14 restaurants to find a delicious breakfast in the Madison area
Thankfully, a classic diner breakfast travels incredibly well if you’re ordering to go.
Remember the days of waking up on weekend mornings to the smell of bacon, eggs and pancakes wafting through the house? Maybe that nostalgic memory explains why settling into a booth at a diner and letting all those breakfast smells surround you has such a comforting quality. Take a step back in time, pay homage to those Saturday mornings gone by and feel the sense of community that flows through these classic breakfast joints in the Madison area. And thankfully, a classic diner breakfast travels incredibly well if you’re ordering to go.
Tucked into a strip mall next to a laundromat, the Cottage Cafe presents guests with unassuming, no-fuss breakfast items at affordable prices. “It’s a meat-and-potatoes kind of place,” says Bryan Stolarik, who has owned the diner since 2004. Stolarik says Cottage Cafe is “basically an institution.” The original owner stayed on for two weeks after Stolarik’s purchase in order to make the transition as seamless as possible. Since then, business has grown. Stolarik says the restaurant goes through 500 pounds of potatoes, 120 pounds of bacon and 4,000 eggs per week. Still, it’s the regulars — along with the pine tree decorations hung on the walls, matching the forest green diner stools at the counter — who keep the place feeling like home. “Twenty percent of your customers make up 80% of your business,” Stolarik says. “So you’ve got to take care of those regulars.” 915 Atlas Ave., 221-4815
C’s Restaurant and Bakery
Whoever said you can’t eat dessert first was sorely mistaken. Those with a sweet tooth can stop by C’s Restaurant and Bakery for freshly baked treats galore, including fruit or cream pies, Danishes, scones, eclairs and more. For a filling breakfast, guests can indulge in a sit-down meal, including offerings like sweet cinnamon swirl pancakes with cream cheese glaze. Those who prefer savory flavors can choose the Smokin’ Good Breakfast, which comes with juicy smoked sausage served alongside eggs, hash browns and toast. And go ahead — bring home some bakery items for later. 2550 Allen Blvd., Middleton, 836-4700
Green Lantern Restaurant
While Green Lantern Restaurant has a reputation for its Wisconsin supper club favorites and a history that goes back more than 100 years (when a portion of the current building was an ice house), the restaurant’s breakfast offerings are hard to beat. Breakfast is available daily, but if you want a classic stack of pancakes, make sure to stop in Monday through Friday. Any day of the week try the signature “wiggies” (hash browns amped up with green peppers, onions, mushrooms, ham and cheese). Seafood lovers can start Saturday and Sunday mornings with a shrimp or lobster omelet, or a lobster Benedict plated with fresh seafood tarragon hollandaise sauce. If you’re longing for all-American fare, this venue on the shore of Lake Waubesa is worth the trek to McFarland. 4412 Siggelkow Road, McFarland, 838-4730
Fair Oaks Diner
When you see the neon “Eat” sign, you’ll know you’re in the right place for a classic diner experience. The word “diner” likely conjures a specific image, and Fair Oaks Diner meets every expectation. It’s as affordable and community-centric as one could hope for in a breakfast joint. Filled with memorabilia collected by owner Kris Austin — think miniature Kellogg’s cereal boxes from the 1950s, pie cases and vintage-inspired red stools — what really makes Fair Oaks Diner special are the regulars. “Everybody knows everybody else’s name — young and old,” Austin says. “You come in and three other guys are like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ ” The food finalizes the homey feel, with popular breakfast classics like huevos rancheros (vegetarian unless guests opt to add chorizo) and the Fair Oaks Skillet with homemade American fries. Plenty of vegetarian dishes pop up on the menu, as well as in the diner’s specials. 44 S. Fair Oaks Ave., 216-5160
Mickies Dairy Bar
You don’t need a time machine to travel back to the mid-20th century for a classic American diner experience. Just step into Mickies Dairy Bar across from Camp Randall Stadium. Founded in 1946 by Andrew Weidemann, his wife, Mickie, and Evan “Van” Reese, this spot offers hearty portions for more-than-reasonable prices, all served within a nostalgic atmosphere. A lunch counter complete with chrome stools, an original 1950s menu mounted on the wall and ample red detailing nicely complement the breakfast standards served at Mickies. The joint calls its signature fried potatoes “yanks,” and a hefty mound of these, three scrambled eggs, omelet ingredients and gravy make up the Scrambler, a popular breakfast dish. If you visit during the weekend, chances are you’ll be waiting outside to get a seat. But trust us, it’s worth the wait. 1511 Monroe St., 256-9476
Monty’s Blue Plate Diner
Named after Food Fight Restaurant Group co-founder Monty Schiro, Monty’s Blue Plate Diner offers classic breakfast items with an unmistakable Madison influence. Vegans and vegetarians won’t have to ask for omissions of bacon or sausage once inside Monty’s beautifully vintage-inspired front door, since the diner offers an extensive vegan menu in addition to its regular one — both available all day for when those breakfast-for-dinner cravings come knocking. Guests can choose a veggie hash with tempeh, potatoes and tofu for a plant-based but prototypical breakfast or go for the corned beef, meatloaf hash or daily scramble special. Specialty items include Monty’s breakfast sandwich of fried egg, applewood-smoked bacon and vegetables on jalapeño cheddar bread. 2089 Atwood Ave., 244-8505
Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room
Although this breakfast spot’s namesake is now in retirement, the restaurant’s rich history as a classic breakfast cafe runs deep. Pat O’Malley ran the O’Malley Farm Cafe in Waunakee between 1976 and 1996 and then operated Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room in a former Madison Airport terminal. The quaint stone building was torn down in 2002, but the Jet Room, purchased by current owners Nic and Megan Tarczynski three years ago, remains and continues to serve up wholesome breakfast classics. Aside from the restaurant’s story, Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room also offers the $100 Burger Certificate. This “burger” is actually a 30-minute scenic plane ride around Madison that comes with a $9 credit to put toward a burger, skillet, omelet or meal of your choice within the restaurant. (Availability may be impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.) 3606 Corben Court, 268-5010
For another neighborly breakfast, check out Willy Street gem Willalby’s Cafe. Lovingly named after the original owner’s dogs Will and Alby, this neighborhood hot spot has become a “heart of the east side,” according to Nate Prince, who has owned Willalby’s for the last 10 years. “It’s not a culinary journey, but rather breakfast classics done really, really well,” Prince says. “It’s a unique atmosphere, very homey,” he adds, noting the railroad car-style lunch counter in the cafe and the neighborhood regulars who continue to visit time and time again. Aside from the restaurant’s iconic giant pancakes and house-made hash browns, Prince recommends the Hart’s Content Omelet, developed by a former employee, and stuffed with a “symphony of flavors,” including bacon, spinach, garlic, feta, cheddar cheese, mushrooms and tomatoes. 1351 Williamson St., 259-9032
A Twist on the Classics
While a good old-fashioned American breakfast is sometimes just what you need, these Madison favorites each offer their own takes on breakfast and brunch.
Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery
On Atwood Avenue, Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery can meet your post-brunch dessert needs with its house-made cupcakes, which change daily. This cafe added an entirely vegan menu so everyone at your table can enjoy breakfast their way. 2827 Atwood Ave., 241-2200
Hubbard Avenue Diner
Come to Hubbard Avenue Diner for the breakfast, but stay for the always freshly stocked dessert case. With monthly house-made pie specials to complement its classic breakfast dishes, this Middleton diner is a one-stop shop. 7445 Hubbard Ave., Middleton, 831-7437
Johnson Public House
For a genuinely “Madison” community space experience, swing by Johnson Public House. The only cafe of local small-batch roastery Kin-Kin Coffee, JPH offers a variety of coffee and espresso drinks made with care, along with all-day breakfast and a killer peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 908 E. Johnson St., 347-0483
Lazy Jane’s Café
Stop by Lazy Jane’s Cafe and check out its abundant scone selection and drool-inducing seitan hash. Decorated like the whimsical home of a quirky relative, this charming breakfast place fits right in to the Willy Street neighborhood. 1358 Williamson St., 257-5263
Short Stack Eatery
All-day breakfast is Short Stack’s specialty. You can’t go wrong ordering a stack of pancakes — even gluten-free eaters can order light and fluffy pancakes. 301 W. Johnson St., 709-5569
Named after its owner’s under-5-foot-tall grandmother, Yola’s Cafe provides a hospitable, neighborhood atmosphere with fresh baked goods and signature coffee and espresso drinks. Each month the cafe experiments with unique flavors and ingredients to create a waffle special, and $1 from the sale of each of these dishes benefits that month’s featured local nonprofit. 494 Commerce Drive, 827-5800
Bri Hall is a former intern at Madison Magazine.