Jan 2, 2016

A commoner dines at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner, Madison, Wis.

Being on the road all the time for my new job means plenty of opportunities to explore whatever city I’m in during the evening.  However, that usually means I’m exploring on my own.  Like most commoners who love to travel, being alone isn’t a problem, but for me it does affect my decisions on what types of places I seek out.  For instance, if I have to dine alone, I’d much rather seek the comfort of a neighborhood diner or bar and grill over a trendy restaurant that’s the current “it” thing. 

So, when I began researching potential places for dining in Madison, Wis., where my first job assignment was, Monty’s Blue Plate Diner consistently stood out.  It was one of the first places I ventured out to for a meal on my own, and, as it turns out, it was one of the most memorable places I dined at during my time in Madison.

Monty’s Blue Plate Diner is located on a very busy intersection where the streets of Atwood, Division, Eastwood and Corscot all seem to meet, in the city’s Atwood neighborhood.  The area is just minutes northeast of the isthmus where you’ll find Madison’s downtown.  The blocks surrounding Monty’s Blue Plate seemed full of busy shops, restaurants and watering holes when I arrived around 6:30 p.m. one evening, and I took the fact that Monty’s parking lot was full when I got there as a very good sign.

Between the out-of-place art deco-style building, the blue neon lighting, and the vintage gas pump outside, you really can’t miss it.  In fact, a gas station was originally at this location before it was converted into a diner about 25 years ago.

And as the parking lot correctly predicted, there was a short wait for table seating when I arrived.  Fortunately, one advantage of traveling alone is being able to squeeze right in at the counter.  In fact, I’m always comfortable with counter seating … it just seems appropriate for the full diner experience. 

Not only do you get a front row view of the bustling waitstaff behind the counter, but you also get a glimpse into the inner workings of the kitchen. 

When it comes to diners, though, it quickly became apparent that Monty’s is no old-school dive.  It’s certainly cozy, but it’s very clean and upscale in appearance.  The décor and menu are somehow both classic and trendy. And they pull of both vibes quite well. 

For example, as I sat pondering whether to order something adventurous for dinner or settle for classic diner comfort food, I couldn’t help but notice something not every diner has – a cocktail menu.  The description of the spicy bloody mary made me wish I could be here for Sunday brunch, but I settled for one of their seasonal taps from the beer selection – a kolsch style brew from local brewer One Barrel Brewing Company

For some reason, I was amused by the taps being conveniently located right in front of me, next to the soup service.  As it turns out, the kolsch was an excellent choice for before and during dinner.  It was crisp, smooth and easy drinking … an excellent recommendation from my server.

As I hinted earlier, Monty’s menu ranges from classic diner fare to Wisconsin specialties (I seriously considered the salmon hash from the breakfast menu, which is served all day) to a wide range of vegan offerings (apparently, Monty’s has even received awards for having the best vegetarian menu in Madison). 

Vegetarian offerings are fine, but they usually aren’t high on this commoner’s list of food cravings, so I went classic diner fare and ordered the meatloaf. Not just any meatloaf, though. And not the vegetarian version, either.

This is what Monty’s calls “Meatloaf of the Gods,” and with a name that I had to try it.  Its menu description is very fitting – made with beef, pork sausage onions and celery, and served with mashed potatoes and brown gravy made with red wine.  Add the dinner roll, tomato relish and three huge steamed broccoli stalks (the veggie of the day), and this is a complete and fulfilling meal.     

And it lived up to its name in every way.  Every bite was bursting with the flavor of all the ingredients and then some (I think I detected a hint of sage?).  The gravy and relish were absolutely perfect accompaniments.  The mashed potatoes had bits of skin in every bite, a testament to being done right the old-fashioned way.  Even the simply prepared broccoli was an excellent complement to the rest of the meal.  I only wish I had room for that third slice of meatloaf.  But I eventually reached my limits. Still, it was some of the best meatloaf I have ever eaten. 

I also wish I had saved room for dessert because by every account I’ve seen, Monty’s cakes and pies are legendary.  The counter display certainly makes them all the more tempting. 

Monty’s Blue Plate Diner was an excellent introduction to great local eateries in the Madison area.  I would certainly put it on my “must return” list on my next visit to the city.

No comments:

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...