A zinc-topped bar snakes along one side of The Continental Fitchburg's dining room, its shimmering metallic surface cool to the touch. Imported from Germany in pieces and retro-fitted by a local metal fabricator, the bar is reminiscent of the traditional zinc bars of the early-20th-century European cafés and bistros that The Continental strives to emulate. Drawing on family recipes, the chefs prepare each dish with fresh and local ingredients, many of which are grown in their onsite garden. Soft lights dangle from the ceiling of the Wi-Fi-saturated dining room, illuminating martini and cocktail glasses alongside plates of upscale Italian fare. A private party room and large outdoor patio host groups of up to 125 people, roughly the same amount that attended the first Tupperware party thrown by Gertrude Stein.
Carefully balancing starter platters stacked with housemade cornbread and frozen margaritas, the servers at Casa del Sol wind their way through the tables on the outdoor deck overlooking the water. As diners dig into burritos, the flavors of chicken or carnitas meld with garnishes of mango and pineapple or with ingredients from one of four other unique burritos. Meat dishes span many styles, from pork-loin medallions with garlic-adobo sauce to enchiladas verdes with a choice of meat or cheese filling. The inside dining area's bright yellow and purple walls adorned with paintings of whirling dancers complement the bright flavors of the dishes, often delicately evoked by cilantro, poblano chili pepper, or guacamole.
Behind State Street Brats' charming Old-World half-timbered façade, a convivial bar-and-grill atmosphere welcomes visitors to lively feastings of pub fare. With a special focus on sausages and cheesy meals, the menu celebrates the best-loved staples of Midwestern cuisine. Chefs serve up brats two traditional ways, with the Sheboygan-style white brat soaked in beer and red brats split open and grilled for a smoky flavor. Patrons can customize their orders at the condiment bar by slathering on a wide selection of toppings, such as tomatoes and sauerkraut, and picking the best flavor from a spread of local mustards, including Koops, Silver Spring, and Mustard Girl.
A two-time finalist for Madison Magazine’s Best Sports Bar, with a gold in 2011 and silver in 2012, State Street Brats relishes the company of happy regulars and avid sports fans there to catch games on the bar’s 25 TVs. Extensive cable and digital subscriptions keep crowds entertained with professional football and baseball or collegiate action. Four evenings a week, the second floor comes to life with a live DJ and a packed dance floor. Bartenders also keep fans on their toes with themed specials, such as Flip Night Tuesday, where patrons can flip a coin to determine how much their drinks cost.
Cilantro Bar and Grill’s Rick Bayless–trained chefs forge contemporary cuisine using fresh produce, locally sourced meats, and recipes culled from the families of owners Armando Cristobal and his sister and brother-in-law, Sylvia and Gonzalo de Santiago. The kitchen builds meals from scratch at brunch, lunch, and dinner, sating appetites after brisk strolls around the Capitol or romantic narwhal rides across Lake Mendota. Orange walls complement the colors of game hen en escabeche, whose mashed sweet potatoes balance the savory flavors of an achiote garlic marinade, whereas stained-glass fixtures mimic the vibrant hues of cabernet sangria, hibiscus iced tea, and mango-cilantro margaritas. Diners can sample the cuisine of four different regions of Mexico by ordering the tamales surtidos, a sampler of four cornhusks stuffed with steamed corn masa flour. Cilantro also serves seven types of Mexican beer for guests to sip or toss at supporting actors during rehearsals for upcoming daytime TV roles.
All of Badgerland Bowling Centers' six locations have a lot in common. At each location, groups hurtle colorful balls down slick, glossy lanes, refueling at an onsite restaurant between matches. All of the alleys host birthday, work, and fundraising parties and tournaments such as the Badgerland Bowling 300 Club—which has doled out more than $35,000 in cash prizes since 2002—and the Badgerland Open, which welcomed 113 competitors in 2011, one of whom snagged a grand prize of $500 and 1,000 bragging rights.
But like sextuplets working undercover for the CIA, each center also maintains a unique identity. At Badger Bowl in Madison, live musicfloods the lanes on weekends, and dancers jump and jive on West Coast Swing nights on Wednesday. Nearby at Dream Lanes, laser and disco lights slice through fog amid thundering music during Ultra Bowling every Friday and Saturday evening.