Hungry for the Great Outdoors: Madison’s Best Outside Dining
by Heidi Arenberg
As the weather finally warms and the days stretch further into what once was night, a funny thing happens: people just want to stay outside. It’s no wonder really, especially in a city as beautiful as Madison whose restaurants seem to offer just as many outdoor patios as indoor spaces in the summer. And while places like Memorial Union’s Terrace and Vintage Spirits & Grill are no-brainers when you’re jonesing for a tasty bite and relaxing atmosphere, this city is brimming with nearby places to eat and enjoy the weather—and options for all occasions and budgets.
When you want to run out for lunch between classes or work, go to…
On afternoons when a bagged lunch or TV dinner just won’t do, Parthenon Gyros stands as fairly priced but oh-so delicious alternative. Whether you’ve got a taste for a hearty gyro, skewered pork (souvlaki), or a fresh Greek salad, Parthenon has you covered. Well, unless you eat on their darling roof garden, in which case your head won’t be so covered.
When you’re scheming to impress out-of-town friends, go to…
Not only does Brickhouse possess a menu full of can’t-go-wrong favorites like pulled pork sandwiches, barbeque ribs, and hushpuppies, but the diner also boasts an extensive drink menu (with mint juleps and a bourbon/ginger beer mix called the “Kerouac,” no less) and monthly beer events. As if that isn’t enough to kick off a leisurely visit from friends, the view from the restaurant’s balcony at sunset will surely make your buds regret their decisions to go to Marquette.
When you’ve got a hot date, go to…
With a view as romantic and breathtaking as the one Fresco, “Madison’s only rooftop dining experience,” boasts, the restaurant is a must for a fancy date night. While the entrees range from $15-$28 (pretty pricey for a college student), between the mouthwatering gourmet, the location above the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the modern, all-glass lounge, you’d be doing both yourself and your significant other a disservice by skipping out on Fresco. Bonus: look out for the recent $12 gnocchi on Thursdays and $25 deal for a cocktail, starter, and entrée on Fridays and Saturdays.
When you want to go out for drinks and feel classy while doing so, go to…
Although Café Samba fails to be a rooftop restaurant or have a balcony for dining, a rustically dreamy patio adorns the side of this Brazilian hotspot. Big brother Samba may reside on the upper level, but downstairs at Café Samba exist tapas galore, weekly drink specials, 22 tap beers, and meats served from the traditional rodizio. Moreover, the café is in the process of becoming a martini bar, so soon enough, you’ll be able to stop by on your Saturday night rounds and bask in the soft glow of the string lights with a drink in your hand.
When your parents come to town (along with means to pay the bill), go to…
By now, you’ve probably figured out that it’s best to save indulging in seafood for nights out with the family (read: seafood is expensive, and your parents will probably be paying if you dine out with them). And even though Ocean Grill also features a mere restaurant-side patio, the view from it and the food you’ll be eating on it are both not so ordinary. While you’re munching on some seafood enchiladas, peppercorn crusted salmon, and prosciutto wrapped tuna (and maybe even gateau au vin blanc), the Capitol majestically towers over the scrumptious eatery. Needless to say, your parents will probably want to visit more often; you can decide whether that’s a good thing or not.