Small cafes that serve up homemade pastries, quality coffee and great sandwiches are some of my favorite places, but sometimes they can be hard to find. A couple months ago I had a great lunch at Crema Cafe on Monona Drive and I was hoping to find another great place in Monona, but Rosie’s Coffee Bar and Bakery was a let down.
I went there with my friend Nicole and her daughter. The coffee was decent, but their bakery items weren’t great. My cinnamon roll was thick and crusty, not flaky and sweet like I expect from cinnamon rolls. And it was frosted with a thick, sugary glaze instead of a cream cheese frosting. It was one of the only times I’ve ever not finished a cinnamon roll.
They serve breakfast and lunch, but I decided their tuna salad with sprouts and tomato on a wheat roll sounded good. The tuna salad was good — not too much mayo and just the right amount of chopped onion for a good crunch. The sprouts were a nice touch, but there weren’t enough of them to matter and the bread was a little too thick.
FOOD NOTES: I had a good lunch at Rosie’s, but the company was better than the food. I would skip their cinnamon rolls all together and if you’re looking for a sandwich, go another mile down Monona Drive to Crema. There’s nothing wrong with the food at Rosie’s, there’s just a better option nearby. I’m not sure how their breakfasts are (quiche, breakfast sandwich, oatmeal), but I’d give it a chance.
I’ve been to The Wise twice — once for lunch during restaurant week and once for brunch on Game Day. Both times I enjoyed my meal, but the third time I went was after the new chef released a revamped menu and it was even better than the first two visits. The revamped menu also came along with a revamped dining room — they made it bigger and homier.
We started with a tray of snacks on a stick. We got the date stuffed with chorizo wrapped in bacon; jamon iberico de bellota with tempura ramp; and prosciutto, Carr Valley cocoa cardona, strawberry and mint. The bacon-wrapped date was good. I liked that it was stuffed with chorizo instead of cheese, but the other two out-shined the date. The prosciutto and cheese was sweet, salty and refreshing. It was one perfectly balanced bite. The star of the tray was the ham with a tempura fried ramp. The garlicy ramp wrapped in fancy, imported ham was something spectacular! I loved it.
We also got the asparagus salad with arugula, poached egg yolk, croutons and crispy bacon. The salad also has a light vinaigrette on it. This one was good, but a little disappointing based on the ingredients. I thought with bacon, egg yolk and arugula it would be a very flavorful salad…but it was just missing that something special. Maybe the egg yolk was too poached…maybe the bacon was too crispy…I’m not sure, but I wasn’t blown away.
The last thing we got to try was the smoked half chicken. This dish was pretty special. It comes with a BBQ jus, cheddar spiked polenta (hiding under the chicken) and honey glazed carrots. The polenta was creamy and had the perfect amount of cheesy flavor. And the carrots were great — spring carrots are super sweet and there was just enough glaze to work well with the smokiness of the chicken. The chicken was juicy and the smoky flavor was great — not overwhelming, but just enough to make the chicken super flavorful. The one downfall is that it’s a little hard to eat…you literally get half a chicken and a knife…so your plate looks a little like a massacre when you’re done.
FOOD NOTES: I’m glad I got to eat at The Wise before the revamp because it gave me a good base for comparison. The revamped menu definitely offers higher-quality dishes with special ingredients and flavor combinations. Tapas, salads and chicken are pretty common menu options, but these were elevated with fancy ingredients and unexpected flavor combinations. When you go to The Wise, go with an open mind and don’t be surprised if you come across something that sounds weird on the menu but that actually tastes great!
My experience with Italian food growing up included pasta from a box and sauce from a can, the famous blue-box mac and cheese, and something called “Italian ice” that probably isn’t actually Italian. I’ve tried to expand my exposure to real Italian food, but my options have been limited. That is…until Cento opened in downtown Madison. I had heard mixed reviews before my first trip at the end of April, but my pre-concert dinner with a friend was fantastic!
The smaller-than-I-expected dining room was simple and classic with a bar toward the front, a small party room in the back and a mix of wooden booths and tables. The kitchen and prep areas are mostly open to the dining room, and our server was attentive but not annoying. (Side note: the bathrooms are super cute!)
The menu is broken into appetizers, small plates, soups/salads, pizza and pasta. The pasta comes in two sizes, which means you can get three appetizers or small plates and a small pasta — which is what my friend and I did! We started with melon and prosciutto which is something I’ve never had. It was thinly-sliced prosciutto and honeydew melon with sliced cucumber, balsamic glaze and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. This is not a dish that sounds good when you read the description, but the combination of the sweet, light melon and the salty prosciutto really works well together. The balsamic adds a much-needed kick of acidity, and if I’m being honest — I don’t even remember tasting any parmesan cheese over the other strong flavors on the plate.
The second appetizer/small plate we got was bacon wrapped dates. I usually avoid these at restaurants because they’re usually stuffed with goat cheese and I don’t like goat cheese. But these were stuffed with spicy sausage…and let me tell you, spicy sausage in a sweet date wrapped in bacon…it really couldn’t get better than that! The combination of spicy, salty and sweet was super good. More restaurants should stuff their bacon wrapped dates with spicy sausage instead of goat cheese!
The third appetizer/small plate we got was my favorite — and it’s not just because I first heard about them on the “Sopranos.” Arancinis are rice balls stuffed with cheese that are coated with breadcrumbs and then fried. They sound super boring, but they are great! Cheesey fried rice balls in marinara sauce — yum!
When deciding on an entree I went for pasta because I’m not a huge fan of pizza and the pasta are made fresh. I went with the pappardelle that comes with a “northern ragu.” I’m not sure what “northern” means but it was very rich and flavorful and the noodles were excellent. There’s something special about fresh pasta…it’s hard to describe, but once you’ve had it you know the difference. As much as I loved our starters…I liked my pasta better!
We weren’t going to get dessert, but the cheesecake sounded so good we couldn’t resist. Everything about the cheesecake was perfect, except the marmalade and the lemon sorbet. The cheesecake was rich and creamy. The crust was sweet and crumbly. The cream on top was light. The slices of orange added a great freshness and the crispy sugar was fun. The other two components of the dessert were unnecessary and slightly unpleasant. We completely ignored the thick orange marmalade and we probably should have done the same with the sorbet. It was extremely bitter…to the point that it was unpleasant to try and eat. But once those were pushed off to the side or scraped off…the cheesecake dessert was great!
FOOD NOTES: Cento is a great addition to the Food Fight network and to the downtown restaurant scene! Not only did we have a great time figuring out what all the authentic Italian stuff on the menu was, but we also had a great meal. The arancini are a must when ordering a starter and the bacon wrapped dates should also be considered. After finishing off our three starters I was so full…but my pasta was so good I couldn’t stop eating it! Fresh pasta is really one of the best things an Italian restaurant can do to set itself apart. Next time I want to try their burrata, cheese board and their potato gnocchi.
From what I’ve heard, the owners or bakers or cooks or someone involved in the new bakery where Midvale Boulevard, Verona Road and the Beltline collide came from La Baguette. La Petit Croissant is probably the best hidden secret I’ve ever found. I went with my friend Nicole and her daughter for lunch, and I got there a couple minutes early…which was good because I snagged the last table just before a bunch of people walked in. The small shop is in a rundown strip mall between a Tae Kwon Do school and a random Mexican restaurant with Dorn Hardware at the end. Based on La Petit Croissan’ts location I had no expectations, but that was a mistake.
As soon as I walked in and almost all the tables were full and saw a very promising cinnamon roll in the bakery case I knew I had found something special. The girl at the counter was super nice, and between her and another guy they kept the place running smoothly with smiles on their faces. Their bakery case and menu are small, but based on my first visit it’s because they focus on quality over quantity.
I’m a big fan of cinnamon rolls and this one did not disappoint. It was just big enough to share, and was obviously made that morning. The dough was light and flaky, and the cinnamon swirl was a good balance of cinnamon and sugar. The frosting was cream cheese, which is the ONLY appropriate topping for a cinnamon roll. The La Petit Croissant cinnamon roll definitely gives La Baguette’s a run for its money.
I got the spicy turkey sandwich. The sandwich came with a very fresh green salad with a light vinaigrette, and the sandwich itself was just as surprising as the cinnamon roll. The bread, jalapeno cheddar ciabatta, was crusty but not too thick. The turkey was lean and there was a lot of it. The rest of the toppings really made the sandwich — chipotle mayo, avocado, lettuce, onions and pepper jack cheese. The sandwich isn’t super fancy, but it was so good because of the quality ingredients.
I also got a molasses cookie for “later,” but “later” ended up only being a couple hours after lunch! Their molasses cookie had the two qualities that make a good molasses cookie — crispy edges and a soft middle, and the molasses is balanced out by a good sweetness. It also had that great sprinkle of sugar on top!
FOOD NOTES: I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about this place because I don’t want to give up my new secret spot, but I really want this place to succeed! The cinnamon roll was the best I’ve had in a while (cream cheese frosting really does make a difference!). The spicy turkey sandwich is extremely impressive – everything worked so well together. The turkey and bacon were amped up with avocado and chipotle mayo, and the bread was great. This place is a diamond in the rough.