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Broadway Diner combines fresh food with retro atmosphere

February 28, 2018

Perched atop a small hill in the southwest corner of downtown Baraboo sits a restaurant with an interior and exterior that could be a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting.

Broadway Diner’s glowing neon signs and shimmering steel panels are throwbacks to the golden age of 1950s Americana. It feels retro, and for good reason. The made-to-order diner was manufactured in Paterson, New Jersey in 1954. From there it was shipped to Groton, Connecticut, where it remained for 51 years under several different names and owners.

Back then, diners were made in factories and delivered on site where only the utilities needed to be connected. For transportation purposes, early diners usually were small and narrow in order to fit onto a rail car or truck for delivery. Broadway Diner was no different.

“It’s original,” said owner and chef Jeff Castree. “If you go out the door to the front and look up, there’s a little tag. It’s a manufacturers tag from the Paterson plant. It’s number 54-12, so it’s the 12th diner off the assembly line.”

Castree and his wife, Vonnie, bought the building in 2011 from a diner restoration service out of Cleveland, Ohio, and opened Broadway Diner in May the following year. Castree said he got the idea for Broadway Diner’s vintage setting while bicycling down by the railroad tracks.

“I was always mesmerized by the circus train cars,” he said. “They park a couple of them there periodically. I would go down there and check them out, and I thought, ‘What if you could take one of these and turn it into a diner?’ People would come just to see it.”

Castree said his passion for cooking began with his Italian heritage. His grandparents and father owned and managed a supermarket, so he was around food all the time. He went on to serve in the military for four years, where he worked as a cook, and later became a chef after additional training. Castree also went to culinary school at Madison Area Technical College.

Aside from the vintage setting, Castree said he knew his restaurant had to have quality food to set it apart.

“My vision was to serve people a product that was always quality first — that’s what it’s about,” he said. “It’s going to be more upscale than what’s out there. I use some of the best bacon in the market.”

Broadway Diner is known for its breakfast menu. It features a unique pancake batter, French toast and gourmet hash with corned beef made from scratch. The restaurant also offers full-service catering.

What really ties the menu together is what’s smoking behind Broadway Diner. Cooking low and slow in the smoker out back is the restaurant’s carnitas, or smoked pulled pork. The menu uses the savory meat on its mac and cheese, topped with coleslaw on a brioche bun, and on Broadway’s Signature Fare: Southwest benedict scramble.

The dish is a spicy reworking of the classic eggs benedict. It features tender pork carnitas, scrambled eggs and avocado smothered with a zesty ranchero chili hollandaise sauce served atop Broadway’s homemade potato pancakes.

“It presents really well, and all those flavors together are something that you’ll never make at home,” Castree said.

Castree said inspiration for Broadway’s menu comes from a variety of sources. The chef said he had the benefit of learning how to cook during two different eras, which adds diversity to his dishes.

“The first one we didn’t have the internet, so you really were inquisitive about different types of food all the time, and I learned the fundamentals of cooking really well that way,” he said. “Today you have the internet, so I can take a concept or a couple different proteins and say, ‘What if I mix this with this?’”

Castree said he believes Broadway Diner’s vintage atmosphere, friendly service and quality food make it an iconic eatery in downtown Baraboo.

“I’ve often called it a working museum,” he said. “These diners are rare, so to have one that’s functioning and serving the community is awesome.”