14 hidden gem patios in the Madison area
This summer, sip and savor in the outdoor dining scene.
Last summer, we witnessed an outdoor dining boom as restaurants and bars created new seating arrangements out of necessity. The city’s “Streatery” program allowed restaurants to expand onto public sidewalks, on-street parking areas or privately owned lots, creating more than 100 outdoor cafes throughout the city. With the program extending through April 2022, it’s likely we’ll continue to enjoy outdoor dining spaces in the sunshine. So we’re declaring this the official “summer of the patio.” As the past year has taught us, life is too short, and pandemics are too long (and we already know winters are way too cold). There are plenty of patios to choose from (find a list at here), but we sought out some hidden gems you’ll want to add to your local must-do list.
Nothing screams summer quite like bright colors and thriving plant life, and the backyard patio at Buraka on Willy Street certainly creates that kind of environment. Buraka, a spot specializing in Ethiopian and East African cuisine, serves traditional dishes infused with spice-filled sauces. Injera, an African flatbread made from teff flour, is typically served on the side of most dishes. The restaurant’s moniker — which comes from the owner’s great-grandfather — means joy and contentment in the Oromo language. The name works, as a happy-go-lucky attitude can be felt when walking through the door and out to the enclosed garden space. Brunchers looking for bliss should take advantage of the Ethiopian-grown coffee or the tropical cocktail menu. Did we mention Buraka serves bottomless mimosas? 1210 Williamson St., 286-1448, buraka-madison.com
Funk Factory Geuzeria
Madison beer lovers, consider heading to the outdoor space at Funk Factory Geuzeria, where brews taste especially satisfying after a bike ride at the nearby University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum. A huge concrete mural — reading “fermentation is art” — and basic picnic tables are simple and cozy, letting the craft brews take center stage. Drafts on-tap include Blends With Friends (a tropical beer overflowing with flavors of coconut and pineapple) and Cervino, a beer-and-wine hybrid white sangria made with peaches grown in Door County. Funk Factory is known for its sour selections, so enthusiasts can try the foeder-fermented Black Currant Meerts, which are made in a giant barrel. The staff regularly experiments with new fruits and concoctions, so you might make these visits a standard outing on your summertime schedule. Owner Levi Funk co-founded the experimental beer brand Untitled Art, so in addition to Funk Factory’s beers, you can enjoy the latest Untitled drop or one of its Florida Seltzers. 1602 Gilson St., 571-4344, geuzeria.square.site
Just down the street from Buraka is another Willy Street eatery giving people the patio dining experience of their physically distanced dreams. Grampa’s patio is quaint yet sophisticated, complete with stone landscaping and fairy lights for when the sun goes down. Artisan pies can be devoured year-round, but an ooey-gooey slice topped with Brussels sprouts and fresh mozzarella seems to taste better under the summer sun. To complete the meal, scour the dessert menu for an ice cream float or house-made mousse in the flavor of your choosing. You can also snag seats on the deck for gourmet cocktails at Grampa’s next-door neighbor and sister concept, Gib’s Bar. 1374 Williamson St., 283-9580, grampaspizzeria.com
Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.
While some of the climbing ivy wall previously encompassing Great Dane’s Doty Street patio was torn down last fall, the outdoor space still has a whimsical garden feel. Located in the First Settlement neighborhood, this iconic eatery-meets-brewery has outdoor seating tucked behind its building. Assorted gnomes hang out around the dining area, and dreamy lights pair well with a seasonal IPA. Kick back and feel like a true Madisonian with a cheese curd in one hand and a brandy Old-Fashioned in the other, or elevate your summertime feast with a fresh salad and a Juicy Island IPA. Equidistant from the Capitol building and Lake Mendota, Great Dane can be your starting point for a nice walk to some of the city’s popular views to work off a piled-high burger. In addition to the downtown patio, the other Madison-area Great Dane locations also have outdoor dining spaces. Downtown: 123 E. Doty St., 284-0000; Hilldale: 357 Price Place, 661-9400; East-side: 876 Jupiter Drive, 442-1333; Fitchburg: 2980 Cahill Main, 442-9000; greatdanepub.com
In between the bars of Regent Street is local gem Indie Coffee. The cozy coffee shop has a fenced-off patio out back, arranged for a laidback brunch with friends. Summertime favorites like an iced Monet Sunrise latte with honey and lavender or a thick and refreshing chai milkshake are great ways to stay cool and caffeinated this summer. And Indie’s food menu isn’t an afterthought. The waffles are fan favorites, with goodies like walnuts or cranberries baked into the chewy-yet-crispy batter and topped with house-made sauces and whipped cream. Most of the baked goods are also made in-house. Don’t have a sweet tooth? Indie’s breakfast sandwiches and loaded bagels will give you a reason to get up and out of bed. 1225 Regent St., 259-9621, shopindiecoffee.com
This brewpub gave its outdoor spaces a serious makeover last year, complete with garden globes, fire pits and landscaping galore. The K4 team clearly has an eye for design — its indoor taproom walls are covered in vibrant art of every hue — and the patio is an equally pleasant spot, featuring string lights and barrel-inspired decor. Brews such as Narnia Business (a strawberry milkshake double IPA), Notella (a chocolate hazelnut stout) and Karben4’s staple, Fantasy Factory, are up for sips. For a strong, summery swig, try Not Your Granny’s Apple, Karben4’s spin on the Japanese canned fruity seltzer Chu Hi. Not Your Granny’s Apple is one of four Chu Hi seltzers, all of which measure 9% ABV. For a lighter, less caloric drink, Karben4 also has a line of hard seltzers. 3698 Kinsman Blvd., 241-4812, karben4.com
Paoli Schoolhouse American Bistro
About 20 minutes south of Madison is the charming Paoli Schoolhouse, constructed in 1854 and used for education purposes until the 1970s. The inside of the schoolhouse underwent a facelift at the start of the year (think chandeliers, refurbished floors and new paint) but retained its sophisticated, old-school kitsch. The outdoor area — a lit and landscaped stone patio — is just as inviting. Executive chef Luis Garcia makes it all in the kitchen, from chilaquiles to fettuccine and cauliflower steak to beef Wellington. Get messy with a barbecue slow-roasted pork sandwich, or dig into brunch options like a prime rib hash. If you’re lucky, there may be live music as well. 6857 Paoli Road, Paoli, 848-6261, schoolhousebistro.com
Ditch the city and get a patio experience with pastoral vibes at Quivey’s Grove in Fitchburg. Often used as a wedding venue, the grounds surrounding the historic John Mann House have been maintained since 1856. Quivey’s Grove offers three different dining options in addition to its event service. Feast on locally sourced ingredients, take in the glory of the Italianate fieldstone mansion and, when you’re done, take a stroll among the gardens on the estate. Quivey’s Grove is known for its fish fry and Old-Fashioneds, so if you’re hoping to dine outdoors on a Friday night, make sure to secure a reservation or get there right when it opens. 6261 Nesbitt Road, Fitchburg, 273-4900, quiveysgrove.com
Skål Public House
Zip to Mount Horeb for a full Norske beer hall experience at Skål Public House. Drink and eat in the cozy alleyway patio section tucked just off Main Street. Friday fish fry is a given, and Skål carries 24 craft beers on tap. On weekends you may be able to catch a performance by local musicians. When it comes to the food, be bold and start out with the “svinaplata,” homemade sweet potato chips with pulled pork, bacon, cheese, sweet onions, peppers and Sriracha aioli. Top off your meal with the summer special, Nordic Sunset, a drink featuring ginger beer and aquavit, the Scandinavian cousin of vodka. 209 E. Main St., Mount Horeb, 437-1011, skalpublichouse.com
The Thirsty Goat
The Thirsty Goat hosts musicians on its patio often, so it’s a good spot to stop for music and brews from an expansive menu. Pup-friendly and right next to a big fountain and pond, the patio is a place where you can take a seat and slow down for a while. The Thirsty Goat is all about barbecue, with a giant smokehouse menu featuring pulled pork, ribs, burnt ends and brisket. Cocktails like The Thirsty Badger with Magners Pear cider, vodka, peach schnapps, raspberry mash and Sprite are prepared at the bar. Want something simpler? Growlers, six-packs and pints of more than 20 types of beer from Midwestern breweries are also available. 3040 Cahill Main, Fitchburg, 422-5500, thirstygoatbrew.com
In the colder months, ZuZu Cafe constructed pop-up igloos for those wanting to dine with their bubble, inside a bubble. But as the weather warmed, the patio opened for summertime use and dining — no bubbles necessary. Live music performances are scheduled from time to time, so keep an eye on the calendar. You can also make a whole day out of the trip by stopping at nearby Henry Vilas Zoo before or after your visit. ZuZu offers a menu of grilled paninis, soups and sandwiches, and vegetarian options aplenty. Everything is homemade and baked from scratch. Dig into authentic Mediterranean-inspired dishes and soak up the sunshine at this neighborhood favorite. 1336 Drake St., 260-9898, zuzucafe.square.site
Some Madison restaurants reimagined nearby alleyways as outdoor dining spaces.
With a Streatery and an alley patio, Alchemy has fully embraced outdoor dining. Graffiti art covers the outside wall of the new patio. Find elevated bar fare here, including Buffalo wings with Carr Valley Gorgonzola, flavorful burgers and fish fry tacos. Located on Atwood Avenue, Alchemy also serves unique drinks like the strawberry coconut margarita, mojitos with Nessalla Kombucha and house-made bloody marys. Regardless of what else you order, we suggest sharing a plate of the sweet and spicy sweet potato fries with blackberry jalapeño jam. 1980 Atwood Ave., 204-7644, alchemymadison.com
Mint Mark is known for top-notch cocktails, so why not sip your summer away in its alleyway patio? For a fresh beverage, try the flora tonic, made with gin, raspberry shrub, sumac tonic, rose and lemon. For something a bit more unusual, order a sangrita. Sangrita flavors rotate, but a recent combination was carrot, orange, lime, guajillo peppers, Thai chilis and salt. The menu is regularly changing, so each visit may reveal something new. Hyperlocal meats are a staple, and because it’s a good Wisconsin joint, fish fry Fridays are a tradition. 1929 Winnebago St., 285-5096, mintmarkmadison.com
Nattspil, the Chinese Norwegian pizza disco, is working its magic out in the street — well, alley — for folks looking to eat al fresco. Brick walls enveloping Nattspil’s alley patio have serious character, and bright-red chairs next to fairy lights make for an enchanting date night spot. The brie and apple pizza with roasted garlic sauce is rich and decadent and the dumplings are handmade. The true winner is the three-cup chicken (or tofu, for vegetarians), cooked with sesame, soy sauce, basil and ginger and served atop rice and a tomato cucumber salad. 211 King St., 285-9755, nattspil.com
Find more patios here.
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