Dining and Drink

19 places elevating breakfast standards

These sunrise spots are elevating standard...

KEY
$ < $10 $$ $11–$15
$$$ $16–$25 $$$$ $26+
(price indicates cost of breakfast entrée)
BOM Best of Madison 2016 winner

Ah, breakfast. We're told it's the most important meal of the day. For some it's a cup of coffee or tea, a little toast and maybe an egg. For others it's a feast of yeasty dough alongside sweet and savory companions. However you choose to start your day, these are the places in and around town elevating standard breakfast fare with local ingredients, unbridled creativity and honest food above all.

 

A-OK Sunshine & Spirits
829 E. Washington Ave., 237-1314
Owners Gwen and Kyle Johnson of Johnson Public House call their recently opened East Washington Avenue eatery a “micro diner.” Take a seat at the counter and order any of the from-scratch items such as biscuits and sausage gravy (the biscuits are made from chef Aaron Mooney’s secret family recipe), quiche and chocolate toffee scones à la pastry chef Kate Magee. The industrial build of the place is softened with couches and bright yellow and blue flooring. Come spring, sip your espresso—made with beans roasted by the Johnsons—in the courtyard shared with Julep restaurant and Barolo wine bar. $

Crema Café
4124 Monona Drive, 224-1150
A blackboard chalked with gratitude calls out the local farms that provide ingredients served at Crema Café, a lively little spot on Madison’s east side. Peruse the menu and choose among small salads or egg dishes, including one woodsy delight aptly named the fungus scramble. A drizzle of truffle oil over roasted mushrooms, red onion and Asiago cheese makes this rich dish something worth waking up for. On weekends, brace yourself for insanely good combinations like the recent offering of peaches and cream buttermilk waffles swathed in vanilla bean pastry cream, sprinkled with candied pecans and finished with Marquardt Tree Farm’s real Wisconsin maple syrup. $

Estrellón Café
313 W. Johnson St., 251-2111
This Spanish-influenced, small-plate restaurant is the latest venture of James Beard Award-winning chef Tory Miller, who, before opening, researched the flavors of Spain while traveling through Barcelona and Madrid. His café menu, the more informal of Estrellón’s offerings, blends Spanish-imported flavors with local ingredients in the spirit of pastry such as the Magdalena—a sweet, cakey muffin that pairs nicely with the cortado, an espresso with hot milk. Tortas and baguette sandwiches filled with seasonal ingredients give us Spain/Wisconsin flavors that are unique to Madison. $

Greenbush Bakery
1305 Regent St., 257-1151
Sometimes what you need to satisfy the morning’s first pang of hunger is a doughnut and a cup of coffee. This kosher-style bakery in the Regent Street neighborhood has been churning out fresh-baked and fried dough confections night and day since the ’90s. Hot ovens steam up the storefront windows while baskets begin filling up behind the counter with such classics as the sour cream old fashioned, the Bavarian cream and the cinnamon roll. They’re all so squishy, sweet and warm, your childhood doughnut-eating memories might just come rolling back. $ BOM

La Baguette
7424 Mineral Point Road, 827-6775
Sunlight streams through the windows across café tables and antique breadbaskets hang from the walls. A French-speaking server brings you the pastry you’ve chosen from the case of tantalizing croissants, éclairs, tarts and pains au chocolat. Fresh quiches adorned with ham and sometimes asparagus or mushrooms are woven together with melted cheese for a rich, creamy breakfast or brunch item that never disappoints. Freshly baked baguettes, still warm, are tucked in neat rows behind the counter. Sip coffee, close your eyes and pretend—if only just for a moment—that outside the doors of this French café are the streets of Paris. $

La Brioche True Food
2862 University Ave., 233-3388
This is where friends meet, among the eclectic décor, the upholstered chairs and tall booths of this graceful University Avenue bistro. Peek at the ample case of house-made pastries, muffins and scones as your server shows you to your table. Organic eggs and house-made chorizo sausage make a fine, if feisty, omelet. The house-cured, wild-caught salmon omelet with cream cheese, chives, tomatoes and red onion is tempting and a thing of beauty. Breakfast entrees arrive paired with a mixed green salad. Phones and computers are discouraged. This is your chance to enjoy your meal, reconnect with friends and leave the world behind. $$

Madison Sourdough
916 Williamson St., 442-8009
Under the direction of Andrew Hutchison, head baker, and Molly Maciejewski, executive chef, a team of passionate bakers offers nourishment to guests of this Williamson Street café in the form of pastry as well as bread made with Wisconsin grains milled on-site. The eggs Benedict with a light and creamy hollandaise is a standout—the sauce is balanced and bread-dipping-worthy. A full coffee bar serves Kickapoo Coffee. Linger on the patio at the first sign of spring. You’ll be joined by everyone in the neighborhood, shades on and coffee in hand. $ BOM

Marigold Kitchen
118 S. Pinckney St., 661-5559
Marigold is a Best of Madison breakfast hall of famer, taking home the gold in the last three consecutive years for Best Breakfast. This farm-to-table kitchen buzzes with energy in the morning. Smartly dressed, busy people soak in the urban vibe of this just-off-Capitol-Square restaurant where executive chef Kristy Schwinn and her team send out elevated breakfast items at a rhythmic pace. There are eggs made to order with duck confit hash. The brioche French toast is a decadent choice, complete with a spoonful of pastry cream and berry puree and a sprinkling of shaved almonds and mixed berries. $$ BOM

The Mermaid Café
1929 Winnebago St., 249-9719
Farmhouse hospitality is served at the Mermaid Café in the form of freshly baked quiches made with seasonal produce—hoop-house spinach and tomatoes in late winter, tender pea shoots and asparagus in early spring. House-made granola is filled with the crunch of walnuts, made chewy by plump raisins and sweetened with honey. Cool yogurt and a sumptuous compote of seasonal berries round out this feel-good choice for breakfast. Owner Lisa Jacobson’s passion for working with local farmers means we can look forward to some excellent rhubarb on the menu soon. $

Plaka Taverna
410 E. Wilson St., 251-4455
Owner Telly Fatsis along with brother, Nico, picked up where Cleveland’s Diner left off when they opened Plaka Taverna in the same downtown space. For the past eight years, the brothers have served a diner-style breakfast to omelet and pancake connoisseurs alike. For lovers of Greek food, Fatsis also lends some traditional family recipes for some seasonal dishes, like the succulent and amply spiced lamb pie baked in-between pale pillows of Greek phyllo dough. This one’s served with eggs, American fries and a pita for sopping up all that cool yogurt-cucumber sauce. $

Short Stack Eatery
301 W. Johnson St., 709-5569
What’s unusual about this State Street corner restaurant is its around-the-clock breakfast service—starting 7 a.m. Thursdays and running nonstop until 11 p.m. Sundays. The menu is divided into three sections: sweet (baked pecan streusel French toast—thick slices of cinnamon baguette soaked in bourbon and dipped in custard, finished with bourbon-maple mascarpone), savory (locally raised pulled pork piled upon cheesy grits) and “blind special,” the very intriguing option which you are encouraged to order on good faith. With impressive mains like these, we’ll take that leap. $ BOM

Sunroom Café
638 State St., 255-1555
Look for the yellow and black awning on State Street and head upstairs where, in addition to pancakes, eggs, bacon and possibly the crispiest potatoes in town, fresh vegetarian options are plentiful. Tofu scramblers with tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms can be fired up with a dash of sriracha sauce. There’s also a respectable tofu and black bean burrito with cheese, salsa and guacamole. The line to order can be long at times, but almost as if by magic, it does move and a table appears before you, sometimes in front of a window, perfect for people watching. $

The Wise Restaurant & Bar (HotelRed)
1501 Monroe St., 819-8230
You won’t find cereal dispensers or make-your-own waffle irons anywhere at this hotel breakfast. The exquisite details of a fine boutique stay (adjacent to Camp Randall) flow into the locally crafted menu where eggs shine thanks to companions including Jones Farm ham and bacon, Carr Valley cheddar and Madison Sourdough toast. House-made sausage, pastries and English muffins make this a refined way to say “Good morning, Madison.” $$

 

 

Brunch with the Kids

Kids love brunch, especially when they have choices (and opportunities to get up from the table for multiple trips to the buffet). Parents know that even the pickiest child might find something to eat, and the risk of a meltdown is relatively low at this time of day. Heck, there may even be peace at this most agreeable of mealtimes.

The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. at the Hilldale Shopping Center offers an extensive, all-you-can-eat brunch buffet with a carving station featuring prime rib cooked rare, made-to-order omelets with lots of fresh veggies and smoked meats to toss in, peel-and-eat shrimp, biscuits and gravy, cinnamon rolls and cheesy hash browns that are perfectly browned. So that covers the adults at the table. As for the kids, there’s a plentiful salad and fruit bar to fill their plates, or for a more devilish treat, a make-your-own ice cream sundae bar comes with gummy worms.

In Albanian, “sofra” means family table—which Sofra Family Bistro has quite a few of downstairs at the restaurant in Middleton. The long tables are great for families to share a breakfast of traditional Albanian dishes woven in with American standards. The Albanian sausage is a family recipe made with lamb, beef, herbs and spices and is a savory complement to the Belgian waffle studded with fresh fruit, pecans and chocolate chips. Smooth and creamy Turkish coffee completes the meal.

Liliana’s chef and owner David Heide serves up an expertly executed Creole and Cajun brunch for both young and mature palates. Wake up the kids’ taste buds with an order of beignets—those chewy French doughnuts blanketed in powdered sugar. Jambalaya fans, fear not, for it’s used on the brunch menu to top a shrimp, andouille sausage and bacon omelet. Or have a couple of eggs made to order served with cheese grits, Nueske’s bacon and Cajun potatoes. Heide calls it “Breakfast Liliana” and makes a children’s portion for the little ones.  

 

 

Morning Mainstays

A neighborhood joint becomes a neighborhood joint only when it’s deemed worthy by locals, usually after years of dedicated service and mainstay dishes that weave themselves into personal traditions. And over the years, it appears as if these eateries take on the personalities of the faithful patrons who have helped build its history—the ones whose names are practically stitched into the booths and who yell out, “See you tomorrow!” before heading out the door. Here are a few Madison notables.

Monty’s Blue Plate Diner has some serious history. Last July, Monty Schiro, president and CEO of the Food Fight Restaurant Group, celebrated the 25th anniversary of his namesake eatery. The funky 1950s-style diner in the heart of the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood has been serving generations an impressive breakfast menu that includes eggs Mornay, a luscious way to eat poached eggs and smoked ham.

Sophia’s Bakery & Café doesn’t have a website or any apparent posted menu. It lets word of mouth and its Facebook page do the work through rave reviews. Patrons give some pretty convincing testimony about Sophia’s offerings, like the portabella mushroom, caramelized red onion and gorgonzola omelet, the chocolate croissant and the cream cheese cherry roll. The tiny café is only open on the weekends, serving breakfast and brunch to a packed house where neighbors sit shoulder to shoulder, sharing a handful of tables.

Willalby’s Café is the Willy Street neighborhood greasy spoon complete with wood-paneled walls and neon signs in the window. Tucked between a tattoo parlor and an Asian restaurant, it is easily missed—and the locals prefer it that way. Owned by Nate Prince, who was a cook himself in this joint for 10 years, Willalby’s is a longtime favorite, offering chocolate-chip pancakes the size of a dinner plate and mugs of Just Coffee. 


The Dining Guide

Shopping & Style

E-Newsletter Registration

This Week's Circulars