8 cozy Madison cafes to add to your weekly rotation

These local spots with delectable coffee, pastries and light meals give Madison’s dining scene even more personality.
person sitting at the bar at Black Locust Café
Black Locust Café is a dreamy cafe in Madison. (August 2021)
Photo by Amandalynn Jones

By definition, a cafe is a local, often modest establishment offering a limited menu of coffee and eats. Frequently the destination for a quick lunch break, coffee run or friendly catch-up, a cafe’s quaint setting and light background noise make it an ideal spot for remote work or small gatherings. Don’t be fooled by the concept’s simplicity — Madison’s cafes are anything but plain. The city is home to menus small in size but big in flavor, coffee from around the world and owners of all backgrounds. If you haven’t done so already, add these cozy local cafes to your dining itinerary.

Black Locust Café
Part of the multispace concept of Robinia Courtyard in Madison’s Capitol East District, Black Locust Café stands out with its decor and menu. The space’s character is ever-present in the bright blue-and-yellow patterned floor — a color scheme that’s carried throughout the cafe’s menu — and a condensed list of food and drink options. An assortment of espresso drinks, tea and juice are available to quench your thirst, along with a selection of tap brews, wine, mimosas and bloody marys. When it comes to the food, Black Locust Café aims to please everyone by offering vegetarian, vegan-friendly and omnivorous options for breakfast and lunch. Both sweet and savory crepes line the menu, including Nutella and banana or the Crepe Corea with egg, kimchi, gochujang sauce, grilled scallion and Kewpie mayo. Other breakfast items include vegan avocado toast with lime marmalade, piquillo peppers and red onion, and the multigrain power bowl made with quinoa, farro, oats, maple syrup, coconut milk, bananas and cinnamon. If Black Locust Café is your stop for lunch, the Impossible burger or pork belly sandwich are among some of the heartier meal options. 829 E. Washington Ave., 478-0110, blacklocustcafe.com

Cafe CODA is not your typical cafe establishment; it’s first and foremost a jazz venue. Upon entering in the morning, customers are often greeted by the Jazz Morning Muse Cafe — the sounds of practicing musicians, an impromptu jam session, recorded music or a film in the background. Owner, professional jazz musician and educator Hanah Jon Taylor says three things make Cafe CODA the only legitimate jazz club in town: the facility’s stage, a state-of-the-art concert grand piano and a green room lounge for the performers. Taylor opened the Williamson Street location of Cafe CODA in 2018 and is one of few people of color with a food and drink, entertainment and liquor license in Dane County. The business recently acquired its food and drink licenses, so visitors can appreciate tunes from the listening room between bites of a Madison Sourdough pastry or sips of JBC Coffee Roasters’ coffee. Specialty menu items include a selection of ciabatta bread paninis, known as “Codaninis.” Ruth Allen, a local caterer and cook, handmakes Ruthie’s Special Pizza specifically for the cafe, delivering 6.5-inch pies with fresh ingredients to Cafe CODA weekly. 1224 Williamson St., 298-7831, cafecoda.club

Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery

Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery breakfast tacos

Courtesy of Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery

From huevos rancheros and German chocolate pancakes to smash burgers and cupcakes, Daisy Cafe and Cupcakery’s menu makes for an all-day fare affair. The Atwood Avenue cafe has fresh eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a selection of cupcakes. Expect classic cupcake varieties like red velvet cream cheese or chocolate, as well as varied seasonal combinations like strawberry champagne or carrot walnut with cinnamon cream cheese. The flavors change once or twice a season, and there are always at least two gluten-free options available. If you’re not visiting Daisy for the sweets, try the popular chorizo smash burger with ground beef, housemade chorizo, fried jalapeños, pepper jack, jalapeño aioli, tomato and purple onion. Orders can be made through Grubhub and EatStreet and picked up curbside from the cafe, or you can enjoy a meal on the dog-friendly patio. 2827 Atwood Ave., 241-2200, daisycafeandcupcakery.com

Fair Trade Coffee House
Paninis, soup, pastries, coffee, local art and music are just a few of the good things you’ll find upon entering Fair Trade Coffee House. Aptly named for its use of coffee and espresso beans that are 100% fair trade-certified, Fair Trade Coffee House partners with roasters and producers who commit to an equitable trade relationship. Whether you opt for the drip coffee, nitro or specialty espresso drinks like the Turkish Latte or Black Forest Mocha, you’re receiving a beverage made with organic, single-origin coffee beans. When it comes to dining at this State Street cafe, there’s a breakfast menu of baked goods, quiches and sandwiches. For lunch, choose from a selection of paninis, like ham and havarti cheese with Dijon mustard, Italian chicken with provolone and pesto, or a vegan option of hummus, roasted red pepper, spinach and microgreens. In addition to the outdoor seating on State Street in front of Fair Trade, there is a secret garden patio in the back where you can escape with your cup of coffee. 418 State St., 268-0477, fairtradecoffeehouse.com

Finca Coffee
The menu at Finca Coffee is teeming with Salvadoran roasts and cuisine. The bird in the company’s logo is the turquoise-browed Motmot Torogoz, the national bird of El Salvador. Marleni Valle, owner of Finca Coffee, and her husband, Silas Valle, grew up in El Salvador, and the duo is bringing flavors from Latin America to Madison’s isthmus. Breakfast at Finca means an assortment of local bakery items, tacos, burritos and from-scratch Salvadoran sweet quesadillas, considered a type of breakfast cake back in El Salvador. For lunch try the pupusas, which are thick griddle tortillas filled with mildly spiced coleslaw and tomato sauce. The Valles purchase their coffee beans directly from farmers in El Salvador and roast them there with partner 4 Monkeys Coffee Roasters before the product arrives in Madison. 2500 Rimrock Road, 285-9230, fincamadison.com

Johnson Public House

Zoom Zoom Juice in a half gallon container next to a glass

Courtesy of Johnson Public House

In April, Johnson Public House celebrated a decade on East Johnson Street. At this local cafe, there truly is a seat, sip and bite to satisfy any brunch craving. Breakfast staples like pancakes and egg-based sandwiches line the cafe’s morning menu alongside inventive takes on standard toast. For something savory, there’s Toast G.O.A.T — toasted Madison Sourdough bread slathered with pesto and chèvre, topped with jalapeño, beet and fried egg. Sweeter options include a more conventional toast with chèvre and jam from The Quince & Apple Co. For lunch, grab a hummus and veggie sandwich, or build your own loaded grilled cheese. JPH makes espresso drinks, sourcing beans from roasting partner and sister business Kin-Kin Coffee Roasters. Prep for the week with a half-gallon of Zoom Zoom Juice, a featured menu item consisting of Kin-Kin cold brew with a flavor and milk of choice. And if coffee isn’t for you, there’s a house-made lavender lemonade on the menu that looks and tastes as lovely as it sounds. 908 E. Johnson St., 347-0483, jph4ever.com

Marigold Kitchen
While Kristy and Clark Heine have recently become the owners of Marigold Kitchen, it’d be a mistake to consider the duo novices when it comes to restaurant work. Kristy Heine worked for 20 years as the chef de cuisine at this Pinckney Street cafe, and Clark Heine was the front-of-house manager for seven years. Marigold closed its doors in March 2020 with the onset of the pandemic and stayed closed until it reopened last month. During the closure, previous owners John Gadau and Phillip Hurley approached the Heines with an offer to purchase the First Settlement District staple, and they took over in April and renovated the space. “We took a lot into consideration when deciding to purchase, but first and foremost we felt it was our duty to bring Marigold back to Madison while carrying on its legacy,” says Clark Heine. The legacy he refers to comes in the form of a warm, vibrant atmosphere, a skilled and caring kitchen staff and a menu filled with from-scratch recipes using local ingredients from vendors such as Garden To Be, Vitruvian Farms, New Century Eggs, Madison Sourdough, La Cosecha Tortilla Co. and Batch Bakehouse. Crowd-pleasers from the Marigold menu include avocado toast, a stack of blueberry pancakes with orange almond butter and a breakfast burrito filled with chorizo, sweet potatoes and eggs. 118 S. Pinckney St., 441-1600, marigoldkitchen.com

The Victory

Owner Patrick Downey pouring coffee into a cup next to a photo of breakfast sandwiches and a cup of coffee

The Victory owner Patrick Downey (Photos by Larry Chua)

When Patrick Downey moved to Madison in 2009 from Brooklyn, New York, he brought along his family, their personal belongings and his business. The Victory was successful on the East Coast and received nods from publications including The New York Times and The New Yorker. Since moving to Madison, The Victory has earned praise from customers and critics alike. Downey creates the atmosphere at The Victory, combining brews from Milwaukee’s Anodyne Coffee Roasters, locally sourced eats, an impressive music playlist and his own artwork available for purchase. Accompanying a vast beverage menu that goes beyond the normal two-shot latte with items like shave ice and soda infused with house-made syrups, The Victory boasts savory menus for breakfast and lunch. Satisfy a craving for lox with “The Sandwich Normally Known as the Breakfast Panini,” a sammie with ciabatta, Norwegian smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, capers and red onion. Doughnuts from Level 5 Donuts, breakfast sandwiches, steel-cut Irish oats and more will curb morning appetites. Whether you stop by with a friend or take some time to work remotely, you’re bound to leave caffeinated with a full stomach and in good spirits. 2710 Atwood Ave., 240-0366, victorymadison.com

Hannah Twietmeyer is a contributor to Madison Magazine.

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