Adorable. Sunny. Friendly. Artsy. Community-oriented. Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery, yet another East Side restaurant to add to the blog archives, sufficiently fits all of the aforementioned adjectives and holds a tender spot in my heart since we both passionately support Porchlight—a support center for the homeless of Madison that Daisy describes extremely well on their website:
“Our primary community partner is Porchlight, whose motto is ‘a helping
hand, not a hand-out.’ They help transition homeless and displaced people back
into the mainstream by providing housing support, meals, and job training. Porchlight Products is a division that teaches people to create
high-quality food using mainly local ingredients so they can build job skills
that can be applied throughout their lives.”
As a president of Roof Over Our Heads, a club which organizes volunteer efforts to support Porchlight throughout the year and culminates in an annual spring benefit concerts with all proceeds from ticket and t-shirt sales donated, I wholeheartedly appreciate Daisy’s activism with the homeless community of Madison.
I’ve visited the Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery on one previous lunch occasion, sampling their supposedly famous meatloaf…or rather, their NO-meat loaf (did I scare you there for a second?)—a mound of basmati rice, cashews, mushrooms, bell peppers, carrots, onion, and celery. Fairly tasty, but it certainly didn’t knock my socks off, plus I held the impression that the dish utilized brown rice and dejectedly sighed when the waiter set down my whole grain-free plate in front of me. However, the Daisy menu does feature a few consistently delicious items such as their brightly flavored (and colored!) edamame side salad and spicy vegan chili which keeps the cafe under my restaurant radar.
On this particular Saturday, I graciously allowed my mother the decision of our lunch destination for the day (from four restaurant I had already pre-chosen. What a great daughter, eh?), describing Daisy as a cute eatery that sourced local products with the classic cafe offerings of soup, salads, and sandwiches. In the mood for a light lunch, Daisy appealed to her, plus she hadn’t visited the location since the Arthouse Cafe occupied the space (I’ve never heard of it either—probably some hippie gallery/coffeehouse from way back when).
An enclosed cupcake display showcasing thirty or so different flavors such as Tiramisu, Baklava, Coconut-Mango Sticky Rice, Mexican Hot Chocolate, and English Trifle (they don’t call themselves a cupcakery for nothing), greets the Daisy customers into a quaint, homey, yet bustling atmosphere complete with mismatched country-style wooden chairs and blue stained-glass windows. The cafe doesn’t forget about their vegan patrons, either—they feature one vegan cupcake flavor daily. Kind of stingy and with a semi-normal variety of Vanilla Spice, kind of lacking in the imagination department. Oh well. I’m sure they’re cupcakes are bursting with sugar and white flour anyway which I prefer to forgo.
Though my mother eyed the huevos rancheros while I mulled over the tofu scramble, we both nixed the all-day breakfast menu for more traditional lunchtime fare. Once again verily confusing our polite waiter, I complicatedly requested the New Mediterranean sandwich with extra edamame hummus to replace the cucumber-yogurt sauce omission, a side of fruit which I changed to a cup of chili after completing our order and flagging down the poor guy, and the house salad with orange-shallot vinaigrette. Defeating me in the straightfoward restaurant ordering department for about the 154th time, my mother opted for the panzanella salad.
My second sampling of chili from Daisy did not disappoint; spicy and thick, this vegan chili burst with corn (my favorite addition to chili since it lends a much-needed sweet note), tomato chunks, and three types of beans (on the menu, they claim to use six bean varieties, but I remain skeptical). The chili flavor was a bit one-note, however. I verily enjoyed my sandwich—two crispy-on-the-outside, silky-on-the-inside slices of breaded eggplant stuffed into a warm whole-wheat pita studded with flaxseeds and slathered with creamy edamame hummus (who doesn’t adore hummus?). The wilted lettuce seemed like a sad afterthought, though, and I wished that Daisy had implemented a cooking technique other than frying to prepare the eggplant.
Speaking of wilted lettuce, I did not run into that problem with my starter salad (unpictured, blame the forgetful blogger), though the uninspired mix of bland tomatoes, red onions, and lettuce left a “meh” impression on me. On the other hand, I did enjoy the citrusy tang of the accompanying orange-shallot vinaigrette. Perhaps Daisy needs to improve their salad-making skills, for my mother attested to a completely average panzanella that she described as “all right.” As a fierce admirer of all aspects of Italian life, my mother has tasted many a well-crafted authentic panzanella (a classic tomato and bread salad marinated in olive oil and vinegar), while sipping Aperol spritzes outside Florentine bistros, so I inevitably trust her judgement.
Not a regular on my list of favorite Madison restaurants, perhaps the Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery better caters to a non-vegan audience or more skillfully crafts their cupcakes than their actual food, for Isthmus magazine readers recently named the Daisy “Madison’s Favorite Waitstaff” and runner-up for “Madison’s Favorite Sweet.” Their menu offers a handful of decent vegan options, though not enough that I would return routinely, but I do applaud their use of locally sourced products (including a summer CSA box and those produced by Porchlight).