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Saturday, September 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 65.0° F  Overcast
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The Madison dining scene in 2013
Change at the dinner table
For more photos, click gallery, above.
Credit:Nicole Malena

All great change in America begins at the dinner table. -- Ronald Reagan

Madison stepped a little further onto the national stage as a food town to watch in 2013, with five semifinalist nominations for the James Beard awards: Elizabeth Dahl of Nostrano as Outstanding Pastry Chef, Forequarter as Best New Restaurant, L'Etoile for Outstanding Wine Program, Daniel Bonanno from A Pig in a Fur Coat as Rising Star Chef of the Year, and John Gadau and Phillip Hurley of Sardine for Best Chef-Midwest.

Yet 2013 also saw the restaurant situation on State Street in disarray as large-scale redevelopment in the 500 block displaced three longstanding restaurants and a few newcomers, like Roast Public House. Kabul (Afghani-Mediterranean cuisine), Buraka (Ethiopian) and Hüsnü's (Turkish), all of which had been on month-to-month leases on the ground floor of the University Inn, found themselves looking for new homes with the advent of a major new apartment complex. The restaurant owners said going rents on State Street were prohibitive, yet they wanted to remain near their university customer base.

Kabul found new digs across the street in the second floor of the former Gino's space as chef/owner Gino Gargano retired in October. Roast also moved across the street to the site of the short-lived s2pizzabar, which closed in March. Buraka and Hüsnü's are still looking.

Meanwhile, empty restaurant storefronts on and near State Street lingered, including the former Quaker Steak and Lube at 222 W. Gorham and the former Le Chardonnay at 320 W. Johnson St. (reportedly empty so long as restaurant space it will instead be turned into apartments). By the end of the year, the on-again/off-again presence of the troubled T.Sushi/Chi Asian Infused was finally off again, resulting in yet another empty space.

The campus area continues to experience growth in terms of outsized apartment complexes. There's even a spacious hotel, home to one of the most popular launches of this past fall, Bassett Street Brunch Club, on the ground floor of the new Hampton Inn.

Human scale

New eateries that have an essential, personal feel are Humble, a pie shop on Allen Street, and Layla's, Madison's only Persian restaurant, in the lower-level space below the Madison Hostel on Butler Street.

Paul's Pelmeni returned the cult dumpling to downtown from Fitchburg with its storefront on West Gorham. Bon Appetit Cafe permanently transitioned to Chez Nanou, a cozy French bistro. Two new pizzerias upped Madison's game: Grampa's, on Willy, and Novanta (a sister to Cafe Porta Alba), on Old Sauk.

Atwood Avenue's Next Door Brewing is a spiffy neighborhood brewpub, offering a full-fledged menu along with brewmaster Keith Symonds' beers. A revival of Brat und Brau opened at Northside Town Center.

A casualty among these homegrown-style spots was the sui generis Mildred's Sandwich Shop, which closed this spring after the death in 2012 of proprietor Nels Nelson. It's now remodeled and open as The Spot.

Big news

The fine-dining opening of the year was chef Dan Fox's Heritage Tavern, which claimed the space once occupied by the storied Cafe Montmartre and, later, the Underground Kitchen.

In the same block, Veritas opened and closed in the former Mercury Cafe space (itself collateral damage of the Underground Kitchen fire). It was followed by Sol's on the Square, a Korean restaurant. And Taqueria Guadalajara on South Park re-launched with a revamped look after a fire in February -- goodbye pink, hello brick!

A high-profile import from Milwaukee brought vitality to coffee culture on the Square: Alterra opened a spacious java stop on the ground floor of the Tenney Building. Shortly thereafter, the whole company changed its name to Colectivo, which confused the crowds apparently not at all.

Longtime sweets purveyor Lane's Bakery reopened in the Villager Mall in December. It had closed its coffeehouse at 448 S. Park St. in September 2012.

And barbecue appears to be having a moment. That BBQ Joint opened on Willy; JB's Eat-A-Bite BBQ on South Park. Blair Street Brew and BBQ opened in spring but closed in October before starting its brew operation; yet it's slated to reopen as Chef DJ's Blair Street BBQ and Catering.

Latin America and more

Although there were plenty of promising starts for all sorts of ethnic food, Latin American cuisine led the pack. Surco Peruvian's brick-and-mortar location on Cottage Grove Road finally opened. La Taguara became Madison's first Venezuelan restaurant in the former Dimitri's Gyros.

Crandall's-University Avenue made a big move to State Street into the former site of Chautara (which closed in July), and began to serve Peruvian food as well as its beloved fish fry and other home-style American fare.

Cortadito Express, serving Latin/Spanish street food out of the former coat closet at the Cardinal Bar, opened and closed, despite generally glowing reviews.

The Side Door Grill and Tap is the latest restaurant to reside downstairs from Samba Brazilian Grill, following Cafe Samba and Samba Lounge.

The pan-Latin eatery A La Brasa on Broom Street went Mexican. La Nena/Fruteria Ali opened inside Mercadito Madison on East Wash. Taqueria El Jalapeño opened on Midvale and Jalapeño Grill on South Park. The Rocky Rococo at 3001 N. Sherman closed and became a second location of Habanero's Mexican Grill.

Mabuhay Filipino became our first Filipino restaurant, though in the space of Smiley's II, our first Colombian, which closed. Minerva Indian Cuisine opened at 515 Junction Rd. KJ's Curry Bowl, with a global fusion menu, opened in the former Cilantro.


608 Restaurant and Bar opened in the former Paul's Club, while Paul's moved to the former Jack's Shoes. Big Red's Steaks became a Sushi Express.

Crostini, a sub and panini takeout place, opened in the former Nonna Rita's Empanadas on North Street. At East Towne, the Journey Grill and Buffet filled in at the troubled My Buddies (originally built as a Damon's — I think). Cannery Grill in Sun Prairie is now a third Nitty Gritty.

Tutto Pasta-Middleton closed; Pasta Nuovo opened.

Marrakesh moved into the former Shish Cafe. The Laredo's on University Avenue near Hilldale closed (the new development now on that site sports a Chipotle), while sister restaurant Cocina Real moved to Allen Boulevard in Middleton. Cancun Restaurant in Whitney Square became Nonno's Ristorante Italiano.

Queen Anne's catering, best known for its fish fries at the West Side Club, closed, with the Club searching for a different site and catering taken over by Hy-Vee grocery. That Iowa-based chain opened its second Madison-area store, complete with a restaurant with wait service, at Westgate.


Viet House on East Wash closed; so did Kim's Noodle, on Monona Drive (though its operators opened the similar Viet Bistro at West Washington and Regent).

We lost Punta Cana (Dominican), Hong Kong Wok in Hilldale (one of the better Chinese options), Palmyra (Middle Eastern) and Calasan Indonesian. JJ Fish and Chicken in the East Madison Shopping Center closed. Nettie's Cafe on Greenway Cross closed. QQ Asian Buffet, at Northgate, closed. Hot dog emporium Bison Jacks in Middleton — also closed.

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