Even though I love going to great places like Forequarter, Tornado Room and Heritage Tavern, some of my favorite places are those hole-in-the-wall, secret neighborhood places. There’s something I love about diner coffee, dining rooms that haven’t been redecorated since the early 90s and the regulars chatting in the corner. It’s an added bonus when the food is as good as it is a Coppertop Family Restaurant.
Coppertop fits all of the qualifications of a quirky neighborhood spot – the regulars were chatting in the corner booth, the coffee was hot and fresh, and the dining room looks like a funeral parlor from the 90s (think floral patterns, mauve paint, a lot of vinyl, mirrors on the ceilings…). They serve standard breakfast options; sandwiches, salads and soups at lunch and they also have dinner entrees. Big bonus: they serve breakfast all day!
Thanks to a suggestion from a friend familiar with Coppertop, I got the Wisconsin skillet, which has ham, green peppers, cheese, onions and mushrooms. It comes with two eggs done however you want, American fries (read: breakfast potatoes) and toast or pancakes. In my breakfast-eating experience, the ingredients in scrambles or skillets can come out one of two ways — mushy and only slightly cooked or crispy — and the latter is definitely preferable. Coppertop’s skillet definitely fit into that second category. The ham, mushrooms and peppers were all crispy…not to mention the super crispy breakfast potatoes. I also loved the sprinkle of cheese on top. The surprising part of my breakfast was that it was barely greasy — grease is usually a staple on the plates of most neighborhood diners.
FOOD NOTES: I was very happy with my breakfast for lunch, and with any place that serves breakfast all day…I will probably never try any of their lunch or dinner options. I love breakfast too much to pass it up if it’s an option! Some people might let the decor stop them from going back, but I think it’s endearing…it gives the place a towny, “we don’t take ourselves too seriously” feel. The view of the Beltline from the front windows is also pretty great!
I’ve driven past The Curve, an extremely tiny restaurant on Park Street, many times, but I never really wanted to try it because it looks a little rundown. After hearing through the foodie grapevine that I was missing out, I decided to try it out for breakfast the weekend before Christmas.
Since the tiny (8 tables, plus a counter) restaurant is right on South Park Street I was worried about parking, but we got a spot on the same block looking toward Monona Bay. The Curve’s exterior and interior presentation is a little unsettling (it’s dirty, outdated and could clearly use some repairs), but don’t let that stop you from ordering. The menu is simple and the staff (two or three people max) are probably the nicest I’ve dealt with ever. The red tile floors partnered with the chatty regulars really give this place a neighborhood feel!
We were brought two large cups of coffee before we even had a chance to open a menu. Sometimes diner coffee can be bad — weak, bitter, too strong, lukewarm, only drinkable with cream — but not at The Curve. The coffee was hot, smooth and best consumed black. Good coffee is the first mark of a good breakfast place!
Now here’s where this review is going to get a little confusing. I was planning on ordering the corned beef hash off the menu, and that’s when the woman told me the special was corned beef hash. I immediately said I’d get the special, but after she walked away I realized the corned beef hash on the menu was $2 less than the special…which didn’t make a lot of sense. And when I asked — the difference does make a huge difference! The hash on the menu is out of a can, but the special hash is homemade. And apparently they only have it every other weekend. I’ve had corned beef hash out of a can and it tastes like dog food. DO NOT get the corned beef hash if it isn’t the special. The homemade corned beef hash special was crazy good! It had a spicy, garlicky heat to it with tender corned beef, crispy potatoes and onions. Corned beef hash is one of my favorite breakfast dishes (thanks Dad!), and this is the best one I’ve had. Normally I need the egg yolk to make the dish perfect, but this hash was so good I could definitely eat it without the egg — but I won’t because eggs make everything better! The serving size is also something to mention — it wasn’t too small or too big…it was perfect! I was full when I finished off my plate, but not gross full and it kept me filled the rest of my day.
My mom got some sort of omelet that I don’t even remember trying because my hash was so good! I do remember bringing half of her omelet home, because it was so large!
FOOD NOTES: There are three take-aways from this review.
The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” really applies to The Curve. Don’t let the peeling paint and dusty window ledges scare you away.
The employees (and diners the day we were there) are some of the friendliest people I’ve met in a restaurant. The woman who works there even invited us back the next week on a day that she brings in Christmas cookies for all of their customers!
The corned beef hash special is so good I’m craving it now just writing about it and looking at the picture. It is a perfectly seasoned, crispy pile of potatoes and corned beef only made better by the gooey eggs! Remember: I wouldn’t suggest ordering the corned beef hash off the menu.
I wanted to try breakfast at the Edgewater for two reasons: the menu and the view. And neither of them disappointed. What did disappoint was the various levels of disarray the Edgewater was in the weekend we went. My mom and I stayed at the old Edgewater so both of us recognized the amazing view of Lake Mendota when we walked into the State House for breakfast a couple weeks ago.
Other than the view, the State House had some other interesting atmosphere quirks — like the odd teal velvet chairs with studs and wings. Those were probably the ugliest chairs I’ve ever seen…and yes, they did detract from the dining room’s ambience. The extremely upscale kitchen and menu were overshadowed by the nice but untrained and awkwardly overattentive servers. And the plastic wrap and paint supplies we had to walk around to get into the dining room were pretty surprising to see.
Now on to the menu. Everything listed seems to have at least one thing that made it intriguing and hard to decide what to get– whether it be something homemade or an interesting ingredient. It also made the menu slightly unapproachable.
I eventually decided to get savory croissant bread pudding even after our waiter had no idea what it was and didn’t offer to go find out. The dish came with two perfectly poached eggs on top, a lighter-than-normal hollandaise sauce, a couple stalks of asparagus and some thinly-sliced ham on top of the savory croissant bread pudding. The bread pudding was what I had questions about when reading the menu and after trying it all I can say is — get the savory croissant bread pudding. It is chunks of croissant stuck together (I’m not sure with what) to make a base for the toppings, which are basically eggs benedict. The croissant bread pudding was surprising because it was still super flaky and had that dense, buttery flavor that everyone looks for in a croissant, but it was seasoned with savory spices…I picked out salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary. It was one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve had in a while…if the hollandaise had a better flavor it might have been the best.
My mom got the crostone which was kind of also like eggs benedict. It had a grilled piece of sourdough bread as a base and asparagus, prosciutto, a basil emulsion and two poached eggs on top. This version of eggs benedict was lighter than mine, but equally as good. The prosciutto added a much-needed saltiness to the eggs and the basil emulsion was super light and flavorful. And then the sourdough bread tied it all in with a great tang and char from being grilled. My mom loves sourdough bread so this one was her favorite, but mine was my favorite!
FOOD NOTES: After reading and hearing a couple other reviews of the State House’s dinner I was a little worried about their breakfast, but the two versions of eggs benedict we got were great. A savory croissant bread pudding? I’ve never heard of it, but now I crave it! The coffee was also notably good. As I already mentioned, the dining room decor seemed like it was trying too hard and the fact that parts of the building were still under construction was awkward. However, I really hope the State House is able to stay open because when we were there on a Friday morning there was only one other table of people and the prices are a bit higher than comparable places (minus the view!).
In my opinion breakfast food is the best type of food. I have never been and will never be the person who “just doesn’t eat breakfast.” On busy mornings I still make time for oatmeal and a banana, but I love all types of breakfast options – eggs, toast, bacon, pancakes! And because I love breakfast food so much I love brunch and breakfast for dinner! I know I’m not alone in my love for breakfast food, which is why I was always a little disappointed by the breakfast offerings downtown. Recently, the Bassett Street Brunch Club opened, but there aren’t other places that serve breakfast all day downtown. So when I heard that the Short Stack Eatery opened right in the middle of State Street and would be serving breakfast all day, every day I thought I’d love it. Well I love the theory, but the execution didn’t work for me.
Short Stack Eatery is in a corner building so it has a ton of windows and is super bright and cheery. The brightly colored teal walls also add to the cheeriness. Table numbers are made with old license plates and tables are littered with old letters, maps and clippings, which is a cute way to bring in some nostalgia and Wisconsin pride. There’s a big counter in the middle that serves as a place for staff to huddle and diners to sit around. The huge chandelier made of whisks was my favorite!
We went on a busy Saturday morning after the farmer’s market and actually got a table right away, but only after we ordered at the counter. That was strike number one – I don’t like having to order and pay at a counter and then fight for a table while waiting for my food. Ordering at a counter also means we had to brave the busy drink station to get our own waters, silverware and even build a bloody Mary. I realize this makes me sound lazy, but the space Short Stack Eatery is in is way too small to make diners conglomerate around a small table for their drinks and utensils.
Their menu has all of the usual breakfast suspects: eggs, pancakes, french toast, etc. But then it has two unconventional options. A Pick Three option, which is exactly what it sounds like – they have a list of options and you get to pick three. The other one is a blind special, which again is exactly what it sounds like…but if you want to know what’s in it you get charged $12.95 and if you order it in blind faith it only costs $6.95, which in theory sounds good but you really have to be open for anything. The next strike against the Short Stack Eatery was the prices. A glass of orange juice is $4.25 – it is fresh-squeezed, but holy crap that is an expensive glass of orange juice. My meal was $8.95, which isn’t bad for breakfast, but the portions were just so freaking small it wasn’t a good deal.
So my $8.95 meal was the Pick Three option on the menu. I chose bacon, scrambled eggs and pancakes from a list that also had breakfast potatoes, toast and a couple other things. I was shocked when my order came out. The two eggs barely seemed like one large egg, the two small pieces of bacon were laughable and the three pancakes were about the size of a coffee mug. Everything was good – the bacon was cooked just right, the eggs were fine and the pancakes were actually pretty good, but almost $10 for a couple bites of egg, two pieces of bacon and three small pancakes? I was very disappointed in the price for what I ended up getting. And even though their orange juice was fancy and fresh squeeze, nothing on my plate warranted the price tag.
FOOD NOTES: I really wanted to be excited about a fun new breakfast place downtown, but unless Short Stack Eatery drops their prices or increases their portion sizes I won’t be back. I was shocked with the small amount of food I got, but the food I did actually get served was decent. Unfortunately, because people who live downtown like trendy places like Short Stack Eatery they probably won’t be changing their prices or portion sizes anytime soon, and will probably be pretty successful. The decor was cute, but I really don’t like having to order at a counter and fight for a glass of water and a napkin at a drink station.
I put a lot of stock in restaurant reviews on Yelp. I feel that the masses will reflect the actual quality of a restaurant. Usually I read the first five reviews and then a couple of the really bad ones to have a good expectation of what I’m walking in to. The first time Yelp reviews have really led me in the wrong direction was for Sophia’s on Johnson Street. The reviews said Sophia’s has the best breakfast in town, and I couldn’t disagree more.
The first strike against Sophia’s happened when I picked a friend up for breakfast on a Friday and Sophia’s was closed. Apparently, Sophia’s is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. That does not seem like a good business plan to me.
A month later that same friend and I drove back over to Sophia’s on a Saturday for breakfast. Sophia’s is in a small building on Johnson Street that is so nondescript I have driven by it dozens of times and have never noticed it. When you walk in the first thing you will notice is that there are only five tables and a small counter by the front window. I’m not against small restaurants but this takes “small” to an extreme. To get to the only open table in the place (which I didn’t think there was going to be one for us when we first walked in) we had to awkwardly climb over two people sitting at the table in front of the empty table. You order at a counter and they bring your food out to you. But the weird part about Sophia’s is that once you’ve waited in line to order, then you have to wait in line again when you’re done eating to pay, because you pay after you’re done eating. Usually if you order at a counter you do the whole ordering and paying thing in one transaction. Having to wait in line once we were done eating just to pay was super inconvenient.
I could be persuaded to forgive the cramped space and the odd payment system if the food had been great. But unfortunately it was not. The cinnamon roll we got was more like a cinnamony morning bun with an odd lemon glaze on top. I’m sorry but when I want a cinnamon roll I want it to be frosted or glazed with vanilla or cream cheese goodness…not an oddly tart lemon concoction.
Their menu, not posted online anywhere, is written on a chalkboard, which I’m assuming means it changes. When we were there they were offering a couple different omelets and breakfast sandwiches, as well as pancakes. I’m a savory breakfast person so I got an omelet. It had cheese, ham and peppers in it. The peppers were tasteless and seemed like they may have come out of a can. The omelet itself was kind of watery and the cheese was sparse. I was thoroughly unimpressed, especially because the guy sitting behind me at a different table kept rocking his chair into mine the entire time. The omelet also came with breakfast potatoes that weren’t crunchy enough for my taste and were very bland.
My friend got apple pancakes, which were the special that day (but she said the last time she was there the special was the same so my guess is it doesn’t change very often).
FOOD NOTES: My favorite restaurant in my hometown only has about a dozen tables, and I’m able to overlook the small space because the food is so good. The one thing that place does well is that even though they have 12 tables, there’s a reasonable amount of space between them so you don’t have to climb over people to get to a table. The food at Sophia’s is nowhere near good enough to make up for their annoying dining area. The lemon flavor on their cinnamon roll was not appreciated, and their omelets and breakfast potatoes were subpar. Their prices were also a bit high for the extremely cramped and rundown dining area we had to endure.
There’s something novel about a coffee shop that brews each cup of coffee to order and serves fantastic homemade food. Johnson Public House does just that. Even the best coffee shops in Madison can’t compete with the neighborhood feel of this near east side coffeehouse. The welcoming and homey space is accented by a large coffee bar, mismatched furniture and local art hanging on the wall. Both times I went to JPH there were half a dozen people visiting and hanging out on their computers. My favorite part of JPH was, what else, their focus on quality coffee!
I have been a coffee drinker since high school. I love most types of brewed coffee, but generally don’t like espresso because in my experience, espresso usually has a bitter flavor. JPH baristas told me they specialize in a cortado – two shots of espresso with a little bit of warm milk added in. I was extremely skeptical about trying one but now I crave them. The cortados at JPH are extremely creamy and have a perfect roasted coffee flavor – no bitterness in sight. I had two the first time I went and wished I had time to get a second one on my second visit! The JPH cortado definitely changed my mind about drinking quality espresso.
On top of that amazing espresso drink their pour-over coffee is fantastic. I tried a couple different types of coffee they had that day, and all of them exceeded any brewed coffee I’ve ever had. I’m not sure I’d ever pass over a cortado for their brewed coffee but it was very good.
They have a small menu of breakfast and lunch sandwich options. I was with a friend and we decided to try their original breakfast sandwich and their roast beef breakfast sandwich. The original breakfast sandwich has a hardboiled egg, local ham, mozzarella, tomato and pesto on wheat bread. I love that the sandwich has hardboiled eggs on it – it makes it very portable and hearty. But the real winning sandwich was the roast beef breakfast sandwich with a hardboiled egg, provolone cheese, local roast beef, sriracha mayo and caramelized onions on wheat bread. The hardboiled egg and roast beef pair perfectly with the spicy and creamy sriracha mayo and crunchy onions. Sandwiches come with either potato chips or greens. The chips were a good salty addition to the hearty sandwiches but I would recommend getting the greens. The actual greens are a nice, fresh spring mix but the dressing is what makes the side fantastic. I’m not sure what is all in it, but it was a light vinaigrette with small tidbits of salt and pepper throughout. The dressing made those greens ridiculously good!
To top off the great coffee and unique sandwiches, we got a small cup of the yogurt and granola. The locally-made yogurt was extremely creamy and paired very well with the fresh berries. But the shining star of the bowl was the homemade granola. The crispy oats and cashews had a fantastically sweet flavor. I loved the granola so much I asked if they would sell it to go (apparently they are working on it!). On my second visit I even passed up the roast beef breakfast sandwich for a large bowl of the yogurt, granola and fruit – of course I also got a cortado. I can’t really describe why such a simple dish was so good, but the homemade granola and the drizzle of honey on top is probably part of it!
FOODNOTES: If I lived closer to Johnson Public House I would be a very regular customer. If not for the cortados, I would stop in for a sandwich or a huge bowl of the granola. The cortado changed my opinion of quality espresso drinks. It will definitely be difficult to drive through that neighborhood without stopping for my new favorite coffee drink! Their breakfast sandwiches are great, especially the one with roast beef and sriracha mayo. Their homemade granola makes a traditionally simple and unexciting dish exceptional! My recommendation – a cortado and a bowl of granola!
Manna Cafe on Madison’s north side is one of the best-kept secrets in Madison. It is hidden in the corner of a disheveled strip mall amidst an aging shoe-repair shop, travel agent and butcher shop. If I wasn’t expecting to pull into an old strip mall to find Manna I would have driven past it. But any sense of that strip mall disappears when you walk into Manna and are greeted by a beautiful pastry case, cheery yellow walls and a great menu. When we were there on a week-day morning both of the decent-sized dining rooms were full, and we were lucky to get a table!
Even though I wanted to try most of the items in the bakery case I opted for one of the gluten free options since I’m trying to go mostly gluten free now. I got a pumpkin date bar with cream cheese frosting to take home. It was the perfect breakfast the next day. Gluten free desserts tend pretty dry because they have to use weird ingredients to avoid gluten, but this bar was great. It was moist and had a great pumpkin flavor. And the frosting was great! I loved that it wasn’t too sweet (which tends to be problem for regular pumpkin bars).
For breakfast I got the A Walk-in-the Woods scramble with asparagus, mushrooms, cheddar cheese and frizzled onions on top. It was a good size with the perfect ratio of eggs to fillings. The frizzled onions on top added a great flavor and crunch. The scrambles come with some of the best breakfast potatoes I’ve had yet. They were seasoned really well and were amazingly crunchy on the outside, yet perfectly fluffy on the inside. Loved them! The scrambles also come with bread and I was pretty excited that they have homemade gluten free bread as an option! I was very happy with my breakfast. I was a little concerned about the coffee because it is served out of gas-station like serve-yourself carafes but it was hot, steamy, fresh and flavorful! The unlimited cup is definitely your best choice. My friend got the Sticky Bun French Toast and loved it, although it was a little rich with the chocolate maple syrup.
FOODNOTES: I was extremely impressed with the quality and quantity of food I got at Manna Cafe. The scramble was above the standard of most scrambles I’ve had, and the potatoes were memorable enough to bring me back for breakfast again. I loved my take-home gluten-free pumpkin bar, and can’t wait to try other seasonal gluten-free bakery options they will have. I really want to go back to try their oatmeal pancakes, the Okeefe benedict on the weekends looks super good, and a couple of the lunch options look really promising! Their lunch menu is very extensive making it a very good option for groups of people. The prices were comparable to other cafes in Madison. And don’t let the unassuming location fool you, Manna Cafe is great!
I found this little gem last summer at a volunteer event for work and have wanted to try their breakfast ever since. Paoli (there’s some dissent among friends and co-workers on whether it is pronounced Paol-e or Paol-i) is a very small unincorporated chunk of buildings 10 minutes south of Fitchburg. It is on the way to Belleville, Albany, New Glaurus, and other small tourist towns in southern Wisconsin but definitely warrants a stop on its own. There are about a dozen little shops along less than a mile stretch of county highway and even less options to eat. All of this centers around a bike trail and scenery along the Sugar River. There are art galleries that have cafes, a cheese shop (which is extremely over priced and not true to Wisconsin cheese makers), a fancier restaurant in the old school house, and the Paoli Pub. I’ve hear good things about all of these options the best place to eat in Paoli is the least talked about, Paoli Local Foods. Paoli Local Foods started out as a Locavore grocery store where the owners sold their organic produce, canned goods, dairy, and meat. The grocery store and cafe focuses on organic and local ingredients with a majority of the produce and meat coming from their farm. I’m not sure when the owners decided to include a small cafe in the back but it was a smart decision.
The building is very deceiving and could pass as a storage shed but when you walk in you are greeted by the smell of coffee, smoked meats, and fresh baked pies. The dining room, with it’s miss-matched tables and chairs, is very small and simple. We were seated and served by the owner who was very nice and was clearly excited about his cafe! He boasted about his amazing Roesti potatoes that are a Swedish side dish and they were amazing. First off, the coffee was amazing. I’m a typical coffee junkie and can drink anything as long as it’s dark and hot but his coffee had a very smooth and unique flavor. I could drink that coffee every day. The breakfast menu looked the most promising with a traditional salad and sandwich lunch menu, and an interesting array of options for dinner. Off the breakfast menu I got the traditional Eggs Benedict with the Roesti potatoes and my mom got the Bacon Cheddar Quiche.
Mom loved the Bacon Cheddar Quiche but my Eggs Benedict with Roesti potatoes was amazing. I’m pretty sure the english muffin was homemade and the hollandaise sauce was somehow extremely light and flavorful at the same time. The Roesti potatoes were hashbrowns mixed with swiss cheese and onions and served extremely crispy. I was expected the potatoes to be greasy but they were the perfect compliment to the light hollandaise sauce on my plate!
In addition to our amazing breakfast my mom decided it was necessary to buy an entire pie. The apple pie sitting in the case when we walked in looked like a small masterpiece with crust decorations and a sprinkling of sugar. I’m not the biggest fan of fruit pies but a good apple pie can definitely change my mind. I generally don’t like apple pies because the apples are mushy and taste like cinnamon and sugar goo. This apple pie’s crust was extremely flaky and buttery but the filing was my favorite. The apples were perfectly cooked because they still had a little crunch. The filling was the perfect balance of sweetness and there wasn’t too much of the goo, which tasted exactly like homemade applesauce. I loved this apple pie and would recommend buying an entire pie because one piece wouldn’t be enough.
FOODNOTES: you have to make the short trek from Madison to Paoli to try their food, I would suggest this place for any of the breakfast options especially the coffee, they take credit but prefer cash, if there’s a pie you’re interested in buy the whole thing and not just one piece.