Bonus book bit: Porchlight Products

Lots of words didn't fit into Madison Food. Here are some of our favorites that we didn't want to be missed.

Porchlight is a nonprofit that provides solutions to the problem of homelessness in the Dane County area by providing people with emergency shelter, longer-term housing, counseling and other services. Food plays an important and unique role in Porchlight's mission. The Porchlight Products program, launched in 2006, makes jams, pickles, sauces and baking mixes in a kitchen on North Brooks Street near the UW campus. Program participants, formerly homeless men and women with mental illnesses or disabilities, receive employment opportunities and training while working closely with volunteers. Most work there for about a year, though some of the long-timers have been on staff for three to four years.

More than four-fifths of the ingredients are sourced from local farms. Nearly all the produce used is farmed with sustainable practices (though not all is certified organic). The kitchen’s production schedule follows the seasons, beginning with rhubarb jam and strawberry preserves in spring. Gentle Breeze Honey, not sugar, provides the sweetener for all the kitchen’s fruit preserves, which are made mostly from Carandale Farm berries. Dilly beans dominate in summer. In autumn, maple syrup from Roth’s Sugar Bush goes into apple butter, and is simmered with Weatherby Co-op’s cranberries. Winter sees Mammoth Produce’s prodigious cabbages turn into kraut, and Palm Mushroom Cellar contributes its morels for pickling.

Porchlight Products rhubarb jam

Local restaurants and retailers were enthusiastic about Porchlight Products from the beginning. Longtime Madison restaurant consultants Nancy Christy and Andrea Craig provided startup advice. Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery has been the most supportive restaurant, serving multigrain pancakes and orzo salad from the Porchlight line, as well as selling its canned products at the cafe. Coopers Tavern serves one of the best Reuben sandwiches in town, topped with Porchlight sauerkraut. They go through so much that they get it delivered fresh and direct from the Brooks Street kitchen. Great Dane and other local bars have used dilly beans and pickled mushrooms for Bloody Mary garnish; Lakeside St. Coffee House puts curtido (a spicy relish) on its turkey sandwiches; and Short Stack Eatery buys their apple butter by the quart.

The future for Porchlight Products includes more marketing, more partnerships, and plans for a new kitchen facility. In summer 2014, when we interviewed kitchen manager Jeff Stengel for Madison Food, he shared that Porchlight has been working with Madison Urban Ministry’s Just Bakery initiative, a vocational and employment program for men and women returning to the community after incarceration. A new marketing manager has been leading the push to get Porchlight Products into more groceries and retailers; Willy St. Coop, Regent Market, Metcalfe’s and Hy-Vee have long provided shelf space. The products are also available direct to the consumer via Porchlight Products' website.

Middleton Sport Bowl

In a word: Picks up the spare (unless we've already used that one).

The specs: #00973   
 6815 University Ave., Middleton 53562
Details at Yelp, Middleton Sport Bowl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Official web site, Facebook

Latest Middleton Sport Bowl news and reviews at

JM ate the BBQ burger with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the baked haddock dinner with a soda.
The bill was $28, or $14/person, plus tip.
JM gave Middleton Sport Bowl a B; Nichole gave Middleton Sport Bowl a B- (see our grading rubric).

Middleton Sport Bowl is a real jack-of-all-trades place.  Sure, there's bowling and a bar.  But also, Wisconsin Lottery products, and reasonably sized menu. And fish fry.

Despite having ample nearby competition, MSB has a pretty good fish fry offering. Nichole got the baked haddock, which was a huge fillet, well-seasoned, with all the fixin's, including drawn butter and a light yet creamy slaw.


JM opted to try the burger menu instead and ordered a BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger.  He got a cheeseburger with a side of BBQ sauce and, upon delivery, the server noticed right away that the bacon had been left off. He returned promptly with a side of bacon making this the most deconstructed burger JM's had on an A to Z trip. It was pretty good all things considered.

DIY BBQ burger

The star of the whole show, though, was the interesting starter. The cheese curds were block cheese that had been cut into cubes (so, no longer curds or curd shaped), battered and deep fried.  Cubes are the perfect way to consume curds that are no longer curds, n'cest pas?

Cheese curds

The service was attentive, even at the beginning when there was hardly any room or space for noise. By the time we left, the regulars who eat on their way home (or came from home early) had all cleared out, leaving just a handful of later diners and stragglers watching meaningless late season baseball. And us with some cheese curd dice.

Cheese dice

Mid Town Pub

Mid Town Pub menuIn a word: More than halfway there.

The specs: #00972  
405 Allen Blvd., Middleton 53562
Details at Yelp, Midtown Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Official web site, Facebook

Latest Mid Town Pub news and reviews at

JM ate the prime rib sammy.
Nichole ate the Normandy burger.
The bill was $25, or $12.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Mid Town Pub a B-; Nichole gave Mid Town Pub a B (see our grading rubric).

In developing the "wheel," this thing where we use a bunch of different lists and knowledge to generate our own next place to go out to eat, we occasionally come across places that should have been slam dunks for the original Isthmus list

Mid Town Pub is less than 2 minutes from Madison proper. It has a real chef that really participates in Madison culinary events (in this case, the one where everyone eats super-hip apps with beer and cocktails in a park on the near east side... what's that one called again?). It is more noteworthy than similar Middleton denizens (thinking here of some Greenway chain dreck, but let's not name names) and feels much more comfortable.

For real, people, the menu is extensive, even including many, many vegetarian choices. Sure, the prices are a little high, but no higher than their Monroe St. equivalents. It is as if a sports bar hired a chef de cuisine and moved to Middleton. And Mid Town packs 'em in.

Nichole's Normandy burger came on an amply buttered pretzel roll, topped with crispy bacon and another go at the cream cheese and olives (the bane of burgers past). In this case, it turned out fine. There was a good Vidalia slaw on the side. 

Prime rib sandwich

JM's prime rib sandwich came with horsey sauce.  It also came baptized in jus due to a possible plating mishap. Furthermore, its horseradish dipping sauce was neither zingy nor smooth - and since he was battling a cold, he would have appreciated a little kick. While the pretzel roll was tasty and soft, the pre-dip made it all the harder to keep together.  All in all, a below average thing, as it turned out.

Prime rib sandwich

We'd been to Mid Town Pub with an awesome friend to sample burgers before. They're pretty good, though not as good as Village Green's. We also enjoyed the tap handle and sign language display decorating the upper edge of the dining room. Mid Town Pub's fair-to-middling versions of standard bar food could have been so much more.  Which is sad since the rest of its strip mall has been about stripped bare, save the liquor store.

Alpha signs

Microcosm Cafe

Microcosm CafeIn a word: The problem in a nutshell.

The specs: #00971
1550 Linden Dr., 53706
Details at Yelp, Microcosm Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Latest Microcosm Cafe news and reviews at

JM ate the ham & cheddar croissant, Doritos, and an Ocean Spray kiwi-strawberry drink.
Nichole ate the Honey Nut Cheerios with Babcock Hall milk.
The bill was $12, or $6/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Microcosm Cafe a C (see our grading rubric).

We've been to a lot of these "cafes" in University buildings. They all offer just about the same branded Badger Market stuff. They don't really have a menu, and the dour cashier certainly didn't want to cook anything. So, we grabbed a breakfast full of prepackaged staples and consumed them quickly.

Breakfast at Microcosm Cafe

TAtZWL (this A to Z we learned):

  1. Park in parking lot 36 to visit this end of campus.
  2. Being in a science building makes one acutely aware of the chemical aftertaste in Ocean Spray products.
  3. These breakfast places serve granola, but NOT yogurt? The hell?
  4. The Currie Lab Ants are really cool and even have a Twitter handle.
  5. You can pay $12 for breakfast and feel much worse afterwards.    


In a word: A Mezze blues.

The specs: #00970  
414 W Gilman St., 53703
Details at Yelp, Mezze Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Facebook, Twitter

Latest Mezze news and reviews at

JM ate the chicken kebab.
Nichole ate the beans and beets.
The bill was $30, or $15/person, plus tip.
JM gave a Mezze a C+; Nichole gave Mezze a B (see our grading rubric).

There are many things to love about Mezze, the new State St. Mediterranean place that has subbed in permanently for Amy's Café. The place looks much nicer than Amy's, the service is great, and there seems to have been a lot of thought and care taken in developing a menu with a wide variety of both food and beverages.  Certainly, their menu looks like it might have something for foodies somewhere. Sadly, JM wasn't one of them. Though Nichole would put Mezze on her sumac cum laude list, even she agreed that Mezze wasn't a great fit for us eating together.


The combo of beets-n-beans small plates made Nichole's day. The beet salad - field greens, red onions, roasted beets and a light dressing - blanketed a hidden vein of soft cheese and toothsome nuts, all dusted with sumac.

Fava beans

In the second dish, cleverly rolled flatbread towered over a cup of fava beans in a yogurt and mint sauce. It was all going along swimmingly until Nichole, during an attempt to educate JM on how special fava beans are and what a hassle they are to prepare, what with the double-shelling and all, finally noticed (after chowing through half of them) that they still had their inner shells. Though they did taste more lively and had a smoother texture without the shells, the process of sucking the yogurt off, peeling the medium-small beans with her teeth, and spitting the beans back into the dish - then trying to hide the half-chewed shells - was really not very charming at all, so she went back to eating the dish as served.

A Google search back at home seemed to indicate that the double-shelling is a fussy French preparation and shells-on is the rule in the Levant, and that the size, age and tenderness of the beans, as well as the preparation method, all factor in to the decision to peel or not. So. No law here, but no graceful way to eat Mezze's version either.

Chicken kabob

JM's kebab was served too close to air temperature for his liking.  The sides were also not really to his taste, consisting of gloppy and not-quite-buttery-enough corn and almost painfully spicy, yet cold in temperature, potato salad. He chose the kebab because everything else on the menu was a casualty of his One Fatal Ingredient Syndrome (see also #1, #2, #3, and the experience of another sufferer), where one thing included in each dish pushed it into his "pass" column.

The best part of our meal was when some Texans stopped by our table on the patio to ask for a recommendation for fish tacos.

Any which way, Mezze was just okay. Maybe they were too new or too focused on drinks and not providing the most accessible food yet. And who says, that in a town with such a surfeit of restaurants, every place should serve every taste? But in the highly-competitive State Street area, that's a fine line to toe.

Metropolitan Coffee & Wine

In a word: Apocryphal.

Also, closed, according to Facebook.

The specs: #00969   
329 W. Mifflin St., 53703
Details at Yelp

Latest Metropolitan Coffee & Wine news and reviews at

JM had a limeade and a slice of chocolate cake.
Nichole had a blueberry smoothie.
The bill was $10ish, or $5/person, plus tip.
JM gave Metropolitan Coffee & Wine a B-; Nichole gave Metropolitan Coffee & Wine an A- (see our grading rubric).

Limeade and cakeSometimes in the telling and retelling of what happened at an A to Z stop, the story becomes a little mythic.  Metropolitan Coffee and Wine was just that.

In reality, JM got a limeade and a chocolate cake and Nichole got a blueberry smoothie.  These were neither so awesome that they would normally merit many repeat trips (though work proximity for coffee is a plus for Nichole), but were not roundly terrible either.

Blueberry smoothie

But then, later, a lot of things stopped making sense. In addition to a wide variety of still-in-the-package Hy*Vee baked goods, there were many tchotchke-like things on shelves to be purchased, and maybe a couple of used textbooks, too. A full quarter of the ample downtown footprint was given over to the free-for-customers pool table. There was a bar in back and strange table-as-desk in front of coffee counter. The same young hard-working, barista cum entrepreneur was plying drinks at every hour of the day, and at a later visit, she sold Nichole what seemed like a homemade snack consisting of a thick slice of Italian bread wrapped the crust side around in a thin, slightly sweet egg pancake studded with diced vegetables, and coated on the cut sides with a thin slather of lard and delicious, finely chopped, dry, spicy pork.


What was going on here?

Or is this just life in the big city?

Mercado Marimar

In a word: A Park place.

The specs: #00968  
2102 S Park St., 53713
Details at Yelp

Latest Mercado Marimar news and reviews at

JM ate the burrito with a Jarritos.
Nichole ate a chorizo taco and a steak taco.
The bill was about $14, or $7/person, plus tip.
JM gave Mercado Marimar a B-; Nichole gave Mercado Marimar a B+ (see our grading rubric).


Mercado Marimar is another Mexican restaurant tucked in the back of a Mexican grocery store. This time it's on South Park, which is a pretty great place to be. And, while this is no Taqueria Guadalajara, it does hold up its end pretty well for the cost. JM's burrito was full to busting with beans (not his favorite filler), rice, and delicious meat and veg. The sauces here were decent but some were just packaged salsas that had been opened for customers.

Nichole found her tacos pretty darn good, with a high cilantro-to-onion ratio and pleasing meats.

Mercado Marimar is near a lot of great taquerias and doesn't seem to match the high quality of La Rosita or Los Gemelos. As such, it is hard to imagine making a special trip JUST for these.  The best we can say is that its good to have more Mexican places of sufficient quality to keep the high quality places accountable.



In a word: Frozen in time.

The specs: #00967   
6712 Frank Lloyd Wright Ave., Middleton 53562
Details at Yelp, Menchie's Frozen Yogurt Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Official web site, Twitter

Latest Menchie's news and reviews at

JM and Nichole ate the froyo.
The bill was about $10, or $5/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Menchie's a B (see our grading rubric).


Menchie's is another in the "build your own cup of fro-yo" chains. There was a very nice deal on when we went late in the evening. The colorful plastic spoons are sturdy and ostensibly reusable, and in fact have lasted a while in our kitchen drawer, called upon for occasional scooping service.

Cookie and candy bar fragments, melty chocolate and peanut butter, and various and sundry fruits were available to top sherbet and yogurt of various flavors, which came in pairs fit to be swirled. Are we just rehashing our CherryBerry post? Probably. Other than the deal, there was little difference. Just go wherever is closer. 

McFarland House Cafe

In a word: Get it before it's gone.

McFarland House CafeThe specs: #00966  
5923 Exchange St., McFarland 53558
Details at Yelp, McFarland House Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Official web site, Facebook

Latest McFarland House Cafe news and reviews at

JM ate the Cuban club with chips and a cup of cookie dough ice cream.
Nichole ate the Villager turkey sandwich with slaw and a "dirt cup" ice cream sundae.
The bill was $24, or $12/person, plus tip (and book!).
JM and Nichole gave McFarland House Cafe an A- (see our grading rubric).

It's hard to know how many pixels to spill on McFarland House Cafe since it recently went up for sale, but man, oh man, what a cute little place!  What a great community service to McFarland (especially one that is now sans Beach House).

We arrived on a summer afternoon that seems a little gauzed over in the light of fall. We noticed many things (Coffee! Soup! Ice Cream! Local storytelling-for-kids posters!), and the menu was surprisingly rich and well-balanced, though oddly organized. Some of the "sandwiches" were salads and then there were also maybe 7 varieties of meat loaf sandwich.

Cuban sandwich

JM's Cuban club was really quite good. The meat was so tender and the attendant BBQ sauce was nothing short of amazing with a little smoke (augmented by coffee, to JM's later surprise) and a lotta sweetness. Nichole's Villager came on a roll with turkey, Swiss, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, (breath) carrots, and Thai chili mayo - which added up to a very mild yet satisfying sammy. The slaw turned out to be both heavy on purple cabbage and flavor.

Turkey sandwich

Desert for her was a dirt cup, complete with gummi worms. JM's dish of cookie dough ice cream was pretty good, too. We also got to pick up a copy of Irene Cash and Victor Marsh's gorgeous market cookbook, Savoring the Harvest, which McFarland House Cafe had on sale in a hutch. So the meal was a treasure and community-minded nature of McFarland House makes it feel all the more like a great place to come and sit and simply be. But be soon, since their days may be numbered.

Ice cream


In a word: Quintillions served.

The specs: #00965  
4905 Monona Dr., Monona 53716
Details at Yelp, McDonald's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Official Twitter

Latest McDonald's news and reviews at

JM ate 2 cheeseburgers, a 20 McNugget meal, and a strawberry lemonade.
Nichole ate the quarter pounder deluxe meal and an Oreo frappe.
The bill was $19, or $9ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave McDonald's a C; Nichole gave McDonald's a C- (see our grading rubric).

We ate too much at McDonald's. The only thing we could think of that made this meal different than the average McDonald's meal was that we got an emailed press release - the very same day we had picked to do this A-Z - from a McD's promoter alerting us to some new menu items or other. Freaky.


McDonald's is mostly a place for good fries. Our meal was..., you know what, rather than strain for words about this meal, may we invite you to read a short essay on the history of McDonald's in Wisconsin over at Recollection Wisconsin? It's tastier.


Madison Food coverOur book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is out. Updates here, and some bonus bits on Porchlight and Argus.


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