Robinia Courtyard Trio

Photos by Molly Wallace

Photos by Molly Wallace

By Annaleigh Wetzel

East Washington Avenue is the site of a food revival in Madison. New restaurants, a grocery store and several bars are popping up all along the street, begging to be visited. Among the many additions to the area is Robinia Courtyard. The Courtyard is made up of Julep restaurant, A-OK coffeehouse and Barolo wine bar: a seemingly odd concoction of establishments that somehow make complete sense together on the taste buds.

Hip Julep

Photos by Molly Wallace

Photos by Molly Wallace

Julep is the grouping’s full-fledged restaurant featuring Southern-inspired snacks, little plates and dinners on its concise, one-page menu. The interior is fresh and hip, with exposed white brick and a sleek wooden bar. The menu builds steam and impressiveness as diners peruse it from start to finish. That said, ordering from it in stages is the way to go; be sure to give its three parts each a little bit of love. And don’t forget about selecting a cocktail or two (the Mendoza is a fun treat) to sip on while enjoying this down-home feast.

The Buttermilk Biscuit, Cast Iron Cornbread and Smoked Ham Hock Terrine are some of the snack stand-outs. Arriving at the table still warm, the biscuit is fluffy and moist on the inside, but deliciously crumbly on the outside. It’s a great starter to share with a pal:  half is a nice portion to stifle the rumbling of your stomach. Skip the lackluster jam and butter that comes with; it doesn’t need any accouterments anyway. The cornbread offers what the biscuit does not: a touch of added sugar. Both carbs are equally tasty, but eating them side-by-side clearly marks the biscuit as savory and the cornbread as sweet, making them the perfect pair. The terrine is perhaps the biggest nod to the restaurant’s novel take on traditional Southern cooking. The cold, pâté-esque ham spread is plated with a few pieces of Texas toast, chilled, pickled green beans and a grainy mustard that gives the dish a subtle kick.

Next, don’t be dissuaded by the presence of pig ears in the Nashville Salad. Think ‘bacon bits,’ and munch on. Or spring for the Mississippi Delta Tamales with roasted pork and a dark chocolate mole sauce. Then comes the fireworks finale: the dinner section. Farro Risotto and the Brisket Pot Roast act as happy complements to one another, both with warm winter veggies and rich flavor profiles. The Perlou is another killer choice with smoked white fish, oysters and Andouille sausage atop crispy grits.

Next time you find yourself in this budding food-friendly neighborhood, take a spin through the Courtyard. Grab a few small plates and imbibe in a Mint Julep, as the name of the restaurant begs.

It’ll be A-OK

Photos by Molly Wallace

Photos by Molly Wallace


A-OK Sunshine & Spirits screams just that, plus some more. It’s fashioned after an old-school diner with a new-age flare. A rounded bar counter is accompanied by spinning stools, high top tables and wooden booths, all set atop blue and yellow geometric-checkered linoleum floor. Tough to picture? Now to complicate things even further: A-OK is a coffee shop, bar, lunch break spot and burger joint. Still confused? Well, that’s just part of its charm.

At its most basic level, A-OK is defined by the time of day you’re visiting. Kick-start your day there with a cup of Kin-Kin coffee or nibble on a midday meal. Orders depend on whatever gem options (such as a bacon cheddar quiche or red beet and shallot soup) are listed on the ever changing daily special board or on a favorite from their traditional food menu. Maybe you’re in need of more than just lunch, though. Then you’ll grab a burger and fries and a shake, all available until close at 9 p.m. And, of course, you’d be remiss to not explore the full bar, with beer and booze galore.

If you are indeed in search of a beverage, look no further than the black and bold-lettered, 11-item drink menu painted on the white brick wall immediately upon walking inside. From brewed coffee to kombucha to espresso, soda and tea, the options needn’t have descriptions. Say you’re in the mood for a milkshake. That requires a conversation with the bartender-server-cashier (there is typically only one staffer per shift), as there aren’t any flavors to choose from in plain view. They might recommend the espresso shake with a whopping four shots in it, or the bourbon shake that tastes as good as any cocktail.

The same “what you see is what you get” philosophy is applied to the burgers and fries at A-OK. It’s actually exactly what it sounds like—a burger (topped with “dijonaise,” onions and pickles, as you’d find out once biting into it) with a side of crispy, addicting fries.

With ties to Johnson Public House (JPH), you could say A-OK is JPH’s wacky younger cousin. There’s no doubt this place is all over, but only in the best way possible.

Wine Time
After a meal at Julep or a cup of coffee at A-OK, you may be tempted to stroll on over to Barolo to wine—ahem, we mean—wind down for the night. Since it’s conveniently located right next-door, that’s definitely an idea worth exploring.

Photos by Molly Wallace

Photos by Molly Wallace

The bar is dimly lit by overhead light fixtures reminiscent of the bulbous Capitol just up the street. With too many tables packed like sardines, presumably in an attempt to create ample guest seating, the space is rendered a little cramped. There is a long wooden bar and several smaller tables lined up along the opposite wall, as well as an awkward side room, separate from the rest and with larger lounge booths. But looking at this from the bright side, it may strike you as “intimate.”

And so is the wine list itself. The short menu is marked at the top with the date, indicating what’s on the shelf, or in your glass, for the night. Wine is available by the glass and by the bottle, with the larger selection being the latter. Cabernet-sauvignons, merlots, rosés, zinfandels and so on are presented for pouring.

Photos by Molly Wallace

Photos by Molly Wallace

In keeping with its small but mighty theme, Barolo has a few food options to accompany their drinks, and even offer a palate cleanser between sips. Try one of the savory flatbreads, and don’t be shy about asking your bartender for recs on what to nosh on that will go best with your wine.

If red and white beverages aren’t your thing, but you want to check out Barolo regardless, you’re in luck. The bar has a brief list of beers on tap and cocktails to choose from for those who are less wine-inclined.

Barolo is a natural end to an evening spent meandering the Courtyard. And what’s even better—you can look forward to relishing its food and drink offerings on the outdoor patio during the summer months as well.

Bradbury’s

Photos by Claire Grummon

Photos by Claire Grummon

Article by Claire Grummon

Down the street from the Capitol, past the Madison’s Children’s Museum, lies Bradbury’s: a quintessential trendy and cozy café. Bradbury’s isn’t hard to miss, large soaring windows and  bright whimsical decals immediately draw you in.

Photos by Claire Grummon

Photos by Claire Grummon

Upon entry, the space appears small, but what Bradbury’s lacks in size, it makes up for in character. A large L-shaped communal table unites strangers over in-house roasted coffees, espresso and unique crêpes. The soaring windows send bright, fresh sunlight in, as a mix of indie music plays, and the sweet hum of the espresso machine echoes in the background.

In 2008, Josh and Jill Makoutz opened Bradbury’s three months after their daughter, Ruby, was born. While Josh Makoutz agrees that it was somewhat difficult opening so soon after Ruby’s birth, they couldn’t pass up the perfect space. He reflects on the experience by saying the timing ended up being perfect, and that he and his wife could alternate who was in the café and who stayed at home with Ruby. They each contributed equally and full-heartedly to both Bradbury’s and Ruby.

As Ruby grew, so did Bradbury’s. Bradbury’s has an array of delicious and high quality coffees from all over. Their current guest roasters provide Bows X Arrows coffee from Victoria, BC. United, they are a group of passionate individuals working towards finding a niche for sustainable coffee. Regularly, Bradbury’s serves local coffee from Kickapoo Coffee in Viroqua, Wis., and aims to promote their high quality and admirable sustainability as well.

Photos by Claire Grummon

Photos by Claire Grummon

Inspired by Wisconsin farms’ local, fresh ingredients, Jill Makoutz decided to incorporate something to set Bradbury’s apart from any other Madison coffee shop: crêpes. She had spent some time in Croatia, where her love of crêpes began. Local Wisconsin farms such as Pecatonica Valley and Sprouting Acres

Photos by Claire Grummon

Photos by Claire Grummon

provided the perfect ingredients for new and inspiring crêpe creations.

The Makoutz’s change their crêpe menu regularly depending on what is the freshest. At Bradbury’s, you always know the ingredients are in season. The couple is excited for the culinary opportunities that the nearing spring months will bring. Ramps and asparagus will certainly be featured on their savory menu, along with a chicken, onions, kale, Brie and fried egg crêpe.

Josh prides the couple on being able to work with both high end coffee programs and locally sourced ingredients.

“A lot of places do one or the other really well, but it’s fun to do both in our tiny little space,” he said.

Doing both works incredibly well for the successful couple. Their coffees are offer a bold, rich, luxurious flavor, and they craft a perfectly silky cappuccino. Regarding crêpes, I sampled the “Ham and spinach with smoked gouda, a cracked egg, and mustard” savory crêpe, as well as the “Raspberry preserves and yogurt cheese” sweet crêpe.

Photos by Claire Grummon

Photos by Claire Grummon

Photos by Claire Grummon

Photos by Claire Grummon

 

For the savory, the egg was beautifully folded in and spread evenly throughout. Every bite offered a sampling of each fresh component, none of which were overpowered. The mustard itself was a delicacy. For the sweet, the raspberry preserves were the star of the show. They offered a perfect summery flavor on a cold Wisconsin day, and the yogurt offered a nice contrast to cut the sweetness with some tart flavor.  

 

Having been to Paris, France, it is clear that Bradbury’s offers a local Wisconsin take on a European favorite. The setting, unlike any other coffee shop in Madison, appears to be straight out of Brooklyn. If you’re looking for something a little different, and searching for some friendly faces, wander into Bradbury’s for coffee and crêpes crafted by a passionate, warm, and hardworking family.

Photos by Claire Grummon

Photos by Claire Grummon