Sunflower rye. Walnut sourdough. Polenta sourdough. Seed and grain boule. Roasted garlic bread. Sesame fennel batard. Sesame buckwheat bread. Is drool sufficiently pouring out of your mouth right now? Because there’s a puddle in front of my keyboard. Perhaps it’s my deep Italian heritage kicking in or the fact that I limit the amount I eat to reduce my flour intake, but bread is a huge weakness of mine. While some may gorge themselves on potato chips or chocolate chip cookies, I stand over the kitchen counter tearing off piece after piece of the Potato Kamut loaf from Cress Spring Bakery or the Tomato Garlic Fougasse from Batch Bakehouse in the wee hours of the night so as not to spur taunts from my parents or shifty-eyed stares from the cat. A soft and chewy interior, a crunchy browned crust, a spattering of seeds and whole grains for added texture…Perfection: thy name is bread.
If you name a cafe Madison Sourdough, how could I, the bread fiend herself, keep from flocking to it? Thus, when my Slow Food UW…mentor, shall I call her?…invited me out for lunch at the aptly named restaurant, I eagerly agreed. Having spotted the MSD stand at the Dane County Farmers Market on numerous previous occasions, I knew of the cafe/bakery’s close roots with local products, which only added to my lunchtime excitement.
Like many of my favorite eating establishments, MSD features a complete wall of windows to allow a generous flow of natural light and to create a jovial atmostphere inside. Behind the bakery display case of fresh pastries (none vegan, unfortunately), stands a towering shelving unit packed with the kings of the cafe: freshly baked bread. Mmmmmmmmmm. The breakfast menu features items such as french toast, waffles, steel-cut oats, omelets, and the standard bacon, eggs, and toast while the lunch menu boasted daily changing soups (the vegan black bean and corn chili appealed to me on this particular Thursday, but I had my sights set elsewhere), and salads (the panzanella also called out to me, but alas! I had already chosen another lover). As it truly should be with a name like Madison Sourdough, sandwiches ruled over a good half of the menu. Hot pressed sandwiches like grilled chicken with apricot chutney, fried eggplant with roasted red pepper aioli, and a Wisconsin rainbow trout cake with house tartar sauce would tantalize the non-vegan crowd, I’m certain, as would their deli-style heirloom tomato BLT, tuna salad, and house-smoked salmon sandwiches. However, one sandwich shined like a snow-white block of tofu amidst a sea of seared brown steaks: hummus and grilled veggies (hold the feta cheese). Can you say “absolutely positively 100% perfect for Ali?” I can. And did.
I wholeheartedly apologize for depriving you of the beautiful charred veggies and chickpea spread underneath the flax seed-specked sourdough by only snapping a photo of the sandwich top, but too much excitement bubbled up once this sandwich came out of the kitchen that my mind wasn’t functioning correctly. The surprisingly light yet still multigrain bread had an interior angel-food-cake-like texture and a pleasingly chewy crust. Spread with hummus, topped with mixed greens, grilled squash, eggplant, onions, and a balsamic gastrique, the sourdough served as a perfect sandwich vehicle. More than a thrown-together afterthought, the side salad of mixed greens and fennel drizzled in a tangy strawberry poppyseed vinaigrette wonderfully complemented the sandwich.
Meal Checklist: Protein–hummus and flax seeds. Whole Grain–multigrain bread. Vegetables–onions, squash, eggplant, and fennel. Leafy Greens–mixed greens in salad and on sandwich.
My dining partner, Laura, ordered the roasted beet and grapefruit salad with shaved fennel, mixed greens, and feta cheese. Not usually a fan of grapefruit, she mused that this salad may have converted her.
Though the open atmosphere and mouthwatering aroma of baking bread tempts me to eat at Madison Sourdough everyday, the choices are pretty limited for vegans. Luckily, they update their menu fairly frequently. Still, I’ll save the East Side cafe for my occasional bread cravings and will most certainly leave incredibly satisfied.
Whenever I find myself on the East Side, I always end up at the Willy Street Coop (not accidentally, mind you). Frankly, if I find myself homeless one day, I’d probably live at the hippie organic grocery store. So naturally, after saying goodbye to Laura, I hopped on my bike and stopped in at my favorite place on the East Side of Madison…or really anywhere in Madison. Knowing that I wanted something to drink but not exactly sure what, I perused their juice/smoothie bar and found a green juice right up my alley: the Green Zinger Fresh Juice Blend. A refreshing concoction of apples, lemon juice, kale, ginger, and wheatgrass, the sweetness of the apples perfectly balanced out the grassiness of the…well, grass. I hate to admit, but sometimes green juices weird me out with their inherent taste of GREEN. This one actually tasted like juice, offered a kick of energy, and satisfied my kale craving of the day.