It is that time of year again, when the brisk morning air has one longing for endless summer. In Madison, however, that is simply not the case. Autumn is a much-appreciated yet short-lived season for Madison residents as well as UW alumni for multiple reasons, especially the invigorating outdoor weather and the festive homecoming celebration. From exploring Saturday morning’s Dane County Farmers’ Market on Capitol Square to venturing to the Overture Center for the Arts to listen to the renowned Madison Symphony Orchestra, there is always something happening in Madison. Whether new to the area or a “Madtown” vet, homecoming is a time of togetherness that allows family and friends to experience all Madison has to offer and alumni to relive their special memories.
Also home to a delectably diverse food culture, Madison extends its cultural boundaries by bringing in a myriad of cuisines to make almost anyone feel at home. Mickies Dairy Bar is a historical hotspot, winning many hearts and stomachs, to where both newcomers and regulars come in droves. The classic 1950s style diner is located in the shadow of Camp Randall on Monroe Street. Opened in 1946, Mickey Weidman’s diner was created on the foundation of community and camaraderie.
This philosophy endures with current owner Payow Thongnuam and his wife Janet along with the rest of Mickies staff, including five of their children. Payow took over Mickies more than 20 years ago and has kept this breakfast Mecca just about the same since, varying by adding a selection of lunch items. One such entrée is the popular Liver & Onions Sandwich that, according to Payow, “is a rarity in Madison that the customers love.” Additionally, the menu offers a greater variety of malted shakes including flavors such as blueberry, strawberry and coffee.
Breakfast reigns as king at Mickies Dairy Bar, open bright and early at 6 a.m. to fuel their patrons with a delicious start-up such as the renowned “Scrambler.” The Scrambler is a signature dish consisting of an oversized scrambled egg combined with a choice of meat or vegetable, served over a bed of crisp yanks, topped with melted cheese and smothered in gravy. And as if that is not enough, it also comes with a stack of toast. This is a favorite dish among many and draws students in to compete to see who can consume the most food.
Another famous breakfast option is an order of pancakes, which dwarf the plate that holds them. According to an article on the Wisconsin Alumni Association website, Mickies is former Badger wide-receiver Al Toon’s favorite place in Madison. Curious readers may wonder if after a grueling football practice, Mr. Toon could have accomplished the feat of cleaning the plate of Mickies-sized pancakes.
Reentering Mickies Dairy Bar for any UW-Madison alumni must be a remarkably nostalgic experience, for this Madison landmark was designed specifically for Badger enthusiasts. From the black-and-red-checkered floors to the red barstools, the restaurant loudly represents UW-Madison. Even the classic menus on the wall are written predominantly in white and red. Whether sitting at a table with a group of friends, at the counter chatting with some locals or encountering new faces at the community table, Mickies offers a comforting homey environment, warming guests’ insides like the heaping plate of food for which they will likely need a take-home box.
When asked why Payow serves such enormous portions, he simply responded, “Why not? I want my customers to leave feeling content and having gotten their money’s worth.”
Ralph Cagle, a UW-Madison alumnus and Madison resident for over 30 years, has been eating at Mickies since his undergraduate days and continues the tradition weekly.
“The breakfast special is almost always what I order, and the yanks are my favorite, crisp [and] almost burnt,” he said. ‘The yanks’ are Mickies homemade delicious hash browns.
Ralph, along with many other UW alumni, finds Mickies to be the “Quintessential Madison place”. Also noted by customers at Mickies was the incredibly amiable wait staff, whom the regulars know by name.
Gary De-Clute, who works at UW-Madison and has lived in Madison for 26 years, has recently started coming to Mickies about three to four times each week. What has him returning so often is “the reasonable prices, great food, and extremely friendly staff.”
When contemplating what to order, visitors to the diner should throw in a malt. Although it might sound like overkill after trying to conquer the meal that will soon arrive, Mickies malts are a delicious way to finish off a fantastic repast. An added plus is the bottomless coffee, which will not stop coming unless the patron asks politely.
Visitors to the UW-Madison campus who desire to experience Mickies should go during the week or relatively early in the day on a weekend unless they do not mind entertaining a long wait and a mass of hungry people ready to pounce on the next available table. The restaurant is self-seating with room for 75.
On the weekends, Mickies is a well-managed yet chaotic scene, especially before and after a Saturday Badger football game, with traffic flowing in and out until closing time. If one is looking to create a Madison tradition while also satisfying his or her hankering for tasty and plentiful eats, Mickies Dairy Bar deserves a place on the destination list.