Delicious restaurant in downtown Madison WI to eat alone at bar?
Hey hounds, I'll be in Madison for the first time (alone), and I'm sure there's lots of magical Midwest deliciousness you guys know about that I'll never suss out on yelp. I'll be near the capital, and looking for someplace moderate-to-cheap where it won't be awkward to eat alone. No cuisine is off the table, except vegan (and sports bar). If there were one place you had to hit in Madison, where would it be?
Check out Graze, the casual sister restaurant of Etoile, right on the Capitol Square. The moules frites I had there were superb.
Icon, the tapas place just a block down State Street, would be another great choice. The stuffed mushrooms, baked goat cheese, lamb meatballs, and patatas bravas were favorites of the group I went with. (Skip the Spanish tortilla and the 'cocas' flatbreads -- boring.)
Further down State Street: while not a bar type of place, the Nepalese restaurant Chautara is a favorite of ours. The skewered lamb and the goat curry were divine. Don't get distracted and go into Himal Chuli by mistake, which is just a few doors closer to the Capitol. They're okay, but Chautara is better, imho.
For dessert, check out Paciugo for delicious, innovative gelato. Yes, it's part of a chain out of Dallas, but their flavors are fabulous, the salted caramel ones especially. Or try the local favorite, The Chocolate Shoppe. Both on State Street.
I love the food and atmosphere at the Old Fashioned. It's right on the Square by the Capitol, and a great introduction to Wisconsin cuisine. Start with the fried cheese curds and a brandy old-fashioned. Perhaps it might be considered "sports bar" by some but I think the food elevates it to gastropub. BTW, wasn't aware of Graze, so will check that out on my next trip--thanks Karen.
The Fountain, on State St. It's, like, an actual Wisconsin bar, but with really satisfying local-centric food. Sit at the bar, chat with the staff, watch State go by out the big front window.
The other places listed here are great, but either really hum with an activity that might make one feel *more* alone, or are quiet enough with nothing else happening to really emphasize that you're alone. Unless you like those sorts of feelings, I suspect The Fountain will give you enough of both solitude and engagement.
I ended up going to Graze and it was excellent! I did feel like a bit of a loser in all the bustle right at 8pm, but once it cleared out to about 60% full it was a fine. I had the cheese curds, since of course I had to try cheese curds, and they were great. I see why everyone talks about them! I also had the recommended moules frites and they were stellar. It was a really fragrant south east asian style preparation, with fennel, cilantro, a bit of chili oil for just a touch of heat and a tomato and coconut milk broth. The frites might have been better with a burger - they weren't too thick, but they were intensely potatoey and had a thick crunchy shell that refused to sop up the broth, but frankly I did not need to eat a giant basket of fries on top of cheese curds. Beware if you are eating alone that the cheese curd potion is probably more than you can possibly eat (unless you are a very hungry guy).
Service at the bar was very friendly and attentive.
Thanks for the great suggestions everyone! Wish had time to try more. That area around the Capitol is very pretty.