For years, the Orpheum Theatre has been bringing Madison the very best in independent and foreign cinema, off-the-beaten-path Hollywood oeuvre and concerts spanning the spectrum from late-night raves to Tesla. It stands as one of the last great movie palaces in Wisconsin, a testament to Hollywood’s classical period of the ’30s and ’40s. Widely regarded as the best place on campus to see a great movie, the best got better with the addition of the Grand Lobby Restaurant.
Upon entering the Orpheum, located at 216 State St., one immediately becomes enveloped in its nostalgic aura of movie history. Any film buff will appreciate the low-key lighting and studio-system memorabilia of the Grand Lobby Restaurant, while all will enjoy the generally demure aesthetic.
True to its name, the restaurant itself is located in the lobby of the theatre, comfortably situated between the staircases leading up to the balcony. The seating options range from the quintessential roundtables for that group of socialites out for a night on the town to a romantic alcove ideal for dinner and a movie with that special someone. Should your table not be ready or the restaurant overcrowded (and it rarely is), the waitstaff is more than accommodating in directing you to the Orpheum’s charming and pleasantly sized bar.
While dinner is this star’s time to shine, the Grand Lobby Restaurant doesn’t limit itself to nocturnal activities only. Those lucky enough to catch the Saturday-morning-only breakfast menu will be treated to a surprisingly affordable array of wake-up classics like blueberry pancakes, granola parfait and, of course, the Denver omelet. Sunday mornings, the Orpheum offers a brunch that makes Saturday night partying seem a bit overrated. This culinary pastiche of mid-morning delights may seem a bit pricey at $14, but then again, you can’t really worry about how much you’re dropping on any meal that features the description “all-you-can-eat.”
The dinner menu is admittedly a bit short, but the selected servings are made with such zeal that it’s easy to overlook the lack of options. Like any truly great Wisconsin restaurant, the Grand Lobby Restaurant tops its menu with the steaks and chops, one of which boasts the namesake of the recently opened (and rather well-received) Johnny Delmonico’s. The seafood segment presents a swordfish so tasty and tender that it would make even the most grizzled Florida angler green with envy.
But the coup de grace of the Orpheum’s dinner menu is one of its specialties: a pan-seared breast of duck served with parsnips, pearl onions and dried cherry sauce. The portion is surprisingly hearty for $11, and the sauce complements the duck’s natural flavor perfectly. It’s so good, it will make you want to slap yourself for ever having said, “Ehh, it tastes just like chicken.”
Sadly, all dinner entrees are served a la carte, so be sure to heed mom’s advice and order some grilled asparagus or fresh green beans. Since you’re eating healthy with that side of vegetables, you might as well treat yourself to a selection from the dessert menu. While it varies from night to night, it regularly features a slice of New York cheesecake big and rich enough to send you directly to the cardiac ward of Meriter. Should you decide to stay for a movie and end up with the munchies afterwards, the bar serves selected food items until 1 a.m.
Certainly, the Orpheum Theatre has always had a certain romance associated with it being a movie palace from the days of yore. The addition of the Grand Lobby Restaurant only heightens the level of this romance, making the Orpheum’s already classy definition of the theatre-going experience even classier.