Monona Drive has better lunch options than Rosie’s Cafe

Rosie's Coffee Bar and Bakery

Rosie’s Coffee Bar and Bakery

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.

bakery case

bakery case

doughnut

doughnut

cinnamon roll

cinnamon roll

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.

tuna salad sandwich

tuna salad sandwich

tuna salad sandwich

tuna salad sandwich

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.

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Never judge a cafe by its strip mall

La Petit Croissant

La Petit Croissant

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.

La Petit Croissant bakery case

La Petit Croissant bakery case

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.

La Petit Croissant cinnamon roll

La Petit Croissant cinnamon roll

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.

La Petit Croissant spicy turkey sandwich

La Petit Croissant spicy turkey sandwich

LPC spicy turkeyI 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.

La Petit Croissant molasses cookie

La Petit Croissant molasses cookie

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.

Sophia’s serves mediocre food in a cramped space

I put a lot of stock in restaurant reviews on Yelp. I feel that the masses will reflect the actual quality of a restaurant. Usually I read the first five reviews and then a couple of the really bad ones to have a good expectation of what I’m walking in to. The first time Yelp reviews have really led me in the wrong direction was for Sophia’s on Johnson Street. The reviews said Sophia’s has the best breakfast in town, and I couldn’t disagree more.

The first strike against Sophia’s happened when I picked a friend up for breakfast on a Friday and Sophia’s was closed. Apparently, Sophia’s is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. That does not seem like a good business plan to me.

A month later that same friend and I drove back over to Sophia’s on a Saturday for breakfast. Sophia’s is in a small building on Johnson Street that is so nondescript I have driven by it dozens of times and have never noticed it. When you walk in the first thing you will notice is that there are only five tables and a small counter by the front window. I’m not against small restaurants but this takes “small” to an extreme. To get to the only open table in the place (which I didn’t think there was going to be one for us when we first walked in) we had to awkwardly climb over two people sitting at the table in front of the empty table. You order at a counter and they bring your food out to you. But the weird part about Sophia’s is that once you’ve waited in line to order, then you have to wait in line again when you’re done eating to pay, because you pay after you’re done eating. Usually if you order at a counter you do the whole ordering and paying thing in one transaction. Having to wait in line once we were done eating just to pay was super inconvenient.

Sophia's cinnamon roll

Sophia’s cinnamon roll

I could be persuaded to forgive the cramped space and the odd payment system if the food had been great. But unfortunately it was not. The cinnamon roll we got was more like a cinnamony morning bun with an odd lemon glaze on top. I’m sorry but when I want a cinnamon roll I want it to be frosted or glazed with vanilla or cream cheese goodness…not an oddly tart lemon concoction.

Sophia's omelet

Sophia’s omelet

Their menu, not posted online anywhere, is written on a chalkboard, which I’m assuming means it changes. When we were there they were offering a couple different omelets and breakfast sandwiches, as well as pancakes. I’m a savory breakfast person so I got an omelet. It had cheese, ham and peppers in it. The peppers were tasteless and seemed like they may have come out of a can. The omelet itself was kind of watery and the cheese was sparse. I was thoroughly unimpressed, especially because the guy sitting behind me at a different table kept rocking his chair into mine the entire time. The omelet also came with breakfast potatoes that weren’t crunchy enough for my taste and were very bland.

Sophia's apple pancakes

Sophia’s apple pancakes

My friend got apple pancakes, which were the special that day (but she said the last time she was there the special was the same so my guess is it doesn’t change very often).

FOOD NOTES: My favorite restaurant in my hometown only has about a dozen tables, and I’m able to overlook the small space because the food is so good. The one thing that place does well is that even though they have 12 tables, there’s a reasonable amount of space between them so you don’t have to climb over people to get to a table. The food at Sophia’s is nowhere near good enough to make up for their annoying dining area. The lemon flavor on their cinnamon roll was not appreciated, and their omelets and breakfast potatoes were subpar. Their prices were also a bit high for the extremely cramped and rundown dining area we had to endure.