11 new restaurants in Madison
The city's food scene continues to blossom
We Madisonians love to tell anyone who will listen that Madison has an amazing food scene for such a small city. And with this year’s batch of new restaurants, you can keep on bragging. A few noticeable trends (pimento cheese!) and a few surprises are on the list. Whether you find yourself savoring a rich tomato stew in a Quonset hut, indulging in a braunschweiger sandwich on gluten-free rye or eating fancy Jell-O on the east side, it’s time to dig into something new.
It’s impossible not to have fun when dining at Camp Trippalindee, the rooftop restaurant at the Graduate Hotel. Cozy up to a table inside to play Battleship or head out to the patio for views of Lake Mendota and fire pits for making s’mores. There are cans of wine and boozy cocktails – including an adult Capri Sun – but when your craft beer comes served in a koozie, you know you’ve made a good decision. You’ll find food reminiscent of summer camp on the menu – except most camps don’t source their pasture-raised meats from Fox Heritage Farms. Choices include fancy walking tacos (served in a mini paper bag), a cheeseburger with special sauce, a crispy chicken sandwich with kimchi slaw or SpaghettiOs and meatballs. And if you decide to skip roasting marshmallows, there’s always the root beer float for dessert. 601 Langdon St., 257-6949 $
When Chicory opens in fall 2018 it will be one of Madison’s only restaurants with a dedicated gluten-free kitchen. But don’t let that label scare you, says co-owner Madee Hartjes. While the restaurant will serve healthy, gluten-free food made from scratch, “We’re definitely not a health food store,” Hartjes says. “We’re going to be cooking some of our food with lard.” At what is shaping up to sound like an all-day cafe, expect a nourishing, globally inspired menu with breakfast, lunch, dinner and the occasional after-hours dance party featuring vintage vinyl. There will be fair-trade coffee, savory oatmeal, breakfast bowls, homemade granola and fermented foods good for intestinal health, including house-made kombucha, yogurt, vinegar and pickles. Expect wine on tap, bar snacks like cheeseboards and popcorn and a braunschweiger sandwich served on gluten-free rye with an Alt Brew beer from the tap. Co-owner Bryan Bingham, who has been living with celiac disease for 20 years and is unable to eat out at restaurants with confidence, is excited to serve the food he wants to eat. “This menu is drawing on what I crave,” says Bingham. 1440 E. Washington Ave. $$
If the number of people lining up to eat on the sidewalk at Thursday night pop-ups outside of The Heights this past summer – before the restaurant officially opened its doors – proves anything, it’s that the near west side of Madison has been craving an upscale, family-friendly restaurant. Partnered with Underground Food Collective, The Heights will focus on New American food made with well-sourced, high-quality ingredients. Open Monday through Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus brunch on Saturday and Sunday, The Heights offers fancy toasts made with local ORIGIN Breads sourdough and coffee from Ruby Coffee Roasters. At dinner, sip a glass of wine and sink your fork into a crispy rice bowl with pickled onions while the kids enjoy a house-made hot dog with mustard and pickles. A retail section will send you home with cheeses, charcuterie and oils for when you want to dine at home. 11 N. Allen St. $-$$$
Since the transformation of the old Savidusky’s Fur building on East Washington Avenue into a hip area called Robinia Courtyard, the space has undergone several changes. The latest restaurant to inhabit the back of the building is Jardin, an upscale restaurant with a focused, seasonal menu that changes regularly. While Jardin may be a well-kept secret with no wait time for tables, those who know it, love it. Jardin has a reputation for its beautifully plated, innovative dishes like a seared duck breast with roasted beets, watercress puree and juniper jus. Some small plates – usually large enough to share – often highlight in-season vegetables. The dessert menu is limited but not to be missed. A boozy milkshake with cookies or macerated strawberries and black pepper shortcake? Yes, please. 829 E. Washington Ave., 478-0101 $$$
Lake Edge Seafood Co.
In this unassuming spot in a strip mall between the border of Monona and Madison, Lake Edge Seafood Co. is quietly serving some of Madison’s freshest and tastiest seafood. Because the restaurant offers counter service only, lines can get long for the Friday night fish fry, so consider yourself warned. Your patience will be rewarded with your choice of two or three pieces of perfectly flaky beer-battered cod, fried perch or walleye. Other menu items – like seafood cakes, Manhattan seafood chowder, lobster rolls and the oh-so-decadent lobster mac and cheese – give off an East Coast vibe. With tasteful nautical decor, you can even pretend you are on vacation for the night near the coast. Don’t miss the fish counter with options like mussels, sockeye salmon and sea scallops for when you want to make a seafood dinner at home. 4100 Monona Drive, 467-9491 $$$
The most buzzed-about new restaurant of the past year, Mint Mark did anything but open quietly. The fish fry was an instant hit, with people clamoring for a seat at the bar to order luscious portions of bluegill battered in Hamm’s beer, fried to a golden crisp and served with a side of fries and a brandy Old-Fashioned. With a coffee program from the folks at Johnson Public House and an inspired cocktail menu from Chad Vogel’s (Robin Room, The Barmadillo) team, there is plenty to choose from in the drinks department. There’s also a rotating list of food offerings, including pimento cheese, biscuits with cultured butter, pierogies, late-night cheeseburgers and vegetable-forward small plates like cauliflower with golden raisins – not to mention a Friday lunch featuring seasonal dishes and martini specials. Mint Mark is set to stick it out as a darling of the Madison food scene for years to come. Who can stop talking about – and photographing – that palm frond wallpaper?1929 Winnebago St., 285-5096 $$
Nook, possibly the most interesting restaurant concept on this list, is set to open this October on Atwood Avenue. This self-proclaimed “mom-and-pop” restaurant is not your dad’s supper club (unless your dad loves blue cheese terrine, which he actually might). Chefs, co-owners and married couple Julie and Noah Przybylski worked together at a fine dining restaurant in Chicago before coming to Madison to open their unique version of a Wisconsin family restaurant with a French twist. The Przybylskis plan to offer two seatings a night, Wednesday through Saturday, for a five-course meal at 5:30 p.m. and a nine-course meal at 7:30 p.m. Guests will sit at wooden tables, made by Noah, at this intimate spot with seating for 12. The experience will feel more like a fun dinner party than an average night out at a restaurant. A Wisconsin native, Noah is excited to start the meal with snacks (perhaps different-flavored corn puffs), offer a protein-heavy entree course (dietary restrictions will be accommodated upon prior request) and include – because it can’t be a proper Wisconsin meal without it – a Jell-O course. “It might be a gel made out of Concord grapes,” Noah says, “but gelee sounds pretentious.” 2138 Atwood Ave., 852-7894 $$$$
Noosh owner Laila Borokhim is no stranger to the Madison food scene, but her latest venture – housed in a cozy Quonset hut on Regent Street – is a welcome addition. At Noosh, Borokhim serves her delicious version of Middle Eastern comfort food, including lentil soup, dumplings cooked in borscht broth with braised cabbage and onions, and malawach, a puff pastry flatbread topped with hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and cilantro chutney, traditional to Yemeni and Somali cuisines. Other versions come topped with cheese and peppers or slow-cooked lamb. And don’t forget about the shakshuka. Eating a stew topped with poached eggs and served with a side of challah bread, you’ll feel as if a favorite relative just made your lunch. Head to the shack, put a record on the turntable, pull up a chair and bask in Borokhim’s bold flavors and fun-loving vibes. 1431 Regent St., 216-4511 $$
Pasture & Plenty
Masquerading as a meal-kit operation, the newly opened Pasture & Plenty is a darling spot for a farm-to-table breakfast or lunch. The space on University Avenue, which once housed Rennebohm’s drug store, underwent a major renovation and quietly opened its doors in early July. The airy, light-filled space is an ideal spot to order a Batch Bakehouse pastry, a ham and gruyère sandwich or a seasonal grain bowl off the daily menu offered 6:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Sandwiches and seasonal salads from the deli case are available until 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays.) To kill two birds with one stone, your stop for a quick bite could also include picking up a to-go dinner (available Wednesdays), a farm-to-freezer meal or a weekly meal kit (available with sign-up). 2433 University Ave., 665-3770 $$$
Sweet Home Wisconsin
With the slogan “nostalgic Wisconsin comfort food with a Chicago twist,” this restaurant opened up on Regent Street in March 2018 and started slinging bar food to all who walked through its doors, regardless of which side of the Wisconsin-Illinois border they hailed from. Sweet Home Wisconsin partners with local meat purveyors for some menu items, including beef franks from Knoche’s Old Fashioned Butcher Shop in Middleton and bratwursts from Bavaria Sausage Inc. in Madison. A Chicago Dog features a beef frank, sport peppers, onions, mustard, celery salt and pickle relish all served on a poppy seed bun – no ketchup allowed. A nod to the classic Chicago film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Abe Froman’s Polish Sausage comes with sauerkraut (or whiskey-braised onions, if you prefer) and is served on a brat bun. Wings, jalapeño poppers, burgers, potato wedges and cheese curds served with a side of Sriracha ranch round out the menu. There are a couple of salads, too, if you are into that kind of thing. 910 Regent St., 819-6622 $$
Working Draft Beer Co.
Working Draft Beer Co. joined a growing list of new places to drink on the near east side when it opened last spring, but maybe most exciting is the attention that Working Draft also gave to its food menu. Sure, you can get hazy IPAs and Pilsners made with wild rice and locally grown chamomile, but you’ll also find house-made snacks like a mix of spiced nuts and dried fruit or a “craft Slim Jim” made with Fox Heritage beef and pork. There are tacos on Tuesdays, a barbecue pork sandwich with Fox Heritage smoked and pulled pork and a vegan and gluten-free grain bowl with kamut, quinoa, charred onions and sweet potatoes. Don’t forget about the pimento cheese made with Hook’s five-year cheddar or the single-source bean chocolate bars from Madison chocolate maker – and neighbor – Wm Chocolate. Just try to save room for some beer. 1129 E. Wilson St., 709-5600 $
While Madison is a bit behind on the all-day cafe trend, several places on this list (Mint Mark, The Heights and Chicory) are helping to bring us up to date. Essentially, an all-day cafe is a space with a lot of houseplants – bonus points for pink neon signs – where you can order avocado toast or a grain bowl for breakfast, sip kombucha or local coffee while you conduct your business, head home for an hour or two and come back to meet friends for a glass of natural wine or a herbaceous cocktail. It’s about time we caught up.
Erica Krug is a Madison-based food writer.
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