I have been a fan of Paoli for over a year now with its two-block radius, half a dozen restaurants and shops and winding river. The Paoli cafe is one of my favorite places to eat in south central Wisconsin. I had explored most of the other shops in the area, but not the Creamery. The Artisan Gallery and Creamery Cafe is an upscale art gallery and classic cafe housed in an old cream factory along the Sugar River. The gallery is the main attraction with beautiful art displayed alongside the old-school charm of a dairy factory. In the back of the gallery is a small cafe that seats about 20 and serves up an interesting menu with relaxing views of the Sugar River.
The cafe was quiet except for one other person the day we went, but the owner said it’s standing room only once the snow melts. After a tour of the gallery we got to try two of the owner’s favorite options on the menu: a spicy carrot and tomato soup and a spinach and kalamata pesto sandwich.
The spicy carrot and tomato soup had a great flavor. It was spicy and creamy, and had a good texture. Sometimes pureed soup gets too runny, but this soup was thick and had some hearty chunks in it. The one downfall of the soup were the huge chunks of blue cheese on top (mind you, I don’t like blue cheese normally). Once the blue cheese chunks were removed I thoroughly enjoyed the soup.
As for the spinach kalamata pesto sandwich, it was perfectly grilled on tangy sourdough bread. The sandwich had spinach, basil, kalamata olives, walnuts, roasted garlic with sundried tomatoes and fontina cheese. The kalamata olives, walnuts and roasted garlic were made into a type of pesto and spread on the sandwich. The sundried tomatoes were plump and flavorful. Fontina cheese doesn’t have much of a flavor so it didn’t add much. I would prefer a nice slice of cheddar or swiss…something with a little flavor. The sandwich was exceptionally good dipped in the spicy carrot and tomato soup. The sandwich usually comes with a mixed green salad or a seasonal side, but we got it with the rosemary fingerling breakfast potatoes. I’m not a huge fan of rosemary so I’m a bit biased, but they definitely could have used a little extra flavor, like salt.
FOOD NOTES: The Creamery Cafe menu offers upscale salads and sandwiches amidst a big-city art gallery and quaint views of the Sugar River. The soup and salad we tried had unique ingredients and were pretty tasty. The sandwich was a little heavy and the breakfast potatoes were not impressive, but the soup had an exceptionally good flavor. The rest of the menu looks promising, but I’m not sure going through the hassle of looking interested in art would be worth trying the other options.
I can confidently say I have never had authentic Mexican food. I can also confidently say that based on what I know about authentic Mexican food I will probably love it. While I like the Americanized version of Mexican food that is so prevalent in Madison, I have been on a quest for something close to authentic for quite a while. I read a couple reviews on La Mestiza that said it was authentic and one of the best Mexican restaurants in Madison. Even though it lives in an aging strip mall, people have said it is amazing. I went with a friend for lunch, and the small dining room with a dozen tables and a small corner bar in the back was half full and pretty inviting. Even though one waitress was seating and waiting on everyone, the service was fast and friendly.
We got chips and two types of salsa before ordering. The chips were very crispy and extremely fresh. The red salsa was smoky but didn’t have a lot of other flavor (I was hoping for some spiciness). The green salsa was tangier, and tasted like tamatillos and cilantro. Neither of the salsas impressed me, but the guacamole we ordered was fantastic. It was definitely the highlight of the lunch. It was perfectly chunky, fresh and had an amazing flavor. I’m not sure what made it so good, but I could eat that guacamole every day.
I was excited about ordering the tamales because usually a plate of tamales is one flavor (generally shredded pork), and at La Mestiza the order comes with a chicken, pork and cheese tamale. My excitement was dashed when my tamales came out covered in a white sauce and were dry, kind of tasteless and had no heat at all. I was expecting the tamales to be covered in a spicy red sauce and come out steamy with flavorful fillings. The best part of my lunch was that the serving of guacamole was so big there was enough left over to eat with my tamales.
FOODNOTES: I would consider going back to La Mestiza specifically to have the guacamole again. Maybe another one of the dishes on the menu would be better than the tamales (which I can only assume were dry because they are cooked ahead of time and reheated). The prices are very reasonable but most of the dishes don’t come with rice or beans, so you have to order and pay for them separately. The chips were very fresh but could have used a little salt, and the two salsas that came with the chips were mostly flavorless and disappointing. I was hoping for fresh spicy authentic Mexican food at La Mestiza, but I got bland food with fresh guacamole and chips, and probably reheated tamales. I guess my quest for authentic Mexican food continues. Please post suggestions for authentic Mexican restaurants in Madison!!!