Art Bar, called a "Painter's Paradise" by Urban Milwaukee magazine, isn't your typical watering hole. In its enchanting interior, hundreds of soda bottle caps create an argyle pattern on pillars, wine corks stud an oval-shaped bar, and paint-by-number pieces—depicting everything from horses to the Virgin Mary—plaster a wall.
The kitschy aesthetic offers a glimpse into the creative mind of owner Don Krause. Krause left his former career as an interior designer for Ethan Allen to brave the trials of opening a bar in Riverwest. And he did it his way: His joint pours more than 40 microbrews by night and Alterra coffee by day in a space adorned with the rotating creations of local artists. The beer lineup includes seasonal brews from Bell’s, Founders, Lakefront, and New Glarus, as well as “mystery beers” served for three bucks cloaked in a crumpled brown bag—the way Wisconsin dignitaries drink. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel describes the venue as “a feast for all senses” and “one of the hottest spots in Riverwest,” thanks in part to its comedy, musical, or artistic events.
One of the best BLTs in Madison doesn't have bacon on it. Dubbed the TLT, owner Jennie Capellaro's meat-free version swaps out the pork for strips of tempeh, a type of cultured soy. The sandwich's smoky flavor won over the critics of 77 Square, claiming Best BLT honors in 2010. PETA named it one of the country's best vegan BLTs in 2012. Every year since 2012, it has been named "Favorite Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant" by The Daily Page, and it has been featured on The Restaurant Show in both August and September of 2014.
Jennie and her team at The Green Owl Cafe strive to similarly surprise their diners by coaxing out unexpected flavors from their vegetarian and vegan dishes. Championing freshness, they prefer to work with local suppliers, such as Blue Skies Berry Farm and Voss Organics. One of the only vegan brunch places in Madison, guests can substitute tofu for the organic range-free eggs in many dishes, and enjoy bloody marys with house-infused black pepper vodka. They also periodically throw their popular Raw Nights, treating guests to prix fixe dinners comprised of all raw courses. Jennie matches her menu's celebration of nature with a rustic, wood-paneled interior and an outdoor patio where diners can catch the free vitamin-D capsules regularly tossed down by the sun.
The pizza makers at Palio's Cafe crown regular, whole-wheat, and gluten-free crusts with fresh vegetables, preservative-free sauce, and roasted chicken. Chefs take the burden of putting together the best toppings with 17 specialty pizzas that pair gourmet ingredients such as artichoke hearts, roasted chicken, and fresh basil pesto. Ovens create bubbling pies, stuffed calzones, baked ziti, and italian sub sandwiches that servers carry through both chic, cozy locations. Leather-lined booths and flat-screen televisions keep diners comfortable and entertained while they enjoy Palio's BYOB policy and sip wine or Capri Sun pouches brought from home.
The Shehadeh Pita Shack serves up a medley of quick Mediterranean eats made with fresh ingredients from secret Shehadeh family recipes. Worker bees will buzz over the weekday lunch special, which silences moaning maws with a choice between the combination plate, a salad, kebab, falafel, gyro, rice, and pita, or a falafel sandwich served alongside hummus and a drink ($5.50).
Under the direction of chef Eddie Castillo, The Pink Magnolia serves an eclectic menu that's equal parts comfort food and upscale cuisine, with an emphasis on non-farm-raised fish, organic ingredients, and hormone-free meat. By placing escargots alongside mac 'n' cheese and by whipping up lobster-stuffed burgers and salmon BLTs, the cooks combine upscale motifs with straightforward American fun, like a man wearing a tuxedo and stilts. At the eatery's full-service bar, bartenders complement meals with domestic and imported beers as well as signature cocktails blended with fresh juices and herbs.
Serving up piping-hot sandwiches and pizzas alongside deli classics and frozen treats, Paradise Island sates uncontrollable appetites with a wide selection of menu items. Warm winter-chilled bellies with hot delectables such as the shredded barbecue-pork sandwich ($3.49), grilled-cheese sandwich ($2.59), or chili dog with cheese and onions lounging on a pillowy bun ($2.69). Similarly tame lion-sized hungers with the chair-and-whip combination of the honey-mesquite turkey-and-ham deli sandwich ($3.69). Sample an Islander pizza, which fuses together ham, bacon, and pineapple with delicious centrifugal motion ($5.49 for a 7"), or enjoy a poured bowlful of a daily special soup ($2.49) and chili ($2.99), after mouth crunching a fresh salad ($3.79–$5.19). Give hard-working kids a break from the after-school real-estate seminar circuit with a kid's meal, such as the sloppy joe or ham-and-cheese sandwich, which includes chips, soda, and a kid’s cone ($3.99).