Best Places for Outdoor Dining

by | May 1, 2012 | 0 comments

Artisan Gallery and Creamery Café

6858 Paoli Road, Paoli, WI 53508
608.845.6600 |

After riding your bike on a scenic path to Paoli, head to the Creamery Café for lunch. Indoor dining allows you to view original works of art, but we recommend the lush views of the Sugar River from their outdoor patio when weather allows.

Phil Rodriguez, Head Chef, recommends: Start with a blood-orange mimosa and a French press cup of coffee. Order the trout scramble: smoked trout, eggs, spinach, tomato, and chevre cheese served with choice of house side salad or rosemary fingerling potatoes, then finish with chocolate cheesecake served with a raspberry coulis.

Concerts on the Square

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
321 E. Main Street, Madison, WI 53703
608.257.0638 |

There are several ways to dine at Madison’s free outdoor concerts put on by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for six weeks each summer. The most traditional way to go is to pack a picnic basket and blanket or low-height chairs and lounge with your sweetie and/or family and friends. Another option is to purchase boxed meals from the many vendors that set up along the square and take the food to your spot on the lawn or piece of curb you have grabbed if the lawn is full. You can also reserve a place in the outdoor dining areas of restaurants located on the square and have a little more elbow room. Finally, Concerts on the Square offers table reservations on the spoke of the capitol where the orchestra is located, giving those diners prime seating for viewing the musicians and speakers.

The Edgewater Hotel

666 Wisconsin Avenue, Madison, WI 53703
608.256.9071 |

There is no other hotel that offers dining on the water in Madison. Invite out-of-town guests to stay the night. No out-of-towners? No worries! Stop by for cocktails and appetizers or order from the full menu while lounging on an actual pier Lake Mendota’s southern shore.

Steven Keip, Director Catering, recommends: Look for a Caprese chicken sandwich or salad: the sandwich is chicken, fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, and balsamic mayo on soft pretzel roll, and the salad has a balsamic dressing. Another great option is the grilled veggie cheese sandwich with a choice of provolone or cheddar. Our grilled flatbread with our hummus and topped with tomatoes, green and red onions, and black olives is a delicious appetizer.

Memorial Union Terrace

800 Langdon Street, Madison, WI 53706
608.265.3000 |

We love the atmosphere of the Memorial Union Terrace, located on the U.W. campus on the south shore of Lake Mendota. Granted, the iconic terrace chairs are not really all that comfortable, but the view, the friendly vibe, the live music, the cold beer and grilled food make up for it. You can grab something from the outdoor grill or indoor cafeteria. Don’t forget to save room for a cone or dish of fresh Babcock Ice Cream, then stroll down the Lakeshore Path enveloped by a canopy of woods or sit along the lake with your toes in the water.

Michael’s Frozen Custard
5602 Schroeder Rd, Madison, WI 53711 |  608.276.8100
3826 Atwood Ave, Madison, WI 53716 |  608.222.4110
2531 Monroe St, Madison, WI 53711 |  608.231.3500

One of the iconic images of summer in Madison has to be the red-and-white umbrellas outside Michael’s Frozen Custard. Sure, you could sit in the air-conditioned comfort of the building, but on the patio you’ll find better people-watching and dog-petting opportunities.

Michael Dix, Proprietor, recommends: I recommend a classic quarter-pound cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato, and crispy dill pickles, served with a side of Wisconsin hand-battered cheese curds along with classic Orange Crush soda in a glass bottle. For dessert, it is always a turtle sundae topped with rich, creamy caramel; heavenly hot fudge; and roasted, salted pecan halves.

Monty’s Blue Plate Diner

2089 Atwood Avenue, Madison, WI 53704
608.244.8505 |

Nestled in Madison’s east side shopping district, Monty’s offers an outdoor patio with umbrella tables and is the perfect spot to dine before or after a performance at The Barrymore Theatre, a visit to the boutique shops, or a ride on the bike path. The area is enclosed enough to allow young children to play nearby and to buffer diners from the traffic on Atwood Avenue.

Quivey’s Grove

6261 Nesbitt Road, Madison, WI 53719
608.273.4900 |

No matter what the season, Wisconsin and Friday fish fries go hand-in-hand. And Quivey’s Grove does it with flair: they serve their ever-popular fish fry outside under their big, white tent from mid-June to mid-August. With an outdoor bar, kids’ games on the lawn, and a summer’s eve in Wisconsin, It is hard to imagine a better setting for a fish fry.

Craig Kuenning, Proprietor, recommends: Enjoy our delicious beer-battered cod, served with all the traditional sides. You can get the cod baked, or you can even order a serving of the unique pretzel-crusted fresh lake perch.

The Old Fashioned

23 N. Pinckney Street, Madison, WI 53703
608.310.4545 |

If you are downtown for the Dane County Farmers’ Market, Concerts on the Square, one of our many events on the capitol square, or simply bumming around, be sure an take a breather at The Old Fashioned. Their outdoor seating allows a great view of the capitol and passers by.

Jen DeBolt recommends: Here’s a great meal to enjoy outdoors: Door County cherry salad, followed by a warm seasonal fruit crisp with vanilla ice cream, and of course, all washed down with one of our 52 Wisconsin tap beers.

Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar

923 Williamson Street, Madison, WI 53703
608.819.6319 |

Going to Fruit Fest? Be sure and get premium seating just across the street on the outdoor patio at Umami. The same goes for the Willy Street Fair and any other day you want to enjoy hot ramen and cool views.

Mike Ding, Co-owner, recommends: Start off a perfect meal with the summer roll or tuna poke, followed by an order of our famous pork buns. For a main entree, try our dumplings or our summer special, the Hiyashi Chukka, a cold noodle dish tossed with seasonal veggies and a soy citrus vinaigrette. Wash it all down with a refreshing mango mojito or an O-Cha Mark.

Von Rutenberg Ventures

The royal family of outdoor dining in Dane County is unquestionably the Von Rutenberg brothers: Bill, Jack, and Robert. Here, Robert maps out the evolution of their Ventures …


5360 Westport Road, Madison, WI 53704
608.246.3130 |

Captain Bill’s

2701 Century Harbor Road, Middleton, WI 53562
608.831.7327 |

The Mariner’s Inn

5339 Lighthouse Bay Drive, Madison, WI 53704
608.246.3120 |

Betty Lou Cruises

1001 Arboretum Drive, #204, Waunakee, WI 53597
608-246-3138 |

Robert Von Rutenberg, Co-owner: As children, my brothers and I lived on and in the lake. We were very fortunate to grow up on Lake Mendota in an area that is now Governor Nelson State Park. What we enjoyed with friends as children is now open for everyone to enjoy. We have many fond memories of boating over to Picnic Point and enjoying a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, and bacon cooked over a campfire with a swim afterward.

That, however, was in the sixties. A few things have changed since then. After 20-some years of annually vacationing in Florida, our mother wanted to bring outdoor dining to Madison. Before 1982, outdoor dining via patio, porch, or deck was virtually non-existent. The two exceptions were the Union Terrace and the Edgewater pier—Monona Terrace didn’t even exist!

When my brother Bill opened the Nau-Ti-Gal, our mom insisted, “The deck was the deal,” and not just for drinking. Full service, outside on the deck, in Wisconsin, it was the only game in town at the time. Bright yellow chairs and umbrellas and seating for 30 people. Everyone thought my mother was crazy. Who would want to eat outside in a swamp? Today, The Nau-Ti-Gal deck is partially covered, seats 80 in the dining area, has an outdoor bar and cocktail area that seats 50, and features live music a couple of nights a week with lawn seating for 200+. People come by bike, boat, canoe, kayak, and car. We even provide dog bowls and water for your dog.

In 1993, thanks to my brother Jack, Captain Bill’s was launched. Thanks to re-zoning and help from the city of Middleton, a large deck was added on to the restaurant. Unlike the Nau-Ti-Gal, this deck may only be accessed by going through the restaurant. A sloping lot to the lake is one of the reasons for this. Depending on where you are seated, you could be as little as a foot off the ground or as high as 11 feet off the ground. Last year, we added a sectional sofa and large coffee table to the deck. It is affectionately known as “The Captain’s Passion Pit.”

The Mariner’s Inn was the one that started it all. When my parents purchased the property in 1966, the water was not visible from the dining-room windows. My father and his friends spent two years clearing trees and brush just to carve out a little lawn to get to the pier. There were two round white tables with red chairs—seating for eight to have cocktails at while you waited for your table to be ready. At that time, no reservations were taken and the wait for dinner could be over three hours. In response to increased demand for outdoor seating, we added a patio that seats up to 90 people. It has a beautiful view of the marina, not to mention some spectacular sunsets.

The best outdoor dining experience in Madison is not on land. Don’t get me wrong; I love eating outside at all three of our places. They all have water views and each one is very different. But, my absolute favorite place to dine is on the water. Literally, eating on the lake. Betty Lou Cruises began as a tribute to our mom after her death. She loved Madison lakes and all they have to offer. She was fond of saying all your troubles go away when you are in the water. I cannot recall how many times she told us, “Go jump in the lake!” It has always worked for me.

What began as a tribute to promote lake life in Madison has become quite a business for my brothers and me. Betty Lou Cruises now has four vessels. Two are on Lake Mendota and two are on Lake Monona. There are a variety of menus in many, price points, from Weddings on Water to a beer and pizza cruise featuring Ian’s Pizza. We do a mixture of public cruises and private charters from April until the end of October.

On behalf of my brothers and me, we greatly thank you for dining with us all these years. As much as I love outdoor dining, we would love to see you just as much in the winter sitting around one of our fireplaces at the restaurant. Until then, we will see you, and toast to you on the deck, patio, or on the Lake!

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