We all now know what a prime piece of real estate the DOA office building on East Wilson Street is, now that the state wants to sell it off to be developed into something like a hotel or more luxury condos.
What you may not know is that the DOA building is already the site of a terrific restaurant with outdoor patio seating and a stunning Lake Monona view.
Okay, it's more of an office cafeteria than a full-service restaurant. In fact that's its name -- Ken's Cafeteria -- and weekdays from 6 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (self-serve until 3 p.m.), it serves up traditional diner favorites. Of my visits to government building cafeterias (GEF 2, City/County Building), Ken's is the only one I return to time and time again.
Ken's features breakfast specials every day, plus the full line of diner breakfast classics, all between $2 and $6. Choose from pancakes, French toast, breakfast sandwiches, three-egg omelets, and the usual "1-2- or 3 eggs-your-way with either bacon, ham or sausage and/or hash browns and toast" combos.
Even the single egg with toast and bacon ($2.25) features three big strips of crunchy bacon, which outweighs the amount of egg, but makes good material for a pretty nice DIY breakfast sandwich. Like a lot of places, Ken's tends to over-butter the toast (to my taste), so you might ask for it plain and butter it yourself, unless you're a butter fiend.
Every day on the lunch menu, there's a couple of homey casseroles ($2.50-$3). On a recent visit the jambalaya exceeded my expectations, with a pleasant spicy burn. It was full of tender shredded chicken and sausage; and although the rice was a little sticky for jambalaya, I'd rather have it moist than too dry -- even if that does peg me as a northerner.
Other frequent guest stars on the casserole menu include macaroni and cheese, tuna and noodles, beef tips & noodles and even that hamburger/tater tot casserole -- dishes your mom made for dinner, if you were eating dinner during the seventies and your mom had not yet heard of the Moosewood Cookbook.
There's also always a choice between of a couple of soups and chili. Plus, there's a daily special that ranges from a Bucky Burger with fries to fried chicken to meatloaf. Friday, though, is reserved for fish. Cod is available deep-fried or baked. It's a hefty serving, with a heap of slender fries and a cup of cole slaw, for $5.70. If that's too much to eat for lunch (portion control, people!) opt for the home-style Manhattan clam chowder ($2) with tender clams and big chunks yummy potato and tomatoes in a tart, clammy broth.
Ken's also stocks pre-packaged sandwiches and salads in the refrigerator case. There's a muffin/cottage cheese/fruit cup combo that always makes a nice snack or light lunch, and a crab salad (although it's artificial crab) that is a little change of pace. (Dressing is extra; pick a flavor from the refrigerator case.) The pre-packaged sandwiches are, well, serviceable.
For dessert, there's always pie ($1.90). The chocolate turtle cheesecake can't be beat, although it's hard to resist the banana cream. Although Ken's is best when it's warm enough to take advantage of its lake-view outdoor patio, it's a good place to stop in to any time of the year.