Inn on the Park on the Capitol Square is no more. The 145-year-old hotel has undergone a multimillion-dollar transformation and has reemerged as Park Hotel.
The improvements are incredible and all done out of the spotlight that shined on the Edgewater hotel when it went through its massive remodel a few years ago.
The hotel is officially called the Best Western Premiere Park Hotel, and its restaurant, The Post, is impressive, too, named after Capitol architect George B. Post, in honor of the Capitol’s 100th anniversary being celebrated this year. The hotel rightly plays up the fact that it’s the only hotel on Madison’s Capitol Square.
I had gone to a happy hour function there recently and been surprised by the quality of the food, particularly a plate of creative sliders.
On a later visit to check out the regular menu, still in preliminary form, the pulled pork sliders ($9 for three) weren’t as original, but still excellent, mainly because they were topped with Sriracha coleslaw.
The pretzel-style buns were soft and fresh and lined with bacon jam and a choice of cheese. They were held together by bamboo mini-skewers topped with green olives, which gave them a lively presentation. A side of the Sriracha coleslaw, though, was the best part of the dish.
The other standout was the restaurant’s grilled corn chowder. Available for $6/bowl, we were able to order a cup of it with our burger, instead of fries. The soup was appropriately creamy and teeming with red potatoes, corn, bacon and thyme. It’s my new favorite soup in town.
The Post offers a mix of sandwiches and entrées. The Hawaiian burger ($9) had grilled pineapple, ham and Swiss cheese, although the ham was nearly undetectable. But the meat had some character and the roll was soft and buttery. All in all, it was a decent burger.
An entrée, chicken scallopini ($18), meanwhile, sounded better in theory, particularly because it featured crawfish, which don’t turn up much around here. The flat, pan-fried chicken breast was dry, but the crawfish cream sauce on the accompanying fettuccine was light as promised. The menu said the sauce would be flambéed with brandy, which made the dish seem more sophisticated than it was. The best thing going for it was the plentiful crawfish, but at the same time they gave the whole dish a touch of fishiness.
The plate also had sautéed broccolini, an elongated broccoli hybrid, which I enjoyed more than my companion. Still, she said, “I appreciate that they used broccolini rather than regular broccoli.”
There was one dessert, a flourless chocolate cake ($6), with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream ($1.50) and sliced strawberries. It tasted store bought, and our waiter confirmed it wasn’t made on site.
There were a number of people in the bar attached to The Post the Thursday night we ate there, which made it feel somewhat cheery. However, we were the only true restaurant customers, and that’s too bad for such an attractive space.
The environment is a dramatic improvement over Jerome’s, the Inn on the Park restaurant, with its striped booths and elegant, shiny floor made up of small white and black tiles.
One of the best things about the restaurant actually sits right outside it — a big dispenser of free fruited water, which twice had strawberries and cucumbers. The water looks and tastes amazing.
My friend and I had to laugh at the cheesy music piped into the restaurant, stuff like “Puppy Love” by Donny Osmond and “Get Closer” by Seals and Crofts. But at the same time, it was sort of endearing.
What we did admire about the place was a mosaic of the Madison skyline done in a tile-like wall covering behind the hotel’s front desk. It’s definitely worth a look. And while we were quizzing the clerk about it, he pointed out the ornate elevator doors mounted on the wall that were once part of the Capitol building. It turns out, the hotel’s late owner, Jerry Mullins, snapped them up at a state “garage sale.” The Mullins family still owns the hotel.
Speaking of finds, the restaurant itself is a great discovery in many ways. I hope others start to appreciate it, too.