While alternative menu choices are de rigueur on the east side of town, sometimes you just want a no-frills breakfast served in a clean, well-lit space. Nestled between a daycare and a Laundromat, the Cottage Café at 915 Atlas Ave. eschews the pervading Willy Street crunchiness by serving time-tested classics like steak and eggs, malted waffles, and liver and onions without cutesy entrée names or retro décor. A little warm-up for your cup of joe? You betcha!
In June 1977, Elvis Presley rode through town for a local concert, dressed in a powder-blue jumpsuit. He bolted out of the car at the northwest corner of East Washington Avenue and Stoughton Road to break up a fight at a gas station with a few well-placed karate kicks. The gas station is now gone, but a marker on East Wash claims the spot as sacred ground.
Wanna get high? Head to Heistand Park, a 46-acre patch of city parkland off Milwaukee Street just past Highway 51. The trails head up into the hills and through the woods to some of the best scenic overlooks in town. There's a Frisbee golf course here, so it's not always secluded. But there is a secret within this secret: the thousands of trilliums that bloom here each spring.
Most thrift stores' book collections are a mishmash, but the book department at the St. Vincent de Paul at 1309 Williamson St. has a meticulously curated feel. The selection is amazing, the shelves are well organized and the prices are jaw-droppingly low. This being a Roman Catholic enterprise, there's lots of theology, and lots of everything else.
It's no secret that Olbrich Park is one sprawling piece of recreational turf. A hidden gem, however, is a meandering footpath accessed at the western corner of the park, where it winds its way between the Lake Monona shoreline and the hill holding up Lakeland Avenue. The path doesn't really lead anywhere, unless you dare scale the steep embankment to see Harry Whitehorse's Effigy Tree sculpture.
Long before Georgia O'Keeffe began painting cow skulls and giant irises, she attended school in Madison. She was taught art at Sacred Heart Academy (today's Edgewood) and later attended Madison High (today's downtown MATC). She lived in a small two-story home at 912 Spaight St. with her beloved Aunt Lola, a Madison teacher, who, Georgia believed, "knows everything." Today the private residence overlooks B.B. Clarke Beach, just seven blocks west of the middle school that bears O'Keeffe's name and mural portrait.
Looking for that fabled hideaway eatery that serves up home cookin' so good you're obligated to drop the g? The Brothers Three Bar & Grill, located in a former gas station at 614 N. Fair Oaks Ave. just north of the Highway 30 overpass, serves up rib-sticking favorites whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner. Of course it serves a fine prime rib, and on Fridays it offers a variety of fish dishes to swim their way into your heart. You just gotta love a place that has Meatloaf Night.
Starkweather Creek is not exactly a jewel in anybody's eye, but neither is it a total eyesore, especially when efforts are made to fish out the shopping carts and dead cats. One especially nice (and newly paved) stretch starts at Milwaukee Street a half-mile south of East Washington Avenue, in a park called Dixon Greenway, and runs to Olbrich Gardens, past a humungous oak tree just before Fair Oaks and through the old Garver seed factory property. The city is sprucing this parcel up, but neighbors have been enjoying it for years.
Speaking of Starkweather, the creek continues out past MATC-Truax through the Ridgeway neighborhood. The best segment starts at the Shopko store and runs to Wright Street. Be sure to check out the woodland paths, both the ones that run along the creek and those that veer off into wooded areas behind the MATC baseball stadium. There are some pretty remote areas back here. Keep it clean, people, in more ways than one.
Along the north shoreline of Lake Monona, where Lakeland Avenue runs between Schiller Court and Welch Avenue, Hudson Park's three surviving effigy mounds represent a cluster that once included dozens of linear, conical, lizard and bird shapes - with at least one thought to have exceeded 500 feet in length. Neighborhood development claimed all but one bear, one lizard and one lynx mound.
More than a dozen city blocks are missing on Madison's east isthmus, where addresses jump from the 2400s to the 2700s on Atwood, Sommers, Center, Willard and Oakridge avenues. Running closest along Lake Monona's north shore, Lakeland Avenue is missing its 2400 block as well as its 2500 and 2600 blocks. Hudson Avenue intersects all the above streets where their phantom blocks should be, suggesting it may be the paved equivalent of some malevolent black hole. But the next time you want to cover two or three city blocks at a relaxed pace in 10 seconds or less, these phantom blocks are the ones to stroll: All you have to do is cross Hudson. If you dare.