Nau-Ti-Gal is Best of Madison’s waterfront champion

Whether it is packed for Sunday brunch or serving anglers as they boat up to the restaurant, Nau-Ti-Gal has stayed consistent, racking up 72 awards with 25 golds in total.
exterior of Nau-ti-gal
Photo by Amandalynn Jones

First appearing in the 1983 edition of Best of Madison with a gold for its happy hour, the Nau-Ti-Gal Waterfront Restaurant has been a part of the community for nearly 40 years. Whether it is packed for Sunday brunch or serving anglers as they boat up to the restaurant, Nau-Ti-Gal has stayed consistent, racking up 72 awards with 25 golds in total.

“It’s incredible we’ve won that many awards, I had no idea,” co-owner Jack von Rutenberg says. “The years go by so fast I haven’t counted anything, I just get ready for the next year.”

Located near the north tip of Lake Mendota, Nau-Ti-Gal got its start when the von Rutenberg family bought the former Hanson’s Tavern in 1982 and converted it into the restaurant. The idea was for Nau-Ti-Gal to serve as a casual option to another more upscale von Rutenberg restaurant — The Mariner’s Inn (a Best of Madison superstar in its own right with 42 awards and a silver legacy winner) — up the road.

Nau-Ti-Gal’s casual outdoor and indoor atmosphere is punctuated by the docks sitting just behind the restaurant, waiting for boaters to come in for a bite to eat. It holds the distinction of winning the only gold ever given in the category “best restaurant reachable by boat,” in 1995.

“Outdoor dining in Madison didn’t really exist when we first started Nau-Ti-Gal, and then we got five acres of land with the restaurant,” von Rutenberg says. “We were kind of the pioneer of true outdoor dining in the city.”

Perhaps best known for its brunch (and the bottomless mimosas), Nau-Ti-Gal has won 11 Best of Madison awards for Sunday brunch and nine for brunch. The buffet-style brunch has more than 20 food options to choose from, with a four-hour window to eat as much as you can on Sundays. The bloody marys have also gained recognition with eight awards over the years.

“It’s hard to have a brunch at home if you have to make 25 or 30 items, because that’s just about impossible,” von Rutenberg says. “Our brunch is a treat, it’s quality food with a great selection at a fair price.”

Leaning into its fishing and Wisconsin roots, Nau-Ti-Gal has also taken home another 10 awards for its classic Atlantic cod Friday night fish fry. “It is hard to believe how fast 40 years went, it seems like just yesterday I was pounding nails to help remodel the old tavern,” von Rutenberg says. “It’s been a great ride.”

Read more about the Best of Madison Legacy Awards here.

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