Delaney’s: Classic Never Goes Out of Style

Photo by Eric Tadsen

Second generation steakhouse co-owner Dan Delaney knows a thing or two about serving good food, selecting great wine, and offering excellent customer service. Growing up at Delaney’s—he started on the table-bussing staff in 1992 when he was 16 years old and is now general manager—Dan and his seasoned team have carved out a reputation as being one of the best restaurants in Madison.

“We’ve been here 40 years and we’re still going strong,” Dan says. His late father, Jim Delaney, started the restaurant in 1973 after building a career working for Texaco, and operating a Texaco service station at the corner of Park Street and Badger Road. It was the only service station in town where fuel attendants wore white pressed shirts, and where Jim designed a leather cover for his belt buckle so he wouldn’t scratch client’s cars as he leaned over them washing windshields and pumping gas.

Photo by Eric Tadsen

That precise attention to detailed customer service carries over into Delaney’s, where bar staff today still wear ties and crisp oxfords, and waitstaff work in teams of two, never missing a beat whether serving a table of two or 10. Delaney’s has a well-deserved reputation for serving the best steaks in town, Dan says, and that’s because their meat is sourced locally from Neesvig’s in Windsor, Wisconsin, and then cut and aged in-house.

On any given night, after enjoying a generous cocktail at the newly renovated bar—Bar Manager Tim Akins has worked at Delaney’s for 20 years and also knows a thing or two about customer service—customers enter the classic dining area of Delaney’s, split into six rooms for a more intimate dining experience. All tables are dressed with white linen and are placed with wine and water glass for a classic steakhouse look. Wood paneling completes the retro feel, while new, updated photographs of Madison by local photographer Cassius J. Callender dot the walls, giving the space a modern vibe.

In the kitchen, Manager Scott Forcier, a veteran of Delaney’s since 1987, manages a team of first-rate chefs, who expertly prepare steak, seafood, chops, and chicken entrées. One of the most popular dishes is Delaney’s Black Angus Beef Prime Rib, available Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday in regular and extra thick cuts. Steak entrées include a choice of potato—a perennial favorite is the hash browns with cheese cooked inside—as well as a side salad or soup, and home-baked sourdough bread.

Photo by Eric Tadsen

An array of classic steak cuts are also available, including New York Strip, Filet Mignon, Top Sirloin, Ribeye, Bone-in Filet, and a mammoth T-Bone that’s nearly impossible to finish in one sitting. But other entrées share the spotlight as well, including the popular Iowa chop, a French cut loin pork chop served with roasted potatoes, herbed vegetables, and tangy mustard sauce. Lamb chops and Chicken Oscar—served with Alaskan king crab meat—round out the carnivore side of the menu.

Then there’s the seafood. With a reputation as a top-notch steakhouse, many customers don’t even realize Delaney’s serves first-rate lobster, shrimp, and walleye. The Cedar Planked Salmon Fillet, served with mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, julienned vegetables, and Door County cherry chutney is one of Dan’s favorite menu items. Combos round out the entrée menu—think steak and lobster, chicken, and shrimp—for those who just can’t decide what they like best.

And anyone who’s ever eaten at Delaney’s knows about the onion rings. If you think you won’t have room to eat your entrée if you order an appetizer, order the onion rings anyway. With a one-word description on the menu, “famous,” these deep-fried crispy beauties are worth the minor mess they’ll make on your tablecloth (which will be expertly removed by your waitstaff). Dipped in ranch, Delaney’s Onion Rings are worth the trip alone.

Photo by Eric Tadsen

As if appetizers, complimentary bread, and substantial entrées weren’t enough, Delaney’s is one of the very few restaurants in town to still offer old-school ice cream drinks—the kind of after-dinner drink that serves as both dessert and cocktail. Order a Grasshopper, Pink Squirrel, or Brandy Alexander, and you’ll be greeted with a tall glass of dairy goodness big enough for two, made with ice cream containing 15 percent butterfat.

In addition to renovating the bar area this past year, Delaney’s also updated the look and feel of their private party room with all new audio/visual capabilities for corporate meetings and private family celebrations. The room comfortably seats up to 40 diners, and is perfect for special events, with selections from Delaney’s dining room menu, as well as special appetizers suitable for larger parties.

“We’re all about the experience, and making sure people enjoy themselves,” Dan says. “Our most important goal is to put on a show that makes people want to come back. We are honored to serve generations of customers who came here as kids, and who now bring their children to Delaney’s. And we are particularly happy that when new customers find us, they become regulars pretty quickly.”

Jeanne Carpenter is a cheese geek and food writer living in Oregon, Wisconsin.