The buzz around campus lately has been either about the road to the World Series or Badger football. But where do you go to watch these games? Many flock to State Street Brats and Buffalo Wild Wings to grab “game food” and a cold beer while watching on big screen televisions, but the rebuilding and reincarnation of Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, 317 N. Frances Street, might be giving these sports bars some friendly competition.
Although I would not categorize Dotty’s as a sports bar, it has the potential to become one on game days. The old neighborhood-tavern atmosphere is characterized by a distinct German and English influence. The interior is of dark wood, giving it a rustic edge. This place reminds me of the Nitty Gritty in the sense that it has been around forever and that it is a well-known Madison favorite.
Dotty’s has been around since 1975, but the city ousted the restaurant from its Fairchild Street site in order to make room for the new Overture Center, an expansion of Madison’s arts district. Formerly one of Madison’s most famous hamburger restaurants, Dotty’s is back with a slightly tweaked menu to attract a greater clientele.
Model airplanes hang from the ceiling along with old Wisconsin memorabilia, such as pennants, store signs, newspaper clippings, trading cards and posters. Authentic basketballs (from the 1913 to 1914 basketball season when the Wisconsin men’s team was conference champion) line the ceiling. The family-owned and -operated restaurant also has four flat screen televisions for viewing sporting events as well as an extensive bar with 25 beers on tap.
Abiding by its title as the “World Hamburger Headquarters,” the menu balances traditional hamburgers and sandwiches and some rather unusual ones. Dotty’s offers an Everything Burger ($4.50), which tastes like an all-American classic. It reminded me of diner food and had me craving a milkshake. The thick burger was cooked to my liking and was topped with ketchup, mustard, pickles, onion, relish and tomatoes.
One of my more adventurous friends tried the Ostrich Burger ($5.95). The sandwich was juicy and bursting with flavor. Even more attractive is the fact that it has 95% less fat than a regular burger but is neither dry nor dull.
I was disappointed that burgers and sandwiches were a la carte and were not accompanied by French fries. Offered in two sizes, regular ($1.50) and jumbo ($2.50), the fries could have been a little crisper. The onion rings ($1.50) were thick, and the batter tasted homemade — these did not taste like the onion rings that come from a bag. They are truly something to rave about.
If sandwiches are not your favorite, Dotty’s offers Garden, Caesar and Greek Salads. My taste-testing team tried the Greek Salad ($6.25) and added chicken ($2). The salad tasted traditional, with onions, cucumbers, feta cheese and a tangy Greek dressing, but the small portion size was not anticipated with such a steep price.
Other favorites on the menu include the infamous Bratwurst ($4), Corndog ($3) and malts and shakes ($4). From a distance I caught a glimpse of a vanilla milkshake that had me drooling. The menu claimed the same recipe has been used for the last 20 years. You would expect it to be good!
My only disappointment at Dotty’s was the poor customer service. My waitress was unfriendly and seemed as if she had no desire to be waiting on my table. I found the wait-staff to be extremely unaccommodating. I had to ask three different employees to have the manager stop over to answer a few of my questions. Once I tracked him down he seemed distracted and apathetic.
But I was impressed with Dotty’s no-smoking policy. It is usually hard to find bar and grill restaurants that prohibit smoking entirely.
If you are looking for a place to watch a big game or enjoy an inexpensive meal with friends, Dotty’s is a fun place for a get together that will not have you coughing or reeking of smoke. An added tip: if you visit the website (www.dottydumplingsdowry.com) you can print off a web coupon for a dollar off any sandwich. Until next week, happy dining!