« Memo to restaurants | Main | Cimino's Pizza »


Carnival'sUpdate: Carnival's is closed.

In a word: Life's too important to be taken seriously.

The specs: #0507
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; review at Yelp; official web site, Carnival's on Urbanspoon

JM ate the nachos with a lemonade.
Lindsay ate the tacos and a salad.
Nichole ate the Chicago dog with a Coke Zero.
We also tried a S'mores parfait.
The bill was $18, or $6/person, plus tip.
Nichole gave Carnival's an A-; JM gave Carnival's a B+; Lindsay gave Carnival's a B- (see our grading rubric).

Latest Carnival's news and reviews

Carnival's deserves kudos for starting up a fun-food and soft-serve place in the dead of a Wisconsin winter. We found it totally unpretentious and a good value. The inside is small and almost painfully bright, with local artists' work on display to create a unique, just shy of funhouse atmosphere. The hours are playful, too as they open "around" 11.

The closer you stick to fair favorites, the better the food gets, but really you should go here and eat dessert first. Carnival's has a number of sundaes and parfaits for $3.25 that come with a money-back guarantee (ironclad, in our opinion). We tried a S'mores parfait on our first visit: vanilla with hot fudge, marshmallow creme (!) & graham crackers (!!). It was brilliant. Later a Mud Pie was hard to resist, and proved just as good. When available, the biscuits that go into the strawberry shortcake are homemade, and just the thought made spring seem that much closer. 

Chicago dog and salad

Nichole's Chicago dog was very good, with a lightly toasted bun and pretty much the right toppings. Lindsay (of Forkful of News) tried the tacos and decided they tasted sort of like homemade Taco Bell, definitely not taqueria-style, and the salad was OK, excepting the jugged dressing.

Nachos and tacos

JM's nachos were, at first glance, just loaded with all kinds of bad-for-you stuff, but the presence of diced tomato, red onion, banana pepper, and a pinch of shredded cheese as well as melted cheez showed more care was taken assembling this than 99% of other nacho plates. 

The thing we loved about Carnival's is that it does something nobody else in Madison seems to be doing: providing iconic, playful (some would say junk) food with a care and craft you'd expect at a "serious" restaurant. In a way they're turning the local trend on its head - the eats themselves might not suit a locavore, but customers' dollars are definitely staying in the community.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

We just tried Carnival's for the first time this past week and really liked it. I was craving a Coney Dog and I was pretty happy with what I got there. The chili might have been a touch sweet, but it was very good. The chili cheese fries were fantastic and we got a ton of them.

The fiancee wolfed down her burger and liked her seasoned fries pretty well.

But the desserts were amazing. I had the pseudo-Blizzard with pineapple and coconut and the fiancee had her trademark chocolate ice cream with peanut butter and peanut butter cups. We walked away very happy and even with all that food, we were still well under $20.

Highly recommended. There were several other things on the menu that I'm looking forward to trying. Hopefully that place succeeds because it does fill a niche that we don't really have in Madison and the owner (I assume she was the owner) was very, very nice.

If you go, there's a big "Ice Cream" sign on the roof, but nothing that indicates "Carnival's" until you see the writing on the door. Also, note that Google kind of lies about where it is. It's on the corner of Park and Lakeside, not further up the block. We drove past it a few times.

I'm really enjoying the latest trend in Madison, Chicago style hot dogs! We went there once when it first opened and it really hit the spot. The prices are low, food is good and the staff was really friendly. Don't let the outside fool you, it doesn't scream "good food!", and it looks a little sad in the winter but it's a really a great find.

After a disappointing steamed (BLASPHEMY!) corn dog at Vilas Zoo, I decided to stop in to see if they could scratch my itch. The menu has a lot of lusty, bad for you appeal. I decided to cut my cholesterol level a break and went for a Chicago Dog instead. Perfect. Extra points for ice cold Mexican coke in a glass bottle on a hot day. Bliss. The prices are very reasonable. More reasonable than McD's reasonable. I think I'm going to make this my junk food stop from now on. Due to my ongoing, untreated Chicago Dog addiction, I suspect that stopping thing will be quite frequent. I found myself hoping they get and stay popular so I can enjoy them for quite some time. Next time you are going for an overpriced fix at Micheal's Frozen Custard, swing your car around and head here instead, your taste-buds and wallet will thank you.

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.


Listen to The Corner Table podcast "Remembering Restaurants," aired December 24, 2020, where Chris and Lindsay talk with us "about the menus and memories left behind when restaurants go away."

Madison Food coverInfo about our book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is here, or read it for free thanks to the library - print & ebook.



About Follow madisonatoz on Twitter Contact
Blogroll Ad 
Free Blog
Read our book and food tour
Dish du jour Creative Commons License subscribe to RSS Subscribe
Memo to restaurants Bloggers' Rights at EFF Quizzes
Reflections BlogWithIntegrity.com Tip jar
Banner image by Kayla Morelli, Red Wheelbarrow Design