While in Madison recently, I decided to go downtown and have lunch at State Street Brats - a literal institution for Wisconsin students and government workers for years. State Street Brats was named one the Top 25 Sports Bars by Sports Illustrated a couple years ago. (Read my entries on the ones on the list that I've visited here, here and here.)
State Street Brats is famous for their "red brats" - a grilled bratwurst, then split down the middle and served on a homemade bun. Red brats are different from their "white brat" counterparts as they are made with beef and grilled, while the white ones are made out of pork and boiled in beer. Both are very good.
Red brats were invented in the early 1930's by George Bishop. Bishop's beef brat was embraced by two young guys - Seymour "Shorty" Kayes and Walter "Lammy" Lamm - who were just starting their first restaurant on State Street in Madison, The Log Cabin. "Shorty" and "Lammy" are widely credited as bringing the Red brat to Madison.
In 1953, "Shorty" and "Lammy" moved their business to a larger building down State Street - the present day location of State Street Brats (see map) - and renamed it The Brathaus. In 1989, the Brathaus' name was changed to State Street Brats. And a lot of old Madison-ites still refer to the place as The Brathaus.
Present day owner Kelly Meuer (right) keeps up the tradition that "Shorty" and "Lammy" held dear to their hearts when they owned the business. State Street Brats is still a packed place before and after Wisconsin football games, and is always busy during lunch and on weekend nights.
Since State Street Brats is on the State Street pedestrian walkway (only buses and delivery trucks can use the street), there's no parking available immediately around the place. However, there's a parking garage off of Frances St. that is directly behind State Street Brats that's easy to get into and out of.
The interior of State Street Brats is dark in the day time, and full of kitsch, memorabilia and, of course, televisions. There are a booths and long tables to sit at on the main floor of the place. It's kind of fun to just grab a beer and look at the stuff they have on the wall.
The menu is pretty basic - brats, sandwiches, burgers, salads and some Mexican food. They have something like 15 beers on tap at any given time including a handful of seasonal beers brewed in Wisconsin. There's no wait staff at State Street Brats, so you order at the service counter at the bar.
It had been a couple years since I was last in State Street Brats, and a lot longer since I'd had food there. It wasn't quite as busy as I walked in just before the noon hour. I took a quick look at the menu and went and ordered a double red brat and a glass of Capital Brewery's Maibock beer. As I said, they grill the brats, slice them down the middle and then serve both of them on a homemade bun.
One of the bar guys brought my double red brat out to me in a basket. They have a condiment counter, but I opted for just some German mustard as not to kill the taste of the brat.
And it was very good. I don't know if I like them better than the pork or "white" brats they serve, but they're a unique taste - more like an all-beef hot dog. And with the cold Maibock, it was a great lunch.
Total bill for the double red brat and the beer was $10.75. Sort of expensive, but it was good. Still, just going to State Street Brats is worth it. There's a lot of history and tradition in the place and it's certainly not to be missed when you travel to Madison.