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Willy Street Co-op

In a word: Through sheer force of Willy.

The specs: #0741  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at 77 Square, Yelp, OnMilwaukee, Dane 101, sarah learns; Facebook, Twitter, official web site.

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Brett, Ellen, JM, Laura, Michael and Nichole ate an assortment of items from the deli.
The bill was about $12/person, plus tip.
JM gave Willy Street Co-op a B-; Brett, Ellen and Laura gave Willy Street Co-op a B+; Michael and Nichole gave Willy Street Co-op an A- (see our grading rubric).

Deli buffet

Willy St. Co-op is a Madison institution and a great source of natural and local foods. We used to shop there more, but our patterns have changed (our member number's a five-digit one, if that figures into your opinion of our opinions - and the Co-op's venue number in the Isthmus database is a two-digit one, to illustrate how central it is to food in Madison). Tonight we were on a mission for readymade food, much like at Whole Foods.

We picked up an assortment of cold deli salads, a hot stir fry, and bakery at the original east side Willy St. Co-op on a Sunday night. Brett, JM and Nichole shopped, and at first we were a little worried about how the meal would go over; there was a cool nip in the fall air and we'd hoped for more hot options, but the deli case was limited to stir fry, soup, and some sad-looking marinara-doused rollups. But what we found ended up being tasty, and there were plenty of leftovers from this feast for six plus two kids.

Overall, we liked that every dish has good vegetables in it, and many are locally sourced. Some dishes were under-salted, but that's better than the alternative and easy to fix.

The only dish that approached "dud" status was a bland quinoa/corn/bean salad, which was simply flat. The tabbouleh was good, but could have used a squeeze more lemon.

The two boxes that didn't survive the night were tender fennel-roasted beets - we got the impression Nichole and Laura could have eaten twice what we got, just between the two of them - and a pasta salad with spinach and tomato in a tangy cream dressing.

The night's stir fry entree was tofu, bok choi, sesame seeds, onions and peppers. The flavors were balanced and the mix filling. The brown rice was fluffy and warm.

Sides firmly ensconced in the midrange were a crunchy, fresh bok choi slaw with toasted sesame seeds; the standby wild rice/spinach/almond salad with a strong vinegar tang that's a meal in itself; and a sweet/potato salad with cilantro and green bell pepper that was available cold or hot and had an edge as acerbic as the glower of a vegan butcher counter associate.

The bakery selection was huge. The mini cheese ciabatta, at a buck each, were a little splurgey but so so good - they'd make good small sandwich buns. Honey whole wheat dinner rolls were crusty and filling. It was hard to pass up the individual slices of cake and pie, but the chocolate cookies were nice: not too sweet or large, with good semisweet chips.

Regarding comparisons of the original east side location to the newer west side outpost, we have little experience, but Ellen is a fan of their hot made-to-order breakfasts (especially the Denver wrap).

Our hosts provided a pretty porch to eat on and a wide assortment of tasty lemonade and homebrews. A wholesome dinner from the co-op provided the foundation for a relaxed Sunday night to help ease us all into the week.


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I love getting prepare food at Willy Street Co-op. I can actually get stuff that is somewhat healthy. I also like getting little bits of a bunch of different stuff. I would say I like about 80 to 90 percent of the stuff I have bought.

I have always been curious about the member number process. I never knew about the pride people have about having a low number until I read that Isthmus thread. I have a three-digit number. It is lower than people who joined before me. I wonder how much I could sell it for.

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