An eclectic array of cozy, hole-in-the-wall diners and sleek, high-end restaurants make Madison a hub for authentic Wisconsin brunches. Enjoy fresh eggs, waffles with cream and coffee made with rich whole milk, all in the heart of America’s Dairyland. We explore the top ten brunch spots in the state’s capital city.
After graduating from the French Culinary Institute, chef Tory Miller worked at many of the most sophisticated restaurants in New York City. It wasn’t until he moved to Madison, to establish Graze that the James Beard Award-winner was able to ‘fulfil his dream of taking local farm-raised ingredients to the next level.’ Try local favorites the bibimbap burrito and the kielbasa. Graze’s superb farm-fresh fare, along with the stunning view of the Wisconsin State Capitol building though its large windows, meant the venue was one of the restaurants chosen by Madison Magazine readers as ‘Best Place to Take a First Date’.
The brunch menu at Bassett Street Brunch Club, a member of the elite Food Fight Restaurant Group, features classic comfort foods with a sophisticated twist. Within its luxurious booths surrounded by playful, modern décor, enjoy dishes such as the savory French toast topped with hollandaise, the breakfast bur-roti laden with avocado black bean salad and the delectable lox box. To accompany your meal try one of Bassett Street Brunch Club’s complex cocktails. Favorites include the B.C.Manhattan, made with cherry bark vanilla bitters, or its Wake Up Beer made with Wisconsin Brewing Co. Porter and Colectivo espresso. Come early for freshly baked donuts in a variety of rotating flavors like maple bacon, Cap’n Crunch, crème brûlée and pumpkin.
Spend a Saturday morning taking a few laps around the Dane County Farmers Market collecting fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and baked goods around the Capitol Square. Then head to Food Fight’s DLUX for its ‘Weekend Recovery’ menu. The restaurant, with contemporary, psychedelic decor, has perfected the art of the boozy brunch. Enjoy treats such as the brunch-a-rita (made with agave tequila, fresh lime, raw sugar syrup and orange marmalade), the build-your-own Bloody Mary, or the espresso milkshake cocktail. If you’re looking to make a morning of it, order bottomless mimosas for $10. Complement your drinks with DLUX’s delicate donut balls, served with a strawberry cream cheese glaze, or one of their delicious savory breakfast sandwiches.
While the Camp Randall area has been considerably built up over the last few years, the décor inside Mickies Dairy Bar hasn’t changed a bit since the 1950s. The original menu still hangs on the wall and the recipes are still the same. Though there’s usually a long line to get in, especially on Badger football game days, but know that your patience will have rewards. The generous helpings will likely provide you with enough food to last you through until dinner. After plunging into massive plates of its classic American-style dishes such as banana pecan pancakes, the legendary scrambler or a colossal cinnamon roll, you’ll understand the hype.
The Old Fashioned claims to be the place ‘where Wisconsin is king,’ and makes this philosophy evident in its locally sourced brunch menu. Take the Wisconsin Benedict, for example: instead of Canadian bacon or ham, this version incorporates the unofficial state meat, the bratwurst. Or check out the bagel with cream cheese, it’s not just any bagel, but a Gotham bagel from the Gotham Bagels shop right down the street. Even the donuts are pure Wisconsin: the apple fritters are made at Greenbush Bakery, located about a mile and a half from the Old Fashioned. If you wish to get a taste of true Wisconsin heritage, the Old Fashioned is unquestionably the place to dine.
In college towns like Madison, brunch is often an opportunity to cure a hangover with eggs and coffee. But at Sardine a brunch outing at this French-inspired bistro is an opportunity to savor flavorful dishes and is the ultimate location if you’re looking to impress. Slide onto a stool at the pewter-topped bar and order off the lovely chalkboard menus or find a spot on the patio perched on the shore of Lake Monona. Sardine is renowned for its seafood so the crab, bacon and rock shrimp cakes, grilled Norwegian salmon or steamed mussels with frites are worthy selections. If you’re not in the seafood mood however, the Belgian waffle, warm duck confit or fines herbes and gruyere cheese omelette are also popular.
This retro diner with a simple menu of pancakes, bacon and eggs is the archetypal setting for brunch in America. Embracing these classic elements, Food Fight’s Bluephies kicks it up a few notches with a minimalist color scheme, cozy leather booths, soaring windows and a vibrant menu. Try the red velvet pancakes or avocado extravaganza scrambler for modern variations on timeless diner dishes, or go further into the menu and order the carrot cake French toast, crab Benedict, breakfast jambalaya or waffle dogs – sausages coated in waffle batter and fried. If you’re looking for something a bit stronger than coffee to quench your thirst, Bluephies is not only a restaurant but also a ‘vodkatorium’, where the Bloody Mary options are seemingly endless.
For a lighter brunch fare head to Marigold Kitchen. The unpretentious, vegetarian-friendly line-up includes favorites such as tofu scramble, (made with champagne vinaigrette), barley sauté, chilaquiles and chili poached eggs. Meat-lovers will delight in options like the duck confit hash and the roasted salmon frittata. Try to get a seat on the patio during the warmer months to soak up the sunshine, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a cold screwdriver.
Tucked away on the second floor of an aging concrete building, Sunroom Cafe is one of Madison’s coziest brunch spots. Painted in soft pastel colors, decorated with the works of local artists and featuring a perfect view of the bustling State Street. The charming cafe is a favorite amongst University of Wisconsin-Madison students and one of the city’s best-kept Sunday brunch secrets. On its frequently changing menu, look out for the Santa Fe frittata, tofu scrambler, huevos rancheros and apple buttermilk pancakes.
Get away from the crowds of State Street and Capitol Square and head to Williamson Street, affectionately known as Willy Street by locals, on the city’s east side. Among the quirky thrift stores, artsy housewares shops and funky bars you’ll find the Weary Traveler Freehouse. Chic chandeliers adorn the ceiling and antique books line virtually every side of the wall, creating a vibe that’s homey and rustic. Cozy up at one of the tables, each of them topped with a Mason jar filled with a tea candle, and order the frittata du jour, le toaste (the Weary Traveler’s version of French toast), Andes egg-wich or steak and eggs. For the especially weary traveller, there’s also a great line-up of cocktails, such as the boozy Celtic coffee and the bloody traveler secret recipe Bloody Mary.