Otto's Hidden Fine Dining

Photo by Eric Tadsen

One of Madisons best-known restaurants may very well be one of its best-kept secrets, as its hidden location, tucked behind a grove of trees and office buildings on Mineral Point Road, makes it a perfect setting for dinner every season of the year.

Named for Otto Toepfer, a German immigrant who built the 1870s farmhouse, Ottos Restaurant and Bar opened in 1987 after extensive restoration of the homes original two-foot-thick foundation and brick walls. The Toepfers once farmed property from present day Whitney Way to Gammon Road, and from the Beltline to Mineral Point Road. The land has been completely developed, with Ottos Restaurant the lone remnant of a bygone era.

Today, Ottos is a casual, elegant dining destination specializing in fresh, creative Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and warm Midwestern hospitality. Executive Chef and General Manager Karl Granberg features small-batch cooking using local and fresh ingredients.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

We have an incredibly loyal customer base who appreciate high-quality seafood, steaks, and produce, Karl says. People have their favorite dishes, and we respect that by keeping a menu stocked with customer favorites, and then also offering a chefs tasting menu that changes weekly.

Chef Karls special tasting menus run from Tuesday through Friday each week, and are posted on the restaurants Facebook page and on their website. The three-course meal costs $30 or $45 with wine pairings, and features seasonal ingredients and special wines that Karl personally selects. The menus are a perfect outlet for Karls creativity in the kitchen and keep staff engaged in seasonal foods. Karl says customers love having the choice between the traditional menu and a weekly changing menu.

Of course, that choice is often a hard one to make. With a regular menu stocked with a variety of famous house specialties, including sea bass, lamb chops, and certified Angus beef steaks, there are literally no wrong choices when selecting an entre at Ottos.

Perhaps best known for his Roasted Chilean Sea Bass, Chef Karl prepares the iconic dish with artichokes, shitake mushrooms, capers, and red onion relish, and then serves it with garlic mashed potatoes and citrus buerre blanc. Another popular dish is the Grilled New Zealand Lamb Chops, served with roasted red potatoes, sauted French green beans, and almond-mint pesto.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

In a town full of steakhouses, Ottos delivers when it comes to good beef. Chef Karls certified Angus beef steaks are grilled to order and served with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. Options include an 8-ounce Filet Mignon, a 12-ounce Ribeye, 10-ounce New York Strip, and a 4-ounce Petite Filet with three grilled shrimp. Ala carte extras include grilled asparagus, sauted mushrooms, crispy angel hair onions, and grilled shrimp.

Another house favorite is the Mediterranean Grilla dish featuring fresh lamb chops, marinated chicken, kofte, wheat pilaf, cous cous salad, red onion relish, yogurt mint sauce, and pomegranate reduction. Other entres include seared scallops, duck, and spinach artichoke pasta. All entres offer a choice of mixed baby greens with basil vinaigrette, a Caesar salad, or Roasted Tomato Bisque.

Ottos Bar is also a popular gathering spot for locals and area professionals, and starters, such as bruschetta, grilled shrimp, crab cakes, a charcuterie plate, and a Wisconsin cheese course, are available at both the bar and as appetizers for dinner. Ottos also offers a variety of entre salads, including a Coriander-Crusted Salmon Salad with fresh strawberries, spinach, gorgonzola cheese, spiced walnuts, and roasted shallot-gorgonzola vinaigrette.

An extensive wine list, champagne cocktails, specialty martinis, single malts and blends, and after-dinner drinks round out the menu. A nightly dessert course is also available, often featuring house-made crme brle, chocolate truffle cake, gelato, and more.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Chef Karl says one of the secrets to Ottos longevity is its superior wait staff. The average server has worked at Ottos for between 12 and 15 years. A bevy of loyal customers often ask for their favorite server and to be seated at their favorite table in one of the many dining rooms inside Ottos. Outside, a seasonal dining patio seats 45 people in the summer and fall, and remains one of Madisons most popular outdoor dining destinations, with mature trees and changing seasons providing an ever-scenic view.

Ottos is also home to many a private party, with a popular private room upstairs that can seat 35 people for rehearsal dinners, retirement parties, and special event celebrations.

Ottos bar opens Tuesday through Saturday at 3:30 p.m., with half-price appetizers weeknights in the bar until 6:30 p.m. Dinner service begins at 5:00 p.m., with seating until 9:00 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and until 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Ottos is closed Sundays and Mondays. Reservations are not required, but are recommended, especially on weekends, for summer dining on the deck and for groups of five or more.

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