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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 78.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
Eats

TABLE TALK

Anna Zalner, Head bartender & Saturday server at The Continental
Where: The Continental, 2784 Fish Hatchery Rd., Fitchburg

Zalner: The mosquitoes are under control.
Zalner: The mosquitoes are under control.
Credit:Susan Kepecs
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Why you should go: Last year Jim and Nick Schiavo, who own Cafe Continental on King Street, took over the little castle that used to be La Paella. This summer they've put some of their old family recipes back on the table, and turned the patio into one of the best outdoor dining spots in town.

With all this rain, how do you keep the state bird at bay? Last year the mosquitoes were out of control after those rains we had - there were a few nights when people started out outside but had to come in. We have that under control this year. We got one of those mosquito magnets that run on propane, and some of the potted plants are natural bug repellents. We're not by the lake, and we keep up the yard, so there's no place for them to breed. Just in case, we put out citronella candles, too.

We haven't had any problems so far this year, and the patio's been getting heavy use. After that winter we had people were ready to start sitting outside as soon the snow melted, even if it was just for a pre-dinner drink before the sun went down.

Do people have more fun when dining al fresco? The patio's the first place people want to sit, now that we're in full patio season. It's so busy, some customers will wait at the bar till there's an outdoor table available. Others insist on sitting by a window so they can at least see outside. The dining experience here is just as good indoors, but people do get more relaxed outside.

This year we really focused on making the patio comfortable. We added a fountain and a lounge with couches and a firepit. People stop there and have a drink before dinner, linger over their meal at their table, then settle back on a couch again with an after-dinner drink.

The patio's great for socializing, and it's about to get even better. In addition to our normal happy hour from 4 to 6 we're starting a late-night version, from 9 p.m. till closing during the week, and 10 till we close on Friday and Saturday. We'll stay open till bar time, if people are here that late.

What would you order if you were being wined and dined on Continental's patio? Appetizer-wize I'd start with the fresh baked local brie with sliced apples and a nice Pinot Grigio. The Antonio's house salad - it's the Schiavo family's original, from their old restaurant on Park Street - comes with a phenomenal sweet-and-sour dressing. The penne pomodoro's nice and light for summer, but I love the spiedini, also a famous dish from Antonio's. I'd pick that, with a glass of Archetype's full-flavored Shiraz.

We have a big, inventive menu, but in my book there's nothing better than some good old-fashioned Sicilian cooking. Jim knows almost everybody who comes in here. Lots of customers would ask him to make dishes they remember from childhood dinners at Antonio's, and he'd say, "Sure, I can make that for you." Finally he just decided to put a nice selection of old family recipes on the menu. It brought the place back to its family roots, opened up the price point and made a lot of people happy.

After the spiedini, I'd definitely finish off my meal with our Cafe Continental ice cream!

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