Neighborhood garden escape serves up tranquility and tasty home-style food.
By Sharon Stello | Photos by Jody Tiongco
Stepping into the tranquil backyard at Madison Square & Garden Cafe on a warm, sunny morning, it’s instantly cooler amid the shady trees, lush landscaping and gurgling fountains.
Part restaurant and part store for whimsical home and garden decor, an eclectic mix of Zen Buddha and animal statues, copper rain chains, colorful gazing balls and tinkling wind chimes create a unique setting amid the tables and umbrellas.
Artistic wall hangings cover the sides of a quaint cottage-like building, which holds even more treasures inside—all manner of clocks, decorative lanterns and other artsy doodads. Inside is also where diners place their orders from the basic, but delicious menu before finding a seat in the garden.
The laid-back, dog-friendly restaurant, which only serves breakfast and lunch, is a fixture in the neighborhood on North Coast Highway. Owner Jon Madison, originally from New York, started the business 16 years ago by combining two longtime dreams. “I always wanted a little café, and I always wanted a little tchotchke gift store,” he says. “… I wanted whimsical, fun things.”
Madison Square is at once a feast for the eyes and the stomach, with a delightful lineup of tasty homemade dishes featuring fresh, flavorful ingredients. Jon uses organic produce and pasture-raised chicken, which is grilled to order.
The most popular breakfast item is the Madison Rancheros, a hearty dish that perfectly melds Southwest flavors: crisp corn tortillas topped with black beans, eggs cooked sunny side up and jack cheese, served with sour cream and avocado salsa. Those craving something sweet may want to try the equally divine German apple pancake or the Cinnamon Swirl French Toast served with seasonal berries and maple syrup.
For lunch, the Shanghai chicken salad is a favorite and it’s easy to see why, with its fresh mix of greens, carrots, red cabbage, grilled chicken, crispy wontons and rice noodles in a plum-mustard dressing. Each flavor shines through with a just-picked taste, and the same is true for the turkey club sandwich.
Jon’s approach is to offer a simple menu of good food, avoiding modern cuisine trends. He also keeps the place eco-friendly, hosts charity events and seeks to further his community service by running for the City Council this fall. At Madison Square, Jon seems perfectly in his element, greeting all who come to dine. He’s ready with biscuits for the dogs and bubbles for the children. As he says, “My celebrities are my regulars.”