cakes. We sat outside overlooking the lake, which was just lovely (especially with the cooperation of nice weather).

              Thanks to all for the advice (which we'll continue to refer to in future visits)!

              1. Cocoliquot has closed and an additional Muramoto restaurant opened in its place, just in time for the parents of incoming freshman in the fall of 2008. I was there the first week while the servers were still learning the menu, but the food was quite good, and on par with what we've come to expect from Chef Muramoto, who has three restaurants in Madison. Here's a write-up from TDP (The Daily Page, the online presence of the weekly alternative, The Isthmus): http://www.thedailypage.com/eats/arti....

                Also, there's an interesting restaurant project going on right now with two Madisonians who are eating at every restaurant listed in The Isthmus, in alphabetical order. As of this posting, they have eaten their way to the M's. This might be a good place to get an unbiased review written in plain English, if you are curios about a particular restaurant, and know its name: http://www.madisonatoz.com/about.html

                1. My husband and I were in Madison last weekend for a football game. Based on this thread and others, we had two amazing brunches! Saturday we went to the Marigold Kitchen (same owners as Sardine) near the capitol; he had brioche french toast and I had Irish oatmeal pancakes. On Sunday we headed further south to Bluephies... breakfast jambalaya for me, prime rib hash for him, and an order of blueberry beignets to share. Yum yum yum yum yum yum. Thanks, Chowhounders!

                  1. This past weekend, I again visited Madison, to take my nephew out to dinner as well as to do the Fall Art Tour in towns west of town. This is my report.

                    For dinner, we went to Fresco ( www.frescomadison.com ). This is a new restaurant from the Food Fight restaurant group. The menu is contemporary American.

                    The restaurant is located on the rooftop of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, whose entrance you use to enter the restaurant. The setting is absolutely stunning, with classy contemporary décor and floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out at the museum's outdoor sculpture garden and a view of the tops of other buildings, including the State Capitol.

                    We arrived at 7:00 pm on Friday and the restaurant was full, although no one was waiting. At 7:20, about half of the diners left; I assume there was a 7:30 performance at the Overture Center for the Performing Arts, which is around the corner from the museum and restaurant.

                    Here's what I had, or tasted (fortunately, the menu on their website is current):

                    - prince edward island mussels with coconut milk, lime, cilantro, jalapeño ($12)
                    - fall beet salad with roasted beets, mixed greens, warm chevre, toasted walnut, bacon-cider vinaigrette ($8)
                    - sweet corn chowder with alsum sweet corn, heirloom tomato, basil ($6)
                    - kodiak island halibut with goat cheese mashed potato, sautéed asparagus, spring lemon beurre blanc ($25)
                    - fresh seafood pasta with scallops, shrimp, mussels, halibut, salmon, sun-dried tomato, linguine, citrus-saffron broth ($24)
                    - seared duck breast with grilled bok choy, yellow pepper, fingerling potato, button mushroom, citrus vinaigrette ($22)
                    - buttermilk beignets with milk chocolate center, vanilla crème anglaise ($6)
                    - honey-poached pear brulee with Gentle Breeze honey sauce, lemon whipped cream ($5)

                    Everything I had was very good, not a clunker in the bunch; the seafood was fresh and everything was properly prepared and tasty. While saying that, I will also note that nothing really stood out as "WOW!!! Amazing!!!"... until the beignets arrived. Those were little bites of sheer bliss, hot out of the kitchen (watch out for dripping chocolate from the center!), even better than hot beignets at Café du Monde in New Orleans! Those were a "must have" if you go there and are looking for suggestions.

                    All in all, I liked Fresco a lot! The food may not be quite as good as Harvest, but it's very good nonetheless. And there are a couple of distinct advantages: the exquisite setting and view, and the reasonable prices. (Our dinner check for three, including $19.50 for a couple of glasses of wine and tax but before tip, was $136.62.) Fresco is a welcome addition to the Madison dining scene and I look forward to returning at some point in the future.

                    On Saturday morning, we went to Marigold Kitchen ( www.marigoldkitchen.com ), which I'm sure all the locals have dined at. (I had not considered this for my previous visit because it was for a brunch on Sunday, when Marigold Kitchen is closed.) We arrived a bit before 9 a.m. on Saturday, and there was a line, about ten minutes until our order was taken; while we were there, the line shortened, then reached that same length again - not too bad for a weekend morning. Like everyone else, we waited in line, gave our order, and sat down. The food was quite good (we had their featured pumpkin pancakes, eggs, their spicy home fry potatoes).

                    We then wandered to the square to check out the farmers market. We had heard about the farmers market, but hearing and seeing are too different things. It was quite impressive - perhaps the best farmers market I've seen.

                    On our way back to Chicago, we again stopped in Madison for dinner. We wanted something a bit more casual and not as elaborate for dinner. We looked through the listings we had with us, and chose Pedro's Mexican Restaurant ( www.pedrosmexicanrestaurant.com ) at their location on the east side. At first we were a bit concerned; when you walk in, sit down, and look at the menu, the restaurant screams "non-authentic chain Mexican". However, once we received our food, we understood why it is highly regarded in Madison. The food was good - not earth-shattering, not the best Mexican food ever, but quite good, better than it needs to be. I'm sure the bigger reason for its popularity is the value; for $8.99 each, we got the chile relleno platter, which included a beef chile relleno, a chicken enchilada, and a pork tamale, in huge portions. The fact that we were able to be seated immediately on a Saturday evening was an added bonus. So Pedro's was a great choice for our needs.

                    There was one other food highlight on our trip. West of Madison, we stopped in Mount Horeb at the Mustard Museum ( www.mustardmuseum.com ). This is a great place for anyone who likes mustard. What I really loved was the store, more so than the "museum exhibits" of mustards and containers. They have a huge selection of mustards (also available on their website) and they are happy to serve you samples of any mustards you would like to try.

                    Hope this information is helpful to those looking for food advice in Madison.

                    1. LOTS of great suggestions. Was in Madison a few weeks ago and there is a "cute" little retail area with several chain locations called Greenway Station in Middleton. One of the restaurants "Johnny's Italian Steakhouse" is a part of a 3-4 restaurant chain owned locally. The food is upscale Italian with a full seafood and steak complement . The restaurant was nicely decorated (upscale supper club style) and service was great. Oh, and the food rocked as well!

                      1. One restaurant I haven't seen mentioned on this thread that deserves mention, is Monroe Street Bistro. The food is creative and well-prepared, and the chef focuses on seasonal and locally-produced and supplied food. It's close to campus, relatively affordable, and although it can get a bit noisy, it's atmosphere lives up to the "bistro" moniker. They have the closest to "belgian-style" frites I've seen in Madison, and the grilled chicken dish is really delicious -- tender and juicy, and perfectly seasoned.

                        An added plus is that it is open LATE, which I've found is rare for places in Madison.