Kids plus cupcakes are a serendipitous combo at Daisy Cafe.
Dining with kids can be tricky. They tend to shred napkins, shriek in ecstasy and knock over glasses of water. It’s kind of like drinking with fraternity brothers. Parents looking for a brief respite from their harried lives need a few child-friendly restaurants where they can trust that the owners and patrons won’t cast the evil eye on them just because they have youngsters in tow. Here are some of your best bets. And parents, please, tip heavily.
2902 E. Washington Ave., Madison
The dizzying array of kid stuff crowding this frenetic local landmark of kitsch draws people in from all over southern Wisconsin and beyond. Where else can you find superhero figures flying on wires, animated wizards and a working, full size carousel? Or a medieval scene constructed out of LEGO with moveable parts? Or billiard balls that roll back and forth overhead?
Or a “baby plate” for the under-1-year-old set, with tiny daubs of applesauce, yogurt, turkey, cheese, crackers, jelly, peas and carrots? Or barbecue beef sloppy joes, giant hot dogs, milkshakes, and “teddy bear” French toast (shaped like a teddy bear), all on the same menu?
Nowhere else, that’s where.
829 E. Washington Ave., Madison
The patio is appropriate for slightly older children, and everyone seems more tolerant of squalling babies when out of doors. Grownups can also get an excellent glass of wine from neighboring Barolo. Nevertheless, before bringing children to any restaurant other than Chuck-E-Cheese or McDonald’s, parents should teach their kids basic manners and how to behave in a public dining situation: No matter how kid-friendly the place, it’s on parents to corral their kids, glasses of Bordeaux notwithstanding. But it’s nice to have a little help.
“I always engage kids in conversation,” says Laura Jones, co-owner of Julep. “We have a little collection of toys and diversions to soothe fussy ones, and it makes me happy to see kids climb about the rock wall in the courtyard — with parental supervision, of course.”
Although Julep doesn’t have a kid’s menu per se, Jones notes that both big and little kids love the mac ’n’ cheese, simple burgers and fried chicken.
518 Grand Canyon Dr., Madison
Dim sum hotspot Nani is another spacious area that’s big enough for families to feel okay about their exuberant young ones. And there is some built-in entertainment: Even a baby can point to the photographs on the menu to choose deep-fried sesame balls, lotus seed paste bun or pork pan-fried pot stickers.
The room is so big it’s not hard to find an isolated spot, and the “ambience” — blue neon and hissing vats of water for steaming dumplings — is intriguing to kids into their teens. (Teenagers will probably be bored, but they are endemically bored, or at least disposed to appear that way, pretty much everywhere. Can’t win ’em all.)
6754 Odana Road, Madison
This spot is packed on the weekdays with lunch dates for power couples and pho-lovers by the score, but weekends are ideal for families at Saigon Noodles. The all-day weekend brunch has some excellent options that aren’t available during the week, like the banh xeo (Vietnamese sizzling crepe), a thick pancake stuffed with shrimp, chicken, onion and mung bean, served with fresh greens — a dish of huge proportions well-suited to hungry adolescents.
3502 Monroe St., Madison
At the back of Gates & Brovi there’s a smaller room, perfect for families, but the large and open restaurant is accommodating to kids throughout. Its well-trained employees know the score, bringing crayons and puzzle placemats without being prompted, speaking the language of little ones and being ready to reel off a list of specialty sodas (key lime, orange, black cherry) that will make any child perk right up.
The kids’ menu covers basics like small hamburgers and cheeseburgers but also chicken tenders and pasta; and the classic ice cream soda, a scoop of vanilla with root beer, is a crowd pleaser, as is the warmed brownie sundae.
2827 Atwood Ave., Madison
Kids like cupcakes. In this sun-soaked room, cupcakes, eggs and toast, grilled cheese sandwiches (without crusts), sliced hot dogs, mac ’n’ cheese, pastas with buttered Parmesan, and chicken strips are all on the kids’ menu, all with a side of either fruit or vegetables.
“We are definitely kid friendly. We’ve had kids frost cupcakes with our bakers, I carry kids with me so parents can eat — only when parents are okay with that, of course,” says owner Daryl Sisson. “One of my favorite stories in the seven years since we’ve opened is the couple who had their first date at the Daisy — and have since married and had a child. Their first restaurant outing with that child was at the Daisy.”
It’s visually a fun place for kids, too. Parents walk around with their children to look at the more than 30 pieces of art inside (all made by the Daisy proprietors and their family members), an exhibition that extends to the outdoors when the weather is good.
And Daisy gives you a free cupcake with every birthday meal, no matter your age. What’s not to love?