Coffeehouse serves up exceptional espresso, granola

jph sign 2There’s something novel about a coffee shop that brews each cup of coffee to order and serves fantastic homemade food. Johnson Public House does just that. Even the best coffee shops in Madison can’t compete with the neighborhood feel of this near east side coffeehouse. The welcoming and homey space is accented by a large coffee bar, mismatched furniture and local art hanging on the wall. Both times I went to JPH there were half a dozen people visiting and hanging out on their computers. My favorite part of JPH was, what else, their focus on quality coffee!

I have been a coffee drinker since high school. I love most types of brewed coffee, but generally don’t like espresso because in my experience, espresso usually has a bitter flavor. JPH baristas told me they specialize in a cortado – two shots of espresso with a little bit of warm milk added in. I was extremely skeptical about trying one but now I crave them. The cortados at JPH are extremely creamy and have a perfect roasted coffee flavor – no bitterness in sight. I had two the first time I went and wished I had time to get a second one on my second visit! The JPH cortado definitely changed my mind about drinking quality espresso.

jph roast beef breakfast sandwich
roast beef breakfast sandwich

On top of that amazing espresso drink their pour-over coffee is fantastic. I tried a couple different types of coffee they had that day, and all of them exceeded any brewed coffee I’ve ever had. I’m not sure I’d ever pass over a cortado for their brewed coffee but it was very good.

jph breakfast sandwich
JPH breakfast sandwich

They have a small menu of breakfast and lunch sandwich options. I was with a friend and we decided to try their original breakfast sandwich and their roast beef breakfast sandwich. The original breakfast sandwich has a hardboiled egg, local ham, mozzarella, tomato and pesto on wheat bread. I love that the sandwich has hardboiled eggs on it – it makes it very portable and hearty. But the real winning sandwich was the roast beef breakfast sandwich with a hardboiled egg, provolone cheese, local roast beef, sriracha mayo and caramelized onions on wheat bread. The hardboiled egg and roast beef pair perfectly  with the spicy and creamy sriracha mayo and crunchy onions. Sandwiches come with either potato chips or greens. The chips were a good salty addition to the hearty sandwiches but I would recommend getting the greens. The actual greens are a nice, fresh spring mix but the dressing is what makes the side fantastic. I’m not sure what is all in it, but it was a light vinaigrette with small tidbits of salt and pepper throughout. The dressing made those  greens ridiculously good!

jph granola
JPH granola

To top off the great coffee and unique sandwiches, we got a small cup of the yogurt and granola. The locally-made yogurt was extremely creamy and paired very well with the fresh berries. But the shining star of the bowl was the homemade granola. The crispy oats and cashews had a fantastically sweet flavor. I loved the granola so much I asked if they would sell it to go (apparently they are working on it!). On my second visit I even passed up the roast beef breakfast sandwich for a large bowl of the yogurt, granola and fruit – of course I also got a cortado. I can’t really describe why such a simple dish was so good, but the homemade granola and the drizzle of honey on top is probably part of it!

jph sign 1FOODNOTES: If I lived closer to Johnson Public House I would be a very regular customer. If not for the cortados, I would stop in for a sandwich or a huge bowl of the granola. The cortado changed my opinion of quality espresso drinks. It will definitely be difficult to drive through that neighborhood without stopping for my new favorite coffee drink! Their breakfast sandwiches are great, especially the one with roast beef and sriracha mayo. Their homemade granola makes a traditionally simple and unexciting dish exceptional! My recommendation – a cortado and a bowl of granola!

Holy Manna that was good!

manna bakery
Manna’s bakery case with GF options on top

Manna Cafe on Madison’s north side is one of the best-kept secrets in Madison. It is hidden in the corner of a disheveled strip mall amidst an aging shoe-repair shop, travel agent and butcher shop. If I wasn’t expecting to pull into an old strip mall to find Manna I would have driven past it. But any sense of that strip mall disappears when you walk into Manna and are greeted by a beautiful pastry case, cheery yellow walls and a great menu. When we were there on a week-day morning both of the decent-sized dining rooms were full, and we were lucky to get a table!

manna GF pumpkin date bar
Gluten free pumpkin bar

Even though I wanted to try most of the items in the bakery case I opted for one of the gluten free options since I’m trying to go mostly gluten free now. I got a pumpkin date bar with cream cheese frosting to take home. It was the perfect breakfast the next day. Gluten free desserts tend pretty dry because they have to use weird ingredients to avoid gluten, but this bar was great. It was moist and had a great pumpkin flavor. And the frosting was great! I loved that it wasn’t too sweet (which tends to be problem for regular pumpkin bars).

For breakfast I got the A Walk-in-the Woods scramble with asparagus, mushrooms, cheddar cheese and frizzled onions on top. It was a good size with the perfect ratio of eggs to fillings. The frizzled onions on top added a great flavor and crunch. The scrambles come with some of the best breakfast potatoes I’ve had yet. They were seasoned really well and were amazingly crunchy on the outside, yet perfectly fluffy on the inside. Loved them! The scrambles also come with bread and I was pretty excited that they have homemade gluten free bread as an option! I was very happy with my breakfast. I was a little concerned about the coffee because it is served out of gas-station like serve-yourself carafes but it was hot, steamy, fresh and flavorful! The unlimited cup is definitely your best choice. My friend got the Sticky Bun French Toast and loved it, although it was a little rich with the chocolate maple syrup.

FOODNOTES: I was extremely impressed with the quality and quantity of food I got at Manna Cafe. The scramble was above the standard of most scrambles I’ve had, and the potatoes were memorable enough to bring me back for breakfast again. I loved my take-home gluten-free pumpkin bar, and can’t wait to try other seasonal gluten-free bakery options they will have. I really want to go back to try their oatmeal pancakes, the Okeefe benedict on the weekends looks super good, and a couple of the lunch options look really promising! Their lunch menu is very extensive making it a very good option for groups of people. The prices were comparable to other cafes in Madison. And don’t let the unassuming location fool you, Manna Cafe is great!

West side cafe uses quality ingredients, has odd decor

pancake cafe eggs:bacon
Eggs, thick-cut bacon, hash browns, toast

The Pancake Cafe has been a staple in Fitchburg for awhile now and until about a year ago had the most amazing, plate-sized cinnamon rolls. The cinnamon rolls were massive and had the most dense and equally flaky batter (I don’t know how they did it!). The cream cheese frosting was absolutely perfect and I have fond memories of taking one of those behemoths down with friends at work.  I went in a couple months ago to get one and the manager told me the baker retired and took her recipe with her so they no longer had them. In my opinion they lost the best thing on their menu with that retirement but I decided to give their new west side location a try because they had cinnamon rolls back on the menu.

First of all, the decor in this location is very odd with half-yellow walls, food signs in what I think was french, and big leather couches right when you walk in. It feels like someone’s grandma decorated it and then they put used furniture all over the place. Our waitress, the only one in the place on a Monday morning, was attentive, fast and friendly!

Let’s start with the cinnamon roll (I wish I had  a picture of it but we ate it before I remembered to take a picture!). They are clearly trying to remake the cinnamon rolls they used to have but it was a little off. First off, it was about a fourth the size, which was disappointing but who needs a cinnamon roll the size of a serving platter anyways! The frosting was almost identical with this one’s frosting being just a bit greasier. The batter was where it really diverted from the original. The batter was lacking in density, flakiness and flavor. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but definitely not the same as the original. I really hope that baker opens a bakery somewhere or lets someone use her recipe!

pancake cafe mushroom omelet
Mushroom/cheese omelet, hash browns, toast

The breakfast menu is exactly identical to the Fitchburg menu with traditional egg, pancake and omelets being offered. I generally don’t waste breakfast orders on just eggs and bacon but they boasted “thick-cut bacon cut especially for us.” The eggs were good, the toast with thick and perfect toasted, and the bacon was an exceptional stand-out! It was perfectly cooked, a good quarter-inch thick and had a great smoky flavor. My mom got a mushroom omelet that had a massive amount of mushrooms and cheese in it. It was huge for the price and the second half made a good left-over breakfast the next morning! Her omelet and my eggs/bacon both came with hash browns. I’ve had some really good hash browns at a place Paoli so these were nothing special but I did really like that they weren’t greasy. They were a good partner to the eggs.

FOODNOTES: The decor definitely leaves something to be desired. The menu is exactly the same as the Fitchburg location so which one you go to depends on your location preference. If you go I suggest getting a cinnamon roll for the table to share because even though they aren’t as good as the original ones, they are at the top of my Madison cinnamon roll list. Ordering their special-cut bacon with anything you get is a must because it was especially tasty! Also, the prices were reasonable for the amount of food you get.

Where’s the best iced coffee?

I got my nails done with a friend today and we went to Panera after to keep chatting. I’m usually not a fan out iced coffee (I am a coffee addict!) but it is so freaking hot today that I couldn’t even consider getting a regular coffee. In my opinion iced coffee tends to be bitter and not as smooth as regular coffee. After waiting a little too long for my iced coffee at Panera I was pleasantly surprised. With some skin milk added, my iced coffee was very good, plus Panera has free refills!

Do you like iced coffee? Where do you think they sell the best iced coffee?Image

Paoli Local Foods a hidden gem in small Southern WI town

I found this little gem last summer at a volunteer event for work and have wanted to try their breakfast ever since. Paoli (there’s some dissent among friends and co-workers on whether it is pronounced Paol-e or Paol-i) is a very small unincorporated chunk of buildings 10 minutes south of Fitchburg. It is on the way to Belleville, Albany, New Glaurus, and other small tourist towns in southern Wisconsin but definitely warrants a stop on its own. There are about a dozen little shops along less than a mile stretch of county highway and even less options to eat. All of this centers around a bike trail and scenery along the Sugar River. There are art galleries that have cafes, a cheese shop (which is extremely over priced and not true to Wisconsin cheese makers), a fancier restaurant in the old school house, and the Paoli Pub. I’ve hear good things about all of these options the best place to eat in Paoli is the least talked about, Paoli Local Foods. Paoli Local Foods started out as a Locavore grocery store where the owners sold their organic produce, canned goods, dairy, and meat. The grocery store and cafe focuses on organic and local ingredients with a majority of the produce and meat coming from their farm. I’m not sure when the owners decided to include a small cafe in the back but it was a smart decision.

ImageThe building is very deceiving and could pass as a storage shed but when you walk in you are greeted by the smell of coffee, smoked meats, and fresh baked pies. The dining room, with it’s miss-matched tables and chairs, is very small and simple. We were seated and served by the owner who was very nice and was clearly excited about his cafe! He boasted about his amazing Roesti potatoes that are a Swedish side dish and they were amazing. First off, the coffee was amazing. I’m a typical coffee junkie and can drink anything as long as it’s dark and hot but his coffee had a very smooth and unique flavor. I could drink that coffee every day. The breakfast menu looked the most promising with a traditional salad and sandwich lunch menu, and an interesting array of options for dinner. Off the breakfast menu I got the traditional Eggs Benedict with the Roesti potatoes and my mom got the Bacon Cheddar Quiche.

Mom loved the Bacon Cheddar Quiche but my Eggs Benedict with Roesti potatoes was amazing. I’m pretty sure the english muffin was homemade and the hollandaise sauce was somehow extremely light and flavorful at the same time. The Roesti potatoes were hashbrowns mixed with swiss cheese and onions and served extremely crispy. I was expected the potatoes to be greasy but they were the perfect compliment to the light hollandaise sauce on my plate!

ImageIn addition to our amazing breakfast my mom decided it was necessary to buy an entire pie. The apple pie sitting in the case when we walked in looked like a small masterpiece with crust decorations and a sprinkling of sugar. I’m not the biggest fan of fruit pies but a good apple pie can definitely change my mind. I generally don’t like apple pies because the apples are mushy and taste like cinnamon and sugar goo. This apple pie’s crust was extremely flaky and buttery but the filing was my favorite. The apples were perfectly cooked because they still had a little crunch. The filling was the perfect balance of sweetness and there wasn’t too much of the goo, which tasted exactly like homemade applesauce. I loved this apple pie and would recommend buying an entire pie because one piece wouldn’t be enough.

FOODNOTES: you have to make the short trek from Madison to Paoli to try their food, I would suggest this place for any of the breakfast options especially the coffee, they take credit but prefer cash, if there’s a pie you’re interested in buy the whole thing and not just one piece.

Is this really the best of Madison?

I base a lot of my dining decisions on Madison Magazine’s Best of Madison results and those results have never led me astray; until today. The Pancake Cafe in Fitchburg has been voted Best Breakfast in Madison every year since 2003 so I was very excited to go with some friends this morning. I’ve been here before but only gotten a to-go order and never gotten anything other than their amazing cinnamon rolls the size of Texas. Based on the amazing-ness of these cinnamon rolls the food should have been amazing…guess not!

I did not get breakfast but based on what everyone else got at the table and the pictures on the menu I didn’t actually miss anything. I got the tuna melt, which was a traditional diner tuna melt. It was made with mayo and had a slice of cheddar cheese. The bread was way to greasy for my taste and if the cheese hadn’t been an awkwardly bright yellow I probably wouldn’t have even known it was on there. The saving grace of the dish was a slice of tomato and lettuce on the side of my plate. I peeled my sandwich apart and added those to the sandwich which really cut the grease. Thankfully one of the friends I was with gave me her lettuce and tomato so I could have them on both halves of my sandwich. The french fries were disappointingly dry and tasteless.

The grilled cheese a friend got (and got charged for a ham and cheese melt even though she didn’t get the ham) looked luke warm and not at all melty enough to justify a good grilled cheese. The cheese burger (be careful, they charge $1 for cheese!), crepes and chocolate chip pancakes looked ok but nothing to rave about. Another friend got a ceasar salad and was given a plate of warm lettuce with dry chicken and no dressing.

Other items on the menu I was considering but opted against were the eggs benedict (the picture showed a congealed, greasy mound of hollandaise sauce atop a very small piece of ham) and the homemade corned beef hash and eggs (wasn’t 100% convinced it was actually homemade…the canned stuff is nasty!).

As for the restaurant in general it looks like a newer version of a Perkins with tan walls and mauve accents. The decor is reminiscent of something a grandma would buy and there’s a random fireplace right by the entrance. Our service was lacking to say the least and I don’t think I was the only one in my group who noticed the hostess’ weird attitude about splitting up our check.

Bottom line: I think I’m safe in saying that none of us would rate the Pancake cafe best breakfast in Madison. I would recommend avoiding everything on this menu other than their amazing and fantastically tasty cinnamon rolls (Seriously, if you haven’t had one of these cinnamon rolls you need to do that like right now! You’ll thank me when you’re driving all the way to Fitchburg for a cinnamon roll you say you’ll eat over a couple of days but you’ll devor in a half a day and then realize it probably contains your total calories for a week. I know I thank my friend Hilary for introducing me to it’s amazing cream cheese frosting!) If you’re looking for a breakfast place in Madison I suggest The Original Pancake House (their corned beef hash is homemade!), The Sunroom Cafe, or Monty’s Blueplate Diner!

Lovin the whole wheat banana pancakes!

>I have been eating pancakes since I was little. My Dad would make tiny, perfect pancakes and my Mom would make one large pancake the size of the pan. So my first foray into anything but homemade pancakes that taste better than they look was interesting. I went to breakfast a couple years ago at the Sunroom Cafe and got their whole wheat blueberry pancakes. To say the least, they were amazing. The second time I went I got whole wheat banana pancakes and they were better! And after getting my whole wheat banana pancake fix at the Sunroom Cafe for two years I decided I could make my own.

Ingredients for whole wheat banana pancakes

I bought Aunt Jemima’s whole wheat pancake mix and had two ripe bananas (not sure if this would work as good with yellow bananas because they aren’t as soft but I am partial to really ripe bananas to start with so that’s what I decided to use). Basically all I did was mix the bananas (chopped into bite size pieces) into the whole wheat pancake mix and made the pancakes like normal. Then I added some slices of the remaining banana on top for a little extra texture! They turned out really good! The combination of the nuttiness of the whole wheat pancakes and the fresh bananas was great! I barely used any syrup because the bananas were so flavorful on their own! I think the mark of good pancakes are ones you don’t have to drench in syrup.

Sunday morning breakfast!

I ate my pancakes with pepper bacon (which I absolutely love and is from my uncle’s meat store, Hewitt’s Meat) and orange juice! It was a perfect start to a productive Sunday at home!

Hits and misses at Sofra Family Bistro

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Sofra Family Bistro Menu

I was shopping with a friend today and we decided to stop somewhere for lunch. We weren’t sure where we wanted to go so we just started driving around. And a cute little cafe in downtown Middleton caught our eyes. It looked really eclectic from the outside except the fake flowers in the flower beds so we decided to go in. The sign on the door said “Sofra Family Bistro Mediterranean and American,” which was automatically apparent by brunch menu options that included gyros, eggs benedict and crepes. They had traditional breakfast and lunch options like omelets, salads, burgers and sandwiches but what caught out attention was the “cocktails” section of the menu. They had the regular mimosa and other similar sparkling drinks with flavors like peach or pomegranate.

Pomegranate sparkler
Peach Belini – after most of strawberry was already eaten!

The drinks were a good balance of sweet flavors, champagne and liqueur. Both came with a strawberry garnish and were under $5.

Though the brunch menu included some interesting sandwich options like a Salmon Club, Port-of-a-Bella and Reuben both of us opted for breakfast choices.  I got the Irish Eggs Benedict that has corned beef hash instead of a slice of Canadian bacon. The hash was not homemade and was pretty mushy, the eggs were cooked perfectly, the hash browns were unexceptional and I’m very glad I got the hollondaise sauce on the side because it was thick, luke warm and mostly flavorless.  

Irish Eggs Benedict

 My friend got the Mediterranean scrambler that comes with spinach, tomato, mushrooms, zucchini, red roasted peppers, and feta cheese. It looked pretty good but came with a ton of toast and looked like it had way more egg than scramble ingredients.

Mediterranean scrambler

 I looked at their lunch and dinner menus online and they look more Mediterranean focused than the very traditionally American breakfast options. The decor was an interesting combination of eclectic colors and patterns, and grandma-style patterned booths and bad carpeting.

Bottom Line: I want to go back for lunch or dinner first before I totally write this place off as a not-so-good-local cafe.

Go to Daisy’s for the cupcakes and stay for dinner

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Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery on Atwood Avenue

Designer cupcakes are always an interesting conversation for me because I really enjoy cupcakes but get annoyed when I pay $2+ for a cupcake that doesn’t end up impressing me.

Keys to a successful fancy cupcake:

  1. Cake part has to AT LEAST as moist as something I can make out of a box
  2. Frost to cake ratio needs to be even (I am not the biggest fan of frosting but if fancy cupcake-frosting is done well I am a huge fan of it. So the frosting needs to flavorful and not over-the-top sugary).
  3. There should be a good mix of classic flavor choices and interesting options (I usually get a classic red velvet and something new and interesting!). 
  4. The cupcakes NEED to be fresh.
Daisy’s

 I have not been to too many cupcakeries or fancy bakeries but the few that I have been to seem to follow these guidelines pretty well. Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery on Atwood Avenue is very good about the guidelines! Their cake is always moist, fresh and usually an interesting flavor instead of just vanilla or chocolate. All of the frosting I have had from there is light and flavorful unless it is the cream cheese frosting which is amazingly rich and heavy (which cream cheese frosting needs to be to be good)! And their cupcake display case always (unless you’re too late and they already sold out!) has classics like red velvet and a traditional butter cream options.

Cupcakes to go!

Their red velvet is fantastically traditional and well-done but I keep going back to try their new flavors. The first time I went I got a chocolate cupcake with mocha butter cream frosting. The cake was good but mixed with the delicately flavored mocha butter cream was exceptional (mind you, this was the only option left when we got there for dinner!). The second time I went I got a red velvet and cupcake made with a banana/pecan cake and topped with a chocolate/peanut butter butter cream frosting. This cupcake takes cupcake eating to another level. The cake is dense and moist with the pecans adding great texture. The frosting is light in texture but amazingly dense in flavor! The third time I went back for the banana/pecan/chocolate/peanut butter cupcake but they had already sold out of them so I got a more traditional vanilla cupcake with vanilla butter cream frosting, which was very flavorful and fresh but not as amazing as the specialty cupcake I went back for!

Daisy’s server more than just cupcakes.

Now on to dinner. I haven’t had a chance to eat here for breakfast but plan to in the very near future because Daisy Cafe has been serving breakfast a lot longer than dinner and probably has it perfected! I went to dinner with a friend a little less than a year after they started serving dinner and we were shocked to be the only ones in the dining room at 5:30pm on a Thursday. But despite being the only diners we both really enjoyed our meal. I got traditional meatloaf and my friend got the chicken and bacon pasta. Both of us were pleasantly surprised with the amount of food we got for the prices and really enjoyed our dinners. My meatloaf was very flavorful and came with the traditional mashed potatoes and vegetables. The mashed potatoes went really well with the meatloaf just as tradition says but the vegetables were a surprising respite from the heaviness of the meal. My vegetables were perfectly sauteed and seasoned perfectly. And even though both of us had to take part of our meal home we got a cupcake to go (the mocha one!).

Bottom Line: the cupcakes are worth the $2.50 you pay for them, I will keep going back to see what new flavor they are making, their dinner menu offers a full range of options and I will be going back to try the multigrain pancakes or huevos rancheros de la Daisy.

Breakfast at Ironworks cafe shines through bad reviews

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Goodman Community Center – home to Ironworks Cafe

After stumbling upon the Ironworks Cafe in the Goodman Community Center a couple months ago I was intrigued by their breakfast offerings and decided I would have to return to try it out myself. I couple weeks after that a Groupon for Ironworks Cafe went up and it made my decision to return to the center even easier. Before I ventured over there on a Saturday morning I looked the cafe up on Yelp and it had mixed reviews. The service was bad and the food was lacking (since my visit there have been several positive reviews posted!) so I was prepared for anything.

We got there a couple minutes after they opened but were greeted right away. The person behind the counter was really nice, took our order and gave us a number. The only bad part about the service was that the coffee wasn’t brewed when we got there and we had to wait but not very long and the quality of the coffee was definitely worth the extra 10 minutes to let it finish brewing!

Tomato, bacon, cheese scramble from Ironworks Cafe

The menu was standard breakfast food but the ingredients listed were quite a few notches above diner food. The special of the day was homemade maple donuts, which is something I’ve never seen before on a menu at a cafe. I ordered an egg scramble with tomatoes, cheese and bacon, and my mom ordered eggs benedict. We both got the fruit cup as our side and were pleasantly surprised. The fruit cup had a generous amount in it and it had yogurt and honey drizzled over it, which was very good!

Eggs benedict from Ironworks Cafe

The rest of the food was very good (even though my mom and I had to trade because they didn’t put the hollandaise sauce on the side or switch out poached eggs for fried eggs – a consequence of the service and I’m sure they would have redone the order but we were happy to trade). My mom loved the scramble but I think I got the better end of the trade. The eggs benedict was traditionally prepared except for the hollandaise sauce. Their sauce had lemon juice in it which gave the dish a much needed break from the heaviness that eggs benedict traditionally is. As first I wasn’t sure about the sauce but a couple bites in and I was a believer of the citrus addition.

A couple days later I ended up meeting someone who works at the Goodman Community Center and they told me Ironworks employs high school students through a work-study program and the service ranges from excellent (toward the end of a semester) to remedial (at the beginning of a semester when a new crop of students are just starting).

Bottom Line: The food was great and, combined with the coffee, worth the risk you have to take with the service. It would also be interesting, as you continue to go back, to see the different types of specials they offer.