Looking for a restaurant with a view? If so, we’ve got one.
Bessie’s Diner is located at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport, and if you stop by on a high flying day, Bessie’s will be bustling.
The restaurant has an industrial feel with corrugated steel walls, exposed ceiling and chrome accents throughout. The retro Formica tables and enormous U-shaped counter with stools give it a fun 1950s vibe. The wall of windows facing the runway provides wonderful natural light and, if you’re lucky, a great view of planes touching down and taking off.
The diner boasts large model airplanes that hang from the ceiling, a propeller, airplane prints and an airplane wing suspended above the counter. The menu is even divided into aviation-inspired sections such as “Business Class,” “Midday Flights” and “Destination Omelets.”
We visited on a Saturday morning, and our server alerted us right away that a large group had just flown in and the kitchen was running a bit slow. To bide our time, she suggested a “fabulous” sangria ($6). We were pleasantly surprised to discover Bessie’s has a full bar, and I decided to indulge.
Sangrias are a favorite of Helene’s, so she offered to take it over after our server returned with a drinks menu and I spotted the cucumber Bloody Mary ($9). I could really taste the cucumber vodka, and the garnish was fun. I always love seeing what gets added to make the drink look fancy, and what I can snack on while waiting for food. The drink also came with a beer chaser (which Helene called a “beer back,” a term I had not heard before.)
Nikki skipped the alcohol and ordered tea ($2) instead. Her pot of hot water arrived with a Two Leaves and a Bud sampler box, featuring an assortment of herbal and caffeinated organic teas. It was a nice step up from plain black tea.
Once we placed our orders, I decided to switch to coffee, and it’s important to note the coffee is excellent. It’s a special Bessie’s blend and was perfect with the “flyover” French toast ($8). Equally important, it was the best French toast I’ve ever had. Thick slices of bread were soaked through without being soggy. There was a fresh orange flavor with a hint of cinnamon, and it came with plenty of butter on the side. Even the syrup was warm.
Jennifer was in the mood for breakfast, too, so she opted for the buttermilk waffle ($6) and added both blueberries and chopped pecans for an extra $2 each. The dish was served with homemade whipped cream, powdered sugar and a strawberry garnish, but what she really enjoyed was the warm maple syrup. She welcomed the texture of the blueberries and crunchiness of the pecans, which were both good-tasting and sweet, but she had hoped for a thicker, fluffier waffle.
Nikki is a fan of Eggs Benedict, which is on the menu, along with an amped-up version featuring chorizo instead of ham. After some deliberation, she went with the chorizo benny ($9.50). The sausage wasn’t too spicy, and the only other difference was the hollandaise was garnished with cilantro leaves. She also ordered a side of breakfast potatoes ($2.50) to share with the table, opting for the red potatoes over the cubed sweet potatoes. They were crispy and delicious.
On a recent night out, Helene had tried for the first time (and loved) avocado toast, so the bar was set extremely high when she chose Bessie’s avocado toast flight ($9). Unfortunately, the dish didn’t quite make it.
The flight consisted of three slices of toast with a good base of avocado. Each slice was then embellished with an array of toppings. The best was the diced tomato, paprika, Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette, which was wonderfully flavorful. The second slice was the same without the Parmesan and vinaigrette, and the last one had a fried egg on it. She thought maybe she was supposed to put the slices together, but because there were three pieces of toast, she ended up transferring her egg over and kind of mashing them together.
Bessie’s has a real old-school diner feel. We lingered over our meals while remembering the chrome dinette tables from our childhoods and watching the live action out on the runway. The aviator decor is perfect, and we enjoyed reading the story of Bessie Raiche, a Beloit native who, in 1910, became the first woman to fly solo in an airplane.
The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.