Madison’s legacy restaurants are here to stay

Madison’s legacy restaurants are here to stay

By Dan Curd

They stand the test of time. Their roots are deep in the community—often family-run from one generation to the next. They always respect tradition but aren’t afraid to embrace change. Sometimes they’re as much about their location as their current occupant. Inevitably, they’re where we take out-of-towners for a real taste of the town. According to the National Restaurant Association, about sixty percent of all restaurants never see their third anniversary. Yet some manage to survive economic downturns and cutthroat competition to thrive and prosper. Their secrets to success are reliable food, personable service and genuine atmosphere. Dining fads come and go, but fortunately, the legacy restaurant is here to stay.

$ < $10
$$ $10–$15
$$$ $15–$25
$$$$ $25+
(price indicates cost of a dinner entree)
BOM Best of Madison 2014 winner

Avenue Bar
1128 E. Washington Ave., 257-6877
When Cam Hubanks and Skip Zach purchased the twenty-year-old tavern back in 1970, they had big plans for the place. Out went the pool table and in came dinner specials. The Avenue introduced a fish boil on Friday—along with a packed-to-the-gills fish fry. It doubled in size in 1987, accommodating more diners and its snowballing collection of mementoes. $$ BOM

Delaney’s Charcoal Steaks
449 Grand Canyon Dr., 833-7337
Jim Delaney launched his steakhouse in 1973, a time when conventional wisdom said that a fine dining operation on the far west side would not succeed. But Jim understood good service and knew what people liked to eat. Today, his children continue to please Delaney’s loyal customers and the prime rib and onion rings have never been better. $$$$

Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry
317 N. Frances St., 259-0000
It started out in 1969 as a funky gift shop in Des Moines. Owner Jeff Stanley and daughter Rachael soon switched from selling knickknacks to selling hamburgers. In 1974, he came here to open a ten-stool lunch counter on Monroe Street. DDD soon became synonymous with “Best Burgers in Town.” Its latest incarnation boasts both refined atmosphere and a full bar, but it’s the award-winning burgers that continue to win kudos. $ BOM

Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor
2902 E. Washington Ave., 241-5291
A longtime State Street fixture, it eventually moved to bigger and more fanciful eastside digs. With a full-size carousel and plethora of mechanical whirligigs, it’s a favorite destination for kids of all ages. The signature hot fudge pound cake sundae is nothing less than a local culinary icon. $ BOM

Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.
123 E. Doty St., 284-0000
Consternation trailed the 1994 announcement that the Fess Hotel would close. Its commodious courtyard had become a summer ritual rivaled only by Concerts on the Square. The new occupant not only kept the patio, but also introduced the microbrewery to our area. Three additional locations here, as well as one in Wausau, are a testament to its success. $$ BOM

Greenbush Bar
914 Regent St., 257-2874
The Bush, the city’s old Italian neighborhood, is long gone, but the Greenbush Bar hangs on in the basement of the Italian Workmen’s Club. Owner Anna Alberici is famous for her thin and crispy pizzas baked in a brick oven and dishes that honor her Sicilian heritage. $$ BOM

Imperial Garden
2039 Allen Blvd., 238-6445
It wasn’t the first Chinese restaurant in town, but it was the first where amenities rivaled the length of the menu. Since opening in 1981, it has grown into a 240-seat facility with a cocktail lounge, an adjacent Asian market and even a gas station. Astoundingly, for twenty-eight years in a row, readers of Madison Magazine have voted it “Best Chinese Restaurant.” $ BOM

Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club
1025 N. Sherman Ave., 249-0193
In 1947, Jack and Jane Kavanaugh opened a humble tavern on the east side. It soon became a Friday destination for its all-you-can-eat fish fry, one of the first in town.
Over the years it grew and expanded into a full-fledged supper club. Today, the second generation of the Kavanaugh family continues to run what is Madison’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation at the same location. $$

1 S. Pinckney St., 251-0500
Back in the 1970s it put Madtown on the culinary map. Original owner Odessa Piper was at the national forefront of getting local food back on the table. Her successor Tory Miller has added more style and finesse to make a great dining experience even better, including a setting as stellar as his cooking. His latest inspirations are the gastropub Graze and pan-Asian bistro Sujeo. $$$$ BOM

2500 University Ave., 238-1922
It seems like its sign with the mustachioed Italian chef has been there forever. Once, the food tasted just as old. Chef Patrick O’Halloran and Marcia Castro breathed new life into the old place, introducing Madison to modern Italian cuisine and earning Lombardino’s the deserved reputation as one of the city’s best dining establishments. $$$ BOM