Temperatures are rising, the sun is shining and restaurants on State Street have set up their outdoor tables. Finally, FINALLY spring has sprung. Outdoor dining is one of the simple pleasures in life and, in Madison, it’s important to take full advantage of nice weather when you can. I wanted to tell you about all the great outdoor dining spots in Madison a month ago — you know, back in the days when you thought it was nice enough for just a sweatshirt, but after 15 minutes of shivering outside you’d be forced to retreat back indoors with chattering teeth and purple lips. Now that it’s actually warm enough to comfortably sit outside for an extended period of time, I’ll share my favorite restaurants that embrace the great outdoors. Get out there and enjoy the sun!
This quaint little Italian restaurant on North Frances Street boasts one of the most charming outdoor dining areas to be found in Madison. Walking through the iron gate into the walled garden feels like you’re stepping into a secret European getaway, and on a warm evening the dim lighting truly creates an atmosphere of enchantment. Their food is nothing to scoff at, either. Classic Italian pasta dishes are supplemented by a variety of sandwiches, wraps and thin crust pizzas on the menu. I suggest trying the Prosciutto and Panna pasta dish, a delightfully indulgent dish of pasta shells, prosciutto, peas, mushrooms and a creamy Alfredo sauce. Sneak down to the wine cellar if you’re of age to find an Italian wine hand-selected to complement your dish, and sip it as you soak up the vibes of a tranquil Italian evening.
This newly opened restaurant on University Avenue is massive, with three floors full of chicly decorated seating areas, but if it’s nice out even at all, be sure to sit on the rooftop terrace as you enjoy your hearty pulled pork sandwich. With comfortable picnic-style tables and strings of light bulb lanterns, you’ll feel more like you’re at a backyard block party than in the middle of a city. Cool views of the Capitol and an extensive beer menu make this rooftop patio a promising summer hangout spot.
The Great Dane Pub
The garden hideaway behind The Great Dane on East Doty Street makes this Madison staple a true summertime gem. Tall, vine-covered walls and fully-grown trees enclose a shady, quiet slice of serenity with plenty of seating, something that’s incredibly hard to find in the bustling Capitol Square area. Classic pub fare is served with a twist at the Great Dane, and their home-brewed beers are especially wonderful when enjoyed in the backyard garden area. The Mad City Mama’s BBQ Meatloaf is a tangy and zesty take on the standard, as is the pesto-enhanced Brewman Rob’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese.
Their namesake says it all. Fresco, one of the classier restaurants on State Street, located on the rooftop of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, shines in the spring and summertime. Not only do they have a gorgeous and modern rooftop garden terrace where you can enjoy drinks, dinner and dessert “al fresco” with spectacular views of State Street and the Capitol, their ever-changing menu is crafted using many market fresh, local ingredients. Spring and summer are the perfect seasons to eat at Fresco, in terms of both food and atmosphere. Although Fresco is a bit on the pricey side, with most entrees costing around $25, their Fresco 5ives offer college students the chance to class it up without breaking the bank. Served Thursdays from 9-11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 p.m. to midnight, a number of signature drinks, small plates and desserts are available for $5 each. Try the ham & poached egg Midnight Breakfast Sandwich and the Mint Julep Cr?me Br?l?e for a classy meal on the cheap. A chic location and trendy menu make Fresco the perfect hotspot for dates or nights out on the town.
Memorial Union Terrace
Okay, so the food at the Union doesn’t quite measure up to the other restaurants I’ve mentioned, but if you’re a student at the UW and you don’t go to the Terrace every chance you get, you’re pretty much committing a crime against humanity. With spectacular views of Lake Mendota and a crowd that’s always ready to have a good time, the Terrace is perhaps the number one best spot in Madison (and possibly the world) to sit outside and watch the sunset, the sailboats, the people and generally enjoy life. Grab a brat, a couple of good friends and embrace the beauty that is UW-Madison in the non-winter months.
It’s the middle of April. The time has come to eat outside; Mother Nature can’t turn her back on us now! (Knock on wood).
Elin Amundson is a senior majoring in history and philosophy. Comments and suggestions can be sent to [email protected]