A Sunday Ride to Riley Tavern

Larry and I hit the road last Sunday morning for a long bike ride. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and we had a mid-ride destination in mind. We took a 40-mile hilly and meandering route through Paoli and Mount Horeb, before finally pulling up to the Riley Tavern for a hard-earned pancake breakfast break.

Riley Tavern is nestled in the rolling hills of Verona and a popular destination for bikers—both the spandex and leather-wearing variety. It was my first visit, and I was excited. I had long dreamed of enjoying a plate of pancakes or a cheeseburger on the deck on a summer afternoon.

Before our ride, I read several online reviews for Riley Tavern. They weren’t stellar. The majority of reviewers mentioned the “crabby waitresses” and poor service. But other reviews seemed more balanced—it is what it is, the food is good and the atmosphere is great, but don’t expect any frills or bend-over-backwards service. Ultimately, the promise of pancakes helped me look past some of the more negative reviews.

When we arrived, the tavern was packed. It was Father’s Day, and there were many families enjoying breakfast. The bartender greeted us, took down our name, and invited us to enjoy a cup of coffee while we waited for a table. I filled up a mug immediately from the self-serve pots in back. After just a few minutes, we were seated with another couple at a table for four (breakfast is only served in the tavern, not on the deck). It was serendipitous, because we really hit it off with the other couple—Dan and Mary from Middleton. They were peace corps volunteers in Brazil in the 70’s, public television enthusiasts, and had a great zest for life and adventure. It was good conversation.

The pancake breakfast was simple, cheap, and tasty—$6.50 for orange juice (served in Dixie cups—refills upon request), unlimited coffee, four pancakes, and three sausage links. Pancake options include blueberry, chocolate chip, and buttermilk. I chose blueberry. And those crabby waitresses? I didn’t experience them, but the servers did seem to have a lot going on—they were running around trying to keep up with the breakfast crowd and seemed stressed. But overall, the service was fine.

It was a perfect mid-ride destination, and the breakfast was just what we needed to fuel ourselves for the ride back to Madison. And thankfully, we took a more direct route back to Madison—only 20 miles for the return trip.

Category: Restaurant Reviews One comment »

One Response to “A Sunday Ride to Riley Tavern”

  1. DBelly

    I’m glad to see you had a positive time. The Riley really can be a great place during their weekend breakfasts and monthly Bluegrass Jam. Those are a totally different crowd than the typical. I’ve personally seen the other side of the place in the evenings when their regulars come out, and I’ve been on the wrong end of two particularly grouchy waitresses. In fact, I’ve noticed a distinct shift in overall vibe from the breakfast to late afternoon crowd even on weekends.

    Like most business, it’s really about what they do all the time. As someone who lives within actual strolling distance of the bar I have to say they offer very little positive to their immediate community, choosing to mock and shun the closest neighbors and ignore any complaints over their most rough nights in lieu of catering to people like yourself who will only come and go. You sound like nice people, but many who come through are the type to throw their empty beer cans along the road on their way in and out of our neck of the woods, and peel out while honking their horn and hollering all the way. These things aren’t OK, but of course someone touring through the area wouldn’t know or necessarily care about anything about that. Ah, well.

    The place has been for sale for the last year… for oh-so-many reasons, including the poor food and service. Since you visited in 2013 even their best event – Riley Fest – has fallen off the map. I’ve lived nearby for the last four years and haven’t seen a single sound business decision or an ounce of consideration given by the owners (James G. Murphy and Katherine Redican) to anyone but themselves and the “almighty dollar”.

    I sincerely hope they get picked up by someone who makes something decent of the place and gives people a better reason than pancakes and booze to stop by Riley. If I could buy them out, I would.

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