Madison/Wisconsin Diners

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Henry Vilas
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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby Henry Vilas » Thu Apr 01, 2010 4:49 pm

keelio wrote:Not meant to hijack the thread, but didn't the smoking ban cause the extinction of truly legit diners?

No.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby MadMind75 » Thu Apr 01, 2010 10:02 pm

In regards to Madison, FUCK catering to the campus crowd. You do that and no one else is gonna want to eat there on a regular basis. I'm talkin' about catering to townies, night owls, insomniacs, and 2nd shift/3rd shift workers.
What was that place on east wash on/near Union Corners that closed called? Wasn't that a diner that served breakfast all hours and was open late?
The IHOP on Univ Ave was nice to have, but it still wouldn't qualify as a "diner" because it didn't have a countertop with a row of stools.
Ned Flanders wrote:In the classic East Coast sense, Madison has no diners.

That's what Madison/Wisconsin needs.
swoon_queen wrote:I have a feeling that anyone who started a bona fide diner would make a mint.

You price everything right, and you'd probably just make enough to keep the place afloat.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby Ned Flanders » Fri Apr 02, 2010 9:40 am

Madmind, if Madison could support a true diner, it would have one by now. Doesn't Madison have more restaurants per capita than most places?

To run a true diner you need to start with a good Greek family that works 24/7. You need a 25 page menu, one of those dessert display cases, booze if you want it. You need to have a lot of 3rd shift workers, wise guys and blue-collar types in the area as potential customers. You need to have a fairly dense population area, busy commercial routes that carry a lot of delivery trucks and traveling salesmen. You need people who have grown up eating at diners.

Madison has a bit of this, but not enough to support a true diner.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby hellogoodbye » Fri Apr 02, 2010 10:47 am

My diner 2 cents.

The old-line Greek/Albanian/Balkan family restaurants are exactly what I grew up eating at in the south suburbs of Chicago. They were titled as “family restaurants”, not usually referred to as “diners”. There were a ton of these wonderful places and they appeared to be non-corporate/chains. As a matter of fact I recall a few of the mom and pop places would take over the closed Ponderosa Steak House’s (wow that place was horrible), Golden Bear’s and chain-y places like that. Unfortunately all of these places are no longer in business in the south suburbs. They have moved to the north, northwest and western suburbs and there are a ton of them as you get closer to Chicago. I would love to find a place like this in the Madison area. I have been searching for a long time but have had no such luck.

I get filled with emotion and wonderful childhood memories when I smell the comforting fiery, lemony Saganaki being prepared tableside. The last time was when visiting family in Maryland a few years back. These east coast style diners, as others have pointed out, are what MadMind75 is talking about. For whatever reason they just don’t exist or stay in business in these parts. My theory/opinion is that there is a fair amount of decent restaurants here in Madison that caters to specific ethnic tastes. So the catch all east cost style diners don’t do well here because those tastes are being filled/supplied by these already existing restaurants. When folks here want Italian they go to an Italian place. It is again, just my theory.
Plaka Taverna http://www.plakamadison.com/ and Atlantis Taverna http://www.atlantistaverna.com/ have some of the food but are not true east coast diners. I believe they are both run by the same family and I have enjoyed their food. The old Ella’s Deli on State Street sounded like it was more in line with some of the late night activities/conversations that MadMind75 is looking for. For a lot of locals the current Ella’s is great because of the memories and connection to the old State Street locale. I think it would be very difficult for a Madison restaurant to live up to both the food and atmosphere criteria that MadMind75 is looking for. Maybe it can be had at different places? Warning: I have 2 kids and they could possible ruin your good dining experience, I will not bring them to your favorite food spot. The food can be satisfied by visiting your favorite chow spot, and hopefully bring along a good friend so a conversation can be had. If not, go visit your favorite watering hole after a meal and have a drink and spark up a discussion. I know this isn’t perfect but it may be a good substitute.

This is an example of the true east coast diner that MadMind75 is looking for: http://www.broadwaydiner1.com/
The prices are a bit higher than expected but the portion sizes are enough to make 3 meals.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby Average Joe » Fri Apr 02, 2010 11:06 am

The closest thing to a true greasy-spoon diner in Madison's recent history was Cleveland's. Plaka is a nice place, but sitting at the bar is just not the same as sitting at the counter.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby rrnate » Fri Apr 02, 2010 11:15 am

Two thoughts...

1. I think diners are getting a little over-romanticized here. Don't conflate a diner with your own fleeting youth / warm & fuzzy memories.

2. This "late night conversation" stuff is goofy. There are tons of places in this city where you can hang out w/ friends late in to the evening and pine over the diners of your dreams.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby Henry Vilas » Fri Apr 02, 2010 1:43 pm

Average Joe wrote:The closest thing to a true greasy-spoon diner in Madison's recent history was Cleveland's. Plaka is a nice place, but sitting at the bar is just not the same as sitting at the counter.

What about the Curve (or is it Curve II) on S. Park St.? I think they are still open.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby MadMind75 » Fri Apr 02, 2010 5:41 pm

Ok, I'm going to purchase the old buy & sell building, buying out The High Noon, Brass Ring and The Brink Lounge, and start off by opening a 24 hour diner.
rrnate wrote:I think diners are getting a little over-romanticized here. Don't conflate a diner with your own fleeting youth / warm & fuzzy memories.

Don't listen to rrnate, I enjoyed reading your post hellogoodbye. So to everyone, I say conflate all you'd like.
And that Baltimore diner would be great. I refuse to believe that a metro area has to have 5 times the population of Madison's to support one legitimate 24 hour east-coast style diner, though.
Last edited by MadMind75 on Thu May 21, 2015 6:25 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby Average Joe » Fri Apr 02, 2010 8:55 pm

Henry Vilas wrote:
Average Joe wrote:The closest thing to a true greasy-spoon diner in Madison's recent history was Cleveland's. Plaka is a nice place, but sitting at the bar is just not the same as sitting at the counter.

What about the Curve (or is it Curve II) on S. Park St.? I think they are still open.


Forgot about them. There is also the "EAT" place on Fair Oaks. I believe that used to be known as Curve II. Isn't there a 24 hour place on Milwaukee that used to be a Country Kitchen?

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby MadMind75 » Sun Apr 04, 2010 5:31 pm

Well, as far as authentic diner-car diners there is Franks Diner in Kenosha. But it closes at 2pm at the latest. Seriously, what is up with breakfast/lunch places closing at 2pm or earlier. I mean most days (if I can help it), I'm not even up and out of bed yet.

Franks was featured in an episode of The Food Network's 'Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives'. I ran through the full listing of locations featured on that show. And granted there was a wide variety of foodie themes presented on that show (other than just diners), I was surprised to find that Wisconsin was represented very little when compared to our neighboring states (IL, MN).
19 in Illinois, 18 of which are in the Chicago area (13 in the city of Chicago, 3 in suburban Cook County, 1 in DuPage County, 1 in Lake County), and 1 in Springfield.
10 in the Twin Cities area (8 in Minneapolis, 1 in St. Paul, 1 in White Bear Lake).
But only 3 in Wisconsin (2 in Milwaukee, 1 in Kenosha).
What's wrong with this picture?

The Comet Cafe in Milwaukee was featured in one of the episodes of 'Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives', but they stop serving food at 10pm and do not serve breakfast all day, so they can suck it too.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby MadMind75 » Tue Apr 06, 2010 8:07 pm

It was Trudy's Cafe (formerly Bev's) {ran from Dec 2001 -Aug 2005} at 2422 Winnebago that I was trying to remember. I recall having read/heard that they used to serve breakfast any time of day and for a while stayed open until and/or past bar time. Having never been there, I'm not sure if this was true or not. And I'm going to assume it was more of a cafe rather than a diner?
By the way Food Fight Inc., THIS is an affordable breakfast menu, with only two items above $5.

Trolling around this here forum I also found Gus's Diner on the outskirts of Sun Prairie, which used to be 5 and Diner, part of the 5 and Diner chain. But it's unclear if they serve breakfast all day, they have standard restaurant hours, and they're too far outside of Madison. So they can suck it as well.

Then there's also the Delta Diner way up north in Delta, WI. An authentic, but not continuously operating (renovated and opened in 2003) diner car.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby iwiw99 » Wed Apr 07, 2010 7:37 am

The truck stop in Lake Mills (?) is a diner, plus a GAP, 24 hours, gas and easy eggs.

Clevelands Lunch was a good diner (maybe not true in the sense)

Nothing beat, living in the neighborhood, having a Spanish Omelette and making the "Spanish Run" up the street to make a Spanish crap, run back eat more, Spanish Omelette.

Thanks to the Grinch.

That was close to a diner.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby eriedasch » Wed Apr 07, 2010 1:39 pm

MadMind75 wrote:I recall having read/heard that they used to serve breakfast any time of day and for a while stayed open until and/or past bar time. Having never been there, I'm not sure if this was true or not.

True. I ate there past bar time a few times.
MadMind75 wrote:And I'm going to assume it was more of a cafe rather than a diner?

I remember it being about as "greasy spoon" of a diner as you could get.

There was also a George Webb across E. Wash near Union Corners for awhile. But that place was not that good, even after bartime.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby MadMind75 » Wed Apr 07, 2010 8:17 pm

eriedasch wrote:
MadMind75 wrote:And I'm going to assume it was more of a cafe rather than a diner?

I remember it being about as "greasy spoon" of a diner as you could get.

I guess I meant more in the sense of the interior layout of the place rather than the menu. I'm guessing it was more "cafe like" inside, with scattered tables rather than booths and a countertop with stools.

It must be frustrating to be basically forced out/bought out of your business, and then see that 5 years later jack shit has been built in it's place.

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Re: Madison/Wisconsin Diners

Postby Broadsheet » Thu Apr 08, 2010 5:39 am

Don't forget the late, lamented Cleveland's Lunch on Wilson Street. And for years on Henry Street next to Four Star there was a tiny diner with about six stools run by a cranky old guy who banned newspaper reading. You ate, you left.


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