This year has been rough on the restaurant industry for sure. My fiancé and I love trying new foods and restaurants to the point that it is probably our favorite hobby. He is a restaurant manager so we experienced first hand how Coronavirus has affected how restaurants operate.
In March, when everything shut down, we started cooking more at home and ordering takeout. I’ll write a separate summary with more on fast food and delivery food.
When restaurants started reopening with new patios and socially distanced indoor dining, we tried them out. We wore masks anytime we were not sitting at our table and felt comfortable with the way that most of the restaurants were handling everything. We did our best to take precautions and stay safe in the way that we went to restaurants.
Most of the places we went this year were in Madison, Wisconsin where we live but there are a few sections from the cities where we traveled.
Cheese Curds – Living in Wisconsin, I fit in well with my love of cheese. One of the specialties here is cheese curds which are kind of like mini mozzarella sticks but made with different types of cheeses. They are usually served with house made ranch. Click here for more on cheese curds I had this year.
Desserts – I’m not a huge sweet fan but there were some VIP desserts in 2020. See the separate post here.
Beef tartare – This is one of my favorite appetizers so we tried to find all the places that served it in Madison and try it. We found three! Cento, Fresco and Rare. My favorite one was Rare.
bartaco – Even though bartaco shut down in mid-March and didn’t reopen until October, I ate there a lot when it was open. The GM is one of the best in the game. It’s such a fun environment and the patio is awesome even in the winter. I have sat outside in November and December with the heaters going and it’s so cozy. Definitely the best margaritas in Madison. And I love the tacos too. Fun fact: this is the only bartaco location in the country that still serves corn fritters. My top three menu items are the duck quesadilla, pork belly taco and the tuna tatako.
Other tacos – they were pretty good but I still love bartaco the most.
Cafe Hollander – This is one of our favorites in Madison and it is in our neighborhood so also our most frequented restaurant. See a separate post about Cafe Hollander here. One of the highlights of 2020 at Hollander was the ice bar in February. It was outside in the middle of winter and you can do shots out of ice shot glasses that you can smash after drinking the booze. Cafe Hollander was one of the first places we went after restaurants started to re-open for in person dining. They had a massive patio where we could bring our puppy to hang out. Since patio season has ended, we sit at the bar where there is social distancing in between parties. Highly recommend the pretzel breakfast sandwich.
Eno Vino – I wrote a separate post for this one which you can find here. Best views of the capitol, amazing cocktails and high quality tapas style food.
Everyday Kitchen – This restaurant opened in the middle of the summer. They have an awesome patio and take reservations on OpenTable. I love the cheese curds here. After the weather got cold, I also went here and sat inside and felt comfortable with their cleaning practices and social distancing.
Heritage Tavern – One of our favorites last year and this year. Full blog post devoted to Heritage Tavern can be found here. I went to Heritage a couple of times in January and February then got takeout once and dined on the patio once.
Vitense – A cool driving range that is heated in the winter. I joined a Women’s Winter golf league in February then went back a couple times in the summer. The nachos and burgers are also delightful.
Gates + Brovi – This restaurant has been shut down since the pandemic hit. We went back in February. They have great pizza and oysters.
Muramoto – A sushi restaurant in my neighborhood. Also got takeout from them in the summer.
The Tiki Bar – A random little outdoor spot on Lake Monona. The drinks are classic boozy colorful tiki drinks. I randomly became obsessed with this place and told everyone about it. Only downfall is that is isn’t close to anything else.
Red – A very swanky fun sushi place in downtown Madison. It is pretty expensive so more of a treat rather than a normal spot. The food is very good. Lots of interesting rolls with incredible flavor combinations.
Tempest Oyster Bar – The best place for oysters in Madison. We love hitting here for happy hour.
Migrant’s – I only went here once but the tacos were so good. It is a walk through order place. Classic mexican food done right. There is a salsa bar with 10 different salsas starting with mild and going up in heat. They also have horchata which I love.
Everly – Love the fried chicken. The fried chicken sandwich is incredible and the chicken and waffles is my second favorite menu item.
Graze – One of our favorite places in Madison. We hit this place when they had some patio seating but they have since moved to takeout only. I have never gotten any dish that wasn’t great at Graze. Bruch is bomb. The salmon tater top appetizer is one of the most unique dishes in Madison. We were raving about it through the whole meal.
Plain Spoke Cocktails – A cool new tiki cocktail bar in downtown Madison. It is a couple blocks off the main Capitol square.
Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room – This is the home of the $100 burger. We ate here before we took a private plane ride over the city. It was classic delicious diner food. Bananas foster pancakes, omelette, hashbrowns, bacon, sausage and toast.
Tornado Room – We went here on my birthday. It is an old school supper club spot. Brian folded the wine menu and told me to pick one without looking at the price. For apps we had frog legs, escargot, oysters and scallops served with scalloped potatoes. We played paper rock scissors to decide between venison and lamb and ended up going with the venison. It was such an incredible meal.
The Wonder Bar – Even more old school than Tornado Room, this place has been open since 1929. Chicago gangsters uses to hang out here back in the day. It’s a small house like atmosphere and the food was incredible. We started with oysters and stuffed mushrooms and then got the cowboy ribeye with scalloped potatoes as the main dish. We want to go back to try the pork loin.
Buck and Honey’s – Monona. This is a cool spot on the southside of Lake Monona. I’m sure it’s even better in the summer when you can sit on the patio. We got the bang bang shrimp tacos and specialty sandwich and enjoyed both. The cheese curd app is also great.
Other Madison places
Nashville – We took two trips to Nashville this year to see close friends and celebrate a pregnancy! In another time, the two trips would have included at least a dozen restaurants but we were much more chill because of Covid times. The places we did go were really awesome. The Optimist is a new Ford Fry seafood restaurant in Germantown. It was also the first time we have ever got together for a triple date so I was stoked. The food was incredible. We hit brunch at one of our faves, Butcher and Bee in their adorable outdoor patio area. The whipped feta appetizer is fire. Hawkers is also a new restaurant that is in East Nashville and has fun Asian street food. We really enjoyed the hot chicken bao buns and golden wantons. And City Winery!
Destin, FL – We went here to plan our wedding for February 2021.
Hopefully 2021 has much more traveling to account for in the yearly recap. Thankful for all the local restaurants we were able to try and that we did not catch Covid this year. Stay safe, y’all. But also support small businesses and eat good food at the same time. There are a lot of restaurants doing a great job with sanitation and social distancing to keep patrons safe and they need your support to stay afloat.