Street Smart and Patio Savvy
Madison's gold list for outdoor dining
The Mother of All Outside Dining: The Great Dane
When the courtyard opened at what was then the Fess Hotel, a revolution began. Suddenly it was in to eat outside. Ironically, it actually all began with beer gardens back in the nineteenth century. Today, sundry places to nosh under the sun abound, but the primal patio at the Great Dane retains an undeniable je ne sais quoi. (Photo: The Big Dog's Choice Ribeye with 2010 Old Scratch barley wine from the Great Dane).
123 E. Doty St.
Queen of King Street: Café Continental
King Street was once notorious for its sleazy bars and prostitutes. Then the Schiavo family opened a new restaurant there and all that changed. Now it’s home to many fine places to eat and drink, but when it comes to dining outside for brunch, lunch or dinner, Café Continental still reigns supreme.
108 King St.
Bohemian Rhapsody: Jolly Bob’s
This Willy Street institution moves to its own beat, but in step with its neighborhood. Spring break never ends here and the Caribbean-inspired food is as exotic as the clientele. Nothing could be finer than its fenced-in backyard on a sultry summer night, eating jerk barbecue and having a fruity rum drink concocted from a choice of over fifty brands.
1210 Williamson St.
South of the Border: Casa del Sol
Living in the suburbs shouldn’t limit outside eating to the backyard. Located in Fitchburg, Casa de Sol or “House of the Sun” with its capacious deck is appropriately named. Mexican specialties like shrimp quesadillas and margaritas beg to be appreciated in the aire libre.
3040 Cahill Main, Fitchburg
Hip Sip: Genna’s
For some, heading here for happy hour is an after-work ritual. Jackets and ties, jeans and tank tops all mingle on Genna’s terrace to take advantage of the Capitol views and cocktail specials. The conversation is always lively but the only real food here is for thought.
105 W. Main St.
Sunny Side Up: Marigold Kitchen
A trip to the Farmers’ Market would be lacking without breakfast or brunch. No place can wake up your appetite like Marigold Kitchen. Perky omelets and sassy home fries are even better savored at its sidewa
lk café on a sunny Saturday.
118 S. Pinckney St.
Wild Blue Yonder: Velvet Lips Lounge & Grill
What would summer in Wisconsin be without a road trip? Fort Atkinson is a bucolic burg straddling the Rock River and known for its distinctive shops. It’s also home to the Velvet Lips Lounge & Grill—as its name might suggest, a bit out of the ordinary. But fine dining on the outdoor terrace or in the new Herb Garden at Catfish Alley is definitely extraordinary.
10 S. Water St. West, Fort Atkinson
Concert on the Square Deluxe: Harvest
There’s no better way to spend a summer evening than enjoying a band concert, seated on a blanket, snacking on wine and cheese. Except being seated outside at one of Harvest’s white-linen-draped tables, dining on a divine three-course dinner, artfully presented and served.
21 N. Pinckney St.
Passage to India: Maharani
Typically, Indian restaurants are not known for their décor and certainly not for sidewalk cafes. Maharani has an inviting patio, the perfect spot in warm weather to have an Indian barbecue cooked over charcoal in a traditional clay oven: bright red tandoori chicken and shrimp, kabobs and naan bread.
380 W. Washington Ave.
The Young and the Restless:
Hawk's Bar & Grill
It’s State Street’s biggest sidewalk cafe (so says Hawk), and a prime spot for people watching. The crowd here is eclectic and collegiate and the food is anything that goes with ketchup—what you’d expect on Mad Town’s famously funky street.
425 State St.
On Top: Fresco
Dining al fresco at Fresco definitely has a different perspective. Mounted on top of MMoCA, its patio affords awesome views of State Street and the sculpture garden with equally impressive cooking. As the sun sets—between “aahs”—top off a heavenly evening with champagne and Gail Ambrosius chocolates.
227 State St.
Dan Curd is a contributing writer to Madison Magazine. Read his Small Dishes food and dining blog here.