Ogden’s North Street Diner is everything you want in a diner. It resembles a cafe as much as it does a diner, but with diner prices.
Cafes are typically more graceful than diners, and more likely to be open for just breakfast and lunch, as Ogden’s is.
Ogden’s hit the ground running when it opened in early May because its owners, Cari Scott and Will Tracy, have worked in the restaurant business a combined 46 years.
Many of those years were spent at Lazy Jane’s Cafe and Bakery on Williamson Street, where Scott is still general manager. Ogden’s, which serves breakfast as long as it’s open, is a lot smaller than Lazy Jane’s. When four of us arrived for brunch at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, all 12 tables in the modern and well-designed room were occupied. We were given menus to read and stepped outside.
There’s a lot to like about the breakfast menu, but the scramble special ($9) on the chalkboard was too good to pass up: andouille sausage, poblano peppers, onions and provolone. Those ingredients combined with three eggs created a wonderfully spicy masterpiece of a scramble.
Hash browns and a choice of toast (English muffin is among the options) come with all omelets and scrambles, and these potatoes were as close to perfect as I’ve tasted — not too much grease and salt, but still well-seasoned.
My friend was surprised that her quiche of the day ($8.50), with tiny bits of ham and Hook’s 5-year cheddar and scallions, was in the form of a popover, so it looked like a muffin with a crisp, buttery crust on top. It was novel and delicious. The quasi-quiche was served warm with choice of hash browns, fruit or salad. My companion’s only criticism was that she wanted more of the fruit (Granny Smith apple, banana and red grapes) she ordered.
Another companion, who knows almost every breakfast tofu dish in Madison, was mostly happy with Ogden’s tofu scramble ($8.75), where the tofu was sauteed with red pepper, spinach and broccoli. The only thing he objected to was the tahini dressing. The tahini paste on the tofu didn’t exactly work for me, but I appreciated the creative idea.
My 12-year-old daughter was unenthusiastic about her blueberry pancake (one for $3.25) because she found the blueberries sour. I finished her pancake and found it thick and fluffy, but understood how she could think the berries were too tart.
Ogden’s delivers in the coffee ($2.25 unlimited) department, using Colectivo, brewing it strong and being quick on the refills. Service in general was fast, attentive and friendly.
The small, attractive brick building on the corner of Commercial Avenue and North Street, kitty corner from the Tip Top Tavern, had been a two-bedroom apartment until Scott and Tracy had it gutted and remodeled.
Ogden’s is charming inside and out, and touches like white carnations on the tables, along with petite mason jars of jam, help beautify it even more. A couple of maps are mixed into a wall of ornate mirrors on one side of the diner, and a little map paperweight holds down the bill when it’s time to pay.
Scott, who named the diner after her dog, said she’s incredibly fond of maps, globes and atlases, and most of the ones on the wall were pulled from her collection. The same is true of the paperweights she made. “I also have a fondness for paper in general,” she said.
This new diner-cafe found instant popularity in Eken Park and is putting this North Side neighborhood on the map.