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In a word: Favorite of the senior discount set (and they can keep it).

The specs: #0480  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at The French Dip ReviewPerkins Restaurant & Bakery on Urbanspoon, Yelp, EatDrinkMadison; official web site.

JM ate the French toast.
Nichole ate the short stack with a coffee.
The bill was $16, or $8/person, plus tip.
JM gave Perkins a C-; Nichole gave Perkins a D (see our grading rubric).

Latest Perkins news and reviews

Perkins is no mystery. Our friend Eric summed up the all-hours breakfast chain aptly:

Any restaurant like this has two lives. One at 3am on any given day of the week, amongst the detritus of teen angst, and one at 7am on a Sunday, when the church crowd rolls in and the middle-aged ladies named Alice and Linda are waiting the tables.

Pancakes and French toastToo old for the former, we chose the latter. Of the Perkins outlets in Madison, the one we went to - University Avenue - perhaps has its feet most firmly planted in that Sunday morning world. And it ain't as easy as Lionel said. We were seated at a two-top booth under lights piercing enough for interrogation and it just got worse.


The food was bad. The French toast was of the eggy, limp and lifeless variety, while the accompanying syrup and butter barely qualified as such. The pancakes were inconsistent in color (one was possibly even BURNT!) and had an alarming bubblegum texture. We think we figured out part of the problem: a quick search of the nutrition facts reveals dozens of uses of the non-food-lipid cottonseed oil in everything at Perkins from soup to oatmeal walnut cookies. Piling such weights on our already plummeting stomachs was like dropping an anvil through the hull of our hopes for a relaxing Sunday. Much of our meal went to waste - though, as one mom we know is wont to say, "it was going to be wasted anyway, whether it went through you or not."

Further, we were assigned the most brusque and flinty server we've ever had. She rushed our order - Nichole went deer-in-the-headlights and blurted "short stack" in sheer terror - relentlessly upsold from the corporate script, argued loudly with the hostess a foot from our table, and deposited the check without a word. There's a lesson in black comedy a la Basil Fawlty to being served by "Alices" like this, but before coffee it's hard to tap that well of detached bemusement at the bleakness of modern foodservice. Instead we fled after a record 17 minutes in the building - had our waitress even entertained the idea of checking in once during the meal, we didn't give her much of a window.

Later we reflected on the silver lining that this kind of experience is proof that the Eating in Madison A to Z thing has achieved its ends via these means: it seriously prevented a fight between us. We had to go to Perkins. Neither of us forced the other; that it was so unpleasant wasn't anyone's fault. And as a bonus, we're SO over Perkins - at least for the 20-odd years until we're back in one of Perkins' target demographics and can order off the special menu.


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It was a good place to study, but the food was terrible. It is consistently terrible across the chain, in my opinion. But it's one of those places you go when you'd rather have the devil you know.

Perkins pancakes are something akin to McDonald's panhotcakes. There's no good reason to eat them, and you'd struggle to find an objective justification for eating them, but sometimes you just wanna.

That said, I think I'd eat pancakes from Monty's Blue Plate 9 times out of 10 over Perkins'. The wife might argue otherwise; she's got a softer soft spot for that giant American flag.

The only time I've gone to Perkins in the last 20 years was when I had severe jetlag after getting home from a trip to Japan and there was absolutely *nowhere* else to go at 4:00 a.m.

I'd rather go to Denny's or IHOP over Perkins if given the choice. At least IHOP makes a good pancake and Denny's has grits.

You will no go there when you get old enough because they will be out of business. The demographic shift is pretty clear. I eschew chains as a rule, and as you've proven, there's a really good reason for my rule. I'd rather spend money locally anyway (even considering franchises).

I applaud your fortitude in this project! And really enjoy reading your reviews when they show up in my reader. I read them religiously.

So you think Perkins is going to suffer as the largest generation in American history begins reaching the senior citizen age range? I don't understand that.

And I'm not even going to touch the chain thing.

@catwoman: too funny. Are there any better options now? Even Taco Bells close about 3, right?

@Karen: Funny you should mention that - neither IHOP nor Denny's are on Isthmus' list! Hmmm....

The List is paid for by Perkins! Conspiracy theory!

Love your blog, read every entry - but can't help and protest at your belief that all old people like Perkins. My folks, thankfully still here and kicking in their 80's, went once to Perkins (the same one as you went to), and had the same reaction as you. There are people with no taste in every age group; you could just as well look at Taco Bell teen/20's clientele and use that to state that all people under 25 like Taco Bell and eat fast food.

I call that place "JERKins"(at least the one on University Ave.). I was new to the area (2005) and it was really late so my bf and I had to eat something. Besides getting awful food, I found my car windshield totally smashed after we ate. All the cars with out of state license plates had some kind of damage but mine was the worst. They staff would not even call the police but we did get a giant trash can and brush to clean up! :)

An omelet is generally descent, comes with "free" pancakes [certainly wouldn't buy them], and the apricot syrup tastes pretty good. If you need a place to eat in the middle of the night and/or are on a long trip in a smallish town it will keep you from starving.

I remember once being on the road and somewhat in a hurry, so the Perkins right next to my hotel seemed like it'd have to do. Somehow, even the ORANGE JUICE was terrible. How can you screw up orange juice so badly?

My friends used to always want to go here late at night. I never liked it. I unknowingly tried to order off of the "55plus" menu once and was quite rudely denied. I'll never understand that. It's not like the menu is the same quantity, specially priced for 55+. It's smaller portions, for less. I protested and didn't order anything. I was probably better off ;-)

Perkins one saving grace was that they had rye toast. They've since removed rye toast from the menu. Nothing left for me to order there:(

I just had quite a surprise reading these comments. A few comments up there's the one about calling the place "JERKins". I thought to myself: "I thought we were the only ones that called it that". I keep reading and I find out that they had their car windows smashed at a Perkins. That happened to me too! How crazy is that? Only at that point do I realize this comment was written by my girlfriend...

I need some coffee.

And Perkins sucks. I'll never forget their response when I came back in to the restaurant, and told them our car, along with two others, had had its windows smashed in their parking lot. They looked at me and shrugged.

I used to really dislike Perkins restaurants. Still do, with one exception. The Perkins in Watertown, Wisconsin on Church St (Hwy 26).

It's owned by a local chef and I don't know how he gets away with it since it's a chain, but he has his own way of doing things. The food is a million times better than at any other Perkins I have been to. Wife and I refer to it as the non-Perkins Perkins

Will have to try to find a way to get there and try it, sounds REALLY interesting.

I went there once after an evening at Capital Brewery. It was BAD. Never again.

About 10 years ago my mom and I used to to there now and then and share their chicken BLT bread bowl salad. It was actually really delicious with their honey mustard dressing. However everything else I had ever tried tasted like warmed up frozen food. We haven't been in a long time though because they changed it a few years back and it wasn't anywhere near as good as it used to be.

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