Dining and Drink

Monroe Street Eats

Monroe Street is downright delightful. Like most neighborhood districts, its inventory of locally owned shops and art galleries, each more eclectic than the next, sifts and winnows over time, but its charm and variety are always a draw. Along its mile-and-a-half stretch, Monroe touches such destinations as Camp Randall, Edgewood College and Lake Wingra. And then there are the restaurants. A diverse mix of cafés, bistros and taverns creates a dining landscape to suit your various cravings, whether you’re in the mood for elegant duck confit, a juicy burger or a frozen custard nightcap. For some of the best dining in town, head to Monroe Street. 

$   < $10   $$   $10–$15 $$$   $15–$25   $$$$   $25+ (price indicates cost of a dinner entrée)

Barriques 1825 Monroe St., 284-9463  It’s the location that launched a local coffee empire. Barriques’ first-ever outpost, which originally served more as a wine shop than a café, sat at 1831 Monroe St. from 1998 until 2013, when it moved next door to its new, more spacious spot, formerly Grace Chosy Gallery. The current space is at once airy, with its floor-to-ceiling windows up front, and cozy, with wood tables and oversized booths that beg you to stay awhile as you linger over a cappuccino. As far as food goes, get the avocado jack wrap for breakfast, and for lunch try the healthy garden wrap or ever-so-worth-it Wisconsin dip sandwich. Grab a bottle of wine from the Wall of 100—where all bottles are priced under $10—on your way out. $ BOM

Bluephies 701 Monroe St., 231-3663 Bluephie’s specializes in quirky takes on tried-and-true favorites. Perhaps best known as the home of desserts like the chocolate chip cookie dough eggroll (don't tell us you've never tried one!), this contemporary deli satisfies much more than your sweet tooth. The pork and mac sandwich crammed with gooey macaroni, barbecue pulled pork and caramelized onion hits all the right notes, and the classic Wisconsin cheese curds come wrapped in bacon. Here, wacky is wonderful. $$

Brasserie V 1923 Monroe St., 255-8500  It was great news for Madison foodies when Brasserie V expanded in early 2013, more than doubling its capacity, from forty-five to ninety-nine. Still, it’s common to encounter a wait for dinner, especially on the weekends, and it’s easy to see why. The European-inspired bistro serves a delightful mix of seasonal dishes, with standouts including the moules and frites, V burger and duck confit. The suds list is high in both number and quality, with a striking amount of Belgian beer and other European imports, many unique to Madison. $$

Brocach 1843 Monroe St., 819-8653 Gaelic for “badger den,” Brocach takes its cues from the Emerald Isle. Have your pick of traditional Irish pub food like crispy fish and chips or shepherd’s pie paired with a Guinness or some Irish whiskey. It’s an underrated Sunday brunch spot as well, boasting favorites like Belgian waffles, frittatas and eggs Benedict, as well as the Big Irish Breakfast with sausages, bacon, eggs, toast and beans. This Monroe Street location feels a bit more intimate than its Capitol Square counterpart, in fitting with the near-west neighborhood. $$

Crescendo Espresso Bar & Music Café 1859 Monroe St., 284-7908 Nestled right across from Trader Joe’s, this cozy café features wickedly good coffee and phenomenal live music from a mix of local and touring artists. Baristas can make cups of coffee, sourced from Milwaukee’s Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company, in a “pour-over” style fresh to order. And beverage options don’t stop at coffee—there’s beer and wine, too. Hungry? Try the new specialty toasts, like avocado or honey butter, or one of the breakfast burritos. $

Gates & Brovi 3502 Monroe St., 819-8988 This restaurant has transitioned from its east-meets-Midwest seafood shack concept and now incorporates contemporary dishes with an Italian twist. Started by the award-winning chefs behind Sardine and Marigold Kitchen, Gates & Brovi offers creative wood-fired pizzas like the Green Goat, with pesto, zucchini, roasted tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and goat cheese. And of course, the seafood is fantastic, with inspired flavors like the spicy tomato fisherman’s stew or raw Bluepoint oysters. Don’t miss out on the Friday fish fry—a tough choice between crisp, battered cod or tender fried bluegill. $$

jacs Dining and Tap House 2611 Monroe St., 441-5444 This bistro is perfectly at home in the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood. A sleek menu of salads, sandwiches, flatbreads and specialty entrées features fresh, seasonal ingredients. The sage chicken sandwich is terrific, as is the tarte flambé flatbread with bacon, caramelized onions, crème fraîche, rosemary and Parmesan. Burger specials make for a worthy indulgence, and the frites are a must-try. Jacs is also a craft beer haven, with a rotating selection of locals and imports. Plus it’s über-friendly to vegetarian and gluten-free diets, and with a kids’ menu to boot, just about anyone can find something they’ll love. $$

The Laurel Tavern 2505 Monroe St., 233-1043 The Laurel is a neighborhood standby, with reliable pub fare, a long beer list and a warm atmosphere perfect for catching a football game. The ten different burger options include a mushroom and Swiss burger and the brewmaster burger with homemade mustard-garlic sauce, and appetizers run the deep-fried gamut, from cheese curds to jalapeño poppers to clam strips. The Friday fish fry is one of the best in town. It’s been a staple of the neighborhood for decades, and a mural on one of the walls pays homage to nearby institutions such as Michael’s Frozen Custard, Mallatt’s and Camp Randall. $

Michael's Frozen Custard 2531 Monroe St., 231-3500 A Madison institution, Michael’s just tastes like home. Burgers, hot dogs and, of course, creamy custard draw in the masses as soon as temperatures allow. Flavors range from toasted pecan to raspberry truffle cheesecake, but a simple cone of vanilla is just as good. Founder Michael Dix’s recipe hasn’t changed since he opened this first location on Monroe Street in 1986. Also find a Michael’s on Atwood Avenue and on Schroeder Road. $

Mickies Dairy Bar 1511 Monroe St., 256-9476 There’s nothing revolutionary about Mickies Dairy Bar, but that’s never been the point. This cash-only university mainstay has been making thick malts, fluffy pancakes and tried-and-true burgers since 1946. The diner also serves up a heavy dose of nostalgia with its old-school ambience, including a 1950s menu still adorning the wall. The real dazzler is the scrambler: three eggs with cheese, gravy, a choice of topping and yanks—Mickies’ signature hash browns. The leftovers themselves are enough to feed all but the most voracious of eaters for a meal or two more. $ BOM

New Orleans Take-Out 1517 Monroe St., 280-8000 Arguably some of the best Creole food in town, New Orleans Take-Out is a no-fuss kind of place. The interior isn’t decorated to evoke any kind of fancy sentiments, but that doesn’t make the food any less authentic or delicious. With the motto of “Eat mo’ bettah” and eleven years preparing options like shrimp po’boys and red beans & rice, NOTO perfectly embodies NOLA culture and projects a serious passion for Southern grub. $ BOM

Pasqual's 1851 Monroe St., 238-4419 Too often, restaurant quesadillas are forgettable, relegated to the kids' menu or buried in the appetizers. But Pasqual’s does them right. The quesadilla at this spacious, vibrant restaurant is a flavorful combination of cheddar jack, tomatoes, cilantro, chile and meat that will defy expectations in the best possible way. The restaurant also makes a mean enchilada, and anything with the house-made guacamole is stunning. Be sure to sip on a marg or sangria while you wait for your huge plate to arrive. $ BOM

Pizza Brutta 1805 Monroe St., 257-2120 Perfect pizza is something of an art form. At Pizza Brutta, this art form is revered, but in a fun, casual, neighborly kind of way. The Neopolitan-style pies are flash fired in a wood-burning oven and topped with fresh, house-made mozzarella and an assortment of ingredients, most of them sourced locally. If you like spice, try the Diavolo with pepper flakes, spicy salami and pepperoncini. For something more tame, you can’t go wrong with the Bianca, a white pizza with olive oil, garlic, basil and cheese, or the basic but brilliant margherita. Neighborhood favorites also include a caprese salad, which features roasted cherry tomatoes and pesto. $$

Taste Of India 2623 Monroe St. #150, 218-9200 With both a large lunch buffet and extensive dinner menu, Taste of India offers everyone something to love. Vegetarians will be in ecstasy over the colossal vegetable section, with highlights like the Karhi Pakora—crispy vegetable fritters with chickpea flour, yogurt and vegetables. For meat eaters there are sizable chicken, lamb, beef and seafood options. Check out the goat biryani: goat on the bone cooked up with dried fruit and rice. And no matter what, no dish is complete without a side of the restaurant’s pillowy naan. $$ BOM

Victor Allen's Coffee 2623 Monroe St., 231-0622 The Madison coffee scene has evolved quite a bit over the past ten years, with a host of new specialty roasters and cafés surfacing throughout the area. But before all that—way before—Victor Allen’s was in the coffee business, selling its whole roasted beans in grocery stores and opening little cafés throughout Madison and Milwaukee. Four locations in Madison remain, and the charming Monroe spot is as good as any to unwind with the paper or a book over a hot cup of joe. $

The Wise 1501 Monroe St., 819-8228  The bistro inside HotelRED is perhaps the chicest of game-day hotspots. Its location just across from Camp Randall (and its color scheme) make it a natural haven for Badger fans, but its upscale New American cuisine and swanky cocktails elevate the whole experience, no matter the occasion. The dinner menu is robust, with appetizers like prosciutto skewers and smashed fingerling potato fries, and entrées such as beef short ribs and mussels steamed in Door County Brewing Company's Little Sister Witbier. Chef Jesse Kloskey, who assumed the role back in April, hails from nearby Cambridge and worked at Harvest before heading to the Bay Area for chef gigs at San Francisco restaurants and Google. $$


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