Old-fashioned fare at Madison’s The Old Fashioned

We shot this issue’s cover at a little Capitol Square tavern you may or may not have heard of before.
Photographer taking photos in the upstairs of the old fashioned with an art director
Nikki Hansen, who shot this month's cover, preps to take photos at The Old Fashioned with art director Tim Burton. (Photo by Andrea Behling)

We shot this issue’s cover at a little Capitol Square tavern you may or may not have heard of before, The Old Fashioned.

Kidding aside, you can’t really say you “Eat Like a Madisonian” if you haven’t been there. Tourists and locals alike flock to this restaurant, and the place is packed nearly every night of the week. I’ve been there on many occasions, including when I wanted to show off Madison to my parents, when I met up with some of my alumni friends who were missing their college town, and when my partner, Dave, and I stopped for a downtown brunch date.

There are longer-standing and more highly acclaimed restaurants in this city, to be sure, but The Old Fashioned captures the classic Wisconsin dining experience so perfectly. When you want to explain Madison’s food scene in a single meal, The Old Fashioned is the place you go.

Tami Lax, one of the establishment’s founders, was inspired by the classic supper clubs and small-town eateries she went to growing up. Terrified that she’d lose those memories and traditions, she opened The Old Fashioned in 2005. Fifteen years later, it’s one of those places you could have sworn has always been here.

plates set out at the Old Fashioned before a shoot

Some of the items featured at The Old Fashioned

At our cover shoot, Lax brought out some items The Old Fashioned is known for: fish fry, a brandy Old-Fashioned and cheese curds. As photographer Nikki Hansen snapped pictures, creative director Tim Burton and I took on very important roles as cheese curd taste testers. We got to wondering — just how many of these items does The Old Fashioned dish out every night?

We asked Lax, and she dialed up her general manager on the spot. With an ear to her phone, she rattled off the average numbers:
Fish fry platters served per night on Fridays: 470
Orders of cheese curds on a nightly basis: 160
Old-Fashioned cocktails handed across the bar on a Friday night: 520

Tim and I looked at each other, and the cheese curds nearly fell out of our mouths. But we shouldn’t have been that surprised; The Old Fashioned is serving simple, classic items that both the Madisonian and the visitor have come to know, love and expect when out to eat in the city.

But Madison’s dining scene does not start and stop with a single visit to The Old Fashioned. In the March cover, we identify other restaurants, food items and experiences that help define what it means to “Eat Like a Madisonian.” Enjoying a locally made beverage or treat while you read is highly recommended.