The elegant, chef-driven Seasons restaurant in Downtown Madison has an unusual schedule. It only serves dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Those hours work well for its target market, approximately 200 seniors who occupy the independent living apartment homes at Capitol Lakes.
These seniors are part of a retirement community for those who are 62 and older and want to maintain their active lives close to downtown. Potential residents may weigh where to live based on the amenities the community offers, and while there are no golf courses or pickle ball courts at Capitol Lakes, its proximity to cultural activities and educational opportunities downtown is a draw. The vibrant local food scene is also important.
Every independent living apartment has a kitchen, but many residents prefer to dine out rather than deal with food preparation and washing dishes. Seasons offers residents (and their guests) an opportunity to “dine out” without leaving the building or coping with the vagaries of Wisconsin weather. Located on a lower level of the Capitol Lakes complex in the 300 block of West Main Street, Seasons is a short walk and elevator ride from each apartment.
Seasons offers an ever-changing dinner menu of composed small and large plates. Recent small plates included a country pate made with chicken livers and pork, and an arugula salad with celery root, pickled celery, apple, pecans and poppy seed vinaigrette. Entrees may feature rainbow trout, flank steak or sautéed shrimp. For those who can’t decide, Seasons also offers a buffet that serves home-style comfort food.
Executive chef Mark Walters, who previously worked at Samba and The Madison Club, works closely with his sous chefs to create the Seasons menu. According to Ami Shimanek, director of dining services, the menu changes weekly and features a special every evening. Seasons tries to incorporate a variety of food cultures and cooking styles into these specials.
Shimanek said she and Walters make “a huge effort to keep things interesting.” In addition to Seasons, Walters oversees the menu for the more casual Henry Street Café, which is open for breakfast and lunch and offers “classic café favorites,” like eggs, soups and sandwiches.
Each resident’s monthly fees include a $260 charge for food that can be used for purchases at the two restaurants. This fee does not roll over from month to month, but most residents manage to use it quite easily, even though the restaurant prices are not as high as one might expect.
The current Henry St. Café breakfast menu prices range from $1 for toast and jam to $6.50 for smoked salmon on a bagel with herb cream cheese, tomato, capers and red onion. At Seasons, prices topped out at $15 for flank steak with polenta cake and a mushroom demi-glace.
Both restaurants have a no tipping policy, though each restaurant does have a small tip box affixed to the wall for residents who wish to reward exceptional service. Those tips are pooled and distributed at an annual staff appreciation event. Starting wages for servers is $11.25.
Curious diners may want to add Seasons or Henry Street Café to their “must-visit” list of dining adventures, especially after viewing the menus and photos on the Capitol Lakes blog, capitollakesmix.com. But these restaurants are primarily for residents and their family members and friends, part of a package of amenities that includes an on-site library and art galleries.
Shimanek says the Henry Street Café has about 45 seats and is very busy on weekends. The restaurants keep short serving hours, which work well for residents, but may not meet the needs of the general public. The early closing hours at Seasons allow diners to finish their meals in time to attend one of the many entertainment offerings in the Capitol Lakes Grand Hall that begin at 7 p.m.